Could The Royals’ Jake Junis Help Solidify The Back Of The Rotation Before Long?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The Royals need help in their starting rotation, that’s not a big secret.  Outside of Danny Duffy you could argue that there isn’t a trustworthy option among the starting five, so it’s just a matter of when they decide to summon someone from the minors.  One of the first candidates will likely be right-hander Jake Junis, who got off to a solid start and is already on the 40-man roster.

In his first outing he allowed 2 ER on 4 H and 0 BB, striking out 7, over 6.1 IP in a no decision.  He’s always shown strong control (2.1 BB/9 over 539.0 IP in his minor league career) and he also showed a significant spike in strikeouts at Double-A (8.8 K/9 over 123.0 IP).

It would appear that the 24-year old has the potential to maintain the improved strikeout stuff, as MLB.com described him by saying:

“He has improved consistently in the last three seasons and has one of the best combinations of stuff and strike-throwing ability among Royals mound prospects.  As he has gotten stronger during the last couple of years, Junis has added velocity and now works at 92-94 mph and tops out at 96 with his sinking fastball. He has gotten more consistent with his hard curveball and demonstrates good feel for his changeup, which features some fade and sink.”

With strikeouts (think in the 7.5-8.0 range) and control, what exactly is there not to like?  While he did a great job inducing groundballs in his first start (9 groundball outs vs. 3 fly ball outs) that hasn’t been the story of his minor league career.  The owner of a career 0.95 GO/AO, he has been even worse over the past two seasons:

  • 2015 – 0.72
  • 2016 – 0.85

With that type of mark it shouldn’t be surprising that home runs were starting to become an issue in ’16, when he split time between Double and Triple-A (1.1 HR/9).  Obviously his first start is a good sign, but until he shows he can do it consistently it’s going to remain a potential issue hanging over him.  Couple that with a solid, yet unspectacular, strikeout rate and you get more of a #4/5 starter as opposed to a pitcher with significant upside.

What if he proves capable of remaining a groundball machine?  That would flip the script and turn him into more of a #2/3 starter.  That makes him a pitcher well worth watching, but for now we’d remain conservative.

Current Grade – C
Upside Grade – B

Developments to monitor for 2017:

  • Can he maintain an elevated groundball rate

Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Baseball Reference

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