Royals may have another pitching prospect on fast track

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While Royals fans await the return of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from elbow surgeries and rehab, and also await the maturation of right-handed flame thrower Yordano Ventura, a virtually forgotten name among Royals pitching prospects has finally begun to emerge.
 
Left-hander Chris Dwyer, once considered on the same quick track to stardom as left-hander John Lamb, seems to have overcome two miserable minor-league seasons and now is carving up the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Omaha.
 
Dwyer, 24, has turned in five impressive starts this month in posting a 3-1 record with a 2.56 ERA.
 
That’s a swift turnaround from the struggling Dwyer that the Royals witnessed in 2011 (8-10, 5.60 ERA at Double-A Northwest Arkansas) and 2012 (3-4, 6.97 ERA at Omaha).
 
Opponents are hitting just .228 off him so far this season, and Dwyer has walked just 10 in 31 innings – in two previous seasons he has averaged almost five walks a game.
 
What suddenly triggered the turnaround?
 
“He’s locating his fastball better now than we’ve ever seen him,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo told FOX Sports Kansas City. “He’d always been a guy who fell behind in the count and that got him in trouble.
 
“But he’s always had a really good curve and really good changeup and that has bailed him out to some degree in the past. But now that he can locate his fastball, those other two pitches are really deadly.”
 
Picollo also said there has been an improvement in Dwyer’s velocity by a tick or so.
 
“He’s now getting up to 94 (mph) when he needs it,” Picollo said. “And he’s usually in the 92-93 range with good breaking stuff. He had fallen off last year with his velocity and no one really knew why.”
 
Picollo and the Royals aren’t sure, either, how Dwyer has suddenly found his command.
 
“Even in spring training we could see the difference in fastball velocity and location,” Picollo said. “And we could see a changed man in terms of confidence. He’s had a really good first month.”
 
Dwyer had been drafted by the Yankees in 2008 but opted to attend Clemson. The Royals then drafted him in 2009 and lured him away from Clemson with a $1.45 million signing bonus.
 
Dwyer was outstanding in 2010 in high-A ball in Wilmington, posting a 6-3 record with a 2.99 ERA. But the wheels came off the following two seasons.
 
“We moved him up pretty quickly and that may have hurt him a little bit,” Picollo said. “But now, three years later, he seems to be catching up and getting it.
 
“He feels so much better about himself and his position in the organization.”
 
The Royals certainly wouldn’t mind a surprise addition to the bottom of their rotation.
 
“We need that. We need someone to jump up that maybe wasn’t quite expected to,” Picollo said. “He may be the guy. Last year, Will Smith was that guy. This year it might be him.”
 
BUBBA HEATING UP:  After a dreadful start, outfielder Bubba Starling is finally finding his groove at Class A Lexington (Ky.).
 
Starling, the fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft, is 10 for 28 in his last seven games with three home runs and nine RBIs.
 
Starling is hitting just .195 overall, but Picollo said reports are that Starling is coming out of his funk.
 
“He’s doing well,” Picollo said. “His at bats are really good. He’s ironing some things out. His timing is coming along. He’s gotten progressively stronger.”
 
VENTURA PROGRESSING: 
Right-hander Jordano Ventura, who excited fans when he started the Future’s Game during All-Star Week here last season, is on a pitch count (90-95) through April and has had four abbreviated starts.
 
Ventura, whose fastball reaches 100 mph, is 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA in four starts. He has struck out 23 hitters in 18 innings.
 
“Struggled a little bit early with his command but starting to settle in,” Picollo said. “He’s not relying so much on his fastball and now he’s using his other pitches more frequently.”