Moving past collision, Mozzicato ready to reharness early 2023

April 4th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers' Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- 's 2023 season can be broken into two parts: Before the collision and after the collision.

In his first nine starts of ‘23, the Royals’ No. 5 prospect had a 2.14 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings for Single-A Columbia. He was dominating, and the Royals had a promotion planned to High-A Quad Cities in the coming weeks.

“When you’re dominating like that, it’s so fun,” Mozzicato said this spring. “You just want to go out there and pitch every day. That confidence is dangerous. You control it, and it was so much fun.”

On June 2, a day after Mozzicato struck out 10 in five innings for the Fireflies, he was in shallow center field during batting practice on “bucket duty” -- standing behind a net collecting baseballs thrown his way and putting them all into a bucket. He heard the crack of a bat and looked up to see a ball high in the air coming near him, so he ventured out to catch it -- not realizing shortstop Brennon McNair was also shagging.

“We don’t know we’re both going for it,” Mozzicato said. “And we smack into each other. The brim of my hat goes into his nose, his face comes and hits mine. We got knocked out. We both wake up and are gushing blood.”

At the hospital, McNair was diagnosed with a concussion and Mozzicato with facial fractures that luckily didn’t require surgery. His eye was also swollen shut, though it healed well.

“That was just a crazy emotional day,” Mozzicato said. “But I healed really well, luckily. The fractures weren’t displaced, everything was good. But I kind of lost that touch when pitching.”

Mozzicato had a week and a half off from pitching, and he said he lost around seven pounds. His first start back, on June 15, he allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings with four walks. Three weeks later, he was in High-A, but things still felt off.

With Quad Cities from July 6 to the end of the season, Mozzicato posted a 7.12 ERA with 33 walks and 45 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.

“Definitely there was some effect,” senior pitching director Paul Gibson said. “We had made a decision to promote him, and then the injury happened. We stuck with the plan, and very quickly, we figured out he wasn’t right. And we just had to get him back on track.”

“At first, it was hard to deal with,” Mozzicato added. “I had like two or three starts in a row where it was not good at all. And I was kind of lost. That was a little difficult for me. As the year went on, I wasn’t at my best, but I wasn’t how I was when I was first struggling. I wanted it to happen right away. I kind of broke it down to the basics and knew I was going to get through it.”

Mozzicato’s offseason and spring were focused on strength and getting back in sync mechanically, not letting his front side fly open. It was also focused on mental performance in anticipation of a big season. It’ll be his third full professional season after the Royals drafted him seventh overall in 2021.

And it’ll begin in High-A, which opens its season on Friday night.

“One of the things [Royals coaches] said to us this offseason was, ‘You’re not high schoolers anymore; it’s time to go,’ and that got me fired up,” Mozzicato said. “I want to compete, I want to get to the big leagues. That’s the mindset. That sets a fire in you. I want to go pitch right now.”

The biggest lesson he learned that he’s taking into 2024, though? Let the position players go after fly balls and popups.

“When we’re shagging out there, everyone is always like, ‘Mozzicato, you stay on the warning track. Don’t move,’” Mozzicato said. “And I’m like, ‘Yep, OK, I learned my lesson.’”