Is it make-or-break time for this KC Royals pitcher?

(Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports) /

His professional numbers don’t overwhelm. He starts and relieves, yet has no major league wins or saves. Despite missing most of last season with an injury, he’s on the KC Royals’ 40-man roster, but has no defined role, and it’s unclear just what the club’s plans are for him.

All those things considered, 2022 may be a make-or-break season for Ronald Bolaños.

He needs to show the Royals what he can do. They simply haven’t seen much from him.

The righthander remains essentially untested since coming to the Royals in a trade with San Diego just before the 2020 season began. He made the team’s Opening Day roster and “opened” its third and ninth games—he pitched the first two innings against Cleveland July 26 and gave up two unearned runs, but didn’t make it out of the second inning six days later when the White Sox roughed him up for five runs on five hits. He spent the rest of the pandemic-shortened season at the Royals’ Alternate Training Site.

An injury limited Ronald Bolaños to three games with the KC Royals in 2021.

Bolaños started last season at Triple-A Omaha before Kansas City summoned him to Chicago as the extra man for a May 14 doubleheader against the White Sox. He didn’t appear in either game, returned to Omaha the next day, but was back with the Royals June 3.

He worked a scoreless inning against Minnesota the next night, struck out five in two scoreless frames against the Angels four evenings later, and fanned four more and yielded a run in 3.1 innings against Oakland June 12.

Unfortunately, Bolaños found himself on the 10-day Injured List three days later; even worse, the Royals moved him to the 60-day list with a right forearm strain June 18, and he didn’t pitch again until he began working his way through minor league rehabilitation assignments beginning in late July.

He threw a scoreless inning for the club’s Arizona Complex league Gold team, moved to the Blue squad and gave up six runs in 1.1 innings, then surrendered six runs (one unearned) and walked eight in 6.1 frames at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Six games at Omaha (two on rehab and four on option) followed with Bolaños giving up 21 runs, 22 hits, and 17 walks in 22 innings. But he struck out 17.

Ronald Bolaños must pitch more, and well, for the Royals this season.

How the Royals use Bolaños in 2022 remains to be seen. He’s primarily a starter (72 starts in 81 minor league games and five in 10 major league contests, although his two KC starts were opener assignments). He may well start the season at Omaha, but he’ll make it to Kansas City for a look at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

Bolaños will bring an 0-4, 5.76 ERA big league record to the campaign; he lost two games in 2019 with the Padres and two in 2020 with Kansas City. That sample size is, of course, too small from which to draw meaningful conclusions, but one thing is certain—he needs to show the Royals much, much more this season, and what he shows them must be good.

But will it be? Possibly. Bolaños pitched fairly well in the Padres’ minor league system, going 5-2, 4.41 in Low-A in 2017 and 13-7, 3.66 between High-A and Double-A in 2019. (His 6-9, 5.11 2018 wasn’t as good). So, together with his three good Royals outings last season, there’s proof he can pitch.

He also has an eclectic five-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seamer he throws in the mid-90s, and MLB Pipeline ranks him as Kansas City’s No. 23 prospect.

But some decent minor league numbers, three good big league games, an assortment of pitches, and potential won’t be enough to keep Bolaños on Kansas City’s radar much longer if he doesn’t come through this season.

dark. Next. It's been 12 odd years for KC

This could be Ronald Bolaños’ make-or-break year.