On Tuesday night, Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny told the media that pitching prospect Jackson Kowar would be starting on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians. This marks a long time coming for the organization's No. 5 prospect.
Kowar spent three games with the team in June, allowing 10 earned runs in just five innings of work while walking five batters and striking out only two. His last outing on June 19 saw him exit with an ERA of 18.00 and a 3.200 WHIP. No matter how you slice it, Kowar struggled immensely and wasn't ready to see MLB pitching in June.
Since then, Kowar's performance fluctuated in Triple-A Omaha before finally finding a clear upward trend line. Stats like a 5.14 ERA and a 4.4 BB/9 are worrisome but when accompanied by a 3.81 FIP and a K/9 that sits at a ridiculous 13.5, nerves are calmed a bit. In his last two games with the Storm Chasers, Kowar's ERA is 1.64. He struck out 16 batters over that brief span. He's settled in.
Now, after proving that he's ready, the 24-year-old gets another shot in the big leagues. Recalling Kowar before the end of the 2021 campaign made sense all along, even without the expansion way out to 40-man rosters in September that's been absent for two years. With the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez not having made their MLB debuts yet, bringing up someone who has seems like a more suitable option in 2021.
The "stuff" is not a question for Kowar. His changeup is one of the best pitches in the Royals organization, and his fastball has plenty of heat on it. The issue has been — and may continue to be — controlling those pitches and then developing the curveball. Kowar's frame and raw ability alone make him a projectable arm, and that's a lot of what made the team fall in love with him to begin with.
Some will argue that bringing Kowar out of the bullpen makes more sense in his second audition with the big league club. It's hard to argue with that logic. Getting him in low-pressure situations (perhaps in long relief) would allow him to show off his best stuff and not worry about preserving himself for five or six innings. No major resistance points here.
With that said, Kowar's future (ideally) lies as starter for the Royals. If he's truly up for the challenge of getting things right in test run No. 2, the team should give him that opportunity. Considering how the season has gone for Kansas City — featuring tons of ups and downs — using the month of September to generate some momentum heading into the offseason is a wise decision. For the sake of everyone involved, the hope is that Kowar can stick for the next few weeks.