It shouldn’t be a secret on how the Kansas City Royals are approaching their current rebuild. In the previous three drafts, general manager Dayton Moore has aggressively pursued college pitchers in hopes of molding one of the more dominant staffs in baseball for years to come. But what has gone quietly unnoticed is the development on one of the youngest teams in the organization’s system.
In 2019, the Dominican Summer League Royals won the first Dominican League title in club history. One of the members of the group, pitcher Luis De La Rosa, was a top arm despite being the second-youngest player on the team at 16 years old. Logging the third-most innings on the team, De La Rosa posted a 2.33 ERA in 11 starts with 52 strikeouts and seven walks. His WHIP of 0.905 was the best among pitchers who threw over 30 innings and his 12.1 SO/9 was the highest of any starter on the team. In addition to his high strikeout numbers, opposing hitters only managed to slash .197/.233/.254 off of De La Rosa with a line drive percentage of 16.7% and no home runs.
De La Rosa signed with Kansas City back on July 2nd, 2018, at just 15 years old for $147,500. He had been working with former minor league pitcher Alfredo Arias, who spent the better part of four seasons (1992-1995) between Rookie ball and Advanced-A. But unlike Arias, De La Rosa wasn’t expected to be a pitcher in his early years in the Dominican Republic. His slender frame and athletic ability positioned him at shortstop growing up. However, he transitioned to a pitcher shortly before signing with the Royals.
Baseball America praised his “pitchability” for his lack of experience on the mound and young age.
“De la Rosa has an array of positive projection indicators, with some of that projection already starting to bear out,” Baseball America Senior Writer Ben Badler said last year. “A former shortstop who moved to the mound before signing, De La Rosa is a bouncy athlete who has grown two inches to 6-foot-2, 175 pounds with a fastball that has also grown since signing. He’s now reaching the low-90s, with loose, easy arm action and the projection for more velocity to come. For someone without much experience on the mound, De La Rosa has shown surprising pitchability, with a slider and an advanced changeup for his age.”
After his first three outings in his 2019 campaign, De La Rosa torched his opponents over his next nine appearances. In 31 innings, the right-hander allowed three runs on 19 hits (0.87 ERA) with 43 strikeouts and five walks. His best performance came against the DSL Athletics when he struck out seven over a career-high five perfect innings. During the final two months of the season, De La Rosa faced 106 batters. Of those batters, only two managed to record an extra-base hit.
Luis De La Rosa may not pop up on the Royals Top-30 prospect list for a few years, but there’s no question the young right-hander has made a name for himself in front of the organization. With his ability to throw in the low 90s with command and harness an advanced change-up as a 17-year-old, the potential is certainly there for De La Rosa. Whether he maximizes it or not will be something to keep an eye on moving forward.