KC Royals bullpen competition update: It’s still close

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
3 of 4
KC Royals,
KC Royals, /

A long-struggling KC Royals pitcher who has primarily been a starter is a candidate for the club’s bullpen. If one game is any indication, his struggles may continue.

To say Eric Skoglund has struggled in the three partial seasons he’s been with the KC Royals would be an understatement in every sense of the word. He has two wins–one in his first major league game in 2017 when he retired 14 Tigers in a row and out-dueled Justin Verlander for 6.1 scoreless innings, the other a two-hit, one run, nine-strikeout seven-inning performance against the White Sox in 2018.  He went 1-2 with a 9.50 ERA that first season, then 1-6 with a 5.14 the next (to be fair, he was injured part of the year). His major league record is now 2-11 with a 6.61 ERA.

Skoglund struggled in 2019, too, a season cut almost in half by his 80-game PED-related suspension. In the six games he pitched, he was 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA and his WHIP was a too-high 1.857. His minor league numbers weren’t encouraging, either–he was a combined 3-5 with a 6.04 ERA between stints at AA Northwest Arkansas and AAA Omaha.

The Royals have always considered Skoglund a starter–22 of his 27 big league appearances have been starts and only one of his 88 minor league games was in relief. But in six professional seasons, he’s had only one winning campaign, a 6-3 2015 in High A.

Realistically, then, Skoglund is not a viable candidate for the Royals’ rotation; instead, he’ll have to secure a seat in the bullpen. He is not, however, off to a good start: in his one Cactus League appearance, he retired the first two hitters he faced on grounders, then gave up three straight hits (including a three-run home run) and exited after two-thirds of an inning. His too-early ERA is 40.50. He’ll have to reverse course rapidly to have a chance; as discussed previously in this space, his time with the KC Royals may be short.

While Skoglund’s performance is the most concerning of the KC Royals’ bullpen hopefuls, their only appearances haven’t helped two long shots. Gabe Speier surrendered two runs and two hits in a third of an inning; he’s a left-hander on a team short on lefty relievers, but that trait alone won’t save him if he doesn’t improve. And Conner Greene, a seven-year professional plagued throughout his career with control problems, gave up a run, a hit and walked three in his one-third inning. He, too, faces disappointment if things don’t get better.