KC Royals: This righty reliever will see Omaha after all

(Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports) /

A KC Royals hurler who skipped AAA to pitch in the majors will now see Omaha.

Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various KC Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is reliever Tyler Zuber.

Tyler Zuber may not have entertained any serious thoughts of actually making the KC Royals’ Opening Day roster when he reported to their 2020 spring camp. Preparing for his fourth professional season and lucky enough to receive a non-roster invitation to Arizona, Zuber can be excused if he was simply happy for the experience and the chance to showcase himself to the major league staff. He had, after all, never pitched above Double-A.

But COVID-19 left the club short of pitchers when baseball returned after its pandemic-driven hiatus, a 30-man roster provided a little extra room, and Zuber found himself breaking camp with the big club. And manager Mike Matheny, new himself to the Royals, wasted no time getting the rookie some action.

Despite the closeness of the game, Matheny gave Zuber the seventh and eighth innings of Kansas City’s July 24 Opening Day contest in Cleveland. The Royals trailed 2-0 when the righthander toed the rubber to face Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor; undaunted, he retired Hernandez and Ramirez on consecutive grounders before the always dangerous Lindor flied out. A double play enabled him to face the minimum three batters in the eighth.

Kansas City eventually lost, but Zuber’s big league debut was a success. Although the rest of his July, and then August, were rough, the Royals didn’t farm him out to their alternate training site or send him home. He rewarded the club’s trust and confidence with a superb September: Zuber appeared in nine games that month, posted a stingy 0.96 ERA, and struck out 18 in 9.1 innings.

Nevertheless, and despite a 2.70 ERA this spring, Zuber will get to experience Triple-A ball after all. Together with catcher Sebastian Rivero, the Royals optioned him to Omaha before Tuesday night’s game against Seattle.

Zuber, 25, will at least start the season at the level he skipped in making his big leap to the majors. It’s a step back Brady Singer, who made the same jump last season and Kris Bubic, who moved from Advanced A to Kansas City, aren’t taking. (Singer is probably staying no matter what, but Bubic may, sooner or later, follow Zuber for some additional seasoning).

How will Zuber’s 2021 season go?

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Zuber’s 2021 campaign

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs foresee Zuber pitching in Kansas City this season. Baseball Reference projects Zuber going 3-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 55 big league innings, while FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts he’ll finish 2-2, 4.60 over 27 innings.

If Zuber makes it to Kauffman Stadium, how will he do for the KC Royals?

First things first—Zuber will, in fact, return to Kansas City and the Royals this season. He’ll pitch well for the Storm Chasers in Omaha and get recalled before midseason.

Zuber will stay in the bullpen—none of his 128 professional appearances have been starts—and continue to be effective. He’ll get his share of strikeouts (he’s averaging 12.27 per nine innings in the majors and 11.96 in the minors). But he won’t walk as many as the 20 he passed in 22 innings last season that, combined with the three he walked in 3.1 innings this spring, probably contributed to the club’s decision to send him down now. The case Zuber makes for starting the 2022 campaign on the major league roster will be strong.

All in all, from getting some valuable work at Omaha to getting back to Kansas City, 2020 will be good for Tyler Zuber.

Next. Two recent moves were inevitable. dark

Tyler Zuber made a big jump last season. He’s back in the minors, but a return to the Royals will happen this season.