Jason Hammel entered Sunday afternoon’s game with the Cardinals nursing a one-run lead in the seventh inning after a terrific start by Jake Junis. Hammel had been unceremoniously demoted to the bullpen in early July due to a poor performance, and while he had given up fewer runs since his demotion with an ERA of 3.48 going into Sunday’s game, he had still been hammered with opponents hitting .302/.348/.535 against him as a reliever. Hammel promptly gave two singles, walked a batter, than gave up an RBI single to Cardinals rookie Patrick Wisdom, all without recording an out.
Hammel is still on this roster in mid-August, along with other bullpen disasters like Blaine Boyer and Brandon Maurer. Combined, the veteran trio has combined to pitch 151 1⁄3 innings for the Royals this year, giving up 124 earned runs for an ERA of 7.37. The trio also average over 32 years in age, so you have to wonder, why does a team in the middle of a rebuild keep these guys around?
It can’t be due to salary, the $13 million owed to the three pitchers is a sunk cost, paid no matter if the players are on the team or not. Certainly the Royals wanted to prevent promoting pitchers to the big leagues before they are ready, so it is understandable to start the year with veterans like this that can sop up innings (albeit very ineffectively). But by this point in the season, there appear to be a few arms ready for a shot at the big leagues that could out-produce the terrible results we have already seen from the older players. Here are a few names in Omaha that deserve a shot in the big leagues at this point.
Glenn Sparkman was just optioned down to make room for Boyer, but the 26-year old right-hander held his own with a 5.06 ERA and 4.34 FIP in 16 innings with 14 strikeouts in his time with the Royals. Sparkman throws in the mid-90s and has exhibited outstanding command in the minors with just 1.1 walks-per-nine innings across AA and AAA.
Richard Lovelady is considered one of the top prospects in the system, and has been dominating AAA hitters for the last two months. Over his last 17 outings, he has given up just 3 runs in 29 1⁄3 innings, with opponents hitting just .172/.217/.202 and striking out 25% of the time against him. Overall, Lovelady has 2.64 ERA with 8.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings and is not a lefty specialist, faring well against righties as well. There seems to be little for the 23-year old lefty to prove in the minors, a ticket to the Majors seems appropriate at this point.
Trevor Oaks has been Omaha’s best this year. The 25-year old right-hander acquired from the Dodgers last winter has a 2.88 ERA in 19 starts for Omaha and made a couple of appearances for the Royals this year as well. Oaks won’t strike out many hitters - his 4.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings is worrisome. But if he can keep the ball on the ground he might enjoy better success than some of these older arms.
Josh Staumont continues to struggle with control issues - he has 6.3 walks-per-nine innings this year. But his 100 mph heater is hard to ignore. The 24-year old right-hander has 90 strikeouts in just 66 innings with a 3.00 ERA. He has made some progress this year working out of the pen, and is probably at a point where the Royals need to see if that blazing fastball can find the zone eaenough for him to be a useful reliever.
Jake Kalish is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The left-handed former Tommy John surgery survivor only throws in the upper-80s, but with pinpoint control, walking just 16 hitters in 103 2⁄3 innings across AA and AAA this year. Kalish is not some young pup - he turned 27 a few weeks ago. But he has been able to miss bats this year in the minors with nearly a strikeout-per-inning as a starter. He hasn’t fared well out of the pen and has pretty much no platoon split, so he might be better off going to the rotation and bumping Burch Smith to the pen. Either way, I’d rather see him on the team than Blaine Boyer.
Eric Stout pitched a few innings for the Royals earlier this year, and while he was rocked, the Royals could give him a second chance to see what he can do. The 25-year old lefty has a 4.67 ERA for Omaha with mediocre peripherals, but he has fared a bit better against lefties. He is already on the 40-man roster, making it easier to just recall him back up.
Sam Selman gave up six runs while recording just one out in his first appearance of the year. Since then he has a 3.24 ERA, and overall this year has 49 strikeouts in 33 2⁄3 innings. His problem is command, and his 25 walks probably won’t earn him a promotion. But he has been darn near unhittable to lefties, and his walk rate has improved slightly since his promotion to AAA Omaha (although still an untenable 5.9 walks-per-nine innings).
Maybe there are 40-man roster concerns - adding these players rather than pitchers that will certainly get removed from the roster in a few months may create a logjam. There could also be service time issues, although we are talking about relievers, who typically have a very short shelf life anyway and are typically not terribly expensive to retain. But while losing never feels good, it would at least be more comforting to see players with a future in this franchise learning at the big league level, rather than trotting out players who are just running out the clock in Kansas City, soon to be an unpleasant memory in the minds of Royals fans.