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.
ICYMI: A key moment in the #Royals' win over the #WhiteSox was when Gabe Speier entered the game with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh and got a huge strikeout to end the threat. pic.twitter.com/ACPUnRf3gT— FOX Sports Kansas City (@FSKansasCity) September 12, 2019
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.
An emphatic end to a dominant night. Kowar finished his 8th inning, a career high, with his sixth strikeout of the night.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 4, 2019
8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K pic.twitter.com/eSkr0B5AVq
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 2⁄3 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.
Kris Bubic goes the distance. ♂️— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 9, 2019
The #Royals' No. 6 prospect needed 111 pitches to throw a complete game with just one run allowed and 11 strikeouts for @WilmBlueRocks.
Check him out on the @Royals Top 30: https://t.co/CmiMeiiVSQ pic.twitter.com/EuSJIqhRSK
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.
#Royals fans should be really excited to see @LexingtonLegend RHP Zach Haake dotting both sides of the zone w/ his FB. 6th RD'er last year from @UKBaseball has always had great stuff. FB sitting mid-90s (t97) early, 36-pct K%/1.73 ERA in first five starts. #AlwaysRoyal pic.twitter.com/4AoeiqAdUK— Adam McInturff (@2080adam) April 29, 2019