'It's his time:' Royals tab Kowar for MLB debut

June 7th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- With every start he made in Triple-A Omaha over the past month, inched closer to the Major Leagues. The right-hander displayed a devastating changeup, showed a much improved curveball, exhibited some pinpoint command at times and simply dominated hitters at that level.

Now, it’s time.

Kowar will make his Major League debut on the mound against the Angels in Monday's series opener in Anaheim, Calif., to begin the club's seven-game road trip. In a corresponding move on the active roster, right-hander Jakob Junis was optioned to Omaha. Kansas City will need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Kowar, ranked as the Royals' No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, on Monday.

Simply put, there wasn’t much else Kowar needed to show in the Minors. He went 5-0 with a 0.85 ERA -- allowing just three earned runs -- in 31 2/3 innings across six starts. He logged 41 strikeouts with 10 walks and didn’t allow a home run, while being named the Triple-A East Pitcher of the Month for May.

It’s not yet clear how long Kowar will stick in the Royals' rotation or what the team will do when left-hander Danny Duffy (left forearm flexor strain) returns from the injured list. But Kansas City will likely want to see a few starts from Kowar, giving him time to learn and adjust to the Majors and hopefully continue his success from Triple-A.

“It’s not a secret that Jackson has been extremely good so far this year,” manager Mike Matheny said. “His stats would support how he’s throwing and what we’re hearing from our development people. It’s his time, and we’re excited to get him out here and watch him help us be a part of what we’re doing.”

Selected with the No. 33 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Kowar’s fastball-changeup combination is the gem of his arsenal. The changeup is plus-plus with fading action and superb deception that allows him to generate swings and misses from both sides of the plate. His fastball plays up because of the changeup, but he’s able to dial it up to 98-99 mph sometimes while averaging in the 94-97 mph range.

The key for Kowar this season has been his curveball. It was a major focus for him at the alternate training site last year and has better spin and shape to it now. It’s developed into a solid third offering, allowing him to get through starts when his changeup isn’t working.

“His fastball command has been outstanding,” assistant general manager/player personnel J.J. Picollo said last week. “And that’s really where it starts for every pitcher. His changeup has been dominating at times, like we’ve always known, that’s his go-to pitch. But I think the difference is, there’s been nights where he didn’t have the dominating changeup, but he had a really good curveball.”

With Kowar’s promotion, the Royals will have seen their top four picks from the 2018 Draft make their debuts in the last two years. The top two -- Brady Singer (No. 18) and Kowar -- were in Florida’s rotation when the Gators won the College World Series in 2017, and now they’ll be in a rotation together again.

This time, in the big leagues.

“We spent a lot of time together, lot of years together,” Singer said on Sunday. “Met each other behind our dorm room at Florida, pulled my truck right up there behind the door. Lot of good memories with him. Couldn’t be more excited. I’m definitely stoked. One of my best friends in the world, coming from Florida and now here in the big leagues.”

They’re joined in the rotation by lefty Kris Bubic, who was taken 40th overall out of Stanford in 2018. And right after Kowar that Draft, at No. 34, came lefty Daniel Lynch out of Virginia. Kansas City's No. 2 prospect made his debut in May, and while it didn’t go as planned with 14 runs in eight innings over three starts, he’s made the necessary adjustments in Triple-A since and will also figure into the Royals’ future rotation.

The Royals went heavy on college pitching in that 2018 Draft, eyeing a future with those players in it. Kowar is the latest piece to that.

“He’s ready,” Matheny said.