As the baseball season begins to wind down, we reflect on what went well and what can be improved upon next season. We look back on all the great plays and the players who made them. We look back on the impact of rookies, and what this season meant for them and how it will shape them going forward. Some will never play in an MLB stadium again, some will go on to become Hall of Famers, and some will grind out a professional career in the shadows of the superstars. A few of those players we will forget about until we are reminded of their cup of coffee and wonder what ever happened to them. One such player for the Royals could be Frank Schwindel.
Frank was drafted by the Royals in the 18th round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur draft from St. John’s University in Queens, NY. He made his professional debut in Idaho Falls with the Chukars in 2013. His journey through the Royals’ minor league system was nothing special. He grinded his way up from rookie ball with the Chukars to AA Northwest Arkansas between 2013 and 2015, making stops and Lexington and Wilmington on the way. He was also a Mid-Season All-Star in 2014, and earned “player of the week” honors in June of that year for Single-A Lexington.
That is when his career stalled for a while as he spent part of 2015, all of 2016, and some of 2017 with the Naturals. During this time, he did earn his second Mid-Season All-Star nod in 2016, and a “player of the week” award in June of 2016 with the Naturals. In 2017, his career began to take off, and Royals fans began to take notice of him. Frank played in 34 games with the Naturals in 2017 with a slash line of .350/.374/.577, and was quickly promoted to AAA Omaha.
Frank debuted with the Storm Chasers in mid-May of 2017, going 1-3 in that game, then slumped for two months. On June 9, he had merely a .221 batting average. He made a few adjustments at the AAA All-Star break, and from there he took off on a two-year tear. He recorded hits in 47 of his final 50 games for the Storm Chasers, including three different double-digit game hit streaks. “It was an awesome second half — a lot of fun,” he said. “I made a couple of adjustments at the All-Star break. The coaches stuck with me, kept me in the lineup. They encouraged me. I finished it out strong.” As the season ended, he finished with 126 hits, including 30 doubles and 17 home runs with a slash line of .321/.340.528 to earn the AAA Player of the Year award.
That was just the beginning for Frank, as the Royals invited him to Major League Spring Training in 2018 where he and Ryan O’Hearn put on a power show. Fans were now clamoring to see Frank open the 2018 season with the Royals, but he did not. He was assigned to AAA Omaha to begin his second season of AAA ball. He struggled a bit at the beginning of the season, but eventually picked up the pace. He finished 2018 with a franchise record of 38 doubles, which was second in the Pacific Coast League. He was also second in the league in total bases (258), third in hits (146), fourth in RBIs (93) and seventh in home runs (24). Those were all team highs for Omaha. For the second straight year, Frank was awarded the AAA Player of the Year award and was a Mid-Season All-Star as well as an Organizational All-Star. Royals fans all over wanted to see Frank get a September call up, but once again that did not happen.
In 2019, Frank was again invited to Major League Spring Training. Again he impressed. As the roster was trimmed and players were sent down to Minor League Spring Training, his name stayed on the roster. In fact, the Royals were trying so hard to make a spot for Frank that they even assigned him catcher duties even though he had not played as a catcher in several years. As the Royals left the warmth of Arizona for the cold of the Midwest for their final Spring Training game, an exhibition game in Omaha versus the Royals’ AAA Omaha Storm Chasers, Frank was still on the MLB roster. Before the game began, George Brett was interviewed live in front of the home crowd. He let slip a little golden nugget: Frank Schwindel made the Royals’ Opening Day Roster. Royals nation was stoked, and very excited.
Frank not only made the Opening Day roster, but he made his Major League Debut on Opening Day. On March 28, 2019 he became the 19,426th player in MLB history, per Baseball Reference. He played first base versus the White Sox, who gave lefty Carlos Rondon the Opening Day start. During the 2018 AAA season, Frank did well against lefties, hitting .353/.402/.630 off them. He was well suited for this specific challenge. But he went 0-4 that day, and things didn’t get much better. His Major League career was a short one, lasting all of six games. He played first base in five of the six, and came in as a pinch hitter in another game. He got his first, and so far only, hit in his third game. On April 11, he was optioned to AAA Omaha, where he played 19 games before going on the injured list on May 6. He has not been seen in the Royals organization since. He finished his Royals career slashing .067/.067/.067.
So, what happened to Frank Schwindel?
The Royals needed to make room on the 40-man roster, so they DFA’d Frank on May 14 and released him on May 18. The Royals wanted to bring him back on a Minor League deal, but were unsuccessful in doing so. He took the time off to recover from his injury, and test the waters of free agency. On June 1st the Detroit Tigers signed him to a MiLB contract and assigned him to the Class A (ADV) Lakeland Flying Tigers. He played three games for Lakeland, then was promoted to the AA Erie SeaWolves on June 10. It has been a bit of a struggle this season for Frank no matter where he has played. He has played in 46 games with Erie, putting up 44 hits including eight doubles and five home runs for a slash line of .257/.309/.392. That was good enough for the Tigers, who gave him a promotion to AAA Toledo Mud Hens on August 1. Frank has made every opportunity of his new stint in AAA. In four games, he has five hits including three home runs, has driven in eight RBI’s and is currently slashing .313/.389/.875.
With less than a month left of the AAA season, we don’t know what the future holds for Frank Schwindel. Maybe he will make his return as a September call up for the Tigers. I would like to think that Royals Nation would be excited to see him back at Kauffman Stadium on September 3 – 5 when the Tigers come to Kansas City for a three game mid-week series. That will also be the last time the Royals and Tigers play each other in 2019. However, this may be a long shot because Frank is not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. Additionally, with the rule changes this season, rosters will only expand to 30 players in September. Meaning that only five players will get a September call up, likely all prospects on the 40-man already.
Frank was a popular player in the Royals’ Organization over the last couple seasons. He even has a fun nickname of “Frank The Tank” to go along with his towering size and great attitude. Still a popular player in the hearts of Royals fans, Frank “The Tank” Schwindel will be celebrated at The Omaha Storm Chasers game on Saturday, August 10, 2019 vs the Las Vegas Aviators, who are the AAA team of the Oakland A’s. They will be giving out 2000 Frank “The Tank” Bobbleheads that depict Frank with a big smile, riding in a tank about to use his cannon of an arm to throw out a runner. No better way to celebrate the far-too-short Royals career of one of the most exciting minor league players us fans got to root for and enjoy watching over the last couple years.
Photo Credits: Christian Petersen – Getty Images