On a visit to Omaha this April, Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo trained his eyes on Class AAA starter Chris Dwyer and wondered what had gone wrong.
During spring training, after a redemptive 2013 campaign that restored his organization’s faith, Dwyer’s pitches lacked life. Picollo saw little difference that day. Dwyer threw a fastball clocked from 83 to 86 mph.
“All right,” Picollo said he recalled thinking, “something’s up here.”
Dwyer’s fastball normally sits in the lower 90s. The team had banked on him as an important piece of pitching depth, a left-hander with a knee-bending curveball who could aid either their big-league rotation or bullpen. An investigation by the team’s medical staff revealed the explanation for his lethargy, which arose because of complications from the thyroid condition that hounded him in 2012.
Dwyer missed all of May as the medical staff sorted out his condition. He was unavailable to the Royals during various pitching crises, from April’s bullpen shuffling to Aaron Brooks’ debacle in Toronto.
“It’s hurt our club,” Picollo said. “It’s hurt our club to not have him available.”
That predicament could change in the coming weeks. The team is hopeful his condition has stabilized after alterations to his treatment. Dwyer returned to action last Sunday in Round Rock, Texas. He allowed a homer and three earned runs in three innings. But team officials were encouraged by his performance. Picollo indicated his fastball touched 93 mph.
Heading into 2011, Baseball America ranked Dwyer at No. 83 on their list of the game’s top prospects. His stock suffered after a rocky year at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. In 2012, when the thyroid problem surfaced, he lost about 30 pounds in a disastrous season. Dwyer combated the issue with medication, and posted a 3.55 ERA with Omaha.
Dwyer debuted with the Royals last September. He threw three scoreless relief innings. He has been raised as a starter, and the organization once hoped he could join a homegrown rotation featuring Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Those expectations have been tempered him recently. One team official tabbed Dwyer as a middle reliever in the majors.
The organization may not need much more this season. Manager Ned Yost is still searching for consistency within his bullpen. The final two innings are sacrosanct; they belong to Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
The rest is something of a clutter. Yost is wary of over-working Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera. The quartet of Francisley Bueno, Tim Collins, Michael Mariot and Wilking Rodriguez has not earned his trust.
Dwyer has yet to shake off his rust. But he completed bullpen sessions throughout his layoff, Picollo said. When the Storm Chasers were at home, he threw live batting practice. He could graduate to the majors this summer.
“I don’t think he’s very far off at all,” Picollo said. “So he should be an option for us very quickly.”