KC Royals Prospects: New reliever’s Omaha stint could be short

(Photo by Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

A KC Royals reliever signed in September may not have a long stay at Triple A Omaha.

The KC Royals’ commitment to immediate improvement, convincingly demonstrated by General Manager Dayton Moore’s surprising aggressiveness this winter, has added a handful of established, well-known veterans to the roster. The signings of free agents Mike Minor, Michael A. Taylor and Carlos Santana, and the re-signing of closer Greg Holland, make the Royals a better club. And it certainly won’t hurt the team’s 2021 prospects if former Royal Ervin Santana, signed to a minor league deal late last month, returns to form.

Lost in the acquisitions of these high-profile major leaguers, however, is the player who was actually Moore’s first addition this offseason and who may prove to be a Royal in the rough. Just two days after the Royals concluded their 2020 campaign, they procured 25-year old reliever Peyton Gray.

No one need apologize for failing to recognize the name. Gray went unclaimed in the 40-round 2018 amateur draft, and his subsequent signing by the Colorado Rockies passed with little notice. His minor league stops at Boise and Grand Junction in 2018-19 didn’t receive widespread attention.

Shoulder issues slashed Gray’s 2019 season to just two games and Boise cut him loose after the season. He signed on with the Milwaukee Milkmen, a club in the independent American Association, for the 2020 campaign.

The Milkmen gave him the chance to pitch regularly to live competition, an invaluable opportunity and luxury COVID-19 took away from most minor league pitchers. The work in baseball’s background paid off.

Gray made 30 relief appearances for Milwaukee, finished 20 games and saved 14, struck out 56 batters in 32 innings (a stunning 15.8 SO9), held the opposition to less than a hit per inning (0.750 WHIP), and went 3-0.

And he didn’t give up a run. Not even one.

That Gray caught the Royals’ eye, then, isn’t shocking; nor should his numbing 2020 numbers be particularly surprising. Despite his 2019 shoulder problems, the 6-feet-3, 200-pound righthander’s 18 games between Boise and Grand Junction yielded a perfect 4-0 record, a 2.22 ERA, a 0.740 WHIP and a 15.2 SO9.

Why Gray hasn’t been a bigger blip on baseball’s radar is perplexing, but the answer may lie partially in his unremarkable college career. One season at Western Michigan and two at Florida Gulf Coast produced a 56-game 6-6, 4.95 ERA record and probably explains why he went undrafted. His subsequent shoulder issues couldn’t have helped.

But added to his minor league performance, Gray’s American Association effort lends credibility to the KC Royals’ decision to sign him. Although only half the AA’s clubs participated in its pandemic-abbreviated season (the Kansas City T-Bones opted not to play, which allowed the Royals to use their park as their alternate training site), the league provided decent players a summer home and Gray’s statistics measured well against the minor league-caliber competition. He was named the AA’s Rookie of the Year.

The Royals assigned Gray to their Omaha Triple A affiliate. It will be interesting to see how his three-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider and changeup) fares against the most talented hitters he will have faced. If he equals, or even approaches, the success he’s had in the minors and the AA, his Omaha stay may not last long.

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Peyton Gray will start this season at Omaha. Don’t be surprised if he finds his way into the Kansas City bullpen before the year is out.