For the KC Royals, the pitching staff is the most logical place to start cutting.
The odds are against teams hitting pay dirt in the Rule 5; gems are rare, but one pops up every now and then. For example, pitchers Brad Keller and Joakim Soria came to the KC Royals via the Rule 5. And while those hurlers were Rule 5 adds, the first place the Royals should look to create 40-man roster space is their well-stocked pitching corps.
Some Kansas City hurlers are, of course, 40-man untouchables. The club isn’t going to remove Keller, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Josh Staumont, or Danny Duffy (unless they trade him in the next few days, which isn’t likely), or Kyle Zimmer or Tyler Zuber. But there are expendables.
Chase Adams comes immediately to mind, and he’s been mentioned before in the cut context. He came to KC last December in decline, once a top Yankee prospect whose bouts with bone spurs and control problems cast a promising career into serious doubt. He made the Royals 60-man Player Pool in 2020 and spent the summer at their alternate site before earning a six-game big league look in the campaign’s late stages. Although he wasn’t used in important spots and didn’t walk anyone, he gave up nine runs in 8.2 innings. Any good pitching at T-Bones Stadium didn’t carry over.
Scott Blewett could get the 40-man axe. He only pitched briefly for KC in 2020—the Royals summoned him twice for short fill-in duty without using him, then afforded him two chances in late September. He struck out four and gave up two runs in three innings. That they didn’t use him more and he’s given up a few too many runs (5.00 ERA) in the minors suggests he may not be in the club’s long range plans.
Like Jorge Lopez before him (but perhaps not to Lopez’s extreme), Glenn Sparkman finds himself without a firm niche, a hurler who hasn’t self-defined his role. He’s appeared in four KC seasons, primarily as an unremarkable reliever in 2017 and ’18, then mainly as an unsuccessful starter (4-10, 6.31 ERA in 23 starts) in 2019, and finally as a reliever in four games in 2020 before a right forearm injury ended his season. The bullpen is now solid and full and there isn’t room for him in the rotation.
The club’s approach to Richard Lovelady suggests it may open his 40-man spot. His minor league stats—10-8, 2.17 ERA, 2.54 BB9 and 9.75 SO9 in 133 games—prove he can pitch, but his 21 big league innings haven’t been pretty because he’s given up 18 runs. And he only pitched once in 2020. Despite his stellar minor league numbers, it seems the club isn’t committed to using him much.
Where Gabe Speier stands with the Royals is hard to figure. Manager Mike Matheny certainly picked his spots for Speier in 2020, using him eight times but only for a full inning once. Speier walked four and surrendered five runs in 5.2 innings. His minor league ERA of 3.41 is a bit high for a reliever and the club’s major league bullpen may not have enough room for him.
Daniel Tillo, one of mlb.com’s picks for Rule 5 protection, isn’t expendable, but the club may risk him anyway. He’ll likely miss all of next season after Tommy John surgery—a Rule 5 draftee who goes on the Injured List still has to be active for 90 days, and no team is likely to use an active roster spot that long on someone who can’t play. The same goes for Foster Griffin, so both are probably safe if left unprotected.
Seemingly safe are Jake Newberry, Carlos Hernandez and Jakob Junis; Ronald Bolanos and Carlos Sanabria are recent acquisitions who likely won’t be moved off the 40-man.