When the Royals traded Will Smith to the Brewers in exchange for Norichika Aoki, it served two main purposes. First, it brought an outfielder with on-base ability to Kansas City, which was obviously a big need. Secondly, it was a move to help thin some of the excess bullpen depth the Royals have accumulated over the last few years. Now that Smith is gone, the only left-handed reliever who seems to be a lock for the 25 man roster on opening day is Tim Collins. Francisley Bueno and Everett Teaford could also be in the mix, especially since both are out of options. However, I think the two players who have the most to gain from Smith’s departure are Donnie Joseph and Chris Dwyer.
Joseph was acquired by the Royals in 2012 in the trade that sent Jonathan Broxton to the Reds, and he’s shown an impressive ability to miss bats, striking out over 31% of the batters he’s faced in his time with the Storm Chasers. He’s been even better against left-handed batters, with a strikeout rate of 41.8% in 2013 and 35.2% in 2012. Those are numbers you love to see from a LOOGY. Joseph does seem to struggle with command at times, as he has a career walk rate in the minors of 11.5%, so that’s a bit of a concern. In spring training prior to last season, Joseph was excellent, seemingly striking out every opposing batter that walked to the plate, but due to the incredible bullpen depth in Kansas City, he spent most of the season in Omaha, pitching in only 6 major league games. Joseph faced 25 batters in 5.2 innings, striking out 7, allowing 4 hits, 4 walks, and 0 earned runs.
Dwyer was once thought of as a top pitching prospect. In fact, before the 2011 season, Dwyer was ranked the #83 prospect in baseball. Along with Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, and Danny Duffy, he was on his way to be a part of a young and exciting Royals’ rotation. Of course, TINSTAAPP* laughed at the Royals’ plans and only Duffy has made a start at the major league level.
*There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, for the uninitiated.
After putting up back to back seasons with an ERA over 5.00, Dwyer bounced back in 2013 with an ERA of 3.55 in 159.2 innings for the Storm Chasers. Unlike his results, Dwyer’s peripherals were not exactly amazing. Dwyer only struck out 6.31 batters per 9 innings, while walking 4.06 batters per 9. Despite being left-handed, Dwyer did not have much of a platoon split in 2013, and actually allowed a slightly higher OPS versus lefties (.702, compared to .683 for righties). He made a couple of relief appearances for the big league club in September, striking out 2 batters and walking 1 in 3 innings for the Royals.
While Dwyer has spent almost his entire career as a starter, the perception of his ceiling has been seriously affected, as evidenced by being passed up by Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, Miguel Almonte, Jason Adam, and others in most prospect rankings. More than likely, Dwyer will need to find a role in the crowded Royals’ bullpen, and Smith’s absence may give him that opportunity. One may think Dwyer would fit into a long relief position, but I actually believe his future is as a LOOGY. At first glance, it probably doesn’t make sense that a pitcher who hasn’t shown much of a platoon split could succeed against left-handed batters. However, if you’re familiar with Dwyer’s pitch arsenal, you know he has a devastating curveball – consistently rated as the best curveball in the Royals’ system, at least until Zimmer came aboard. Were Dwyer to be used exclusively out of the bullpen, he could become more of a two-pitch pitcher, relying more on his curveball. And if he’s facing more lefties than righties, that curveball can be even more effective. Dwyer is far from a guarantee, but if he can command his fastball a bit more, he can be yet another weapon for the Royals to have in that ridiculously stacked bullpen.
Smith was a very solid reliever in 2013, and for most teams, losing an arm like his from the bullpen would be a horrifying proposition. But for the Royals, they can just plug in the next guy in line. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bueno and/or Teaford are in Kansas City on opening day, if only because of “inventory,” but Joseph and Dwyer will likely have a better chance of making a more significant impact, if they take advantage of this newfound opportunity.