The KC Royals won Thursday. A trio of young pitchers highlighted the evening.
For what it’s worth, and that usually isn’t much in spring training where individual performance means far more than wins and losses, the KC Royals won Thursday night. They beat former Royals Mike Moustakas, Brandon Finnegan, and their Cincinnati Reds, mustering just enough offense and capitalizing on late Cincinnati miscues to win 5-3.
Leading by one in the seventh, Finnegan, who made big league history as a Royal by becoming the first player to pitch in the College World Series and major league World Series in the same season, retired two straight Royals before a single and two errors (including one of his own) allowed KC to tie the game 3-3. The Royals took the lead for good in the eighth when Bobby Witt Jr. lifted a high fly to left that Errol Robinson muffed; Witt came all the way around to score and give KC the lead. Nick Pratto followed with his first home run of the spring and KC had all it needed.
The highlight of the night, however, was the pitching of three young hurlers whose chances to pitch in Kansas City sometime this season are only slightly better than their chances to make the Opening Day roster. Jon Heasley, Jake Brentz and Collin Snider were impressive.
Heasley, the youngest of the three at 24 and currently listed as the club’s 25th best prospect by MLB Pipeline, pitched the sixth and faced five Reds. He gave up a hit and a walk, but struck out one and held Cincinnati scoreless.
Brentz, 26, came into the game smarting a bit from giving up two hits and a home run in an inning against Cleveland Monday. He was better Thursday—although he walked one and gave up a hit to put two runners on with one out in the seventh, Brentz retired Rocky Gale on a liner and struck out Narciso Crook looking to end his single inning of work unscathed.
Snider, 25, was just as good Thursday night as he was when he struck out two in a scoreless frame against the same Cleveland club that nicked Brentz. He needed just seven pitches to dispatch the Reds in order in a scoreless eighth, fanning TJ Friedl and Jose Garcia on called third strikes, then retiring Robinson on a first pitch grounder.
Thursday’s contest was Heasley’s first of the spring. The Royals picked him in the 13th round of their pitching-rich 2018 draft, long after selecting Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar. A starter in 31 of his 37 professional regular season games, the righthander features a four-pitch repertoire (fastball, curve, slider, change) he’s used to accumulate a 9-8, 3.75 ERA across one Rookie level season and one Class A campaign. Kansas City saved him from a season without pitching by adding him to the club’s Player Pool early last September.
Brentz is a strikeout machine who regularly posts SO9s over 10.0 with his sizzling fastball. Control is his nemesis—the 6.52 walks he’s averaged every nine innings in his seven-year minor league career likely explains why he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch. But the Royals think enough of the lefthander that he spent last summer working at their alternate training site as a Player Pool member.
Snider, a righty who’s surrendered only one hit this spring for a small-sample size 0.43 WHIP, is primarily a reliever with a 13-10, 3.96 record over three seasons in the KC Royals’ minor league system. He has a decent fastball and good control (1.8 minor league BB9). The Royals are obviously taking a good look at Snider but, like Heasley and Brentz, he’ll be headed for minor league camp when the Royals head north for Opening Day.
The young hurlers pitched well, but two veteran KC Royals found the going bumpy
A pair of Kansas City pitchers, one making his spring debut and the other appearing for the second time, had some good moments but didn’t enjoy quite the same kind of night as Heasley, Brentz and Snider.
Starter Danny Duffy walked two Reds on four straight pitches each, and former teammate Moustakas tagged him for an RBI single. Encouraging, though, were his two strikeouts. He threw 21 pitches in two innings.
Ervin Santana, a non-roster invitee trying to earn a spot on the roster for the second time (he pitched for KC in 2013), pitched the third and fourth frames. He gave up three hits and two runs in the third before striking out Taylor Naquin and Jose Garcia to end the inning, then retired the side in order on three pitches in the fourth. Combined with his good start against Texas Sunday, Santana has a 9.00 ERA, but three strikeouts and only one walk in four innings. He certainly can’t be counted out yet.
They probably won’t make it to the major leagues this season, but Jon Heasley, Jake Brentz and Collin Snider looked good Thursday night.