By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Brandon Finnegan, Pitcher, Kansas City Royals
2014 season (Minors): 13 G, 5 GS, 27 IP, 3.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 0 W, 26 SO, 4 BB
2014 season (Majors): 7 G, 0 GS, 7 IP, 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 0 W, 10 SO, 1 BB
Very few 21-year-old athletes have been on more of a rollercoaster in the past year than Royals pitcher Brandon Finnegan.
Finnegan was drafted by the Royals 17th overall in June’s First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Christian University, just after he helped pitch the Horned Frogs into the College World Series. Finnegan had a 2.04 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings in his junior year and made his Minor League debut shortly after. But it turned that the College World Series was not the only World Series he would play in in 2014.
The lefty joined Class A Advanced Wilmington as a starter and it was clear he was already past that level, as he allowed one run and struck out 13 in 15 innings. But the Royals saw something special in his live left arm, and he was moved to the bullpen upon being promoted to Double-A. Finnegan fanned 13 in 12 impressive innings, and then got a call he likely wasn’t expecting — the Royals were calling him up to the Major Leagues, making him the first player from the year’s draft to reach the bigs.
He made his MLB debut on Sept. 6 and proved to be very valuable in an already formidable Kansas City bullpen down the stretch. He made his postseason debut later that month, and had mixed results. He was huge for the Royals in the historic American League Wild Card game, keeping his club in it with 2 1/3 solid innings. He hit his first wall in the AL Championship Series, being credited with a blown save after allowing two hits and a run without recording an out. He would bounce back with two scoreless appearances, including his World Series debut, before the Giants tagged him for five runs and the loss in Game 4. That was the last time he pitched in the WS; a rough ending to an otherwise fantastic, yet very long year.
Finnegan has a few strong pitches, including a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, but it’s his slider that is so effective and has stymied even big leaguers. The slider is rated a 55/60, and plays especially tough against hitters late in games out of the bullpen.
The Royals have a tough decision to make with Finnegan this spring, and it’s one they are still mulling: Should they keep him in the bigs and use him out of the bullpen, or send him down to the Minors where he can be stretched out and eventually become the front-end starter they envision?
Finnegan’s World Series struggles have carried over into the spring, where he allowed six earned runs in his first four appearances. But KC will give him a couple more appearances and will likely wait until the final week of spring before making a decision.
There’s no doubt that Finnegan can be an extremely effective left-handed reliever for the Royals in 2015, but it may benefit his career — and the Royals — in the long-term if he were to be sent down to pitch more innings and be stretched out to start. Even if the latter is the case, Finnegan and his wipeout slider could very well be seen back in the bigs later this year.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.