The Lexington Legends, the Royals’ Class A affiliate, will open the playoffs on Wednesday night with a starting pitcher who wasn’t in the organization when the season began.
Ditto for the Game 2 starter.
Right-hander Jackson Kowar, who was chosen by the Royals with the 33rd overall pick in the June draft, will take the ball for Lexington in the South Atlantic League semifinal opener against the Rome Braves.
The next game will be started by left-hander Daniel Lynch, who was the 34th overall pick by the Royals. It’s a best-of-three series, and right-hander Yefri Del Rosario will pitch the deciding game if necessary.
Lexington is the Royals’ lower-level Class A team, but in the eyes of Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, that doesn’t diminish the importance of the team making the playoffs.
“We feel like even being in a race down the stretch, playing meaningful games, is important to their development,” Picollo said. “Then when you get into a best-of-three in the first series, there’s a little bit more on the line, a little more pressure, so it’s good for them to go through that experience and understand what it is.
“I think guys can adapt. So even though it’s happening A ball, hopefully it happens in Double-A, Triple-A and then the big leagues. I think it’s all relative to the level you’re playing at, it’s just being in that environment, getting that experience. So I think it is very good for them, the young group of players we have there.”
The projected starters for Lexington have all had good seasons. The 18-year-old Del Rosario, who signed as a free agent late last year, had a 3.19 ERA in 15 starts with 72 strikeouts in 79 innings.
Kowar made nine starts and has a 3.42 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings as a professional. Lynch split time at rookie-level Burlington and Lexington and had a 1.58 ERA with 61 strikeouts and eight walks in 51 1/3 innings. He’s given up just 44 hits.
The 6-foot-6 Lynch, who was drafted out of the University of Virginia, has made quite an impression on the Royals.
“He is showing us some things that we didn’t necessarily see prior to drafting him,” Picollo said. “His velocity has really kind of jumped up. Command on both sides of the plate, I think we’re realizing how advanced he really is. He’s got really good feel for his curveball and change-up.
“And on top of it, he’s very bright, intelligent, good self-evaluator. He’s taken more strides in a summer than any player I can really remember us having. He’s really showing us that his ability may be greater than we thought when we got him. He’s having a great summer.”
Another Lexington player who had a sensational season is outfielder Seuly Matias, who clubbed a Legends-record 31 home runs in just 94 games. But he hasn’t played since Aug. 13 after a freak accident.
Matias was throwing his bags on the team bus and caught the knuckle on his left-hand thumb in the corner of the cargo bin.
“He got the stitches out but it’s still very tender there, because there is a tendon underneath there,” Picollo said. “He’ll be fine, but the window closed for him to be back in time for the playoffs.”