Notes: Prospect gets his degree; injury news

May 27th, 2021

Royals pitching prospect ’s graduation in early May didn’t come with the typical college graduate’s walk across a stage in a cap and gown. Instead, he pulled on his Northwest Arkansas uniform, grabbed his glove and headed onto the mound to continue his solid start to the Double-A season.

Three years after the Royals took him in the 13th round of the 2018 Draft, Heasley, the club’s No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline, graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in business management. Even though he was beginning his professional baseball career, he wanted to finish school, too -- with a little push from his mom, Sheri Heasley.

“Shoutout to Sheri,” Heasley said Wednesday in a Zoom conversation with “Looking back now -- now that I’m done with it -- I’m super glad that she was on me about that. I needed to finish anyways, and I figured it was better to do it now than go back 10 years later and try and do it. I just kind of chipped away semester by semester.”

Heasley, 24, took online classes -- two or three a semester -- while he got his first glimpse at professional ball. The right-hander posted a 5.15 ERA in Rookie ball in 2018 and then a 3.12 ERA across 25 games (20 starts) in Low-A Lexington in ’19. That was the year he started to climb prospect rankings, and he took a big step forward last season as a late addition to the alternate training site, where he worked with Royals coaches on his changeup and pitched alongside other starters from his Draft class like Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar.

Part of the Naturals’ rotation this season, Heasley has a 2.41 ERA in four starts (18 2/3 innings), with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. To go along with his fastball and signature curveball -- the pitch that had some knees buckling during big league Spring Training earlier this year -- Heasley has displayed an effective changeup that he’s not afraid to throw to both sides of the plate.

“Honestly, right now I probably feel more comfortable with my changeup than my curveball,” Heasley said. “That’s been a huge equalizer for me to have that third solid offspeed pitch. I throw a slider, too, but that’s more just if I need to go to it, I’ve got it in the bag. … I really didn’t change anything in particular with [the changeup]. I just think I’ve gained a feel for it way better than I have in the past.”

The Royals’ 2018 Draft class was loaded with college pitchers. Brady Singer and Kris Bubic are already in the big leagues, Lynch made his debut earlier this season and Kowar could be promoted soon. Heasley might be more under-the-radar than those top four, but Kansas City wouldn’t be surprised if Heasley moves quickly this season. He’s got the makings of a back-end starter, and there’s little question whether his stuff and makeup would fit in the bullpen.

After his graduation from OSU, Heasley could be eyeing a baseball graduation, too.

“I wish I could say I will play baseball forever, but someday, that’s not going to be the case,” Heasley said. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do with [the degree] right now, but hopefully I don’t have to figure that out any time soon.”

Staumont’s lower velocity

was hitting 93-95 mph with his fastball on Wednesday night when he usually hits 98-100 mph, but the reliever has been passing medical tests that make sure everything is OK with his arm, manager Mike Matheny said. The Royals have pulled back on Staumont’s workload this week to help with the issue; Matheny said that he was unavailable on Tuesday night even after the off-day Monday, which is why the Royals turned to Jake Brentz and Kyle Zimmer that night.

Staumont walked the first batter he faced Wednesday before getting three deep flyouts to end the eighth inning without any damage done.

“All the measurements strength-wise with his arm are good,” Matheny said. “Feels good, too. It could be a dead-arm period. They’re always taking looks at everything else, too, when we talk about the kinetic chain. Let’s see if there’s any weak points. He’s spent a lot of time talking with our training staff, always trying to stay on top of it. Last night, he would tell us his arm felt good, just the ball wasn’t coming out well.”

Bowlan to have Tommy John surgery

The Royals announced Thursday that Minor League right-hander Jonathan Bowlan will undergo Tommy John surgery next week. The club’s No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Bowlan had a strong start to the season in Double-A. Through four starts, he was 2-0 with a 1.79 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 17 innings. Bowlan exited his outing Sunday in Springfield, Mo., after throwing just 10 pitches and underwent tests on his elbow over the past few days.

Bowlan was poised to play for Team USA at the Olympic qualifiers this year; he was named to the 28-man training camp roster for the World Baseball Softball Confederation Baseball Americas Qualifier last week. The typical recovery for elbow reconstruction surgery is about a year, so there’s hope that Bowlan could be back on the field by the end of 2022.

Worth noting

The Royals aren’t ready to name a starter for Saturday’s game against the Twins yet, instead waiting to see how Thursday and Friday play out with their bullpen before making a decision. With Danny Duffy on the injured list, Kansas City ran with a four-man rotation the past week because of off-days, but it will need a fifth starter on Saturday. Bubic and Brad Keller are slated to pitch Friday and Sunday, respectively.