Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis knew Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor ages before the two faced each other in the Royals’ 6-2 loss at Progressive Field on Saturday.
They played together as high-school seniors on a wooden-bat tournament team assembled by former Rockies All-Star outfielder Dante Bichette. Lindor’s fellow 2011 first-round draft picks Jose Fernandez and second baseman Javier Baez were on the same squad. So was Daniel Vogelbach, who was drafted by the Cubs in the second round that same year and is now in the Mariners organization.
(If that last name rings a bell, it's because Vogelbach broke up the no-hitter Junis flirted with on April 9.)
Junis — who was deemed un-signable by most major-league teams because of what was then a strong commitment to North Carolina State — was almost always the footnote during that 2010 WWBA Championship.
“I remember they were really good back then, too,” Junis said earlier this week. “They were all first-rounders, top 15 picks. To play with guys in high school that were that highly touted, drafted that high — it was pretty special to see those guys up close.”
But as he’s done since gaining a steady role in the Royals’ starting rotation last August, Junis proved he was special, then, too.
The right-hander from Rock Falls, Illinois, stood 6 feet 3 inches and possessed a four-pitch arsenal. He checked the boxes next to athleticism and strong build; he even received kudos for an easy delivery that wouldn’t require much maintenance.
“He was a top fifth-round pick,” said Donnie Chappell, Junis’ high school baseball coach. “I think he would have been drafted numerous times if teams thought they could sign him.”
In eight years since Junis and Lindor roamed those ballfields in Jupiter, Fla., together, their careers have taken to a bigger stage.
Lindor, of course, is still a rising star. He’s an All-Star, a Silver Slugger-award winner and a two-time American League Central Division champion. He proved why on Saturday when he drilled a pair of doubles and a solo home run off his long-ago teammate in Junis.
And Junis is a 25-year-old sophomore pitcher who has begun to serve notice that he is a burgeoning talent in this league.
"Every time he steps on the mound, we’ve come to expect a pretty good performance," Royals manager Ned Yost said recently.
Despite allowing four runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday, Junis’ 3.53 ERA in 51 innings spanning eight starts this season is the best in the Royals’ rotation.
“If he can get through and finish with another good year this year, I think he’ll get better,” said Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg, who helped signed Junis after the Royals selected him in the 29th round of the 2011 draft. “We knew once we did sign him he had the chance to be as good as anybody taken in the top of the draft.”
If you allow yourself to reach a little bit, you’ll find that the 3.18 ERA he posted through his first seven starts of 2018 ranked eighth among qualified starting pitchers who were 25 and younger. Among those ahead of him on the list are the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, the Yankees’ Luis Severino and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard.
Those names aren't to be ignored.
And it’s encouraging Junis is among them.