At the start of Spring Training, it had seemed as though the Kansas City Royals bullpen was essentially set. Aside from a potential open spot in the bullpen if Luke Hochevar or Wade Davis were able to win the competition for the fifth starter role, the bullpen was likely to be almost exactly the same as last year.
Feb 24, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Donnie Joseph poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
When Hochevar was injured and lost for the season, that opened up the final spot in the bullpen, a role that was likely to go to a second left handed relief option. Being out of options, it would have appeared as though Francisley Bueno would have the inside track at the job, followed by Danny Duffy when he lost out on the final spot in the rotation. However, very quietly, Donnie Joseph has made a strong case for that final bullpen role, and may be emerging as the front runner.
During his time in the minors, Joseph has shown his high strikeout potential, striking out 382 batters in 280 minor league innings. He has also exhibited control problems, allowing 139 walks as well. Those tendencies bore themselves out during his brief trial during September of last year, when Joseph struck out 7 in 5.2 innings, but also walked 4 batters. Based on his track record, it would seem that Joseph may have needed a bit more time in the minors to get his control sorted out.
Instead, Donnie Joseph may have forced his way onto the Royals Opening Day roster. While it is only Spring Training, and Joseph has pitched all of 5.1 innings thus far, he has yet to allow a hit. Although he has walked three batters, Joseph also has nine strikeouts. If he is able to continue that type of production into the regular season, Ned Yost would have a bullpen filled with strikeout artists that he could use to slam the door on the opposition.
While Joseph is not the traditional strikeout pitcher, in that he does not throw a fastball approaching triple digits, he has still been able to generate plenty of strikeouts with his fastball/slider combination. Even though his fastball averages between the mid 80’s to the low 90’s, His low 80’s slider has generated a swing and miss 37.5% of the time thus far in Spring Training. If Joseph is able to keep getting people to miss that slider through the regular season, he could end up being yet another strikeout artist in the Royals bullpen.
Donnie Joseph may have been a longshot to make the Royals bullpen at the start of Spring Training, but he has made the most of his opportunities thus far. If he continues to impress, he could find himself traveling to Detroit with the Royals.