Going into 2020 Spring Training, the single most pressing question on the lips of Kansas City Royals fans was about the farm system—namely, the collection of pitching talent that had ascended thanks to recent drafts. Headlined by the foursome of Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic, a half dozen other pitching prospects warranted consideration and legitimate interest.
COVID-19 changed all that, although to be fair at this point it would be more accurate to highlight when it did not fundamentally change a piece of our world. The 2020 MLB and MiLB seasons have been delayed indefinitely. While there are furious discussions taking place about when and how to kick off the season, a July start date seems the most reasonable—and even then we might not see anything resembling normalcy in the experience itself, and that’s only if there’s a season at all.
Minor league baseball is going through its own crucible right now, with team contractions all but inevitable. And even if we get a big league season, we may not get any minor leagues. This particularly impacts minor leaguers, whose all-important development has collectively lurched to a near-total stop. For Singer, Kowar, Lynch, Bubic, and the rest, time that could have been spent honing their craft is being washed away by the pandemic waters. The Royals are frustrated by this, of course; JJ Picollo discussed the difficulties of continuing prospect development when there are no games:
“From a game/competition standpoint, there’s really nothing we can do, as much as I hate to say that,” Picollo said. “We’ve had some players asking, ‘If I could, should I face hitters?’ At this point, we’ve told them just hold off on that. ‘We’ll have time to get you guys ramped up, get your pitch counts up to a respectable number, so we’d rather you not face hitters right now.’
“But if it got to the point where we’re in the unfortunate situation where the season is canceled, yeah, then you’ve got to consider things like that. Regardless of what that might look like from one individual to the next, not playing competitive games at the appropriate level for each player, that hurts.”
It’s natural to wonder how this extended and forced absence from the game is affecting these prospects. The worrying part is that it almost certainly is impacting their development against a hypothetical control in which the season began as normal, but we’ll never know how and in which direction. It is, however, worth noting that this isn’t only a Royals problem. It’s a league problem.
Look: the Royals finally waited through the line of the offseason to get onto the Mamba only for the ride to break down on the lift hill. The Royals may be stuck, but this isn’t a case where the Timberwolf is running next door and other riders are happily accruing more fun. The Timberwolf is down, as is the Prowler, as is every ride at Worlds of Fun because all the power generators, temporary or otherwise, ceased to function.
Every team is in the same boat here. They’re all losing years of prospect control. They’re losing years of MLB contract control. This is to say nothing of the tens of thousands of professional and collegiate baseball players around the United States and beyond whose lives and careers could be changed forever.
So, yes, it could be detrimental for the Royals’ top prospects for this to happen right now. But it’s important to note that it’s happening to every team and every prospect simultaneously. Is that not much consolation? Maybe. However, perspective can be elusive in times like this, and it is vital to maintain it when possible.