The Royals took Jace Vines in the 4th round of the 2016 draft out of Texas A&M University. The former Aggie was the 133rd player selected and listed at 6’3” and 215 pounds which is a good size for a pitcher. The biggest knock on Vines coming out of college was that he wasn’t able to sustain his velo and success through the length of the NCAA season. Vines 2017 season seemed the end those concerns as he had a solid season both with his stats and performance finishing strong. But 2018 was a difficult season for him bringing those same questions back to light. Some people feel that Vines will be best suited for the bullpen at the upper levels because his change up and breaking ball are league average at best.
The change up is his weakest pitch and he throws it the least amount. The change up still fools hitters and can get outs, it is just he doesn’t control it as well as the others. To sum it up the best, there is the most room for improvement with his change. His curve is an early breaker that has a longer shaped break than a lot of pitcher’s curves. This doesn’t mean that it is an easier pitch to hit, it means that it is recognized earlier by hitters which allows them to lay off. Vines works his fastball from 90 to 94 mph, usually staying in the lower 90s range. He had a tough time locating the fastball successfully within the strike zone over the year. In the few starts I saw, he left the fastball up and didn’t have great command of it. That will have to change next year as he works his way up through the minors.
Vines threw 9.2 fewer innings in 2018 than he did in 2017 but allowed 41 more hits and his WHIP went from 1.24 to 1.59. The walks and the strikeouts are relatively the same as 2017. Opponents hit .261 in 2017 and .315 in 2018. If you take a glance at the ERA, FIP, and xFIP, a different story emerges. Vines had a 4.17 FIP at Wilmington in 2017 to finish the year with a 3.60 ERA in 40.0 innings. The FIP was higher than the ERA which indicates a bad thing coming. That seems to have happened when you start taking a look at his performance in Wilmington for 2018. Many people will scoff at his 5.04 ERA in 94.2 innings. However, if you look at his FIP and xFIP, they are both better with the FIP being 3.78 compared to 4.17 the year before and the xFIP coming in at 4.01. The bad stretch he had was basically predicted because his overall numbers had to get back toward his career norms. His strikeout rates actually increased and his walk rate decreased rather significantly. This would indicate an adjustment to the level meaning it was time for a promotion even though the ERA didn’t suggest that. It also says that he was getting a little lucky his first go around at Wilmington and a little unlucky in his second.
When Vines got to NWA, things again seemed to go badly for him. The two numbers I want to specifically look at are his line drive percentage and his LOB percentage. His LOB percentage was 63.6% at NWA which was almost 10% points below what he did in Wilmington the year before. This means more runners are scoring once they get on base. The line drive rate went from 18.5% at Wilmington to 23.0% at NWA. This would account for the higher BABIP and WHIP. More line drives equates to more baserunners. Vines groundball rate also dropped by 9% points between the levels and the home run per fly ball rate moved to 11.1%. Basically, these numbers have to equalize next year. The home run rate will go back down to near his career rate near 7.0%. The line drive rate should drop back down and the groundball rate should increase putting him closer to his 2017 season’s numbers.
If you need a comp to his windup, Jeremy Guthrie would be a good one. They don’t quite have the same repertoire, but Vines has the same rocker step and leg lift that Guthrie had. A Guthrie-like career would be a awesome outcome for Vines. Rookie of the year contention, 200+ innings, a couple of World Series starts, and a WS ring.
In his second time at NWA in 2019, Vines should see improvement in his numbers across the board. One could even argue that the improvement could be significant. However, that improvement will probably not happen until he gets that fastball command locked back down and is able to hold his stuff longer into the season. I expect 2019 to be a bounce back year for Vines in the rotation at NWA. With the crop of starting pitchers the Royals have coming behind him, Vines probably ends up in the bullpen at some point which will get him to the majors. You could probably expect a tick up in velo and stuff at that point which will make him a useful part to the MLB bullpen.