Drafted back in the second round of the 2015 Major League draft, hard-throwing Josh Staumont was projected to be a promising candidate for a future pitching staff in Kansas City. His upper-90s fastball sometimes grazed triple-digits, openeing the eyes of scouts and General Manager Dayton Moore at the time. That heater convincied the Royals to use the 64th overall pick on the 6’3 right-hander out of Azusa Pacific University.
But seasons piled up, the championship core filed out of Kansas City, and the Royals dropped back to the cellar of the American League Central. The lethal combination of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland were simply a fond memory and the dynamic variety of arms the Royals possessed, were now scattered across the country in different divisions-some even out of the game for good.
However, despite the departure of HDH and the decline from league prominence for the Royals, Staumont failed to crack a spot in the rotation or the bullpen. His electric fastball and devastating breaking pitch had little to no command.
The troubling issue was put on display in 2016 in both High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas, as he walked 104 batters in just 123.1 innings over the course of the season, a tough season despite 167 strikeouts. The next year, he climbed the ranks to Triple-A Omaha, but saw his ERA spike to 6.28 in 76 innings for the Storm Chasers.
Kansas City would plummet to last place the following season in 2018, sporting the second-worst bullpen ERA in the Major Leagues to go along with its 104 losses. Completing the transition from starter to reliever during the Royals’ abysmal campaign, the 25-year-old’s production had suddenly returned his name into the conversation of possible back-end pieces to the dumpster fire of a bullpen.
In 2018, his opponents’ batting average had dropped from .233 to .211 and his strikeout-per-nine improved from 11.2 to 12.9. The ERA dwindled from 4.66 to 3.11, but his walks still prevented his breakthrough to Kansas City, with 42 free passes in 55 innings out of the pen.
Now, after his addition to the 40-man roster back on November 20th, Staumont has received strong consideration for a spot as Ned Yost and his staff remain mull over the possibilities of how to improve their statistics from a season ago. So far this spring, his numbers have been good enough with his 2.08 ERA in 4 1⁄3 innings of work. But with Wily Peralta, Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy, and Rule 5 pick Sam McWilliams as the probable locks in the bullpen to begin the season, a spot for Staumont in Kansas City looks to be clouded for at least the first half of 2019.
However, there is a silver lining in which the Royals could look into experimenting with to get his feet wet at the big league level. It’s clear lack of command is an issue preventing Staumont from handling lofty responsibilities in the set up or closing role, and throwing him into the fire for those positions to rack up innings of experience is not quite as plausible as it seems. But if Staumont can’t yet handle three outs in a full inning, perhaps limiting his work load to one or two batters could become an interesting building block piece in Kansas City’s quest to restructure their destructive bullpen.
With relievers such as Tim Hill and Jake Diekman presenting a funky angle from the left side of the mound, the Royals already possess two answers for a lefty-lefty matchup, although Diekman proves to be much more effective facing right-handed hitters, holding them to a .191/.303/.321 slash line.
As for Staumont, observing his splits against both sides of the batter’s box, his numbers facing right-handers are better as a reliever. Down in Omaha last season, he held righties to a .213 batting average while striking out 64 to his 39 against left-handers. He induced three more double plays, held righties to an on-base percentage 71 points lower than lefties, and walked four less in 54 more at-bats against them. Another intriguing part of this move would be his capableness of extinguishing fires his fellow relievers have left before him. Last season, he was at his best with runners on, holding hitters to a collective .177 batting average and a .218 slugging percentage.
Looking long term, the Royals will need more than just one or two outs from a tripling-digit-throwing reliever. However, as 2019 looks to be another rough year from the pitching staff, finding certain situations for younger relievers and getting them comfortable with their role could slowly resurrect the bullpen that brought them a championship four years ago.