Before we get started, I wanted to give a quick tip of the hat to Lookout Landing, our sister site covering the Seattle Mariners for SB Nation. Joe E. Doyle of Lookout Landing recently wrote an article detailing the “filthiest pitches in the Mariners organization” and I thought it would be a fun idea to go through a similar process for Royals prospects.
There are some pitches in the Royals system that don’t need introducing. Jackson Kowar’s changeup has been praised to the heavens by both myself and others. Brady Singer’s 2-seam fastball is the reason he was one of the highest rated draft prospects back in 2018. Hopefully after reading this article you’ll be more in tune with some of the filth that other pitching prospects in the Royals system have to offer.
Quick disclaimer: some of this is going to be subjective. There are two places that we can pull actual data from for minor league pitches. One is over at FanGraphs on their prospect scouting boards, and one is from the MLB All-Star Future’s Game where we get data from the broadcast. The rest is going to come from info that I’ve gotten from within the organization or scouting reports that I’ve either done myself, or have gotten from somewhere else. So if I miss a pitch here, it’s probably because they didn’t have any data for me at FanGraphs and I haven’t gotten any good reports anywhere else. This list is certainly not the end-all be-all.
Without further ado, let’s get after it.
20/80 grade (FanGraphs):
- Richard Lovelady - 60 PV (Present Value)
- Carlos Hernandez - 60 PV
- Daniel Lynch - 55 PV
- Jackson Kowar - 55 PV
- Scott Blewett - 55 PV
- Daniel Tillo - 55 PV
It should be noted that the 20/80 grade scale is a scale used by scouts to value the present and/or future value of a certain characteristic of a prospect. 20 would be the worst grade possible, with 80 being the best. Here’s a great article by Kiley McDaniel further explaining the 20/80 scale. For pitchers, a 60-grade fastball means that they expect the pitch to sit at an average of 93 mph. For a 55-grade, it’s an average of 92 mph. Here’s a little piece of McDaniel’s article further explaining some of the nuance of fastball grades:
“Fastball velocity is pretty self-explanatory and this is used as a starting point, with many other pieces of information leading to 1-2 notch moves up or down. As mentioned above, lefty/righty and starter/reliever can be taken into account (though I and many teams don’t do that, instead considering those factors in the overall grade at the end) while command, movement and deception are common other components to move up/down from the starting velocity grade.”
I should mention that guys like Richard Lovelady, Scott Blewett, and Daniel Tillo will throw a pretty good sinker at times, meaning their velos are less important than Jackson Kowar’s 4-seam fastball. Additionally, guys like Jackson Kowar will run their fastballs up to 99 mph, but command, spin rate, and command knock him down to the 55 range.
- Jackson Kowar - 99/93-96
- Daniel Lynch - 99/91-95
- Ismael Aquino - 97/93-96
- Carlos Hernandez - 97/93-95
- Daniel Tillo - 97/92-95
- Janser Lara - 97/91-95
Spin Rate (RPMs):
- Grant Gavin - 2500
- Carlos Hernandez - 2450
- Gerson Garabito - 2400
- Janser Lara - 2400
- Richard Lovelady - 2350
- Alec Marsh - 2350
- Daniel Lynch - 2350
- Grant Gambrell - 2350
Per the data over at Baseball Savant, the average spin rate and average velocity among pitchers that threw at least 500 fastballs last season were 2262 RPMs and 92.8 mph, respectively. Spin rate and velocity both correlate strongly with a pitcher’s ability to generate swings and misses on their fastball. Spin rate more so than velocity, but the number one predictor of overall success for any pitcher is velocity. If you’re looking for the best overall fastball in the Royals system, based on overall grade and raw data, it looks like 6’ 4” RHP Carlos Hernandez takes home the prize.
Breakout #Royals prospect, @LexingtonLegend RHP Carlos Hernandez. Wanted to get video out of this guy first as he is the least-known player @NickJFaleris and I touched on in this week's #diPOD.— Adam McInturff (@2080adam) May 31, 2018
Physical guy w/ occasional spin; 93-97 w/ heavy hop to FB. #RaisedRoyal@RoyalsFarm pic.twitter.com/aOz2JqWpRw
- Alec Marsh - 55 PV
- Gerson Garabito - 55 PV
- Foster Griffin - 55 PV
- Yefri Del Rosario - 50 PV
- Daniel Lynch - 50 PV
- Grant Gambrell - 50 PV
- Scott Blewett - 50 PV
After going 5-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 6 August starts for @LexingtonLegend, #Royals No. 24 prospect Yefri Del Rosario picked up right where he left off in his first postseason start last night: https://t.co/CV96dVv8EK pic.twitter.com/qxmnHqwsGz— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 11, 2018
- Drew Parrish - 2700
- Kris Bubic - 2650
- Gerson Garabito - 2650
- Grant Gambrell - 2600
- Austin Cox - 2450
- Foster Griffin - 2450
- Yefri Del Rosario - 2400
- Grant Gavin - 2400
According to the data over at Baseball Savant, the average spin rate on curveballs for anyone that threw at least 250 curveballs last year was 2539 RPMs. There is a positive correlation between high spin rates on curveballs and the overall success of the pitch, particular when it comes to generating ground balls, but it’s not nearly as strong as with fastballs.
This is, unfortunately, all of the hard evidence that we have for MiLB curveballs. Without access to more data it’s really hard to pick a definite winner for the “best curveball in the system” award. If it were up to me, I’d probably hand it to Austin Cox with a slight edge over Kris Bubic. With that being said, both pitches are very good coming from big left-handed pitchers.
Kris Bubic breaking ball pic.twitter.com/hvjeCEAneT— Robert James (@confusion_reign) September 13, 2019
- Richard Lovelady - 55 PV
- Alec Marsh - 50 PV
- Daniel Lynch - 50 PV
- Daniel Tillo - 50 PV
- Janser Lara - 2850
- Noah Murdock - 2800
- Yohanse Morel - 2550
- Richard Lovelady - 2450
- Alec Marsh - 2350
- Brady Singer - 2300
The average spin rate on big league sliders, according to Baseball Savant, is 2433 RPMs. Spin rate on sliders matters less for swings and misses and ground balls than it does for curveballs, but there is good correlation between slider spin rates and exit velocity, which is obviously important. I want to use this time to remind everyone that Janser Lara has a wicked slider. His stuff is actually among the most impressive that I’ve seen on the Royals farm, he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to put it all together. If he can get healthy and register a full season’s worth of innings in 2020, he’s a name that Royals fans should absolutely know.
Royals lefty Daniel Lynch varying the shape of his knuckle slider. pic.twitter.com/WJw8CeUvKF— FanGraphs Prospects (@FG_Prospects) October 14, 2019
- Kris Bubic - 55 PV
- Jackson Kowar - 55 PV
- Carlos Hernandez - 50 PV
- Drew Parrish - 50 PV
- Foster Griffin - 50 PV
There is small correlation between the spin rates of changeups and their overall success according to Savant, but I can’t find any of that data on FanGraphs or otherwise. All we have to go off of is the scouting grades that sites like FanGraphs give these changeups and what I’ve observed myself. For what it’s worth, MLB Pipeline gives Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic’s changeups each a grade of 60.
I’m here to tell you that the grades you’re seeing on Jackson Kowar’s changeup are blasphemous. Kowar’s changeup is a legitimate 70-grade offering. Bubic is probably close at a 60, maybe pushing 65, but remember these grades are subjective. Jackson Kowar’s changeup is not only the best changeup in the system, it might be the best overall pitch in the system.
Jackson Kowar’s changeup is ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/VWWDOLbc2z— Alex Duvall (@duvy_013) June 10, 2018
Kowar CH/FB sequence. His 96 plays like 99 with how filthy his changeup is. Changeup doesn’t even have to be a strike to be effective. pic.twitter.com/Z6DTCRhNyi— Alex Duvall (@duvy_013) June 27, 2018
So there you go. That’s about as good as we can do with the information that we have available to us this far. In a subjective/objective mix, I’d argue that Jackson Kowar’s changeup is the single best pitch in the system, followed by Carlos Hernandez’ fastball, followed closely by Daniel Lynch’s combination of breaking balls.
You may notice that Brady Singer didn’t register on our lists much. So much of Singer’s success comes from his brilliant ability to command his pitches and the conviction he throws them with. In my opinion, analytics still severely undermines the importance command and sequencing play in success. Singer doesn’t throw his fastball as hard or spin it as fast as other guys, but the late run he gets combined with pristine command sets it above most other pitches in the org. While that makes it impossible to quantify, don’t discount Singer’s stuff on account of the raw data.
My personal top 10 pitches/pitch combinations in the Royals system
- Jackson Kowar’s changeup. Not only can Jackson Kowar’s fastball actually reach 99 mph, but when you have to prepare for a 70-grade changeups, it makes the fastball look even faster. Kowar doesn’t have the elite spin rate you’d like to see, but his changeup will help him to generate plenty of swings and misses, both on its own and on fastballs.
- Carlos Hernandez’ fastball. He throws it hard, he spins it fast, and his curveball keeps hitters from camping out and waiting for it. If Hernandez can stay healthy, he’s got legitimate third starter stuff. At worst, he could be incredibly valuable in the back end of a bullpen.
- Daniel Lynch’s slider/curveball combo. I don’t think either pitch is as good as Austin Cox’ curveball alone, but Lynch’s ability to mix his slider and curveball together, making them look like the same pitch at different speeds, is a lethal combo.
- Austin Cox’s curveball. The thing is absolutely filthy from the left side of the mound. FanGraphs hasn’t quite taken notice yet, which I expect to change when they release their 2020 prospect rankings, but I think this pitch is a legitimate 55-grade offering with potential to get to 60 as he improves his command of the pitch.
- Kris Bubic’s changeup. The biggest difference between Cox’s curveball and Bubic’s changeup, for me, is how I expect the pitch to play at the big league level. This is much less a knock on Bubic’s changeup as it is high praise for the pitches above it on this list.
- Richard Lovelady’s slider. When Lovelady is tunneling his sinker/slider well, it’s an unhittable combo. The raw data on Lovelady’s slider is one thing, but when he gets the slider working from his low 3⁄4 arm slot, as a LHP, it’s a filthy offering.
- Daniel Tillo’s sinker. Dan Tillo’s sinker is absolutely electric. He was flashing 97 mph as a reliever for Team USA this past offseason and I could not be more excited to see how well his stuff plays up in a more permanent relief role.
- Carlos Hernandez’ curveball. He doesn’t always locate it perfectly, and I think it could benefit Hernandez to make the pitch a bit sharper, but it’s a really good breaking ball. The difference between Hernandez having a future in the rotation versus a bullpen could be hinged on this pitch being a 60-grade pitch, versus a 50-grade pitch.
- Yohanse Morel’s changeup/slider combo. Morel is a guy that Royals fans need to be familiar with. For a lot of young pitchers, being effective against LHH and RHH alike can be challenging. Morel’s changeup won’t be as effective against RHH as you’d like, but his ability to pair the two pitches together and tunnel them well helps them play up. This is the benefit of having three good pitches.
- Yefri Del Rosario’s curveball. Del Rosario’s curveball isn’t the tightest breaking ball you could throw, but he combines it with his fastball well and he shows really good command of his breaking pitch for a young pitcher. If Del Rosario can return healthy in 2020, he could force his way up this list heading into 2021.
- All of Brady Singer’s pitches combined
- Janser Lara’s slider
- Grant Gavin’s fastball/curveball combo