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Today’s holiday wish is for KC Royals pitcher Danny Duffy to have the kind of season everyone has always expected from him.
Happy Holidays and welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s “KC Royals Wish List” series. For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, our writers will share their holiday wishes for the Royals. Whether they’re more offseason improvements, success in 2021, or hope for the future, anything could be in store. Today, our wish is for Danny Duffy.

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Danny Duffy is a mystery, an unquestionable talent whose 10-year KC Royals career has never completely revealed just who he is as a pitcher.

The Royals pay him handsomely to do a job few can do. He’s preparing now for the final year of the five-season, $65 million contract he signed just before spring training began in 2017, a deal that, depending on your perspective, was either well-earned and deserved or extravagant and ill-advised.

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At the time the parties put pen to paper, Duffy was 29 and coming off a nifty 12-3. 3.51 ERA season that remains his best. The Royals saw greatness in Duffy and, with their suddenly star lefthander headed for arbitration, moved quickly to wrap him up in a deal designed to avoid arbitration’s risky winner-take-all process and effectively buy out the initial stages of his future free agency (he would have been a first-time free agent after the ’17 season).

Royals Rumblings – News for January 4, 2021

Jeffrey Flanagan writes about five questions facing the Royals in 2021.

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2. How will the rotation look? Brad Keller has established himself as the ace, and it’s likely Brady Singer will slide into the No. 2 spot. Manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com he views Danny Duffy as a starter, not a bullpen option. Minor and Kris Bubic would then fill out the rotation. And don’t rule out Carlos Hernández, who was impressive at the end of 2020.

Paul Boyd talks to Vance Wilson about his first season on the Royals coaching staff.

Ultimately, he was taking direction from the manager, in this case Royals’ manager Mike Matheny.

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“Even though you’re making the same decisions, your body movements are the same, you’re not making the calls pre-pitch,” said Wilson, who served as the Royals bullpen coach the past two seasons. “I hate to say it, but my hardest part in spring training was remembering to look at Mike in the dugout.

“Even though I did it in the minor leagues, I was in the pitching department for two years. Man, I was really out of place for about the first week of spring training.”

Will Leitch at MLB.com predicts the best player on each team in 2021.

Royals: Salvador Perez, C

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He was an absolute monster down the stretch last year. A full season could bring him back to All-Star level … or even higher.

Kevin O’Brien at Royals Reporter ranks the top 21 prospects in the Royals organization.

Mike Gillespie at Kings of Kauffman looks at what’s ahead for the Royals in January.

Padres GM A.J. Preller confirms they have had preliminary talks with Fernando Tatis, Jr. about a contract extension.

The Dodgers show interest in second baseman D.J. LeMahieu.

The Cubs sign pitcher Adam Morgan to a minor league deal.

The Marlins sign catcher Sandy Leon and pitcher Ross Detwiler to minor league deals.

Pitcher Phil Hughes officially announces his retirement.

The transaction suited both sides—Duffy became instantly and wildly rich and the Royals avoided risk and secured Duffy’s services for five years. Clearly, the club believed in their best southpaw and his future. Those outsiders who considered the package excessive and shakily based on a single stellar season may have been right.

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Duffy was 36-33 in his five Royal campaigns pre-dating the contract (a record boosted considerably by that 12-3 in 2016), including 16-20 over the club’s two World Series seasons when it was the winningest it had been in years. But the finances of baseball work in interesting ways and the Royals found that to be a sufficient foundation for a $65 million commitment.

He’s 28-32 since, a record not equal to the expectations underlying, or created by, his contract. To be blunt, Duffy has disappointed; he’s had the misfortune to pitch for bad teams, but his flashes of brilliance, weighed against lackluster results, leaves us hungry for much more of Duffy at his best.

In fairness, Duffy suffers too frequently from painfully poor run support, and some wonder if he’s better off working out of the bullpen. Some of his numbers suggest that may well be the case.

Whatever the cause, Duffy hasn’t been Kansas City’s 65 Million Dollar Man. This is, though, the last year of his current pact, and major leaguers have an uncanny knack of blossoming in such circumstances. Perhaps that’s what Duffy will do.

That would be just fine with Duffy, the Royals, and the fans. An excellent 2021 would be the perfect self-reward for the pitcher who proudly wears his affection for his team, and the city in which it plays, on his sleeve.

So it is that today’s Kings of Kauffman Holiday Wish is for Danny Duffy to have the kind of season he, and we, have always wanted.

NEXT: A wish for Hahn and Zimmer
Here’s hoping Danny Duffy has his best year yet for the KC Royals.

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The Kansas City Royals have not put together a winning season since 2015, the year they won the World Series. Their 2018 and 2019 seasons were two of the worst consecutive seasons in franchise history. The good news is, 2020 was an improvement, and the team seemed committed to playing their younger talent.

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The Royals have a talented farm system, and they displayed two of their young, talented starting pitching prospects in 2020. The team gave Kris Bubic and Brady Singer nearly a full season of work, and both performed well. It was a great season for both to improve their game while experiencing big-league hitting.

Beyond those two, the Royals also have three more talented starting pitchers on the farm in Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar. Even though Bubic and Singer debuted last year, exhausting prospect eligibility, we will still break down all five guys and discuss their potential outlook for Fantasy Baseball. Can the Royals draw an ace from within their deep pool of pitching prospects? Let’s dive in.

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Kansas City Royals Young Starting Pitchers
Brady Singer, RHP
Brady Singer was a talented enough prospect in high school to be selected in the second round of the 2015 draft. Instead, Singer spurned the Blue Jays and decided to go to college. After a rough freshman season at the University of Florida, Singer settled in during his sophomore year as a starter. He was dominant in his sophomore and junior seasons, leading the Kansas City Royals to select him 18th overall in the 2018 draft.

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In his only minor league season in 2019, Singer pitched to a 2.85 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 148 innings. He struck out 138 hitters and walked just 39 that season. The Royals clearly felt he was ready as they promoted him to make his Major League debut in the second game of the 2020 season. Singer looked great in that start as he struck out seven hitters in five innings, allowing just two earned runs.

For the season, Singer posted a 4.06 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 64 innings of work. He did get the benefit of facing the Tigers three times and dominated them each time out. Still, it was a solid season for the Kansas City rookie.

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Singer relies heavily on two pitches, a sinker and a slider. He occasionally mixes in a changeup (4.7 percent of the time) but relies on the sinker and slider 95 percent of the time. Singer will never be a heavy strikeout pitcher but does post solid strikeout rates considering his high sinker usage. Most sinker pitchers focus on getting ground balls, which Singer induces at a high rate. If he wants to take the next step forward, he will need to develop his changeup further, as it is often hard for starting pitchers to rely on just two pitches.

Outside of Asa Lacy, which Royals pitcher would you rather have long term in dynasty?

— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) December 26, 2020

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Brady Singer and Kris Bubic found their way in 2020, but with a solid offense and defense that doesn’t start the season on the wrong foot, their progress in 2021 could be what the Royals need to push them to the top.

The other piece of the puzzle that the Royals may have really figured out is the big “secret,” though it might only have been a secret to the Royals a few other teams.

This “secret” is that small-market teams must have a win-now attitude when the prospects are hot. Dayton Moore and the rest of the organization have shown they might have realized this with their moves and change of pace this offseason.

Small teams like the Royals only have a limited window with prospects. While it’s likely the Royals will find a way to keep some of their pitches around long term, it’s unlikely they will all stay in Kansas City when there will be bigger payouts elsewhere.

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Instead of only seeing a year or two of success, winning now and continuing to surround these prospects with winners can ensure success with longevity, not a year or two of winning surrounded by multiple seasons of loss.

Much remains to be seen as the Royals could still make some moves, or go forward with what they have. There are still plenty of questions, such as who will fill the outfield full time, but one thing is clear.

Kris Bubic, LHP
Like Brady Singer, Kris Bubic was also selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2018 draft, going 40th overall. The lefty was good from day one at Stanford and worked his way into a starting role during his freshman year. In his sophomore and junior seasons, he really blossomed and got his strikeout stuff going. He finished his Stanford career with a 2.82 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 223 innings pitched.

The success carried right over to the minor leagues, where Bubic continued his dominance. He continued to refine his changeup, which is one of his best pitches. Despite never pitching above high-A, the Royals felt comfortable promoting during the second week of the 2020 season. It was a rocky season, but Bubic flashed his potential in several outings. He finished the season making ten starts, posting a 4.32 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 50 innings. It was not the strikeout upside we have seen in the past, but Bubic did have several games where he flashed his dominance on the mound.

Bubic relies on three pitches; a four-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball. He used the fastball nearly 55 percent of the time in 2020 and the changeup right at 30 percent. I previously mentioned Bubic’s changeup is his best pitch, and it showed in 2020. While he did not strike out a ton of hitters with it, it produced a 31.1 percent whiff rate, which leads me to believe he could strikeout more hitters with it in the future. I would love to see Bubic decrease his fastball usage and feature both the changeup and curveball more in the future.

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Bubic does have solid upside that you could argue is higher than Singer. Both Bubic and Singer will be back in the rotation in 2021 with a (shortened) season of Major League experience under their belt. It will be fun to watch both young pitchers continue to develop. Now, let’s move to the prospect side now.

Kansas City Royals Pitching Prospects
Asa Lacy, LHP
The future ace of the Kansas City Royals staff is their 2020 first-round pick, Asa Lacy. Kansas City was thrilled that Lacy was still on the board with the fourth pick, as he was their guy. Like many freshmen in college, Lacy started in the bullpen. He pitched well, earning him a spot in the rotation during his sophomore year. During his sophomore and shortened junior season, Lacy accumulated 112.2 innings in 19 starts. Over those starts, he struck out 176 hitters and posted a 1.76 ERA. Even more impressive, before the shutdown in 2020, Lacy had a 0.75 ERA and 46 strikeouts in just 24 innings.

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The Kansas City Royals moved Jakob Junis to the bullpen at the end of the season and it appears that’s where he’ll stay in 2021.
Jakob Junis provided potential for the Kansas City Royals when he made his MLB debut in 2017. He looked to be a guy who could eat innings as a starter in the rotation and that was big for this team as they transitioned into the next era of Royals baseball.

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After four seasons as a starter, Junis didn’t shine as bright as the Royals had hoped he would. That’s why they made the decision to move him to the bullpen at the end of last season and it’s also why he’ll likely remain in the bullpen moving forward.

There’s always a chance that injuries occur and that propels Junis back into the starting rotation, but for now, he’s going to be a reliever in 2021 and beyond. Junis is 28 years old and under contract through the end of the 2023 season, so the Royals want to get as much out of him as possible these next three years and hopefully he can be a big part of the resurgent bullpen.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Greg Holland will remain with the Royals.

The club announced Monday that Holland, who ranks fourth in team history with 151 saves, would return after going 3-0 with six saves and a 1.91 ERA in 28 appearances last season.

Holland signed a one-year deal worth $2.75 million, according ESPN MLB Insider Jeff Passan.

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After closer Trevor Rosenthal was traded to San Diego midseason, Holland took over the closer’s role and is the frontrunner for the job entering 2021.

Holland spent 2010-15 in Kansas City, which drafted him in the 10th round in 2007, as the closer for the World Series-winning bullpen.

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He was among the top 10 relievers in baseball last season in ERA, WHIP (0.95) and opponents’ batting average (.200), posting the third most scoreless appearances (23) in the major leagues.

Jakob Junis made just two relief appearances for the Kansas City Royals in 2020.
Junis escaped both of those appearances without allowing any runs. He pitched an inning a piece each time and for the most part, looked pretty good. It helped him lower his season ERA from a 6.94 to 6.39, which I know isn’t a dramatic shift, but at least he appeared to be an effective arm out of the pen.

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The bullpen is going to be a big part of why the Royals turn the corner and start contending again. This is why they were so good in 2014 and 2015 and we started to see the unit come together and pitch like it did in those two seasons. Guys like Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Jesse Hahn, and Kyle Zimmer are all back for the 2021 season, so throwing Junis in with that group should result in a pretty effective unit.

Jakob Junis might not have worked as a starter, but the Royals now have options in the rotation. They have a lot of young up and coming talent that we’ve yet to see along with Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, who both made their debuts this past season. Brad Keller is also still young despite finishing his third year with the Royals.

NEXT: Two Potential Trades Involving Whit Merrifield
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The point is that while it’d have been nice for Junis to have panned out as a starter, the Royals don’t have to rely on it. They can shift him to the bullpen and if his two relief appearances this season are any indication, hopefully this is a move we can all point to when the Kansas City Royals turn the corner and start contending again.