Vahe Gregorian: Jackson Kowar's call-up to Royals is both a thrill and cause for caution

By Vahe Gregorian
The Kansas City Star (TNS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Punctuated by Nicky Lopez bunting into a triple play and Minnesota scoring the winning run courtesy of a hit batsman, the Royals again squandered abundant opportunities and suffered a second straight exasperating one-run loss Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.

The 2-1 defeat, which dropped the Royals to 29-28, will linger.

But the takeaway of the day abruptly was transformed into something exhilarating when manager Mike Matheny concluded his postgame remarks by announcing that pitcher Jackson Kowar would be promoted from Class AAA Omaha to make his major-league debut on Monday night in Anaheim.

With the Storm Chasers, Kowar was 5-0 with a 0.85 ERA — gaudy numbers that suggest there's scant reason to restrain him further at this point.

More broadly, the much-anticipated call-up will make him the fourth member of the celebrated pitching-rich 2018 draft class (in Kowar's case, 33rd overall) to be summoned to the parent club.

That most visibly and notably includes former University of Florida teammate Brady Singer, who naturally enough said he was "definitely stoked" by the development.

"It's his time," Matheny said.

We'll have at least a better tentative sense of just how precisely it's his time as of Monday night against the Angels.

But that very term, "his time," evokes a cautionary reminder of some past prologues and parallels and the virtues of patience when it comes to young talents.

While purely coincidental, the phrasing harkens to the "Our Time" promotional slogan that prefaced the 2012 season ... in which the Royals ended up 72-90.

And that came a year after what general manager Dayton Moore called "Operation: Flip The Switch" in his book with Matt Fulks, "More Than A Season."

The future-is-now mindset was encapsulated in calling up Eric Hosmer in 2011 in an enterprise that would eventually include Sal Perez, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera and primed the pump towards back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015.

It remains to be seen, of course, what this current nucleus of young talent, including here-sometime-before-too-long Bobby Witt Jr. at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, ultimately will achieve together.

But it also bears mention that the pinnacle of the core's success won't likely be instantaneous, either.

That's both because of what that sliver of history demonstrated and the varying works in progress we are seeing unfold right now — each reminding us that everyone develops at their own pace for any number of reasons.

Another of the 2018 first 40 collegiate pitching picks, No. 34 Daniel Lynch from Virginia, you'll recall, proved to be out of his depth in the moment when he made three starts earlier this season that may have been sabotaged by tipping his pitches.

Then there's Kris Bubic, picked 40th that year out of Stanford, behind whom the Royals are 4-0 in games he's started this season and gave up just three earned runs in his first three starts before giving up three in 4.1 innings last time out.

But the most vivid example is Singer, the 18th overall pick in 2018, who continues to grow through ups and downs about every time out and is now quite beyond where he was a year ago ... even as he has plenty of room for improvement.

Consider this tidbit: Since going 1-4 with 5.58 ERA in his first eight career starts, Singer is 6-6 with a 3.90 ERA in his last 16 starts.

On Sunday, he fell to 3-5 this season and created his own complications, which we'll get back to.

But it's also worth noting that in 11 of Singer's 12 starts this season, the Royals have combined for a total of 35 runs.

And this could have gone differently if the Royals in the third inning hadn't hit into their first triple play in nine years when Lopez popped up a bunt or been able to get Whit Merrifield home after he led off the ninth inning with a double.

Having said that, Singer allowed 11 baserunners in 5.2 innings, benefitted from some bizarre baserunning by the Twins in the third inning and created some of his own trouble in what proved to be the decisive fifth inning.

A leadoff walk was followed by an infield single and a bunt single, loading the bases with nobody out. But when he struck out Alex Kirilloff and Miguel Sano, Singer was on the verge of an escape ... only to hit Trevor Larnach and force in what proved the game-winning run.

Meanwhile, it's also true that minimizing the damage by then inducing an inning-ending flyout might have been a more telling story about the inning and the day itself for Singer.

Afterward, he said he feels more comfortable with every start but added, "There's so much to learn in this game. Every outing, I go out there and figure out something new and find out something new."

A year into this, then, he's still getting a sense of where he is even as he shows us more and more of the trajectory he appears on. But it simply takes time to build that foundation.

None of which is meant to douse any enthusiasm over Kowar's arrival and opportunity, which he will shape and mold in a way all his own (and that will happen too late on Monday to get into this column in the Tuesday paper).

But all of which is meant to say even if this is a riveting next step that we're all eager to see unfurl, well, let's give Kowar some space and time, too.

Because it's still just part of a process that figures to be laden with fits and starts and before it comes to fruition over his time ... such as it might be.