Consistent with a recent history of not making splashy, star-studded offseason deals, the KC Royals have made their first winter transactions.
The KC Royals very quietly made their first offseason moves recently. In three under-the-radar transactions, each made without hoopla or fanfare, the club added 25-year old reliever Peyton Gray, 24-year old catcher Tyler Cropley, and 19-year old hurler Emael Miliano to their family in the last 30 days.
Gray, a right-hander who stands 6-feet-3 and weighs 200 pounds, may be the best find of the three. The Rockies signed him as a nondrafted free agent after the 2018 draft and immediately started him at their Boise Class A short season club, where he went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 16 relief appearances. He struck out 36 and walked only three in 21.1 innings (15.19 SO9, 1.27 BB9). Shoulder problems limited him to just two games in 2019; Boise released him last February.
But he made quite a comeback in 2020 with the Milwaukee Milkmen, an independent American Association club. He didn’t give up a run and fanned 56 in 32 innings (15.8 SO9), posted a minuscule 0.750 WHIP, won all three of his decisions, and saved 14 games. Not surprisingly, the KC Royals assigned him to Triple A Omaha. He should get a long look in spring training.
Cropley was available because the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A Washington Nationals affiliate, released him in late May. The compact (5-feet-11, 185 pounds) Cropley was an eighth round selection of the Nats in the 2018 amateur draft, then opened his professional career that summer by slashing a combined .310/.453/.357 in 14 games split between their Gulf Coast Rookie League team and Auburn Class A short season club. He went 13-for-42, drove in nine runs and drew nine walks.
Cropley, who’s also seen action in left field, moved up to Hagerstown for the 2019 campaign. Sidelined for a time with an injury, he played 41 games and struggled to a .187 average with a couple of home runs.
He played community college ball after high school, then clubbed 18 homers and batted .304 in two seasons at the University of Iowa, including .342 his senior year. In its 2018 draft scout, Baseball America (subscription required) noted his strong arm and game-running prowess, an assessment certainly consistent with the fact he threw out 48 percent of would-be base stealers at Hagerstown.
That the KC Royals immediately assigned him to Advanced A Wilmington suggests they know Cropley needs work. He should be in good hands with the Blue Rocks, though—assuming Wilmington’s staff returns intact from its season lost to COVID-19, Cropley will be mentored by manager Chris Widger, who spent 10 years catching in the majors with the Mariners, Expos, Yankees, Cardinals, White Sox and Orioles.
Miliano, a 6-foot, 170-pound right-hander who just turned 19 in September, also signed a minor league deal. He’s been assigned to the club’s Dominican Summer League team, which means he’ll start his pro career in rookie ball.
The Gray, Cropley and Miliano signings aren’t the kind of bigger moves the Royals may make this winter, but they’re a start.
The Royals’ offseason is underway. The club’s first three winter signings will bear watching.