Since it’s the offseason and Royals news comes in drips and drabs, plenty of digital ink has been spilled to discuss the team’s newest vessel of hope, Sam McWilliams, including great work from RFR writers Patrick Brennan, Alex Duvall, and Drew Osborne.
But I want to focus on the other guy, Chris Ellis. With the Rule 5 Draft being the craps shoot it is, it seems prudent to focus on both players the Royals picked up in the major league portion of the draft. While McWilliams may be the more likely to break out, that probabilistic advantage can only be seen as slight since it’s far more likely that neither player amounts to much.
What I’m saying is, it’s almost just as likely that Ellis breaks out as McWilliams so let’s give him some more time.
If you need basic background and a scouting report, read Patrick’s breakdown of each draftee. I’m here to tell you that I’ve got some hope that Ellis might be a solid bullpen arm in the vein of Kevin McCarthy. Where does the hope come from?
It starts with a look at his AAA numbers from last year. He spent three months in the Pacific Coast League and pitched pretty well with a 3.76 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.75 K/9, and 2.39 BB/9 in 79 IP. Those are solid numbers in the PCL, a tough league to pitch in.
But that’s not what really got me interested. What really got me interested was what Ellis did in his last five outings. After a few rough starts, the Redbirds began using him in shorter stints during those last five outings, and he shined in this role.
After a complete shellacking on August 6—he gave up eight earned runs in five innings—Ellis started piggybacking an opener. Someone would pitch two or three innings and then he’d come in and pitch another three or four, throwing somewhere between 45 and 55 pitches total. He did that for a couple of outings before starting his last three outings, though still in shorter stints, no more than 71 pitches.
In those five outings, which amounted to 18.2 innings (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT), Ellis gave up zero runs, seven hits, and two walks while striking out 22. That’s a bump in his strikeout numbers in AAA and a cut in his hit numbers and walk numbers (again small sample size alert, of course).
He looked to be giving more effort in his delivery, and his mostly average stuff looked sharper as a result, including his breaking ball and changeup. The fastball is often mentioned as the pitch most affected by a move to the bullpen, but it follows that breaking balls can get sharper and changeups more deceptive with a delivery that’s closer to max effort.
Ellis’ big issue is a lack of consistency. He’ll have a few starts where he’s lights out and then a few where he’s lights most definitely on. This could stem from a few things. One might be that his stuff is only average so when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he gets shelled. Another might be that he doesn’t have the type of arm needed to throw 100 pitches every fifth day (it’s a pretty rare gift you know). Another might be that his fastball isn’t good enough for him to pace himself. Either way, giving him an extended look in the bullpen, as the Royals are going to, might be the thing that unlocks his full potential.
Ellis will probably never throw high-90s, but if he could reach into the 93-95 range consistently, maybe his stuff could be effective in two-to-three inning stretches. As I said previously, he could be Kevin McCarthy, and McCarthy 2.0 is a really valuable find in the Rule 5 draft.