New KC Royals hurler Jake Brentz is work in progress

KC Royals (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
KC Royals (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals just added a relief pitcher to their Player Pool. He’s not all that new to the organization, but he’s a project.

The newest member of the KC Royals 60-man Player Pool must not be mistaken for new to the organization. Nor should he be considered major league ready.

To be frank, Jake Brentz, signed last August after Pittsburgh released him, assigned immediately to the Royals’ Northwest Arkansas Double A club, and invited to the club’s training camp just four days ago, is a work in progress, a project requiring more work and refinement before he’s ready to pitch regularly in the big leagues.

Brentz is an athletic, 6-1, 195-pound left-handed reliever entering his eighth professional season with a fastball he occasionally hits 100-mph with, and routinely throws in the mid-to-high 90’s. (A splitter, curve and changeup complement the fastball).

He’s also a chewer of bats, averaging almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings (9.7 to be precise). Not counting his small sample 8.4 SO9 in his 5.1 late-summer innings at Northwest Arkansas last season, Brentz’s average hasn’t dipped below 10.0 per nine for a season of significant work since he posted a 9.9 in 20 games across three minor league levels in 2016.

Since then, he’s been as high as 12.4 over 31 games between High A and Double A in 2018 (including 12.7 at High A), posted 11.0 in 33 total High A and Double A games in 2017, then 10.1 last year in 41 games across Double A and Triple A.

But while Brentz’s fastball and ability to fan hitters may be major league worthy, his control is not. He averages a disconcerting 6.5 walks per nine innings; his season-best walk rate is 4.8, which he’s achieved twice (last season and 2015); his worst is 2018’s 10.7 (39 walks in 32.2 innings).

His career 1.640 WHIP also needs improvement.

So it is, considering his control issues, that Brentz seems a curious choice for the short season Player Pool, a group reserved for the active roster, those non-active players on the 40-man roster, players clubs believe may help at the big league level and other top prospects they want to work closely with while the minor leagues remain on hiatus.

Brentz belongs in the last group. Although the KC Royals traded lefty reliever Tim Hill last week, don’t expect Brentz, with no major league experience and control problems, to take his place; southpaws Richard Lovelady, Randy Rosario, Gabe Speier and Foster Griffin have had good camps and will crack the active roster before Brentz. And he’s been recognized as a top prospect at his previous stops.

Baseball America, for example, ranked him (subscription required) as Toronto’s 28th best prospect in 2014 and Seattle’s 25th best in 2016, and also as the 80th best for the 2013 amateur draft. The Blue Jays picked him in the 11th round and signed him that summer.

After two unremarkable Rookie League seasons, Brentz moved with two others from the Toronto organization to Seattle in a 2015 trade deadline deal that made Mark Lowe a Blue Jay. He appeared in just five Low A games after the trade, then compiled a 4-2, 5.32 ERA record between Seattle’s Low A, A and Triple A clubs in 2016 before the Mariners shipped him to the Pirates late in the campaign.

Other than maintaining his prodigious strikeout rates (and high walk numbers), Brentz didn’t distinguish himself with Pittsburgh and was released at the Triple A level on August 16 of last season; the KC Royals signed him a few days later.

Brentz reported to Northwest Arkansas and made five relief appearances with no decisions or saves; he struck out five, walked two and gave up two runs in 5.1 innings.

He owns a career 8-12 record and 5.34 ERA in 157 minor league games, only 23 of which he started.

Statistics are important, but clearly don’t tell the whole story with Brentz as far as the KC Royals are concerned. The club obviously sees potential and talent in Brentz, so much so that they brought him to camp over others. He’s already been assigned to the team’s “alternate camp” at the Kansas City T-Bones’ ballpark, where he’ll work every day under the close eyes of the KC staff. He wouldn’t be there unless the Royals believe he has a solid future.

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The KC Royals are known for their willingness to take on pitching reclamation projects. Jake Brentz is no reclamation project, however–he’s a work in progress the club has taken on to bolster its relief corps. Here’s hoping the work pays off for him and the franchise.