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2019 Royals Review Minor League Pitchers of the Year

Let’s give out some more hardware.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We roll on to our award season for the minor leagues with pitching awards. You can find the hitting awards here, and we’ll be using mostly the same philosophy, honoring those who played at full-season affiliates. Much has been made of the renewed strength of the pitching depth in the organization. While it isn’t likely that everyone will survive the minor leagues, you need enough pieces to weather the storm of attrition and the Royals added to their inventory in the 2018 draft class.

To speak to the pitching performance, the A+ Wilmington Blue Rocks hit .219/.296/.321 as a team in 2019...and won the Carolina League title. That’s thanks mostly to the pitching staff having a league leading 3.00 ERA, almost .70 runs better than the league average.

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers - LHP Gabe Speier

40 IP 25.6% K% 9.7% BB% 5.63 ERA 6.15 FIP

I mean...yikes. I knew that there was no way to post any stat line from a pitcher in AAA and say “yeah, that’s award worthy!” but that was just the environment in AAA this year. The league average ERA in the PCL this year was 5.49 thanks in part to the introduction of the MLB baseball. Read that again: 5.49.

So relatively, Speier did better than his line appears. He was used in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha as a fireman of sorts, pitching more than three outs 22 times and he went 15 consecutive games with a strikeout at one point. His best outing of the year coming mid-July against New Orleans where five of his six outs came by the way of strikeouts (I’m not going to mention the two home runs he allowed in that outing, nope).

He pitched his way to the Majors, where they are also using the MLB ball, and he has struggled in his short six innings of work.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals - RHP Jackson Kowar

74 IP 25.2% K% 6.8% BB% 3.51 ERA 3.68 FIP

While the Omaha award was a bit of trying to find the best that you can, the Naturals had two clear choices: Brady Singer or Jackson Kowar, both worthy but I’m going to give the nod to Kowar who had slightly better numbers.

Kowar did well in High A for half the season before finally getting the call up to the Texas League where his numbers were almost identical

K%: 21.2% (A+) 25.2% (AA)

BB%: 7.1% (A+) 6.8% (AA)

SwStrk%: 12.9% (A+) 12.9% (AA)

ERA: 3.53 (A+) 3.51 (AA)

FIP: 3.60 (A+) 3.68 (AA)

The Royals might send Kowar back to AA just to ramp back up to start the year and then decide if he should go to AAA or just head right to the big league team some point in May/June depending on his performance.

A+ Wilmington Blue Rock - LHP Kris Bubic

101.2 IP 28.1% K% 6.9% BB% 2.30 ERA 2.57 FIP

Say what you want about Bubic’s ultimate MLB role/ceiling, but you can’t deny the MiLB strikeout leader the award here.

After 47 23 innings in Lexington where he was even more dominant, he got promoted to the friendly confines of the Carolina League where he proved that a power conference college pitcher is no match against teenage hitters when he has the rain soaked and strong winds at his back.

He’ll go right to Northwest Arkansas next spring where he’ll tackle the biggest test a Royals pitching prospect can face, and there is an actual possibility of a rotation with Kowar/Singer/Bubic (and Bowlan) in it, if only briefly.

A Lexington Legends - RHP Zack Haake

75.2 IP 28.6% K% 11.4% BB% 2.85 ERA 2.96 FIP

Haake was a sixth round pick in 2018 out of Kentucky where he didn’t pitch much after his name was called in June but went right to full season ball this year. He got some work under his belt in April but an injury sidelined him for all of May and most of June. In his first game back he proceeded to walk six straight batters to start the game. He was pulled as soon as that happened but made his next start and got better. Since that six-walk game he threw 49.1 IP with a 2.92 ERA, striking out 25% of the hitters he faced, and giving up just one home run.

I believe he’ll go right to Wilmington next year with Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan’s spot now open.