I watched Jackson Kowar’s first start in Double-A the night it happened, but I went back and re-watched it taking a second set of notes and charting just to see what else I could see. I was very happy with this outing from Kowar. I think we see a lot of his plan of attack at work here, so let’s break it down.
First, Kowar has very quick feet and a solid move. He keeps a very short arm circle when he picks, which is fantastic. Some guys have excellent feet, but a long arm and slow release when they attempt a pickoff. You can tell Kowar has worked to make sure he has a quick arm and short release in these situations.
Stuff: Kowar has proven he has good stuff. We knew that when he first arrived from Florida, but it appears to be even better than expected in some cases. Kowar was working his fastball 95-97 all night, and topped out at 98 in the first inning. In the 7th inning when he was working from pitch 81 to 95, he was still bumping 95 to 97. Kowar’s fastball is up in the zone often, but not in a bad way. It often falls in the upper quadrants, and is tough for hitters to square up. When he throws it in the bottom two quadrants, it has strong arm side run on it with very deceptive downhill movement, making it very tough for any hitter to consistently square up.
Kowar’s change up is his top secondary pitch; some may even argue it is better than his fastball. The change up when executed properly is very tough for hitters to pick up, and as a result we saw some sword-like swings in this game. At times it appeared as though the change up had some glove side cut to it, but mostly it had arm side run. I’m not sure if Kowar is cutting the pitch on purpose, but it’s effective. I know several of the Royals’ minor league pitchers try to move their change ups both arm side and glove side.
The unsung hero in Kowar’s repertoire is his curve ball. This pitch is what will make him a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in my mind. The pitch has 12-6 movement and is very sharp. If it starts at the waist, it’s ending up mid-shin or below. The pitch has good depth, and moves fairly late in its path to the plate. The hitters’ reactions indicate how good a pitch is, and there were several times hitters absolutely froze or locked up on this pitch and were unable to take a swing. Only downside was his change up was the first pitch to leave his command as he worked throughout the game, so he will have to build up and learn to better maintain it in later innings as fatigue sets in.
Approach: Kowar did a lot of attacking with the fastball early. The first time through the lineup, he threw a first pitch fastball strike to six of nine hitters. The other two were a first pitch change up strike and a first pitch curve ball strike. Only one time did he miss with his first pitch the first time through the order. It’s really tough to hit when the count is always 0-1 on you.
Kowar only went to a 2-0 count three times in this game, and never went 3-0. He did a good job controlling the zone with different pitches. Kowar rarely threw back-to-back pitches of the same type, which we call coupling. Most of the time he started a guy off with a fastball away, and then came back with a different location on the fastball or different pitch. Again, thinking like a hitter, it’s really tough to be down 0-1 and have to hit either 96 on your hands, 86 running away from you, or a curve at 77 breaking like Kowar’s curve does. It’s easy to see the potential.
Kowar was ahead 0-2 multiple times in this game. Early, he tried to elevate his fastball for the strikeout. The first four times he was 0-2, it was a fastball at the top or just above the top of the zone. He buried a curve once, and used a change up away three times. He never went fastball to the hands or backfoot curve. This will be something that he probably is going to have to use in the future against higher-level hitters. But in this game, he did fine elevating. Late in the seventh inning, he went back to the elevated fastball for a strikeout.
Kowar pitches off his fastball and excellent change up. He should have success with just those two pitches, but if he can master that curve he will truly be a force. That being said, I would like to see a few more curves at times just to make sure it is developing. It is better than it was at Florida, much better, but he still doesn’t seem to like to use it enough.
Kowar throws the change up at any time. He threw it 1-0. He threw it 2-2. He threw it 1-1. Basically as a hitter, you can expect a change up from him at any time. And remember, the change up is a really good pitch. It’s hard to see, and even harder to gear down to if you are looking for a fastball.
When Kowar got in trouble in this game, he just bared down and went after guys. This was evident in the third inning and again in the seventh.
Mechanics: Kowar used simple mechanics. In his windup he goes from the extreme first base side of the rubber, giving his movement more room to run. He has a simple knee raise and slight movement with his hands in order to help create rhythm in his delivery.
He uses a quick tempo, and has a fairly quick wind up. It’s not as quick as Singer, but there are some similarities.
Overall: This was an excellent start from Kowar. He showed bulldog toughness and an attitude of endurance when he got in trouble. He essentially forced hitters to beat him with their bats. There was no point in this game where I thought he was nervous or unsure about something. He had complete confidence, and went right after guys to make them prove they were better than him. And he ended up with 7 Ks to go with his strong start. Kowar and Singer are both extremely advanced college arms. They deserve to be right where they are in the Royals’ system, and will probably both be promoted to the big leagues next year. These guys are good. At the site, we are basically split on who is the better pitching prospect between Kowar and Singer. Half say Kowar is the number one pitching prospect, and in this game he made a strong case for that designation. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching him, Singer, Lynch, and Bubic compete with one another. This future rotation is legit with Kowar as an anchor.
Photo Credits: Ryan Griffith (@ryanrgriffith)