Royals top pitching prospect Brady Singer’s first season of professional baseball included 26 starts, an appearance in the MLB All-Star Futures Game, a jump to Double-A and a new pitch added to his arsenal.
Singer was one of 18 players honored in a ceremony involving general manager Dayton Moore prior to Friday night’s game at Kauffman Stadium as Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year or Player of the Year at their respective levels. Singer, 23, won Pitcher of the Year at Double-A.
The Royals drafted Singer with their first pick in 2018 (18th overall). Baseball America ranked him the top prospect in the club’s farm system entering this year.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander out of the University of Florida began this year at High-A Wilmington where he dominated for the better part of 10 starts. He went 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
He struck out 53 and allowed 51 hits and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings on his way to earning Carolina League mid-season All-Star honors.
“The thing is, I expect, obviously, the best,” Singer said. “I think the best thing that I saw this year was coming over that hump in Double-A. I started off the year strong like I wanted to in Wilmington. The goal was to get moved up quick as I could. Then once I got moved up to Double-A, hitting that hump in the road that I did — having those few starts that weren’t what I wanted — then putting my head down and working through those and finishing off the year strong.”
Singer credited that “hump” to a lack of command.
After a rough start following a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas that included a 8.10 ERA through his first four starts, Singer bounced back to finish the season with a 7-3 record and a 3.47 ERA in 16 starts (one complete game) in the Texas League.
In 90 2/3 innings for Northwestern Arkansas, he struck out 85, walked 26 and posted a 1.24 WHIP.
“I think that third pitch was huge,” Singer said. “I know a lot of people see me as just a sinker-slider guy and then having a change-up. Once I got to Double-A they said you have to use your change-up. That’s something I really implemented this year. I started throwing it. We set little goals, we went to five per game, then we went to 10 per game, then 20. We were really working on getting the amount of change-ups up just to put that third pitch in their head.”
Singer said he got to the point where he felt he could consistently throw that pitch in the zone or out of the zone, just as he does with his slider.
Left-hander Kris Bubic, the 40th pick overall in the 2018 draft out of Stanford last year, earned Pitcher of the Year honors for High-A Wilmington, which won the Carolina League championship. He was also selected to the Futures Game along with Singer.
Bubic, 22, started last season with Idaho Falls of the Rookie League (10 starts), but he started this season with Low-A Lexington (nine starts) and moved up to Wilmington by the third week of May. He went 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA in 17 starts, struck out 110 and walked 27 in 101 2/3 innings at High-A. He held opponents to a .215 batting average and posted a 1.01 WHIP.
Bubic pointed to his curveball as the key to his success this season.
“I really didn’t have that all through college or at any time in my career,” Bubic said. “I think adding that just added a different element to my game that allowed me to jump up to this new level. Otherwise, it was just a fun year to be around these guys. Four championships within the whole organization is incredible.”
Bubic had experimented with the pitch in the past, but he’d never settled on a consistent grip until this season when he “committed” to throwing the knuckle curve. His former college teammate Tristan Beck, now in the San Francisco Giants farm system, inspired the use of that grip.
Lee thrives on speed
Outfield prospect Khalil Lee, 21, made the leap to Double-A and showed his game translated over a full season.
Last year, Lee played the final 29 games for Northwest Arkansas after beginning the season in Wilmington.
The 21-year-old entered this season ranked the second best prospect in the Royals’ system by Baseball America after batting .270 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .406 slugging percentage to go with 14 stolen bases at High-A before his promotion to Double-A in 2018.
“For me, I wanted to have the same numbers if not better than I had in the previous level,” Lee said. “I batted .270 last year in High-A. I feel like you move up to another level and if you’re able to perform at that high level at the next level — I was an all-star at the Carolina League as well — I feel like I’ve gotten better as a player.”
This season, Lee played in a career-high 129 games and bated .264 with a .363 OBP, and he earned Texas League mid-season all-star honors. He stole a career-best 53 bases, which was the third highest total in minor-league baseball .
“Just the fact that the team allows us the way we do and embraces the speed aspect ... is a great thing,” Lee said. “And I’m going to take full advantage of it because that’s part of my game as well. That’s something they preach is speed, base-running and defense.”