The Royals’ complex in Surprise, Ariz., was fairly quiet Tuesday morning after batting practice. Only a few pitchers, coaches and analysts lingered near the bullpen mounds.
Their eyes were locked on the pitcher throwing an extensive side session. The only electronic device around was a video camera.
The loud, echoing sound of a baseball hitting the catcher’s glove told the rest of the story.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“I haven’t thrown the baseball like that in a while,” Asa Lacy said afterward. “And just to feel like that again feels really good. It was coming out good. We didn’t have any numbers or anything, just truly getting a feel for it and going by the eye test.”
It is not an understatement to say the start of Lacy’s professional career has been a disappointment because of injuries. The No. 4 overall pick out of Texas A&M in the 2020 MLB Draft, Lacy has pitched just 80 innings, struggling with command when he’s healthy. He was limited to 28 innings in ‘22 because of back problems, and he felt them flare up again during pitchers fielding practice in Spring Training, which is why he was held back in Arizona to recover. He has been focused on his mobility and stretching -- lots of yoga, he says -- while modifying his weight-room routine to take the stress off his spine.
“No deadlift or squats,” Lacy said. “[Jarret Abell, the Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator] has been really great tailoring my lifting schedule. The arm has always been good, that’s not really the problem. It’s just kind of getting everything else to work. And we’re getting there.”
Lacy, the Royals’ No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline, still has a few more weeks in Arizona before the Royals will discuss sending him to an affiliate. For now, he’s throwing bullpens, then will progress to live sessions, likely in the next week to 10 days. On Tuesday, he threw two sets of 15 pitches, sitting down in between to simulate an inning in a game. Lacy’s second set featured a stand-in dummy to simulate a hitter.
Lacy did not have a Trackman or an Edgertronic camera giving him advanced data. It’s an “old school approach that just focuses on feel,” Lacy said, but one the Royals implement often with rehabbing players.
“The approach that we’ve taken is sort of letting Asa drive steps in the program,” Royals senior pitching coordinator Paul Gibson said. “In the past, we would outline the buildup and would have setbacks. … We want him to let us know how he feels as opposed to drawing up a rehab program and having to hope that the player is feeling well. We’ve taken a step back and aren’t rushing it. Let’s get this right. Knock on wood, so far, he’s responded really well.”
Lacy has a lot to prove when he returns to the mound in Double-A, and he knows that. But he’s not focused on that yet.
Instead, it’s one day at a time.
“I’m really proud of myself, with everything I’ve gone through, just to take it each day and get better,” Lacy said. “It sounds so cliche, but it really is my mindset. I’ve learned how to better flush the bad days, even bad pitches. I just want to continue it tomorrow and the next day. And if I keep doing that, it’s going to be a good season.”
As for his new mindset, Lacy told Mark Davis, the Royals’ Arizona Complex League co-pitching coach, a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care how long he has to stay in Surprise -- he just wants to get it right.
“When I was rehabbing last summer, it was like, ‘OK, how quick can I get out of here?’” Lacy said. “I probably did myself more harm than good with that mindset, even though it was with good intentions. I just want to pitch. I’ve talked to our entire pitching staff, our coaches, and told everyone, ‘I want to feel ready before I get out of here.’”