KC Royals bullpen competition update: It’s still close

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

Four KC Royals hoping to win jobs in the bullpen have had different performances so far, but none should be considered to have won–or lost–relief roles.

Jesse Hahn, a right-hander who’s appeared in five big league seasons, including one with the KC Royals, and Kyle Zimmer, another Royal with big-league experience, are competing for a spot in Mike Matheny‘s bullpen; so, too, are two complete newcomers to the club, Braden Shipley and Chance Adams. At this point, they haven’t eliminated themselves from the competition, but they haven’t distinguished themselves as locks.

Following some serviceable seasons with San Diego and Oakland, an injury slowed Hahn after he came to KC in a trade with the A’s after the 2017 season. He pitched only 10 times in the minors across 2018 and ’19, then pitched in six games for the Royals last season, going 0-1 in 4.2 innings; although he gave up seven runs on seven hits and walked six, he struck out seven.  The Royals released him after the season but re-signed him less than two weeks later.

Because he’s out of minor-league options, likely won’t find himself in the starting rotation, is pitching on a major league contract, and has big-league experience, Hahn stands a decent chance to make the club as a reliever. But he may be on the bubble, or close to it–in two games and two innings, he’s been rocked for five runs and six hits. Those numbers won’t disqualify him yet, but they can’t continue for long.

Zimmer, once a promising prospect the Royals have stuck with through the thick and thin of the unfortunate string of injuries that continually threatened his career, has two appearances, neither pretty. He pitched two-thirds of an inning against Cleveland and gave up two hits, two runs and two walks; he then pitched an inning against the White Sox Wednesday and struck out two, but surrendered two hits and a run. His ERA is 10.80, his record 0-1. However, the club and Zimmer are dedicated to each other and he can still earn a spot. (He also has an option left).

Shipley was a curious offseason acquisition for the Royals, a starter turned reliever with a brief and undistinguished big league career. In 26 games over three partial seasons with Arizona, he was 4-6 with a 5.49 ERA; the high ERA is consistent with the increasingly high ERAs he posted in the minors. Shipley will have to do better to make it to Kansas City and has impressed so far, pitching twice with no walks, three strikeouts and a save in three innings. A long shot when spring training began, Shipley has improved his chances; how much remains to be seen.

Adams was once a bright star in the Yankee organization who punctuated his rise through the minors with stingy successive season ERAs of 1.78, 2.33, 1.03 and 2.89, and stellar 2016 and ’17 season records of 13-1 and 15-5. But he hasn’t repeated such success since undergoing elbow surgery after the 2017 season; he pitched poorly in the minors and in what little time he spent with the Yankees, who traded him to the Royals last December for minor league Cristian Perez.

Adams and the Royals hope he recaptures the form that made the Yankees so justifiably high on him. So far, he’s appeared in two games and struck out two and walked none in 2.1 innings. But he’s also surrendered three hits and two runs, although one of those runs was unearned. The Royals need to see more of Adams before deciding whether he was a Chance worth taking.

dark. Next. Midweek Royals musings

The Royals haven’t made any public decisions about their spring bullpen competition. Some pitchers are locks to make the team, others are trending downward, and still, others are on the bubble. The field will narrow before long, but for now, the competition remains wide open.