Royals Lose a Game, Win a Day
Another starter got rocked in a lopsided loss, but the Royals still had a good day overall.
This might be a different sort of edition of Inside the Crown. Normally I like to go in depth on the game and key in on a pitcher or a situation or whatever it might be. But to be honest, the game was kind of secondary on a day where the Royals were able to find a taker for Carlos Santana and get Vinnie Pasquantino to the big leagues. It’d be easy to lament another Royals loss, marveling at the fact they’ve allowed double-digit runs 12 times, which is more than any other team in baseball. Or that the offense looked like it was ready to go blow-for-blow, only to return fully to its shell after the second inning.
Okay, fine. Let’s talk about the game for a minute. Kris Bubic was terrible. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Bubic didn’t have his fastball at all in this one and it cost him dearly in the second inning (and his defense didn’t help). Here’s where he threw the fastball throughout the game.
That’s a lot of the middle of the plate and a lot of nowhere near the middle of the plate. He worked around it in the first with a strikeout and a double play, but ended up giving up four in the second. There was an error by Bobby Witt Jr. in that second inning and another ball that probably should have been an error by Emmanuel Rivera, but Bubic only has himself to blame for the poor command. He eventually seemed like he got things back on track, but then gave up a long home run to old nemesis Mitch Garver in the fifth and his day was over. Matt Peacock, who will likely be remembered as “oh yeah, he played for the Royals for a minute” gave up three in the sixth and that was all she wrote.
There was a bright spot. And, against all odds, it was Jackson Kowar. I had mentioned before that the Royals were re-working a lot with his delivery to allow him to get more carry on his fastball. It’s a big reason why his numbers were so bad when he was first demoted to Omaha. He was pitching in a way he never had before. But once he figured things out, it started to look much better for him. In his last seven starts, he had a fairly pedestrian 4.11 ERA, but struck out 47 and walked 15 in 35 innings. And a lot of that was a game where he gave up nine runs. I think he’s going to be prone to those sort of games, at least for the time being.
But there were flashes. And those in the know have told me that he looked great once he got comfortable with the changes. Then he came out of the bullpen last night and while he walked the first batter he faced, he deserved a better fate. On a 3-2 pitch, he threw about the most perfect 98 MPH heater you’ll find. It clipped the bottom corner of the zone and should have been an emphatic strike three, but it was called a ball. Oh well. He got the next out on kind of a crazy play at the plate and that’s where my excitement started.
He got Leody Taveras on a called third strike on his changeup.
Then he got Charlie Culberson on a changeup down that Culberson swung over the top of.
After that, it was an even better changeup that got Marcus Semien swinging.
The next inning, Corey Seager grounded out before Kowar got Adolis Garcia swinging on a…changeup!
He started the ninth with a strikeout of Mitch Garver on a changeup.
He walked a couple as it looked like he lost his release for a minute, but ended up getting Semien to end his outing.
You know what? Let’s take a look at a montage of all his changeup swings and misses from yesterday’s game.
In total, he went 3.1 innings with two hits allowed and five strikeouts against three walks. It probably should have been six strikeouts and two walks, but we won’t complain too much.
It’s hard to argue with what you see above. The changeup was working, so he threw it and he threw it a lot. He got called strikes, he got whiffs. He had it all. The Rangers were 2 for 9 against his changeup with five strikeouts.
But the fastball excites me too. He had a 15.6 percent whiff rate on that fastball coming into the game in his career and a 24.2 percent CSW%. Obviously he far exceeded both of those tonight. If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s the 105 additional rpms of spin and the two inches less of vertical break to help the ball be a bit less hitter-friendly.
After Bubic’s start and rough outings this year in general and the way Kowar looked, I think it would be wise for the Royals to get him a start or two at some point, at least before Daniel Lynch comes back. Their next opponent is the Tigers, who are one of, if not the, worst offenses in all of baseball. Seems like it’d be a good time to see what Kowar can do in a starting role at the big league level.
The Trade and Subsequent Callup
Carlos Santana and Trade Thoughts
I don’t know that the Royals handled the Santana situation the best way possible on the whole, but given where it ended up, I think they did a fantastic job. I don’t know that they didn’t handle it the best way possible either, for what it’s worth. I’m just not sure either way. When they signed him, it’s important to remember that Nick Pratto was coming off a .191/.278/.310 season in A-ball the last time the Royals saw him play and Pasquantino was great, but as a 21-year-old in rookie ball. The Royals understandably didn’t feel terribly confident in their first base options for at least the next couple of seasons. So, as can happen, the young guys proved their worth in the minors and Santana seemed to hit a wall.
At the trade deadline last season, there was a lot of talk about the Red Sox being interested in him and the Royals not liking the deal. Dayton Moore then gave some silly quote about how they liked to have guys like Santana and all that. I’ll continue to report what I have heard from multiple sources that the Red Sox did want Santana…if they couldn’t get Anthony Rizzo or Kyle Schwarber. Then they got Schwarber, so that was dead and there were just no other takers. So Santana remained on the team and obviously started the year about as poorly as possible. The Royals could have just dumped him. And maybe should have. But the plan all along was for him to get hot. I can tell you that they’ve been talking with other teams about him for a bit now.
He was actually starting to hit a little better before he had to go on the IL in early May and then when he came back, he was 0 for 19 in his first six games back and started to lose some playing time. That was when I thought they might hit him with the DFA. But he’d hit .298/.405/.468 in his final 27 games with the Royals and gave them a viable trade piece. As I wrote yesterday, when Ty France went down, the Mariners found themselves in need and they jumped on it, giving the Royals not one, but two living, breathing baseball players.
The return doesn’t matter a whole lot, but it isn’t something that we can’t discuss. In Wyatt Mills, they picked up a reliever who is 27 and has very little big league experience. He comes at hitters from the side, which, as a scout told me, makes him very funky. His fastball has some decent sink and run and sits in the low-90s. I think I’ve seen that he can get it into the mid-90s, but it flattens out a bit, so he does better throwing a touch less hard with it. And he can make some hitters uncomfortable.
The profile is sort of similar to Jose Cuas in that he throws a little harder, gets a ton of grounders and can get a lot of ugly swings. Last year he struck out 51 and walked just seven in 28.2 innings in AAA. The scout I spoke with told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if Mills has a couple very solid years in middle relief, but there isn’t much of a ceiling there beyond that.
The ceiling in the deal comes from William Fleming, who was the Mariners 11th round pick out of Wake Forest last season. He hasn’t been especially impressive as a 23-year old in A-ball. That’s not encouraging. But before the draft, teams liked the heavy sinking fastball that averaged in the mid-90s and reportedly could touch the upper-90s. He does throw strikes with it, but it’s a little flat so that’ll need some work. But he does have a tight slider that could be a plus pitch and a move to the bullpen might help both pitches and get him through the system quickly.
He ranks 26th on the Fangraphs organizational rankings, but is nowhere to found on either Baseball America or MLB Pipeline’s top-30 rankings for the Mariners.
In all, I think you’ll probably not see much out of the return, though I think Mills can be a solid stopgap guy with options, which is super important, but maybe Fleming can put it together and show the stuff with the control and become something for the Royals. Personally, I’d rather they target bats since they’ve shown they can develop those a little better, but I’ll take the arms given the total lack of market for Santana as recently as even a month ago.
What to Expect from Vinnie
And the reason the return doesn’t matter that much is because trading Santana allowed the Royals to bring up Pasquantino from Omaha. He was hitting .280/.372/.576 in AAA after hitting .300/.394/.563 last year between high-A and AA. The guy can simply hit. He has a very good feel for the zone and makes a lot of high quality contact. I haven’t talked as much about this lately, but swinging strike rate is something I’m very interested in with minor leaguers. It gives a better idea of the hit tool statistically. For example, Pratto has a 31 percent strikeout rate in AAA but a swinging strike rate of 11.7 percent, which is in line with what MJ Melendez put up last year in AAA when he had a strikeout rate of 21.2 percent.
Those are two of the better young hitters in the Royals organization. Pasquantino’s swinging strike rate is 7.7 percent. That’s second-lowest among the top 30 home run hitters in AAA this season. He’s third in home runs and is one of just 10 players with double-digit home runs and a single-digit swinging strike rate. He has more walks than strikeouts and as many extra base hits as strikeouts. It’s a pretty impressive profile. Similar to how I thought Melendez wouldn’t miss a bit coming to the big leagues, I don’t think Pasquantino will either. This is the biggest jump someone can make, obviously, but his ability to make good contact and swing at good pitches will take him far.
A lot of people were upset he wasn’t in the lineup last night, but I think a tough lefty on the mound combined with getting to the park less than three hours before first pitch probably contributed to that. But I think you’re just going to see a professional hitter. Honestly, you’ll probably see a pretty similar type of hitter that Santana had been over the last month over so if you maybe take away a handful of walks and add some pop. He’ll have his struggles, sure, but I think he’s a guy who will have no problem being at least above average against big league pitching and I don’t think it’ll take all that long to settle in either.