About eight months ago, Royals pitcher Eric Skoglund strolled off the mound at Kauffman Stadium. He measured his steps, doffed his cap to the Kansas City faithful and left the field with the roar of a cheering crowd in his ears.
Skoglund had just outdueled Justin Verlander, then still a Detroit Tiger, in his late-May major-league debut. There were 6 1/3 innings of scoreless, two-hit baseball under his belt and a win in his first career appearance on the horizon. In postgame interviews, he didn’t bother to tamp down his smile.
The magic of the moment didn’t last. Skoglund struggled in his next two outings and was sent back to Class AAA Omaha to continue his development.
But the demotion wasn’t some kind of confidence-shattering ordeal. Skoglund had never pitched above Class AA until last season, when he earned an early promotion to Omaha. He was called up because the Royals needed someone to fill a rotation that had just lost Danny Duffy and Nathan Karns to injuries.
The spot starts put shortcomings into perspective.
And now that he is back in major-league spring training camp and healthy this time around, Skoglund hopes the lessons he internalized from last season’s two stints with the Royals will give him an edge in his first Cactus League appearance Wednesday afternoon at Surprise Stadium.
“I think I just put a little too much pressure on myself and tried to do too much, especially after the debut,” Skoglund said. “I think that was a big takeaway from it as well. I was just trying to do too much instead of sticking with what I am successful at.”
Skoglund is a 6-foot-7 left-hander who was drafted out of Central Florida in the third round in 2014 and is currently the eighth-best prospect in the organization per MLB.com. He already commanded his fastball, which ranges in the low-to-mids 90s, well when he signed with the Royals. He just needed to continue developing his change-up and curveball, and he’s been able to use those pitches plenty effectively throughout his minor-league career.
But newly-minted Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred has worked with Skoglund this month to stop him from flying open with his shoulder too much. The rangy Skoglund’s wingspan is so wide the path his arm takes to the plate gets long.
Cutting the path short and keeping its direction on a north-to-south plane should help Skoglund release a pitch at the best possible angle for it to hit the zone.
If he can stay as consistent with the motion in game situations as he can in practice, Skoglund might just work his way up the pitching staff depth chart this spring.
“He’s gonna be a good pitcher in the big leagues, we think,” manager Ned Yost said. “We like him. It’s just getting settled in and refining that command a little bit.”