Looking back: KC Royals top draft pick Luke Hochevar

(Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /

Just when it seemed things were finally coming together for former KC Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, they fell apart.

Born and raised in Colorado, Hochevar was so good in high school that he had the choice between playing for college programs or signing with the Dodgers, who drafted him in the 39th round of the 2002 draft. He decided to go to the University of Tennessee.

After a 15-3 junior season in 2005, the Dodgers came calling again, picking Hochevar in the first round this time. After changing his mind about signing, negotiations broke down and Hochevar went unsigned.

Then, in 2006 and passing on such future All-Stars as Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Miller, the Royals took Hochevar with the first pick in the 2006 draft. Player and club reached an agreement and Hochevar headed for the minor leagues.

KC Royals top draft pick Luke Hochevar began his career as a starter.

After going 0-1 with a 1.17 ERA in four starts at Class-A Burlington in 2006, Hochevar began 2007 at Double-A Wichita and went 3-6 with a 4.69 ERA. The Royals promoted him to Triple-A Omaha where he went a 1-3, 5.12 in 10 starts.

Moving quickly through the system, Hochevar was called up to Kansas City in September and made his debut with three innings of scoreless relief against the New York Yankees in an 11-5 loss.

But he struggled the next two seasons, posting a combined 6.06 ERA in 47 starts; he did, however, pitch a September 2009 shutout against the White Sox. Unfortunately, Hochevar followed the shutout by giving up 21 runs in 14 innings over his final three starts of the season.

In 2010-11 Hochevar went 17-17, 4.72, but slipped to 8-16 and 5.73 in 32 starts in 2012.

A move to the KC Royals’ bullpen became a game-changer for Luke Hochevar.

The arrival of veteran free agent starter Ervin Santana via a trade with the Angels, and starters James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with Tampa Bay, pushed Hochevar to the bullpen in 2013. And that’s where Hochevar found his niche by posting two saves, a 5-2 record and a 1.92 ERA in 58 outings. He struck out 82 and walked just 17 in 70.1 innings.

Hochevar wasn’t able to take the mound at all in 2014 after having Tommy John Surgery in March. He opted for free agency after the season, but re-signed with Kansas City in December.

Still recovering to begin 2015, Hochevar spent the first month of the season on the Disabled (now Injured) List and on a rehabilitation assignment to Omaha. After joining the big club in early May, he put up a 3.73 ERA in 49 regular season appearances. The postseason was even better with a 0.00 ERA in 10.2 innings—and he won two games, including the deciding fifth game of the World Series.

After he found success, injury found KC Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar again.

Following his successful comeback from Tommy John Surgery and helping his team to a World Series Championship, Hochevar started 2016 in the bullpen again and had a 3.86 ERA in 40 appearances in late July when, on a Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, he relieved Edinson Vólquez to start the seventh inning of a 1-1 tie against Texas Rangers.

On his fourth pitch, Delino DeShields hit a home run to put the Rangers ahead. A lineout and groundout gave Hochevar two outs. He struck out Ian Desmond swinging for the third out.

Desmond turned out to be the last batter Hochevar faced in the major leagues.

The Royals placed Hochevar on the DL just days later. It turned out he had thoracic outlet syndrome. Rehabilitation efforts over the next couple of years were unsuccessful and Hochevar retired in August 2018.

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A career record of 46-65 with a 4.98 ERA isn’t what teams look for when they select a pitcher with the first pick in the draft, but Luke Hochevar put together a decent nine-year career and was the winning pitcher in the final game of a World Series. More than that, the determination he showed to come back from a major injury before being derailed by another speak volumes about his desire to succeed.