Jackson Kowar, the top pitching prospect in the Royals’ farm system, took the bump against St. Paul, the Twins’ farm club, for the second time in a week on Sunday. While not as dominant as his first time out, he managed to get through five innings and find a feel for his stuff after avoiding early pressure. K
owar’s fastball had a little less juice this time out, working 92-95 mph, topping out at 98 mph but with a tad less control. The Saints jumped on him for three hits and a run in the first inning while threatening in each of the first three innings. In two starts this year, Kowar has a 0.87 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 4 walks in 10 1⁄3 innings.
I asked Kowar how much of their success was on his command or due to them seeing him for the second time in the same week.
Kowar: I think it was a little less about the second time and more about me giving them leverage counts. I think I was a lot 2-0 or 3-1 in that first inning. For me, it’s about controlling the count more than anything. They have some experience, especially at the top of that order, and you can’t be giving those guys too many fastball counts in a row. I was able to get the leveraged counts more in my favor as the game was going on and put up some zeroes.
Hits off Kowar
Refsnyder double 2-0 count 1st inning
Telis single 1-0 count 1st inning
Rooker single 3-1 pitch 1st inning
Pena 0-0 count 2nd inning
Rooker single 1-1 count 3rd inning
Albers single 1-0 count 3rd inning
The changeup improved as the game wore on. Did you get a better feel for it as the game went on?
Kowar: My direction got a little better. Early on, I was getting a little more east to west which is something I usually fight. Just getting down the mound a little better and finishing that pitch, creating a little more depth and a little less lateral movement to get under some barrels. Getting it in the strike zone as well and making them respect an offspeed pitch in the zone. Those two factors getting more depth and that less fading, sweeping action helps me get under barrels.
What do you have to do to make the curveball a usable and better third pitch?
Kowar: I have to put myself in counts to throw it. Like I said, I was constantly battling to get into counts and didn’t have an opportunity to throw it and find a feel for it. Early in counts, I wasn’t landing it for a strikes, which is a little frustrating, but it’s nice to know I can battle through that, and we’ll get back at it next week.
I didn’t see a curveball land for a strike in this outing after he got one whiff and a couple of called strikes with the pitch in his first start. It’s a pitch that most believe needs improvement to be a big-league starter and achieve his promise as a pitcher.
There is plenty of talk about the difference in feel of the Triple-A and MLB ball compared to the Double-A ball, have you noticed it?
Kowar: I got a good feel for it in camp of 2020. It’s something like anything else; you get used to it. When you get to college, the ball feels tiny, and a month later you don’t notice it, then you get to pro ball, and the seems seam small, and then you get the big league ball. Just like anything, you get used to it and they use big-league balls in the big leagues, so if I want to play there, I have to get used to it.
How quirky is it going to be facing the same team twice in a week or getting pushed back an extra day off each week with that Monday off-day built-in?
Kowar: As far as facing the same team in 2019 in the Texas League, there were only eight teams. I think I made 13 starts, and six or seven of them were versus Tulsa. I don’t prefer it, but scouting reports are a lot easier the second time through. Guys see you more, but you also see their swings a lot more. For me, if you want to pitch in the big leagues, you’re going to have to face the same team in your division a lot. It’s something I enjoy, and it’s something I’m glad we get to work on instead of facing a lineup once a year. You get to be able to turn it into a chess match more. Guys that pitch a long time at the big leagues will tell you it’s something you have got to be good at, and it’s something I enjoy getting to work at in the minor leagues.
Overall for the week, it was a positive one for Kowar. The fastball was dominant in start one, hitting 99 mph multiple times and the changeup was a monster throughout game one and the final two innings of game two. The curveball is a work in progress but he did better in both games at keeping it lower in the zone which at times was an issue during 2019. It’s one week, but the results are on the positive side for the Royals right-hander.