Brandon Finnegan hopes to break camp as reliever with Royals, rather than as starter in minors

Royals pitcher Brandon Finnegan will start the year in Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Royals pitcher Brandon Finnegan will start the year in Class AA Northwest Arkansas. The Kansas City Star

The decision will not be made by Brandon Finnegan. But he made his preference known on Friday morning. He wants to begin this season as a reliever on the Royals, rather than a starter at Class AAA Omaha.

“(I want to be) definitely up with the big-league club,” Finnegan said the day after pitchers and catchers reported to camp. “I think anybody would say that. The minor leagues isn’t fun for a reason. Everybody wants to get up there.”

In the baseball landscape, only a masochist with an addiction to all-night bus trips and postgame burritos wants to be in the minor leagues. So Finnegan’s opinion is far from shocking. It also won’t be his call.

“We’ll find all that out,” manager Ned Yost said.

Perhaps the most intriguing question for Kansas City this spring is how the Royals intend to use Finnegan. They drafted him in the first round last June out of Texas Christian University with the hopes of grooming him as a starter. He displayed his aptitude as a reliever during the team’s run to the World Series.

He will stretch out as a starter this spring.

“It’s a lot easier to back a guy down than it is to build a guy up,” Yost said.

At the big-league level, the five-man rotation is full. The bullpen is not. Finnegan appears to be the most talented lefty in camp, especially considering Tim Collins’ regression in 2014. The organization must debate the short-term benefits of Finnegan’s utility in the bullpen versus the long-term benefits of shaping him as a starter.

“We feel like it’s in his best interests and our best interests long term as an organization to develop him as a starter,” general manager Dayton Moore said earlier this week in Kansas City.

Even if he heads to Omaha, Finnegan is not expected to stay long. The organization views Finnegan as an advanced pitcher, with impressive acumen and three useful pitches. His slider earned him acclaim on TCU’s jaunt to the College World Series in 2014, but Finnegan also feels a great affinity for his change-up.

During his brief minor-league stint last season, Finnegan proved himself a man apart from his peers. In four starts for Class A Wilmington, he gave up five hits and two walks in 15 innings. His ERA was 0.60. He often did not have to use more than his fastball.

After that he transferred to a relief role in Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He passed his test there and moved onto the majors. In his first game, he struck out Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury. He fanned 10 of the 28 batters he faced. He earned the trust of Yost in October.

Finnegan feels confident he can still succeed in the majors as a starter. But the life of reliever appeals to him, at least in the here and now.

“I can do either one,” Finnegan said. “It’s fun to go further in the game. You like to finish what you start. But also, relieving is easier on the arm. You get to come in and just shove for an inning. Honestly, whichever one they have me do, I’m going to be pumped for it. I’ve just got to be ready for it.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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