A little-known KC Royals pitcher finished Friday’s game. Keep an eye on him.
By the time the eighth inning finally and mercifully arrived in Surprise, Arizona Friday night, the KC Royals had lost to Texas. The game wasn’t officially over, but it was over. The Rangers saw to that early, leading 7-1 after three frames primarily because Kansas City starter Jackson Kowar did a lot to stake the Royals to a six-run deficit before two innings were in the books. (Texas won 8-1). Charged with six runs that propelled his spring ERA to 10.80, Kowar left after getting just four outs, and probably won’t pitch in major league camp again this spring.
Kowar’s performance essentially guaranteed the fairly early departures of the Royal regulars, a not uncommon feature of spring training games made much more likely in this contest by all the runs Kowar gave up, and Kansas City’s inability to get enough of them back. With a loss all but certain, reserves and minor leaguers took over the game.
So it was that the eighth inning became the perfect time for KC manager Mike Matheny to use a relative unknown to finish things up against the host Rangers. And he did just that, calling upon Andres Sotillet to pitch.
“Unknown” may be too strong a characterization of Sotillet—”relative unknown” is better considering the fact he’s well-known within the Kansas City organization. It’s just that he’s really not a household name elsewhere.
Nothing he did late Friday night will improve his public visibility. Sotillet gave up three hits—a single to right, an infield single, and a run-scoring double—in his one inning of work. Ground balls accounted for his three outs, including a double play grounder to shortstop. But his nondescript effort doesn’t mean Sotillet isn’t worth keeping an eye on.
He is. There’s a reason he’s in big league camp as a non-roster invitee, and it’s because he can pitch.
Sotillet proved as much in 2016’s Dominican Summer League, his first professional stop after signing with Kansas City the year before. He went 7-2 with an impressive 1.52 ERA in 13 starts, posted an 0.86 WHIP and walked just eight in 65 innings (1.11 BB9).
He then went 3-0, 2.28 with the Royals’ Arizona rookie affiliate in 2017, but sandwiched that shiny record between an 0-2, 10.57 at the club’s Idaho Falls rookie club and the 0-2, 11.20 he finished the season with at Burlington.
Sotillet began the next season in better form by going 6-5, 4.93 at Class A Lexington, but he stumbled at High-A Wilmington with a 2-6, 5.40 effort.
The KC Royals decided to make a change with Sotillet in 2019. Primarily a starter before, he switched to the bullpen almost exclusively, appearing as a reliever in all but four of his 34 games. Although his control suffered a bit—he walked 3.5 batters every nine innings, high considering his career 2.2 BB9—he went 6-1 and with a 3.35 ERA, his lowest complete season mark since the 1.52 ERA he posted his rookie season.
Sotillet is obviously capable of pitching well, and his spring training invitation strongly suggest he’s in Kansas City’s plans. Although he did strike out 10 in a shutout he threw in 2018, he doesn’t regularly overpower hitters (6.8 career S0), but clearly has good control.
The Royals reassigned Sotillet, 24, to their minor league camp a couple of weeks ago, but spring training’s ever-flexible assignments made him available Friday night. Because he’s currently listed on Triple-A Omaha’s roster, he may well end up at the Royals’ alternate training site when the major leaguers break camp after Monday’s final exhibition game.
Andres Sotillet may not make it to Kauffman Stadium this season, but don’t be surprised if he pops up in the KC Royals’ bullpen before the 2022 season ends.