The core of pitching prospects between A-ball and AA gets a lot of attention. Jackson Kowar, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, etc. The Royals, however, have a long line of viable pitching prospects that extends all the way down to rookie ball for the first time in a long time. Seemingly every night, one of Kansas City’s minor league affiliate runs a pitcher out to the mound that’s worth watching.
One of those kids worth keeping an eye on is RHP Malcolm Van Buren. Drafted back in 2016, the Royals were able to sign Van Buren out of the 31st round to steal him away from North Carolina State University. Van Buren would need Tommy John Surgery days later, and didn’t make his professional debut until July of 2017.
It’s easy to see what the Royals liked in Van Buren when they drafted him. He hasn’t stopped growing since joining the org (he’s now 6′ 5″ and weighs 210 lbs.), and his fastball hasn’t stopped becoming a better offering. He currently throws 93-94 mph with the ability to touch 96 and spins the ball about 2,500 RPM. His curveball can be downright filthy at times, and helped him strikeout five batters in one inning earlier this summer; a feat that has never been accomplished at the big league level.
Malcolm was nice enough to answer some questions for us, including about that 5 K inning:
“At that point my pitch count had gotten up the inning before so when we got to that inning I wasn’t even aware I struck everyone out. I was focused on the guys on base and getting outs because I didn’t want to keep throwing too many pitches. I had a couple full counts. It was cool when we got back to the dugout but I never even thought about it during the inning.”
That’s exactly what you want to hear from a young man, right? Wasn’t worried one bit about the accolades or the stats, just wanted to get his team out of a tight spot. The competitive nature of Malcolm came through over the phone. You can kind of tell how bad the kid wants to be good, and he’s pretty aware of the improvements he needs to make in his game:
“Honestly, this Spring Training I really worked hard on my mechanics to iron out some issues that weren’t allowing me to stay in the zone. I’d either be really good with the walks, or really bad. I was really inconsistent. Mentally, I was thinking too much about the walks and how good I could be if I wasn’t walking guys at such a high rate. It’s not like I was getting smacked around the yard or anything. I’m just trying to work on getting ahead in the count because it’s obviously easier to put a batter away when you’re ahead.”
Walks have been something of an issue for Van Buren in his professional career. Here is his BB/9 every year since joining the organization:
And his K/9:
The Royals have had kids like this in the past. Josh Staumont is rather infamous for being a guy with insane strike out numbers and uncontrollable walk issues. The nice thing for Van Buren is that Staumont was eventually able to work his way to a big league bullpen, leaving plenty of hope for the 21-year old out of Charleston, SC.
From the film that I have been able to watch (which isn’t much), it appears that the Royals have done a pretty good job helping Van Buren along the way. Nothing will be fixed over night, but I like what I see from the kid in his development on the mound. I asked him about some things the organization is working with him on specifically towards a goal of throwing more strikes:
“The first thing we worked on with the Royals was direction in my lower half. I was extremely stiff in my lower half which put a lot of stress in my arm. My front side has a tendency to get high sometimes, it’s still not perfect, but it’s a lot better than when I got in the organization. Those are the biggest things we’ve worked on. I’ve played with some different changeup grips, but that’s about it.”
Malcolm Van Buren was one of the more impressive interviews I’ve done with a player his age. He was very polite, first of all, but the self-awareness he had was glowing. The kid knows his strengths and knows what he needs to improve upon, which is no small feat for pitching prospects. This is definitely a kid I’ll be watching as he moves through the system, and I think he could provide some serious heat out of a big league bullpen someday should he get the walks under control.
Photo Credits: Freek Bouw – MiLB.com