Kansas City Royals Bullpen Battle: Spring Training Week 1
By Cody Leonard
The 24-year-old righty was the only top-rated Royals pitching prospect not to be traded away during the team’s 2015 championship run. To this point, Almonte has been unimpressive at the major league level–giving up 9 runs, 9 walks, and four home runs in 11 games. His command is what has troubled him most often in his young career.
The good news is that Almonte put up a 1.72 ERA across 47 innings for Triple-A Omaha in 2017. His BB/9 also decreased to 2.5: his lowest figure since 2013. Although he started in over half of the games he appeared in last year, his future appears to be in the bullpen. With a strong showing in camp this spring, it is not out of the question that Almonte could snag the final bullpen spot and start to live up to his vast potential.
Hill was added to the Royals’ 40-man roster in November, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. It is clear the front office may see something in Hill, especially when considering who went unprotected. Hill is a strikeout machine with 176 Ks in 159 career minor-league innings. With the losses of Scott Alexander and Ryan Buchter, the Royals are short on left-handed relievers. Hill and his unique submarine delivery could be in the right place at the right time to grab a coveted seat in the pen.
Plucked from the independent leagues, Lenik is a name that has been thrown around a lot as a potential bullpen candidate. His fastball is capable of reaching the upper 90’s. If he can blow it by enough hitters this spring, Lenik could make a nice middle reliever.
This beloved pitching prospect has a big future ahead of him. Lovelady carved through the Carolina League to begin the 2017 season. He posted a 1.08 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, and 10.25 K/BB across his first 21 games–all with Wilmington. After being promoted to AA Northwest Arkansas, Lovelady continued to impress…just not as much.
His 2.16 ERA and 1.23 WHIP were still plenty good, but his K/BB took a big hit at 2.77. This is a pitcher that could be closing out the Royals’ next playoff win, but he may need at least one more half-season in the minors before he is fully ready.
Machado got a call late last season after rapidly climbing through the Royals’ system. He started the year off in High A and ended up in the Royals bullpen just five months later. During his brief time with the big league team, he struggled immensely. Machado gave up 9 runs in 3.2 innings with the Royals in a two-game sample. He received high praise from Dayton Moore and the front office upon his original call-up, and will more than likely receive another in 2018. It just won’t be on March 29.
The other left-hander the Royals decided to add to the 40-man roster last fall was Eric Stout. He is currently in the same boat as Tim Hill, trying to make the team as one of the few left-handed relievers in camp. Stout has been building up his resume in the minors the past couple years. He is ready to contribute now but may have to serve as depth for a while until injuries or trades open up a spot for him.
If he’s healthy, he really doesn’t have much to prove in the minors. Zimmer’s clearest path to big league playing time is as a late-inning reliever. Maybe this is the year.