In the weeks before the trade deadline, the Royals have continued to monitor the market, searching for possible upgrades to their starting rotation and bullpen.
General manager Dayton Moore likes to say that the search begins with internal options, and, well, here is one name you will not forget: Richard Lovelady, a emerging reliever who could position himself as an option in September.
Lovelady, a 22-year-old left-hander, has moved quickly through the Royals’ minor-league system. A year ago, he was drafted in the 10th-round out of Kennesaw Sate. In 2017, he dominated at Class A Wilmington before continuing his success at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
“He’s left-handed and he throws hard,” said Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “And the delivery has a lot of deception to it.”
Lovelady’s style is uncomplicated, rival scouts say. His fastball sits in the mid to upper 90s. His left-handed mechanics are reminiscent of Royals reliever Matt Strahm. A 6-foot southpaw, he attacks hitters in a simple, max-effort style that appears suited for a bullpen role.
“He’s got a ‘plus’ fastball and he’s got deception to his delivery and he just gets after it,” Picollo said.
So far, the returns have been promising. In 33 1/3 innings at Wilmington, he posted a 1.08 ERA and recorded 41 strikeouts against four walks. In 10 2/3 innings at Northwest Arkansas, he has allowed just one earned run, striking out 13 and walking two.
The Royals seek to remain cautious about his timeline. He has thrown just 69 innings in professional baseball. He was a 10th-round pick just more than 13 months ago. But if he continues to impress, he could be an option in September, profiling as a reliever who could attack left-handed hitters in short bursts.
“He’s going to have to do it in Double-A,” Picollo said. “He’s going to have to do it in Triple-A. But he’s certainly a guy that you think: In September, if he’s killing left-handers like he’s been doing, this could be a guy.”
At the least, Lovelady has been a pleasant development this season, a positive for a farm system looking to cultivate the next wave of talent. Picollo says club officials believed Lovelany had the capability to move fast. He elevated his stock even higher, however, by showing up to spring training and throwing 95-96 mph each time out.
“He came to spring training and he started doing things we hadn’t seen him do,” Picollo said. “The hitters had no chance against him.”
Some questions remain about his ability to handle right-handed hitters at the major league level. But for now, his late-round draft status and small-college pedigree conjure memories of Greg Holland, a 10th-round pick in 2007 out of Western Carolina.
“It’s a great job by our scouting department,” Picollo said. “It’s a later pick. When you get to those later picks, you start thinking about: ‘What does this guy do different than other guys?’”
Baseball America ranks Royals’ top 10 prospects
Lovelady was not among Baseball America’s midseason list of the organization’s top 10 prospects, released on Tuesday. But the list did include a large collection of recent draft picks.
First baseman Nick Pratto, the club’s first-round selection this summer, was ranked as the club’s No. 1 overall prospect. The No. 2 slot belonged to outfielder Khalil Lee, a third-round pick in 2016. Lee, 19, is batting .246 with a .356 on-base percentage and an .808 OPS while splitting time between center field and right field at Class A Lexington.
Right-handed pitcher Josh Staumont, who was recently demoted back to Class AA Northwest, is ranked as the team’s No. 3 overall prospect, according to the midseason ranking. After a strong performance in major league spring training, Staumont struggled with his command at Class AAA Omaha. The Royals opted to hit the reset button and send him back to Northwest Arkansas, where he can again work with pitching coach Steve Luebber.
“His last month has been tough, and when guys hit those crossroads, we got to figure out what’s going to work to get him back,” Picollo said. “In April, he was outstanding. In March, he was outstanding. In July and August last year, he was outstanding. He just hit this little stumbling block.”
Among the other players on the midseason list, starting at No. 4: Former first-round pick Hunter Dozier, who has been plagued by injuries this season; left-handed pitcher Eric Skoglund, who made his major-league debut earlier this year; Scott Blewett, a 21-year-old right-hander at Class A Wilmington; and left-handed pitcher Foster Griffin, who made the Futures Game after being promoted to Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Rounding out the top 10: Catcher M.J. Melendez, the Royals’ second-round pick in June; first baseman Samir Duenez, a 21-year-old at Northwest Arkansas; and shortstop Nicky Lopez, a fifth-round pick in 2016 with a knack for getting on base.
Lopez, 22, is batting .316 with a .373 on-base percentage in 18 games since being promoted to Northwest Arkansas.