As the Kansas City Royals wrap up spring training and prepare for the 2022 regular season, some tough decisions need to be made regarding position groups. One of those groups is the pitching rotation, as multiple players are competing for a finite amount of spots in the starting five.
On Sunday, the team revealed its first four starters of the season. In the Royals' season-opening series against the Cleveland Guardians, the quartet of Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez will take the reins. That leaves one spot for a few players, as arms such as Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and even Jonathan Heasley have varying chances to crack the rotation. This presents Kansas City with a dilemma.
As of the publishing of this article, none of the aforementioned four players have been optioned to Triple-A Omaha. Regardless of whether manager Mike Matheny has already decided on a fifth starter or not, things remain wide open publicly. After a rough start against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, Lynch spoke about his thoughts (via Bally Sports Kansas City and the Royals) on breaking camp with the big-league club and his role.
"I try not to worry about that," Lynch said. "I feel like I've done everything that I could. I feel like I've thrown the ball really well. I felt like I came in really prepared and I did everything that I needed to do, and the rest is just not up to me. Obviously, I really want that but, like I said, the rest is just not up to me.
It's been an interesting past 12 months for Lynch, as he's less than a year removed from making his MLB debut. He undoubtedly flashed serious potential in a few games throughout the year but in 15 starts overall, his 5.69 ERA and 1.632 WHIP in 68 innings pitched showed how much room he still has to grow. Lynch's pure "stuff" is among the best in the organization, however, his control and consistency leave some to be desired.
This spring, Lynch started three games. Across those contests, he went 12-1/3 innings and surrendered 17 hits and six earned runs. Lynch walked two hitters and struck out seven, and his whip was 1.541. He and his 4.38 ERA showcased growth but at the same time, they also served as reminders of his rookie season. When asked about the feedback the Royals have been providing to him, Lynch said there was plenty of good.
"A lot of, just, positives," Lynch said. "Just really happy with how I came in prepared, that I've been able to build up. I think they're pleased with the stuff that I've done, but nothing really specific."
It remains to be seen what the Royals ultimately choose to do with their starting rotation. Lynch has plenty of competition, as Singer has kept working with his third pitch, Kowar is looking to bounce back from a disastrous 2021 and Heasley will be knocking on the door even if he doesn't break camp with the team. Having a surplus of young arms is both a blessing and a curse for an organization and its talent.
Whoever makes the cut will have a head start on making a more profound impact in a pivotal 2022 campaign. The odd men out will be tasked with working their way back into the good graces of coaches until they're given chances to start again. With that said, coming out of the bullpen might be on the table. Lynch is confident that he'd be comfortable doing so if needed.
"Sure," Lynch said. "It's still the big leagues, so, anything to help the team win."
Editor's note: Per the Royals on Monday afternoon, Heasley was optioned to Triple-A Omaha.