KC Royals Prospects: Has this reliever finally arrived?

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Dogged determination is a trait KC Royals pitcher Gabe Speier surely has. After Boston made him an obscure draft pick (13th round, 563rd overall) in 2013, he’s been traded four times, including by the Red Sox after his first full professional season. His baseball work has been limited primarily to the minors with only brief, mostly uninspiring calls to the majors.

Why Speier hasn’t spent more time in the big leagues isn’t entirely clear. His eight-year minor league 3.35 ERA is blemished only by a 4.30 mark in 2017, his first full season in Double-A ball, and 2019’s 4.48, which encompassed more Double-A and his first taste of Triple-A. His 8.32 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 career marks are decent.

Perhaps his first two trips to The Show slowed his progress. His initial call to Kansas City wasn’t good—a September 2019 roster addition, Speier posted a 7.36 ERA in nine games, although surrendering three runs to Houston in one inning was the main cause of that high mark. And he did strike out 10 in 7.1 innings.

The Royals gave him another September chance in 2020 (he’d spent the summer at the club’s Alternate Training Site as a member of KC’s 60-man Player Pool), but the late-season visit was disappointingly similar to the previous campaign’s. His ERA increased to 7.94 and assured him of starting 2021 back in the minors.

Speier, though, wasn’t done.

A solid 2021 season suggests Gabe Speier might stick with the KC Royals.

To no one’s surprise, Speier’s 2021 began at Triple-A Omaha. He made the best of his first full season at the minors’ highest level—Manager Brian Poldberg used him 45 times in relief and he went 3-0, 2.98 with five saves and an 11.32 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9.

Those numbers gave Speier one of his best professional campaigns and spurred the Royals to summon him to Kansas City again (his hectic trip from Omaha to Kauffman Stadium is a story in and of itself); this time, Speier flourished. He appeared seven times after his Sept. 15 callup, giving up only one run in 7.2 innings for a much-improved 1.17 ERA, and didn’t walk a single batter.

Whether Kansas City keeps Speier on its 40-man roster and makes room for him in next year’s bullpen remains to be seen, but despite his having two minor league options left, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to return him to Omaha. And Richard Lovelady’s late-season Tommy John surgery, which ruined his best big league performance yet (2-0, 3.48 in 20 games), increases the club’s need for another lefthanded reliever, which Speier just happens to be.

Don’t be surprised to see Speier with the Royals in Cleveland when they open the 2022 season there March 31.

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KC Royals reliever Gabe Speier was excellent in the majors and minors this season. He may have finally arrived.