Getting the news of an injury is never easy for an athlete as it can impact a player both mentally and physically. Often it comes with a lot of pressure during the recovery process as many players want to get back on the field and compete. That rings true for many prospects chasing the dream of making it to the major leagues. An injury can feel like a setback in their timeline to the big leagues and their development. Kansas City Royals’ pitching prospects were no strangers to injuries in 2021. Many of the Royals’ top arms in the farm system are looking to bounce back in 2022, overcoming the adversity and challenges they faced the previous year.
Asa Lacy – LHP
2020 first-round pick and Royals top pitching prospect Asa Lacy faced some of the difficulties of being shut down midway through the season due to a shoulder injury. “The most difficult aspect of my recovery was probably the time sitting spent not being able to compete. I have always taken pride in being a healthy pitcher who takes the ball for my team every chance I get”, Lacy said. “I like to pride myself on being reliable and dependable. This was the first time I would miss a significant amount of time in my career.”
Before being shut down, Lacy was already flashing how filthy his four-pitch mix is, striking out hitters at a 33.3% rate for the Quad Cities River Bandits in High-A. His strikeout success also was coupled with inconsistencies with his command. The shoulder injury then came into play and ended his season. Lacy is looking to take that adversity from last season and bounce back fully healthy in 2022.
After resting during his rehab, Lacy returned to the Arizona Fall League, where he showcased his elite stuff striking out 15 in 7.2 innings pitched. He even joined the 100 mph club! “The biggest success I had moving forward from this minor injury would be my performance in instructs and the fall league,” said Lacy. “Being healthy and validating my abilities against great competition in the AFL.”
Lacy is looking to take that adversity from last season and bounce back fully healthy in 2022. “I’m a believer in how adversity can impact an athlete for the better and it certainly has been that way for me,” Lacy said. “Regaining my health and letting go of the small fear that each pitch might hurt me has been huge. I learned how to listen to my body better.”
These were giant steps for Lacy in his recovery process. Having the opportunity to prove to himself that he could go out there healthy, put the injury behind him, and compete with some of the best prospects in the entire game. Lacy used these steps to get back to being himself on the mound and attacking hitters with his elite stuff.
There is a lot for Lacy and Royals fans to be excited about in 2022. “I’m most looking forward to a healthy 2022 where I am able to help the team win every time I take the ball.” Lacy said. “I want to be the leader of the pitching staff and the best teammate possible. I have confidence in my routine and preparation. Now, all I need is the opportunity to pitch.”
Zach Haake – RHP
When we all reflect on the 2018 Kansas City Royals draft class, we all think about the elite arms taken that year in Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Bowlan. Haake is another great arm taken in the 2018 draft. After being taken out of the University of Kentucky, Haake dominated in 2019 between Rookie Advanced and Low-A, pitching to a 2.70 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 80 innings pitched.
He continued his dominance in 2021 until an oblique injury forced him on the IR in August. Like Lacy, Haake felt that “having to sit on the sidelines and not be able to contribute on the field to help the team win” was one of the biggest challenges to the injury recovery process. That tends to be a common theme among most athletes. Their competitive drive makes them long to get back on the field to do everything they can to help the team win.
Haake found ways to use that downtime for good despite the adversity that comes with injury recovery. “During the time of recovery, I believe I was able to dig deeper into the game’s mental aspects, learning different techniques to combat adversity throughout a season.”
The mental side plays a massive component for athletes on the field and in the recovery process. Taking time to improve these areas gave Haake the ability to attack the safety column or the physical needs and improve the healthy column (mental needs) to figure out new ways to deal with adversity that may come at him at all angles during the season.
These will be promising building blocks for Haake going into the 2022 season. He will look to have a healthy and successful season to keep chasing his goal of making it to Kansas City.
“One of my main goals this coming year is to finish a complete season being both healthy and successful,” Haake said. “Since my time in pro ball, I have dealt with different injuries along the way that haven’t allowed me to pitch in a full professional season. I’m hoping to change that, and I am excited to see how much progress I can make this year.
Noah Murdock – RHP
Murdock has always had the stuff to help get him to the big leagues. The 2019 7th rounder out of the University of Virginia has a fastball he can get into the mid-90s. With his 6’8 frame, that is a very nice weapon to have. Murdock has had an unfortunate number of injuries, leading him to throw just 60 innings between the 2019 and 2021 seasons.
“The biggest challenge during the recovery process was more mental than anything. You hear that with a lot of guys going through an injury, but for me there was a lot of frustration,” Murdock said. “A lot of us didn’t get a season in 2020. So the buildup and excitement of being able to play in 2021 was so high that when I realized I would be shut down the rest of the year, it was extremely disappointing.”
Through the disappointment, Murdock did use the injury recovery process for some good. “The best part that comes out of any injury is being able to take the time and dissect your mechanics and game plan,” Murdock said. “Tweaking my mechanics not only to keep me healthy, but to sharpen my stuff and make each pitch better”. Of course, there isn’t anything like the experience of games, but Murdock was able to use this time to make some adjustments during his rehab that he usually wouldn’t be able to make mid-season.
Like many who go through injuries, Murdock also struggled with the mental side of recovery. “I had some very tough times motivating myself to work hard on the physical rehab. It is very easy to be in a mental rut and go through the motions and not take your physical rehab seriously,” Murdock said. “I give a ton of credit to my wife, who is the full-time assistant softball coach at Christopher Newport University, for kicking me in the butt and telling me to stop pouting.”
Murdock touches on something that gets overlooked in the injury recovery process: having the right team by your side. Having those who can support you through the ups and downs of the process can truly help you get to that next level of recovery.
Murdock will look to build on the lack of innings he has had in his career and improve his offspeed to go along with his plus fastball. “As I climb the minor league ladder, fastballs no longer get guys out. Being able to throw my curveball a lot more and mix in my change up in any count will be the reason I’m successful this year so I’m really looking forward to going out and executing my offspeed.”
Others Looking to Bounce Back in 2022
A few other arms are joining Lacy, Murdock, and Haake on their journeys back from injury in 2022.
Jonathan Bowlan wound up getting Tommy John surgery in May of last year. He will look to be on the comeback train in 2022, and as reported by Anne Rogers of MLB.com, his rehab is going well. Bowlan was on the fast track to the big leagues, flashing utter dominance in a short time in Double-A and rising up prospect boards before getting TJ. He was well on his way to the major leagues and has the stuff to dominate at that level. Bowlan will look to bring his big, physical presence and elite fastball back on the mound in mid-2022.
Right-handed pitcher Alec Marsh was also limited in innings due to injuries in 2022. He threw 25.1 innings striking out an absurd 42 hitters over that short period. Alex covered it best in the Royals Farm Rankings; Marsh has legitimate top-100 stuff when he’s healthy and might even have the most advanced repertoire in the system. He came back comeback in 2021 and pitched a few innings in the Arizona Fall League. Marsh will look to stay on the field in 2022 while also working on his command and control. If he can develop average command and control while staying healthy, Marsh could find his way to the tops of all prospects in baseball.
Lastly, we have Ben Hernandez. The 20-year-old taken in the 2nd round of the 2020 MLB draft will be one to watch this coming year. In July, Hernandez was placed on the injured list and didn’t come back until September limiting him to just 35.1 innings pitched. Hernandez looks to be healthy this year, and he has also seen some increase in his fastball velocity, which seems to sit more in the 93-95 mph range. He pairs that with what might be one of the best change-ups in all of the minor leagues outside of Jackson Kowar. If he can stay healthy and refine his curveball, Hernandez could breakout in 2022.
Get ready for 2022! It will be an exciting year for all Kansas City Royals’ pitching prospects, and these elite arms will be looking to showcase their stuff and prove to everyone why the hype has been so high on them. The future is bright in Kansas City with this plethora of fantastic prospect arms.
Photo Credits: Josh Franzen (@PrtTimeFranimal)