The Royals made several cuts on Sunday, shipping nine players to the minor leagues. Among those was one of the heroes of last October, Brandon Finnegan.
This is very good news.
You recall the Royals had been weighing keeping Finnegan in the majors as a reliever, or farming him out to be a starter. Would they go for the short-term option and bring him north with the team as a piece of the bullpen? Or would they keep an eye on the long-term and send him to the minors in order to get work as a starter? Finnegan’s struggles this spring made it all but impossible for the Royals to break camp with him on the roster.
Finnegan made four appearances this spring, throwing 6.1 innings and allowing nine hits, four walks and four strikeouts. Among those hits were two home runs. And it’s not like he was getting crushed by major league hitters. Sure, there were some players in the mix that he faced, but according to Baseball Reference, his quality of opposing hitters faced graded out at a 7.7. An eight is considered Triple-A talent.
Between Finnegan’s final collegiate season, his start in the minor leagues after being the Royals first-round draft pick, and his final September and October turn in the Royals bullpen, he logged over 145 innings. Quite the workload for someone of his age and experience. Although it was an amazingly successful year for Finnegan, no matter where he was pitching, he wasn’t able to replicate that high level of output this spring.
Baseball Prospectus had this scouting report on Finnegan from early in the spring:
While the TCU product is coming off an impressive inaugural campaign, there are notable transformations in his frame and pitching approach. Finnegan looks to have put on weight, with some thickness noticeable in the mid-portion of his body. The extra bulk on the frame isn’t necessarily a red flag, but could potentially push him towards a bullpen role sooner rather than later. Finnegan is showing more exertion in his delivery this spring, with a mild arm drag. He still has the big drive and hides the ball out of his hand due to a slight rotational delivery. The fastball was 91-93 mph and lacked the same big plane and explosiveness from last season, which led to a first-pitch homer to Kyle Kubitza on a grooved fastball down the middle. The slider was sharp and displayed hard bite while entering the zone, flashing plus.
I was wondering about Finnegan’s weight (yes, I know) as he looked a little puffier in interviews he conducted in Surprise, although I was wanting to actually see him pitch before I made a comment. Finnegan carries a little weight at 5’11” and 185 pounds and his frame seems like the kind that would gain a few if he wasn’t devoted to winter conditioning. It’s only speculation on my part, but maybe he didn’t take the best care of himself this winter (gasp!) and maybe he wasn’t in the best shape of his life. He wouldn’t be the first prospect to fall into that trap. Everything was spectacular for him last year, so maybe he didn’t think about, or didn’t understand, the required work he needed to put in in order to remain a major leaguer.
So maybe this is a win-win. The Royals win because they get to try to develop one of the better arms in their system as a starter. Finnegan gets an early career wake-up call that hard work is required to play in the bigs. As I wrote earlier, Finnegan’s future is in the Royals rotation. I still believe that despite the above scouting report. Even if he washes out as a starter, at least the Royals will have tried and they can fall back to Plan B. However, the Royals will have at least one spot open in the rotation in 2016. It would be nice to have him compete – and win – a key role on this team going forward.
For now, Finnegan is going to the minors to pitch out of the rotation. He will build stamina and work on refining his change-up. If he can do those two things, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t contribute in Kansas City next season. Barring another late-season call-up for an October run.