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Who Should Take Kris Bubic’s Spot in the Royals’ Starting Rotation?

With Bubic out of the rotation, it's time for someone else to step up.

Several members of the Kansas City Royals have had rough starts to the 2022 MLB season, and LHP Kris Bubic has been no different. The 24-year-old burst onto the scene a season ago and was one of the more consistent and reliable pitchers in the organization, but that production has completely abandoned him this year. As a result, a change is on the horizon.

Shortly after the Royals' Friday night game against the Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rain, manager Mike Matheny announced that Bubic would be heading to the bullpen. This came a couple of days following a terrible Wednesday start — one that saw the Bubic last just 1/3 of an inning. Matheny cited the move as a "necessary evolution" and something that will allow Bubic to "figure out some things about himself" moving forward.

Apr 29, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Kris Bubic (50) reacts after giving up a home run to New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (not pictured) during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In just 12-1/3 innings of work this season spread across five starts (that's an average of less than three innings per outing), Bubic has allowed 18 hits and 18 runs. Four home runs have been tacked on, as well as 11 walks to just eight strikeouts. After developing a slider during the offseason and using the offering in spring training, Bubic has yet to log a single one thrown this year.

Entering Saturday's play, Bubic ranked in the fifth percentile or worse of all MLB pitchers in seven of Baseball Savant's 14 main rankings. Being one of the league's worst performers in half a set of key metrics is never going to be a recipe for success. As such, Bubic will see if he can regain form in relief. Who are three main candidates to take his place? Let's take a look.

Brady Singer

Aug 29, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brady Singer (51) throws the ball during the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Brady Singer makes the most sense to return to the starting rotation, as he has experience there previously anyway. Before 2022, the 25-year-old right-hander had pitched exclusively in the rotation, logging 192-2/3 innings and posting a 4.62 ERA. After a spring training battle with Daniel Lynch, however, Singer began the year out of the bullpen but was rarely used. He was sent down to Triple-A Omaha near the end of April to be stretched back out as a starter, and now it seems that he could have an opportunity.

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The complicated part with Singer is that unless he was a last resort for a doubleheader or a direct replacement for someone on the Injured List, he can't be called back up for 15 days from his option time. This puts him at a mid-May (May 13) recall date, by which the Royals would've already needed someone to start in Bubic's place. It's entirely logical to project a possible spot-starter (more on that later) to absorb the load in the interim, thus giving Singer time to condition his arm and be legally allowed to rejoin the team. Once he does so — and if he does so — the third-year starter could stick in the rotation. 

Jonathan Heasley

Sep 17, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jon Heasley (left) reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Seattle Mariners center fielder Jarred Kelenic (right) during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Heasley, yet another 2018 MLB Amateur Draft selection by the Royals and yet another 25-year-old pitcher, has served almost solely as a starter to this point in his professional career. He even got three starts with the big-league club to close out last season, posting a 4.91 ERA in 14-2/3 innings. This year, in six outings with Triple-A Omaha, Heasley has gone 26-1/3 innings with a 4.44 ERA and an impressive 3.88 FIP. 

If the Royals aren't quite impressed enough with Singer yet and/or think he needs more time before he's ready to return to the MLB club, Heasley could be a sound choice to accept Bubic's innings. His fastball-changeup combination is plus, contributing to his staggering 10.25 K/9 this season (it was also 10.25 in Double-A in 2021). Heasley doesn't need much more (if any) seasoning before being recalled, which could be exactly why he gets a chance to prove himself as a long-term pillar of the organization. He's squarely in the mix here.  

Ronald Bolaños

May 4, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Ronald Bolanos (57) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There's a common theme among these candidates: age. Ronald Bolaños, 25, is someone who has been mostly a starter during his time with the San Diego Padres and then, later, the Royals. He's been used rather sparingly at the big-league level by Kansas City, tossing just 6-1/3 innings in 2021 but already having surpassed that (seven innings) this season. On the year, Bolaños has a 3.86 ERA but is coming off a 2-2/3 inning performance against the St. Louis Cardinals that saw him give up four hits and three earned runs in the process.

The aforementioned spot-starter was hinted at earlier, and it does seem that Bolaños would make terrific sense to be that player. He has the general experience in that realm and has already made a trio of starts in Triple-A Omaha in 2022. His fastball has enough life on it to remain effective in an extended environment, and he has other offerings to complement it as well. Regardless of who the Royals pick, each candidate will have his respective advantages and drawbacks. Bolaños is no different.