Perhaps the ultimate John Hancock of the 2014 and 2015 Kansas City Royals was the team’s bullpen. “HDH” will forever be enshrined in Kansas City lore as the greatest back end of any bullpen ever. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland ended games as soon as they toed the rubber. They created matchups in which the Kansas City Royals had 9 innings to score runs, and the other team only had 6 (if they were lucky).
I once had a conversation with a member of the Kansas City Royals front office in which the important of bullpens was brought up. The discussion started on the topic of starting pitching, how hard it was to develop, and how generally expensive it was. All of those things make it hard for small markets to depend on steady flows of starting pitching. It’s a really tough way to do business. It’s doable…but it’s risky.
Enter the bullpen. Can’t afford five starting pitchers that all go 7 innings every single time out? Build an elite bullpen. Shorten the game. Ask your starter to give you 5, maybe 6 good innings, and then turn things over to the ‘pen. That was the blue print for the 2015 World Series Champion Royals, and Dayton Moore and his front office are back to building their next elite bullpen in the minor leagues.
We’ve covered a lot of these guys before. Almost all of them, actually. Aaron broke down the bullpen arms on the farm this offseason in our Official Royals Farm Report. You can also check out our Prospect Watch Index here for more in depth individual analysis. Without further ado, however, let’s dive back into some of the names before we piece them all together.
- Richard LoveladyPerhaps the most obvious name on this list, Richard Lovelady has drawn all kinds of attention by dominating pretty much every level he’s been to. The LHP features a mid-90’s fastball from a funky arm slot that gives hitters fits. He got off to a slow start in 2018, but has settled in nicely at AAA and should be in the big league bullpen in September. Lovelady has the ability to be a closer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals opted to use him as more of an Andrew Miller type, given his ability to go more than 1 inning on a regular basis.
- Josh StaumontYou know the deal with Staumont by now. Unlimited potential. 100 mph fastball. Best curveball in the system. Little-to-no idea where those pitches are going. If he can figure it out, he has the potential to be an elite set-up/closer caliber reliever. With that being said, we’re going on 3-4 years little improvement in the command category, and it’s fair to question whether we’ll ever see it.
- Jake NewberryMaybe the least known man in the Omaha bullpen, Jake Newberry has rolled through AA and AAA this season out of the bullpen. He’s not striking as many hitters out as you’d like in Omaha, but somehow his ERA has dropped 0.77 points with the Storm Chasers. Newberry isn’t a dominant force, but he’s been incredibly effective in 2018 after having a very respectable 2017 campaign in AA. Still 23 years old, Newberry has a legitimate shot to help out in a big league bullpen either this season or in 2019.
- Kevin LenikA free agent signing out of independent ball, Kevin Lenik has been a welcome surprise for the Royals. He blew the doors off of AAA hitters last year, strking out a batter per inning, and posting a 1.88 ERA in 24 IP. Though Lenik has regressed a bit here in 2018, part of his issue has been an unhealthy amount of walks, something I believe is correctable. If he can limit the free bases, Lenik should have a spot in the big league bullpen come September.
- Eric StoutEric Stout had some time in the big leagues this season and actually looked pretty impressive. Yes, his ERA is over 23, I can read. He also only threw 2.1 innings and I liked what I saw from Stout when he was on the mound. Is he Richard Lovelady? No. Does he have a chance to be a legitimate option out of the bullpen for KC next year? Absolutely. He’s got his walks back under control in Omaha and he’s another guy I expect to see in September.
- Grant Gavin An All-Star his first two years as a minor leaguer, the Royals may have found a steal in the 29th round of the 2016 draft. Purely a reliever out of the University of Central Missouri, Gavin uses a low-mid-90’s fastball and a power curveball to navigate his way in the bullpen. After dominating both levels of A-ball in 2017, Gavin got off to a slow start in 2018, but is picking up right where he left off as of late. He’s starting to find more success in the Naturals bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fill in for Omaha when the Royals make their September call-ups.
- Yunior MarteMarte is an interesting guy that I think has a good shot to pitch in the big leagues soon. He’s found his form again during his second go round of AA and he’s another guy I wouldn’t be surprised to see in Omaha soon.
- Andres MachadoA surprise September call-up last season, Machado features a high-octane fastball that looks way faster than 98-99. Purely a reliever to this point, Machado may not see the bigs again this season, but has a shot to break camp in the big league bullpen in 2019.
- Pedro FernandezPedro Fernandez made a start for NWA the other day, throwing 5 scoreless innings, but I’m not sure that’s his best option. Fernandez features a nasty FB/CH combo and he may very well have the best changeup in the system. I’d like to see him go back to pitching 1-2 innings at a time.
- Tyler ZuberA 2017 draft pick that is quickly scaling the minor leagues, Zuber reminds me a lot of Grant Gavin. There fastballs don’t run up to 95+ very often, but they combine great off-speed pitches with plus command to remain very effective in the bullpen.
- Andrew BeckwithA sidewinder out of Coastal Carolina, Beckwith has a chance to be Luis Coleman light. He’s had some success with Lexington, but he’s already 23 and will need to start climbing the ladder soon.
- Holden CappsAnother 23-year old college guy in Lexington’s bullpen, Capps, a LHP, has struck out 65 batters in 60.2 IP this season for Lexington. He’s probably due for a promotion in the near future.
- Holden was nice enough to answer some questions for us about his time with the Royals:
- Are you excited about getting some attention as a prospect this early in your career? Or do you just try to push that all to the side?
- “Of course it’s exciting to raise some eyebrows early, however, technically everyone’s a prospect until they get to the show. I’ve always been a guy that sets the bar high for himself, and I’m very grateful to be playing baseball professionally. So yes, I do try to push it to the side and stay focused on the big picture. With that said, I’m very thankful the Royals have given me this opportunity and I look forward to my career with them.”
- What’s the biggest thing you learned during your first pro season?
- “Well, I’ve definitely learned some Spanish! However, on a serious note, the most important thing I’ve learned is to listen to everything you hear, whether it’s coming from a teammate, coach, or even a spectator, it’s all important. There’s so much you can grasp from the people around you, not only from a baseball standpoint. This game is played surrounded by such diversity and it’s a pretty awesome experience.”
As you can see, the Royals have made a point to bolster their bullpen options in the minor leagues. Above are just 12 guys that have a legitimate chance of making an impact in a big league bullpen in the future. A signature from the 2015 World Championship team, this group of arms ought to all be ready to roll for the next playoff push in 2022.