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Junis Overcomes Slow Start With Big Finish

Once under the radar, Junis now #10 Royals prospect, 1 step from MLB
August 12, 2016

It was not exactly the start that Storm Chasers starting pitcher Jake Junis envisioned.

In his first inning at the Triple-A level after being promoted from Double-A Northwest Arkansas, he had just hit Sky Sox batter Garrett Cooper in the back of the helmet, his second hit by pitch of the frame. He had also committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt.

"I was definitely a little more nervous than usual having been called up," he admitted in an interview to MiLB.com afterwards. "I felt awful [after hitting the second batter], but I had to get past it and I did."

"I didn't know after he hit the two guys in the one inning how it was going to affect him, but he bounced back," said manager Brian Poldberg.

The pause while the trainer tended to Cooper allowed Junis to compose himself. He would get out of the inning, and only allow a solo home run from that point onward. That included a stretch of retiring 13 of the final 15 batters he would face.

Junis, who has been under the radar in terms of prospect lists since signing with the Royals as a 29th round draft selection in 2011, has enjoyed a sensational breakout 2016 campaign. At the time of his promotion to Omaha, the right-hander ranked at or near the top in the Texas League in several categories.

He was leading the circuit with 117 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched, in addition to second in walks/hits per innings pitched, third in earned-run average, and tied for third in the league with nine victories. In 21 starts with the Naturals before joining the Storm Chasers, he posted a 9-7 record and 3.25 ERA (43 ER/119.0 IP), yielding just 27 walks.

The success has made publications take notice. When Junis threw his first pitch of 2016 on April 10, he was not considered among even the best 30 farmhands in the Royals farm system; this despite finishing second in the Carolina League with 123 strikeouts in 2015.

Now, however, Junis has leapfrogged his way all the way up to tenth-best Royals prospect according to MLB Pipeline after their mid-season adjustments. He also ranks as the fifth-best pitching prospect in the organization behind the likes of Major Leaguer Matt Strahm, right-handers Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer, and fellow Storm Chasers hurler Alec Mills.

In its scouting report on Junis, the publication raved that he possessed one of the best combinations of stuff and strike-throwing ability among Royals mound prospects.

In a way, that first Triple-A start with Omaha mirrored Junis' pro career; a slow start that progressively improved.

Through the first 19 starts of his career, he compiled a 4-8 record and 6.20 ERA (65 ER/94.1 IP) in short-season play with the Burlington Royals and Idaho Falls Chukars. In his 22 starts this season, he owns a 10-7 mark and 3.14 ERA (44 ER/126.0 IP).

Now at the Triple-A level with Omaha, Junis is one step away from the Major Leagues. He admits it is something he has thought about.

"Once I started in Double-A the thought ran through my head," he told MiLB.com. "Those players are really good and they're even better up here, so you just do your best every night and hopefully get your shot at the Big Leagues."