At first glance, recent news that Philadelphia signed seven minor league pitchers didn’t seem of much interest to KC Royals fans. But beneath the headlines is where the meat always is, and where in this case the Kansas City angle could be found.
Among all those hurlers joining the Phillies is Jake Newberry, late of pitching parts of four seasons for Kansas City and not that far removed from apparently becoming a staple of its bullpen. He’d pitched in a third of the club’s short-season 60 games in 2020—a pitcher who gets that much work in any length campaign has something going for him.
Now, Newberry is gone. What happened?
Jake Newberry’s career with the KC Royals was simply too inconsistent.
Newberry started well with the Royals, perhaps even better than the club thought he would after choosing him in the 37th round of the 2021 amateur draft. Newberry impressed immediately, going 1-0 with a 2.81 ERA in 11 Rookie ball appearances after he signed, and 1-1, 2.68 in the same number of Rookie games in 2013. He had mixed results in 2014 and 2015: although he was a combined 10-6 in another Rookie level campaign followed by an A-ball season, his ERAs jumped to 4.50 and 5.04.
But giving up too many runs didn’t last. Pitching only in relief, he went 3-2, 2.56 across Low-A and High-A in 2016, 6-4 and 2.61 between Double and Triple-A the next season, and was a combined 5-0, 1.63 at the same levels in 2018 when the Royals called him up August 18.
Newberry didn’t miss a beat. He debuted two nights later in Tampa Bay when he started the sixth inning with the Royals trailing 1-0. He didn’t allow a run and struck out three of the nine Rays he faced before Manager Ned Yost pulled him after he fanned Matt Duffy for the second out in the seventh. Newberry held Tampa scoreless in two-thirds of an inning two games later.
The righthander pitched nicely the rest of the season, giving up runs in only three of his 14 appearances. The four Cleveland scored against him in less than an inning his last time out skewed his ERA to 4.73.
Newberry caromed back and forth between Triple-A Omaha and the big club in 2019; by season’s end, he’d given Kansas City a serviceable 27 games (1-0, 3.77). And despite his questionable 4.09 ERA out of the pen in 2020, Manager Mike Matheny used him frequently. A spot in the 2021 bullpen seemed secure.
Unfortunately, inconsistency struck again. Newberry surrendered three runs in less than two innings April 12, two in a third of an inning three games later and, despite pitching 1.1 scoreless innings April 20, lost his big league roster spot a week later. He returned May 1 but found himself back at Omaha after allowing three runs in one frame May 2.
Kansas City recalled him less than two weeks later but didn’t use him before optioning him in late May. He pitched at Omaha the rest of the season, finished 3-5, 5.07, and became a minor league free agent in November.
In the end, the inconsistency that nagged him in the past and he needed to shed in 2021 caught up with Newberry. His first two years in the KC system were excellent, he allowed too many runs the next two seasons, then became stingy for three minor league campaigns and pitched decently as a major league rookie in 2018 and again in 2019 and 2020.
But Newberry wasn’t good in Kansas City in 2021, his 3-5 at Omaha is the only losing season he’s had at any professional level, and his 5.07 ERA there is the highest in Newberry’s minor league career. Perhaps changes of system and scenery are what he needs.
Consistency is a must in the big leagues. Whenever Jake Newberry found it in the Kansas City system, he couldn’t hold onto it long enough.