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Dayton Moore: ‘It’s Time’ for Royals’ Young Pitchers to Step Up

The pressure is on for the Royals' brightest talents in the starting rotation.

As the Kansas City Royals get back into the swing of pre-regular season activities such as spring training, a ramp-up for the year is required. During this year's period, the stakes may be higher than ever for just about every young member of the team's rotation.

For the sake of argument, 26-year-old Brad Keller and his 5.39 ERA from last season will be left out of this conversation. Aside from him, the Royals had a quartet of Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Carlos Hernandez and Daniel Lynch log significant innings in 2021. They compiled 130.0, 128.1, 85.2 and 68.0, respectively. Jackson Kowar, the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, tossed 30.1 innings of big-league ball. The results for the group were mixed.

Jun 7, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jackson Kowar (37) waits on the mound to be taken out of the game during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

At the bottom of the aforementioned group is Kowar, who posted an astronomical 11.27 ERA in just nine appearances on the year. The jump from Triple-A to the MLB proved to be a bit too much for him earlier in the season and by the end of it, his final results were still poor. Singer, who flashed plenty of promise in 2020, took a step back last season as the league began to adjust to his lack of a trustworthy third pitch. He simply didn't have enough deception in what was left of his arsenal to have sustained success during the season.

Lynch, despite his 5.69 ERA, had some of the highest highs of any "young" Royals pitcher. At times, he struggled with his control and walked way too many batters, which limited him from being a consistent overall contributor. During his best stretch of the year, though, he showed serious promise as a future No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Bubic was relatively steady throughout the year and although his ceiling is lower than that of others, his floor is also higher. That carries good value on a still-developing roster. 

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Carlos Hernandez, the player with quite possibly the lowest expectations surrounding him heading into the year, had a very impressive 24-game sample size. In addition to posting a tidy 3.68 ERA, the Venezuelan flame-thrower struck out 74 hitters. In 2022, the Royals will need more performances like that. President of baseball operations Dayton Moore recently spoke to the media about the club's youth on the pitching staff, and he emphasized that the time is now for these players to emerge as core pieces.

Sep 3, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore (left) sits with starting pitcher Carlos Hernandez (42) in the dugout while waiting out a rain delay before a game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“Well, I think it’s really important because it’s time for a lot of our guys to start taking some steps forward," Moore told the media on Saturday. "It’s been a very unnatural time. Some of them weren’t able to get finished off at the Triple-A level because of COVID, and we made a decision that we were going to put them on the major league club and give them an opportunity to develop. I think, in some ways, they’re playing a little catch-up at times. I think they’re at a point now, certainly mentally, that they know exactly what to expect — and it takes a couple of offseasons to figure that out.” 

Not many (if any) are expecting Kansas City to contend for a World Series title this season, but plenty are expecting to watch a competitive ball team. Moore's expectations are always high for the Royals, and he's doubling down on that with the added importance of and belief in the youngest arms on the MLB club. The lockout between the owners and players certainly presented a unique set of circumstances for everyone involved, but it didn't prohibit players from preparing on their own. While the offseason was unique, the Royals need their talent to rise to the challenge in order to help accomplish their goals. For Moore, that includes playoff baseball. 

“Of course, we want to be playing in October," Moore said. "That’s the mindset of Mike (Matheny), the coaching staff and this group of players. To do that, for that to take place, for that to occur… we’re going to need a lot of our players to step up and become more consistent and do some of the little things that you have to do to win Major League Baseball games.” 

It remains to be seen whether any of the pitchers mentioned here will prove to be long-term answers for the Royals. There's a lot left to be determined for one of the youngest groups in all of baseball. There are also reinforcements on the way, eventually giving Matheny even more options as the manager of the team. Regardless of how Kansas City divvies up its innings to starters this year, one thing is for certain: whoever does end up playing in 2022 is going to be held to the highest standard yet.

May 13, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Daniel Lynch (52) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports