Every season there are a handful of young players who break through their individual expectations and contribute greatly to the team. Last season, Nicky Lopez, Scott Barlow, and Jake Brentz all surprised us with their performances. This type of sudden improvement is one of the greatest joys in all sports, a player who was barely even given a thought about the season before suddenly making an impact winning games. It’s an amazing feeling for everyone involved and in 2022 I believe that five of the best candidates to fill this role for the Royals are listed below.
Ronald is a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher from Cuba the Royals acquired in 2020, along with Franchy Cordero in exchange for Tim Hill. Bolaños has only played five games with the Royals’ big league team so far and has shown some flashes. In his three relief appearances (6.1 innings) in 2021, Bolaños allowed four hits and one earned run along with ten strikeouts and only two walks. He throws five pitches - a sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup. His four-seamer and sinker both average around 95mph and his four-seamer has gone as high as 99 mph. His curveball is deceptive as it drops about 10 inches less than most other pitchers’ curves but has an additional 12 inches more horizontal movement than average. His slider looked to lead to a lot of swings and misses and his changeup is still developing.
After a right forearm strain sent him to the 60-Day IL in June, the Royals’ top-30 prospect was not seen again in the majors last season. He spent time in Arizona, AA, and AAA on several rehab assignments and had some flashes but did not look like he did earlier in the year in the majors. After a full offseason of recovery and training, I believe that Ronald Bolaños seems like a perfect candidate to make a name for himself out of the bullpen in 2022.
Projected MLB 2022 Stat-Line: 40 G 50 IP 3.50 ERA 1.25 WHIP 55 SO 32 BB
After a call-up on September 20, the righty out of Missouri State had something to prove. Dylan was a ‘player to be named later’ in a trade that brought Edward Olivares to Kansas City and sent Trevor Rosenthal to San Diego, and he made the most of his five relief appearances in 2021. He allowed only five hits and one earned run while only walking one batter and striking out seven. He spent the rest of the year prior to this call-up in AA and AAA where he only walked 22 batters while striking out 93 over the course of 57.2 IP. He had a 3.28 ERA paired with a 1.040 WHIP and was dominating at the minor league level.
Coleman throws a four-seam fastball and a slider very effectively. His fastball averaged 98.2 mph in 2021 and reached up to 102 mph. His slider is no joke either, thrown 39.4% of the time in 2021, and out of the 43 pitches thrown there wasn’t a hit recorded against it in his relief appearances. His slider also had 65% more horizontal break (9.2 inches) than the average pitcher’s slider (5.6 inches) making this an extremely effective wipeout pitch.
Coleman seemed very confident in his game last year and showed good control of the game. If he can keep similar velocity to what he has shown over the course of a full season and keep using that slider so effectively, then I believe that he could be an absolute anchor in this bullpen.
Projected MLB 2022 Stat-Line: 50 G 50 IP 3.25 ERA 1.15 WHIP 60 SO 20 BB
As I mentioned in my review of his 2021 season, Kyle Isbel had several different seasons in one last year, but overall ended the season on a promising note. Across 28 games and 83 plate appearances, the 2018 third-round draft pick out of UNLV slashed .276/.337/.434 with five doubles, two triples, a home run, and two stolen bases while making appearances in every position in the outfield. In his 16 games in the MLB after being called back up Kyle slashed .286/.362/.524 while walking more (five times) and striking out less (eight times) than prior in the season.
The challenge with Kyle Isbel in 2022 will be finding his reps. Centerfield will be locked up by Gold Glover Michael A. Taylor most of the time unless they platoon Isbel occasionally. MAT slashed .224/.277/.328 against righties in 376 AB last season and .295/.344/.424 against lefties over 139 AB. The position Isbel is most likely to get reps early on is in right field. However, once other prospects like Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, and possibly Vinnie Pasquantino are called up, playing time could get harder to find. Isbel will have to prove himself early on to secure his position later in the season.
Projected MLB 2022 Stat-Line: 115 G, 340 PA, 306 AB, .278/.350/.438 slash-line, .788 OPS, 85 Hits, 13 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Homeruns, 10 Steals, 32 Walks, 80 Strikeouts, 37 RBI, 48 Runs
Simply put, there isn’t much lower than you can get from Kowar’s 2021 big league season. He has all the skills in the world, a great resume, and is one of the Royals' top prospects drafted out of the first round. All he has to do is put everything together (much easier said than done). In 2021, through nine games with the big-league club, Kowar was 0-6 with an 11.27 ERA across 30.1 IP. He walked 20 batters while only striking out 29, his FIP was 6.43 and his WHIP was over 2. Again, he can only go up from here. In Kowar’s case, it seems that his issues in the majors revolve around him being uncomfortable, not confident, and simply his struggle to adjust. Over his entire minor league career (255.1 IP) he has a career ERA of 3.49 and WHIP of 1.234 while never having a full season above a 3.60 ERA.
In his first six starts in Omaha in 2021, Kowar held his opponents to a slash-line of .165/.248/.193 (.441 OPS) with a 0.85 ERA and was 5-0. He was then called up to the majors and seemingly lost all of his confidence. He never looked comfortable up there and then once he was shortly sent back down he even struggled some in AAA again. He throws a four-seamer, changeup, slider, and curveball. His fastball averages 95.6 mph and his changeup, when controlled, is an amazing swing and miss pitch. The changeup has 3.9 more inches of vertical movement than average and 2.3 more inches of horizontal drop than average. His fastball also moves horizontally 68% more (5.1 inches more) than an average fastball. He throws his fastball and changeup a combined 85.7% of the time and can be filthy if he is under control and confident.
Once up with the team again, Kowar will still likely struggle somewhat and could even be used in more relief roles since he is a two-pitch pitcher. This could help him build some confidence and then the team could transition him back to a starter role. I believe next season Kowar will still not be what we all expect yet but will begin to bounce back from his forgettable 2021.
Projected MLB 2022 Stat-Line: 22 G 12 GS 60 IP 5.30 ERA 1.41 WHIP 60 SO 35 BB
Similar to Kyle Isbel, I split up Lynch’s season into a few separate parts. To sum it up, he went from three games of a struggling, adjusting rookie who was likely tipping his pitches, to seven games of nearly Cy Young Award-quality pitching where he was 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA, then back to five games of very below average pitching to end off the season. He was another mixed bag, as most rookies are, but looked excellent for 40.1 out of his 68.0 innings pitched this past season. He ended off 2021 with a 5.69 ERA and a 1.632 WHIP while striking out 55 and walking 31 batters.
Lynch pitches a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, sinker, and curveball. His four-seamer and slider accounted for nearly 70% of his pitches thrown last season. In 2021, his opponents hit in the high .300s against his four-seamer and changeup, while hitting below .200 against his slider and sinker. His slider is his go-to strikeout pitch and earned him a 41.8% Whiff rate on 367 thrown.
The first-round pick out of the University of Virginia has already looked great in the show, he just has to perform at that level for a longer stretch than seven games next year. When in complete control, Lynch looks like the Royals’ future ace. Hopefully, 2022 is the year that Daniel Lynch can break out and live up to all of our expectations for him.
Projected MLB 2022 Stat-Line: 22 G 22 GS 110 IP 4.20 ERA 1.35 WHIP 100 SO 45 BB
Who is most likely to break out in 2022?
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