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Developing young arms is Royals' spring focus

Club also closely monitoring recoveries of Perez and Mondesi
@FlannyMLB
February 6, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Certainly one story to watch in Royals camp this spring will be the recovery timelines of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (left shoulder surgery) and catcher Salvador Perez (Tommy John surgery). The Royals are hopeful that both will be ready by Opening Day. But the most intriguing story of

KANSAS CITY -- Certainly one story to watch in Royals camp this spring will be the recovery timelines of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (left shoulder surgery) and catcher Salvador Perez (Tommy John surgery).

The Royals are hopeful that both will be ready by Opening Day.

But the most intriguing story of camp, by far, will be tracking the development of the Royals’ much-talked-about next wave of pitching prospects, all of whom will be making their first trek into big league camp.

That group includes right-hander Brady Singer, their top pick from the 2018 MLB Draft and MLB Pipeline’s No. 59 prospect, and left-hander Daniel Lynch (No. 61), as well as right-hander Jackson Kowar (Kansas City's No. 5 prospect) and left-hander Kris Bubic (the club's No. 6 prospect).

The Royals don’t have a No. 5 starter penciled in yet, leaving the door open for one of those prospects to be the surprise of camp.

And the list doesn’t end there. The Royals’ front office has raved about left-hander Daniel Tillo (the Royals’ No. 30 prospect) and right-hander Tyler Zuber -- each of whom could vie for a spot in the bullpen, which has several openings.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore isn’t promising that any of those young pitchers can break camp heading north. But he isn’t ruling it out.

“We’ve always said that we don’t put limitations on our players,” Moore told MLB.com this week. “It’s going to be exciting to see how they handle their first camp.”

Singer, 23, dominated at Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2019 with a 1.87 ERA in 10 starts. After a slow start at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, Singer improved down the stretch and finished with a 7-3 mark and a respectable 3.47 ERA.

Several rival scouts have deemed Singer the most MLB-ready of the group, both physically and mentally.

Rival scouts have also been blown away by the rapid development of Bubic, who is 22 years old and checks in at an imposing 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. In a combined 26 starts between Class A Lexington and Wilmington, Bubic delivered a 2.23 ERA and led the Minor Leagues with 185 strikeouts.

“The Royals have a lot of potential fast-risers among their young pitchers,” one American League West scout said. “Singer probably gets [to the big leagues] first. But this kid, Bubic, he could be really special.”

Moore cautions, though, that the club isn’t going to force any of its young pitchers onto the Opening Day roster.

“The truth is, we make many advance decisions on our young players,” Moore said. “We don’t necessarily let Spring Training results dictate our decisions. If we have them scheduled to go to Triple-A, that’s probably where they’re going to go. But certainly you have to keep an open mind and see how it plays out.”

The Royals kept an open mind with right-hander Kyle Zimmer last year. After years of recovering from numerous surgeries and setbacks, Zimmer impressed enough in camp to make the Opening Day roster for the first time.

“You never rule anything out,” Moore said. “Healthy organizations adjust their thinking.”

The Royals also have three young outfielders who will make their first appearance in big league camp -- Nick Heath, Khalil Lee (Kansas City's No. 4 prospect) and Kyle Isbel (No. 8).

All three are likely ticketed for the Minors, but Heath certainly has a chance to crack the roster now that it has been expanded to 26 active players.

“He’s got the speed and the defense to be a valuable player up here,” Moore said. “And we know he can bunt a little. He’s improving in all phases.”

Catcher MJ Melendez (Royals' No. 9 prospect) will be making his second appearance in a big league camp. Melendez likely is a long shot to make the roster, but there’s an outside chance Kansas City could carry three catchers.

“It all depends on Salvy’s recovery timeline,” Moore said.

The main goal for these young players, Moore said, is to get them acclimated to big league camp.

“It’s a whole new experience for them,” Moore said. “It’s a necessary phase of their development. You have to find out how they adjust to this level.

“I’d be surprised if they don’t handle it well. This is a very mature group of young players.”

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.