After strong end to '20, Singer aims for more

Royals right-hander working on changeup early in Spring Training

February 19th, 2021

One year ago, Royals right-hander Brady Singer was entering his first big league Spring Training as a top prospect on the rise -- one who might see his debut in 2020, but who could likely use a little more time in the Minors before earning a future spot in the rotation.

The future quickly became 2020, with the pandemic forcing the Royals to rely on Singer quicker than they would have in a typical year. COVID-19 affected Kansas City directly, delaying the seasons of starters Brad Keller and Jakob Junis, thus opening a spot for Singer. After making his Major League debut on July 25 in the second game of the season, Singer kept his spot the rest of the year, making 12 starts and posting a 4.06 ERA across 64 1/3 innings.

This year’s camp is different for the 24-year-old Singer. He’s no longer a prospect on the rise. He’s expected to be part of the Royals’ Opening Day rotation. Plus, he knows a few more guys around camp this year.

“It’s definitely different,” Singer said Thursday. “Last year, obviously, didn’t know many guys, but this year, it’s different. Last year was good. I learned a lot, and I think a lot of other guys did, too. Not really trying to prove anything different [this year]. Trying to stay on the same path and get better.”

Singer spent the offseason in Tampa, Fla., where he bought a house and spent a chunk of the winter months moving and unpacking. One of the boxes revealed a notebook he kept last season, with thoughts he jotted down after each start about the hitters he faced. He learned plenty, but the main takeaway was one he wants to implement right from the start of this season.

“Never take the foot off the gas,” Singer said. “It sounds kind of cliche -- why would you take your foot off the gas? But you just can’t take a break. You can take a step back and reset, but you've got to keep going and keep pushing through that lineup. These are big leaguers who have been doing it for a long time. So I think just full throttle, the whole entire game, no matter what.”

Singer will have challenges ahead in his second season in the Majors. The Royals will be cautious with all their pitchers building up from a 60-game season to a 162-game campaign. Singer said he’ll be ready for any number of innings the club needs, but he’s putting more of an emphasis on taking care of his arm early to be ready for the full season.

Opposing hitters will be more familiar with what’s coming from Singer, forcing him to stay one step ahead. Part of that could come with an improving changeup. He tinkered with the pitch this offseason and said the grip he has now “feels better than it ever has.”

Adding that changeup has been an ongoing project for Singer, but with how strong his fastball and slider have been throughout his career, he didn’t have to utilize a third pitch as much.

That could change this year.

“That changeup has a potential to be a really good pitch,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Especially when you start talking about third time through the order -- he’s got an above-average breaking ball that is going to be in everybody’s mind. They know it now. They know that he locates down in the zone. It’s that next step, next level.”

Singer threw his changeup only 4.7 percent of the time last season -- 50 pitches, with 48 of those against left-handed batters. Two hits came off the pitch (a single and double). In that small sample size, batters hit .167 against the pitch, with two strikeouts.

“It’s going to be huge,” Singer said. “I feel like I’ve taken a whole other step up with it. Taking a lot of velocity off it and feel like I’m getting it to move a lot more. And just different finger placements, confident with it. It’s going to be huge this year.”

Singer has also taken advantage of the resources the Royals have to help pitchers adjust, including two in the clubhouse. Starter Mike Minor and reliever Wade Davis are two veteran pitchers who Kansas City added to its roster this offseason, and Singer said he’s talked to them about the little things they’ve done over their long careers to stay ahead.

“I do want him to keep that urgency, but also not forget what he did was really special,” Matheny said. “Watching him already working on his changeup, working on hitting all the quadrants just a little bit differently because he knows that the league is going to adapt, and how is he going to be able to stay one step ahead? It’s what all young players need to do -- what’s the league going to do now to adjust to me? We’re balancing the excitement of, ‘What you did last year was really good,’ with, ‘Keep the throttle down, because there are some things that we have to tighten up.’”

In his final five starts last season (all in September), Singer didn’t give up a home run and held batters to a .184 average across 29 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning against Cleveland on Sept. 10. He allowed four runs over his last four starts, striking out 25 and walking eight -- with five of those coming in a start against St. Louis on Sept. 22.

It was the kind of month Singer hopes he can bring into 2021, no longer a rookie, but still a vital part of the Royals' rotation.

“There’s a lot that goes into reaching the big leagues -- that first year is pretty crazy -- so September was the month that I felt like everything was coming together,” Singer said. “I was rolling there. I definitely wanted to keep going. Hopefully, get in one of those grooves this year and keep going.”