Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com was recently asked to project the Royals’ starting rotation to begin the year, and he made some waves by projecting 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer as the fifth starter. He also spoke with Dayton Moore about the possibility of Singer making the team, and Dayton did not discount the possibility.
“We wouldn’t (be surprised),” Moore said. “We don’t put limitations on our guys. We have a battle plan like anyone else. We have a script like anyone else on when a player might be ready to make it to the Major Leagues. Strong organizations, healthy organizations, aren’t afraid to be flexible in their plans. The player ultimately tells us if they are ready.”
The possibility of Singer making the initial rotation has been discussed before, but I never gave it any kind of merit before Flanny’s articles this week. It is one thing for a team to say they’re going to let a kid compete for the job. Every kid is competing for one job or another. It’s an entirely other thing for the team’s beat writer to predict that Singer will actually break camp with the big league club. Flanny is really smart, and really well connected. He wouldn’t be making that prediction if he didn’t think it was a very legitimate possibility.
So, Brady Singer has a legitimate chance to open 2020 season as the Royals big league starter. Now what?
There’s a few things that I want to get mentioned before we get to my opinion on Singer:
- Players accrue a year of big league service time when they spend 172 days on the big league roster.
- Since there are 187 days in a big league season, this means that the Royals could buy themselves an extra year of control over Brady Singer by just holding him in the minors for 16 days of the 2020 season.
- Barring rainouts, April 9th would be the first time that the Royals would absolutely need a fifth starter in their rotation.
- April 9th is the 15th day of the MLB season.
- In order for the Royals to get an extra year of control of Brady Singer, they’d have to leave him in the minor leagues for ONE extra day beyond when they’d need him on April 9th.
If the Royals asked me for my opinion, I would leave Brady Singer in Arizona when spring training ends, let him make a simulated start or two there, and let him begin the 2020 season with AAA Omaha.
If the Royals keep Singer off the MLB roster until April 9, they could push back his free agency until after the 2026 season. when Singer will be 30 years old. To gain that extra year of control, assuming Brady Singer is any good at the big league level, would be a huge asset to the Royals organization. I do think it is important for the Royals to game the system and gain an extra year of control for one of their top pitching prospects.
The easiest way to do that is to leave him off of the big league roster until he is needed during that second week of April, but I actually think a brief stint at AAA could be beneficial as well. Singer was phenomenal to close out his professional debut in 2019. Over his last nine starts at AA, Singer posted an ERA of 1.96 and struck out 58 batters (to just 14 walks) in 55 innings. This is exactly how the front office thought Singer would pitch, and the reason they drafted him with the 18th overall selection in 2018.
As good as Singer was over his last nine starts of the season, his first seven starts at AA should not be overlooked. Over his first seven appearances in Northwest Arkansas, Singer’s ERA was 5.80 and he struck out just 27 batters in 35 2⁄3 innings. I think Singer is much closer to the pitcher he was over his final nine outings, but you can’t completely write off his first seven starts either.
My point in all of that is this: I think it would be really beneficial for Singer to make a couple of starts using the ball in AAA Omaha (the same one they use in the big leagues) before he transitions to the big leagues. I do not think this is the right strategy for everyone. I trust Brady Singer’s confidence and makeup on the mound to not get discouraged if he gets hit around a bit in Omaha.
Singer didn’t necessarily get off to a “slow” start, in A+ Wilmington to begin 2019, but he was certainly better over his final four starts than he was in his first six. This is hardly a significant sample size, and I’m not going to start labeling Singer as a slow starter, but I do think it’s noteworthy when talking about Singer starting his second professional season at the big league level, especially when an entire season of control is on the table.
Singer could easily change my mind this spring. I think if he comes out and dominates big league hitters in spring training, he could force the front office to let him make his first start in Toronto on April 9th. With all of the data that we currently have available to us, I think I’d personally rather him begin 2020 with the Storm Chasers. Obviously there are plenty of things can change between now and Opening Day.
I also imagine Singer reacting like this if he doesn’t break camp with the big league club: