We’re just about fifty games into the season down in the South Atlantic League, and just over three weeks from the All-Star Game (has it been that long, already?). In many ways, we’ve become familiar with the new players, and we’ve even seen a few from various teams make that jump to Class-A Advanced.
In Lexington most recently, we’ve waved goodbye to LHP Kris Bubic, who was seemingly well-beyond the level of opposing batters, from the very first game. Signed 40th overall for $1,597,500, it looks like money well-spent for KC.
If you’re a Royals fan, and haven’t been sleeping under a very large rock, you know the name. Wilmington has already been spoiled with a pitching staff that includes starters Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar, along with relievers Tyler Zuber, Tad Ratliff, Holden Capps, and Collin Snider. Now they get to add Bubic to their arsenal, and if I were an opposing team in the Carolina League, I’d lose a little sleep over that.
But if you follow the Royals, it sure is exciting.
Anyway, Bubic had a rocky start in his first Class-A appearance. Against the Delmarva Shorebirds, he gave up four runs on five hits and two walks. He did rack up seven strikeouts, so it wasn’t all bad. His next appearance was against the visiting Columbia Fireflies, and it was eye-opening. Six innings later, he had allowed two unearned runs on three hits and no walks, striking out twelve. He took on the Hagerstown Suns on the 12th, going five shutout innings while giving up one hit and two walks, sending eight down on strikes. The Greensboro Grasshoppers managed to get to him for two runs on four hits, including a homer off the bat of 1B Mason Martin, but Bubic finished the night with a no-decision as the Grasshoppers let loose a five-run, tenth-inning barrage vs. reliever Kyle Hinton and the Legends couldn’t get any offense going in the bottom half.
Bubic followed up with seven shutout innings vs. the Greenville Drive, striking out ten. He pitched three perfect innings vs. the Fireflies on May 4th, striking out six, in a game dominated by Lexington pitching; Tyler Gray gave up one run on four hits in four innings, striking out ten and walking none, with Austin Lambright finishing up with two shutout innings (three Ks, two walks). Bubic was pinpoint, that day, delivering 32 of 44 pitches for strikes. The Kannapolis Intimidators touched him up for three runs on five hits, one of which came off of an Amado Nunez homer to left on an 0-2 count, and Bubic took his first (and only) loss of the year. He also walked a season-high four, that day, but struck out eight while throwing 66% of his pitches for strikes. Again, the bullpen came to the rescue (more on them, later). Bubic struggled a bit against Kannapolis once more on the 15th, and while he gave up only two runs (one earned) on two hits in five innings, he walked four more.
But again, the strikeouts: seven, this time, but his control was shaky (60% for strikes). Still, even when he wasn’t at his best, the flashes of dominance were obvious.
Bubic made what turned out to be his final Lexington appearance before his promotion. This one was at home vs. the Asheville Tourists on May 20th, where he allowed a single run on four hits, walking none and striking out nine.
In 2018, much of the talk concerning Royals pitching prospects was focused on Kowar, then the Lynch and Singer chatter picked up dramatically. Bubic belongs in the same conversation when discussing the future rotation in KC. While the numbers thus far are somewhat telling (4-1, 2.08 ERA in 9 starts, 47 2/3 IP, 11 ER, 3 HRA, 15 BB, 75 K), what adds to his intrigue is his high-floor profile; even if he didn’t remain a starter as he advances, he would still be a three-pitch lefty with above-average velocity and two plus secondary pitches. Who wouldn’t want to have that sort of weapon stashed away?
Bubic’s mechanics could be distracting to the batter unfamiliar with him. He’s all arms and legs. As he begins to drive to the plate, both arms are momentarily straight and fully, deliberately extended. For a moment, he looks like he’s about to cartwheel to the batter’s box. As he rotates his hips, his left arm draws back into a low-three-quarters slot. He gets good hip-shoulder separation and squares up his shoulders with the plate, consistently. He appears to get considerable drive from his lower half, his arm speed doesn’t noticeably change regardless of pitch, and he always gets full extension toward the plate.
Bubic’s arsenal is built around a fastball that sits 92-94, touching 95, that he will sometimes cut or add a bit of fade and sink as needed. He throws a spike-curve from 77-80, with two-plane break, that generates weak contact if any at all.
But it’s the change-up that caught my eye. When it’s at its best, Bubic’s change is a true swing-and-miss pitch, even better than the curve. I’ve seen several that resulted in extremely early swings, throughout his starts.
It’s funny how one pitch sometimes makes an impression on you. On April 28th, Bubic threw a 1-1 change to Greenville 3B Brandon Howlett (second inning, if I recall correctly) that looked right down the middle, just above the knees, and Howlett swung right through it. For some reason, that pitch really stayed with me. It’s a classic circle change that can get excellent fade, and his arm speed amplifies the drop in velocity. He sits around 81-83 with the pitch, and in his best games he seems to need little else. From what I’ve seen, the change could definitely be a plus-plus pitch.
I can’t imagine that Bubic will have much of an adjustment period in the Carolina League. The stuff is real, and his approach is seemingly unshakable. Look for him to climb the prospect ranks, both for KC and in MLB, in general.
Photo Notes: Doc Riddle, the author of this article, took all of the photos included in this piece. You can find him on Twitter @TheGrandOldGame.