Just in case you missed it, the KC Royals signed former Pittsburgh prospect Robbie Glendinning last week. He probably hopes things go as well for him in the Kansas City system as they have for another Pirate castoff.
Left-handed reliever Jake Brentz came to the Royals on a minor league deal less than a week after the Pittsburgh organization released him in August 2019. Kansas City wasted no time seeing just what they had in their new southpaw—they quickly assigned him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he pitched five times and gave up two runs in 5.1 innings before the season ended.
Fortunately, and unlike so many of his minor league colleagues, Brentz wasn’t forced to work on his own when the pandemic forced cancellation of the entire 2020 campaign; instead, the Royals made him part of their 60-man Player Pool and he spent the summer at the club’s Alternate Training Site with other key prospects.
Why was he there? His ability to strike out hitters in high numbers, for one thing, and his problematic control for another. The former needed no improvement, but the latter did. Coming into the 2021 campaign, Brentz owned a seven-season minor league SO9 of 9.73, and almost always averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings, reaching as high as 12.4 in 2018. But he also had an unsightly 6.51 minor league BB9.
Little is known about how Brentz (and many other Royals, for that matter) performed at the Alternate Training Site, but his efforts there must have been good. He was ready for 2021 spring training and his 10-game Cactus League record—1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 9.1 innings—so impressed the club that he made its Opening Day roster.
He was successful from the beginning with a 1.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 9.2 April innings.
He won his first big league game May 18, struck out 15 in as many innings that month, and entered June with a 2.19 ERA in 26 appearances.
And although he slipped a bit in June and July (4.43 ERA), a phenomenon not unexpected for a rookie, he still fanned 27 in 20.1 frames.
Brentz was back on the beam in August with a 2.89 ERA in 10 games, but appeared to tire down the stretch—despite winning twice, he yielded seven earned runs in 9.2 innings in September.
Still, Brentz had a decent rookie campaign. He finished 5-2, 3.66 with a 10.7 SO9. And while still troublesome, his 5.2 BB9 bettered that minor league career mark of 6.51.
Now, with a full major league season behind him, what can we expect from Brentz in 2022?
How do Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project Jake Brentz for the KC Royals?
Baseball Reference predicts Brentz will go 4-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 57 innings this season, that his BB9 will improve to 4.1, and his SO9 will dip a bit to 9.6.
FanGraphs (Depth Chart version) projects Brentz pitching 60 innings, averaging 10.57 strikeouts and 4.94 walks every nine innings, and going an even 3-3.
How will Jake Brentz actually perform for the KC Royals this season?
Kansas City will be more than pleased if, as both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs predict, Brentz continues to walk fewer batters and his strikeout rate doesn’t drop appreciably. The Royals won’t be particularly concerned about his wins but, because he’s a reliever, any significant increase in losses will be disturbing.
Brentz led the club with 72 appearances last season—with that kind of experience behind him, look for the lefty to improve his walk rate, and maybe even his SO9. He’ll once again be a reliable component in Manager Mike Matheny’s bullpen.
Watch for Jake Brentz to be even better this season than he was in 2021.