Dayton Moore has shown a knack for finding diamonds in the rough when it comes to the bullpen. Whether it is resurrecting Ryan Madson’s career or getting good work out of guys like Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Joe Blanton, Chris Young, Bruce Chen, etc., his sense is more often right than wrong when it comes to whether he can get value out of a player other GMs see as done.
It is for that reason I give him the benefit of the doubt when at first glance the 2018 bullpen looks … um … well, let’s just say less than optimal. Even following the Royals and their system closely for many years, there are a handful of names that are completely new to most of us.
Fear not Royals fans, let’s get to know our new cast of characters together.
I won’t get too in depth on either of these guys. If you don’t know who Kelvin Herrera is, you should probably move on to another website. I mean, how did you find this article? Were you searching for Lorde lyrics? Are you trying to scout Kate’s baby bump? I can assure you we do not know anything about the skeletons King Robert has in his closet.
Brandon Maurer came over mid-season 2017 in a trade with the San Diego Padres. He is a bit of maddening guy, as he possesses closer stuff but has yet to be able to consistently harness it (especially in close game situations). Expect him to bounce between the 7th and 8th inning role as he continues to tantalize with his natural ability, but disappoint with his lack of consistency.
You might recognize this name, especially if you’ve ever participated in a super deep fantasy league. Originally a 3rd round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves way back in 2000, this righty has bounced around 9 different teams in the majors since 2005. This is actually his second stint with the Royals, as he signed with the team in January 2013 but never saw the majors and was released in May of that same year.
Overall, he has been “just another guy” with a .2 career WAR, but should provide a steady veteran example to some of the younger unproven arms in the pen. He’ll mostly be used in the middle innings, potentially in long relief.
Ironically voted “Guy Least Likely to Fall Through the Roof of a Barn” by his high school senior class, this southpaw came to the organization from the Marlins in a 2016 straight up trade for Aaron Crow. Fun side note: he was previously traded from the Tigers to the Marlins in a package for everyone’s favorite almost 2015 All-Star second baseman Omar Infante.
He performed well in his only extended time in the majors in 2016, posting a 2.60 ERA and 1.102 WHIP over 55.1 IP. He does show the conventional splits of greater effectiveness against left handed batters, but still performs well enough against righties that it doesn’t pigeonhole him as a lefty specialist. He’ll start as a middle inning guy, but could work into a 7th inning role if he recaptures his 2016 form.
Grimm was drafted by the Rangers in the 5th round in 2010 and then later traded in 2013 to the Cubs as part of a package for Matt Garza. Released by the Cubs towards the end of Spring Training in 2018, he was quickly signed by the Royals and has served in both the 7th and 8th inning role in his two appearances so far.
The hope is that he can recapture his dominant 2015 performance, in which he had a 1.99 ERA, 1.148 WHIP and 12.1 K/9 over 49.2 IP in 62 appearances. It would appear he is currently the main opposition for Brandon Maurer for the 8th inning role, though Ned Yost will probably be flexible with roles given matchups on any given day.
Lefty submariner Tim Hill is the only current member of the bullpen that was drafted by the Royals (Herrera was signed as an international free agent). And as a 32nd round draft pick in 2014, his arrival at the big leagues is certainly one of those “drafting is an inexact science” kind of things.
He’s never been an all-out dominant pitcher in the minors, but his funky submarine delivery from the left side should give fits to southpaw hitters. He’ll serve primarily as the lefty specialist.
Keller was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 8th round in 2013. Primarily used as a starter, his standout season was 2015 at low A Kane County in which he had a 3.61 ERA and 1.162 WHIP over 142 IP. 2017 was a less than stellar year for him at AA Jackson, where a 4.68 ERA, 1.523 WHIP and 1.95 K/BB performance led to him being unprotected for the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Reds, then traded to the Royals for a PTBNL or cash.
Being a rule 5 guy, he’ll need to stay with the big league club all season. He’s been perfect through 2 appearances so far, but will need to show consistency as the major league hitters start to warm up. He’s a long reliever and potential candidate for a spot start when needed.
Owner of the greatest mane of hair on the ball club currently, Smith was drafted twice by the Indians in 2009 & 2010, but did not sign either year. He finally signed when drafted by the Padres in 2011 in the 14th round. He rose quickly to the majors, making 7 pretty forgettable starts in 2013. He struggled in the minors in 2014 and was shipped to the Rays in a large three team trade that most notably included Wil Myers to the Padres. He missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and 2016 due to a fractured bone tunnel (which just sounds frightening).
Finally healthy in 2017, he showed great promise in 13 games across 3 levels in the Rays minor league system. Still, they left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and the Yankees selected him, later trading him to the Royals for a PTBNL or cash.
Smith can ramp his fastball up to 100+ MPH and has a career 11.4 K/9 in the minors. Problem is, he also has a career 5.7 BB/9. The Royals are hopeful they can unlock some keys in his delivery to get more consistent control. Until then, he serves as a power arm for low-leverage situations.