KC Royals: This rookie reliever is staking his claim

The 40-man roster additions the KC Royals made late last November didn’t send shockwaves through baseball. But they did produce a pair of surprises.

MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto, currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as Kansas City’s second and third best prospects behind Bobby Witt Jr., were locks to gain the protection from the Rule 5 draft that 40-man membership provides. So, despite his Tommy John Surgery last season, was Jonathan Bowlan, Pipeline’s No. 8 KC prospect. Infielder Maikel Garcia also made it; some might call his selection surprising, but it really wasn’t.

The surprises were pitchers Nathan Webb and Collin Snider. Webb, who’s on the injured list at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and hasn’t pitched this season, owns a five-season 5.56 ERA certainly worthy of some doubt and has work to do and improvements to make if he hopes to get to Kauffman Stadium.

Snider, though, is making his case now. And it’s a pretty good one.

The righthanded reliever, who brought a fairly unremarkable four-year, 18-13, 4.11 minor league record to spring training and turned an impressive seven-game, 1-0, 1.35 ERA Cactus League performance into an Opening Day roster spot, is quickly staking a claim to a key bullpen role.

The KC Royals have given Collin Snider nothing but tough assignments so far.

Snider’s major league debut came in Kansas City’s second game when, with the automatic extra-inning runner already ratcheting up the tension of a scoreless tie, manager Mike Matheny summoned him to start the 10th inning against Cleveland. A one-out single moved the runner to third before Snider induced a run-killing fielder’s choice, then struck out Yu Chang to end the inning. Adalberto Mondesi walked off the Guardians with a single in the bottom of the inning to hand Snider his first big league win.

Matheny chose Snider for another tight situation two days later, calling on him in with one out in the fifth inning of another tie game with Cleveland. Snider retired the only two Guardians he faced; the Royals eventually lost 10-7, a defeat attributable in no part to Snider.

Another tie greeted Snider three days later when he pitched against Detroit for the first time. With the game knotted 2-2 and a runner at second in the sixth, he replaced Zack Greinke and struck out Jeimer Candelario before Whit Merrifield, on a Miguel Cabrera single to right, gunned down Austin Meadows at the plate to end the threat. Kansas City lost that one, too, but not because of anything Snider did or didn’t do.

The game was, of course, tied again, this time 1-1, when Snider faced Detroit two days later. He entered in the fifth with two outs and Tigers on first and second; he retired all but one of the six hitters he faced through the sixth, left with a 3-1 lead courtesy of Hunter Dozier’s two-run homer, and landed his second win when Dylan Coleman, Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont shut Detroit down the rest of the way.

Matheny then gave Snider his first big league lead to protect Tuesday night when he had him replace Jake Brentz with two out, two on and the Royals leading Minnesota by a run in the seventh. He retired the only batter he faced, the Royals won, and Snider had his first hold.

And there he was again Wednesday, appearing in back-to-back games for the first time and tasked by Matheny to guard a lead again. The Royals were up 2-0 when he replaced starter Daniel Lynch, who’d pitched five excellent frames, to begin the sixth. The Twins gave Snider a bit of trouble—Carlos Correa greeted him with a single but was wiped off the bases when Gio Urshela grounded into one of three double plays KC turned on the night. Snider got ahead of Max Kepler 0-1 but lost him on four straight balls before Gary Sánchez’s fielder’s choice ended the inning.

Kansas City won 2-0 with Snider earning another hold.

Collin Snider is putting together an excellent record for the KC Royals.

An unlikely candidate to start this season in Kansas City when spring camp opened—he hadn’t pitched above High-A ball before splitting last season between the club’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates—Snider is becoming an integral part of the Royals’ bullpen. His six appearances tie Barlow for the second-most on the club (Staumont has seven), his two wins lead the pen and the team, he’s surrendered only three hits, and he didn’t walk a batter until passing Kepler Wednesday night.

And he hasn’t given up a run.

Rookie Kansas City reliever Collin Snider will, of course, have bad outings. But because nothing seems to faze him and he’s pitching so well, when the first one will be is anyone’s guess.