KC Royals’ draft pick Will Klein: “I was pretty pumped”

Will Klein is a versatile, flamethrowing young pitcher. He’s on a mission to hone his craft and make a big impact in the future for the KC Royals.

We are now nearly two weeks removed from the 2020 MLB Draft. The KC Royals had another solid haul in the five rounds every team was given, then dominated the undrafted free agent market to boot. Things are beginning to look up for an organization that’s been among baseball’s worst in recent years. Fifth-round pick Will Klein could be a player to help turn things around in a few years.

Klein, a 6’5″, 230-pound pitcher, is a flamethrower on the bump. The former Eastern Illinois player boasts a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that can touch triple-digits, which is downright scary. As a starter, he can tweak the speed of the pitch to keep opposing hitters honest. Out of the bullpen, it’s all gas and no brakes. The heater is far and away Klein’s best pitch.

He complements the fastball with a slider, curveball and changeup. Each pitch is at a different stage in its development, but the curveball is my personal favorite. Klein has true 12-6 movement with some tremendous loop that he uses to bury hitters when they’re deep in the count. The slider has good movement but could benefit from some refinement, and the changeup is a work-in-progress.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Klein and ask him about the draft process, summer ball, his potential role as he advances through the minor leagues, as well as some other things. Our interview is below:

Q: Talk about the process leading up to the draft and then how you felt on draft night. I know you talked to Scott Melvin and some other guys beforehand, but how has that whole process unfolded for you?

A: “There were a whole bunch of phone calls but honestly, Scott Melvin was the guy that called me the most. I thought I had a pretty good relationship with him. He was the one talking me through it all and I felt like I had a good relationship with the KC Royals just because of him and talking to them more than other teams.

When they were the ones that made the call on draft day, I was pretty pumped.”

Q: What was the biggest downside of not being able to have much of a junior season this year?

A: “I know if I would’ve got a few more starts and shown that I could make that transition (from reliever to starter), I could’ve shown that I was definitely in the top three rounds. But after four starts, I was glad that I pushed myself into the top five. I made a name for myself a bit this past summer, but I wasn’t sure where I’d end up with just five rounds and not having a whole lot of innings.

That’s the main thing I wanted was more innings. More background. Just more good outings to prove that I’m a pitcher that deserves that kind of recognition.”

Q: You had an up-and-down first two years of college ball but were downright dominant with Lakeshore last summer. How helpful was that experience for you?

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A: “As an experience, it was great because it kind of mimics what minor league ball will be. We played a game every day at least… not a whole lot of free time and just interacting with fans and little kids a lot. So I had a blast, and I hope that’s what my minor league experience will be like because I think I’m well-prepared for that.

Bus trips don’t bother me at all. That’s what I learned, too.”

Q: You’re known for the lethal fastball and the big-breaking curveball. Go through the rest of your arsenal with the slider and changeup and how you feel about your pitches.

A: “This winter I kind of developed a slider/cutter deal. It’s kind of in between — it’s more of a gyro kind of vertically, downward-moving slider instead of the big, sweeping ones you see. I like it more just because I have the higher arm slot. I decided to kill a lot of spin efficiency off it and it looks like my fastball until it gets closer to the plate, then it drops off.

I saw MLB put a graphic up, people were 0-for-10 with like 8 strikeouts against it… that’s something I’m happy to throw. Over quarantine I’ve been working on a changeup. I got some good video and statistical data on it the other day and I’m happy where it’s progressing now.”

Q: I saw a video of you working on the changeup on Twitter the other day. Your stuff is premium – how do you plan on improving your command over the next few seasons?

A: “That’s a valid question. In high school, I only had 17 innings, freshman year (of college), 17 innings, and 24 in each of the past two. I think I’ve shown that I’m a quick learner and can adapt on the fly. Throwing more is going to even it all out. This year, I’ve smoothed it all out, and I think the summer was a huge jump from what the spring had been.

I don’t think that’ll be a question anymore. It was a confidence and feel problem sophomore year. The summer pushed me through that so I think I I’m ready to go out there and strike out everybody.”

Q: Have the KC Royals talked to you about whether they see you as a starter or reliever? Which would you rather do?

A: “I think the plan is to initially start out as a starter, since that’s what I was doing this year. I have a four-pitch mix that I can throw, so I think they want to test that out… it’s fun to go six or seven innings in a ballgame.

They’re two completely different animals. This summer I had a blast relieving because the fans knew what was happening… they’re like ‘well, you’ve got to shut it down,’ so that was a cool feeling, cool atmosphere and cool mentality to get into. But also, starting and being able to start off the game with the other team and just shut them down out of the gate is a cool feeling, too.

Personally, I just like pitching. I don’t have any preference at this point. I don’t think I need to — relieving in the summer was fun but I haven’t really done either of them a whole lot. I just want to get more innings however I can.”

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Q: What are you most excited for now that you’re on the path to the bigs with the KC Royals?

A: “I’m excited to work with professional coaches and professional development personnel… I’m excited to get in with guys that have been working with professionals and have made guys professionals for years. I want to get in, shake their minds and see what I can do to step up my game and become the next great MLB guy.”

Next: Royals' Ben Hernandez: "I want to get better"

I’d like to thank Will Klein for taking some time out of his day to speak with me and answer some questions. Follow him on Twitter @willklein0 and keep it here at Kings of Kauffman for more KC Royals draft prospect coverage.

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