The KC Royals have had hundreds of players don their uniforms in the franchise's long history. The MLB has a high turnover rate and a large player pool, fueling dozens of minor-league teams and the 30 major league clubs. Not every minor league player makes it to the show, and those that do are not guaranteed to be long-term fixtures. Roster crunches, strategy changes, and more factors can limit a baseball player's time in the MLB. If players do not want to return to the minor leagues or independent affiliates, there is always an option over the Pacific Ocean, namely in Japan.
For some former KC Royals , taking their baseball talents to Japan is the necessary step to continue their professional careers.
Nippon Professional Baseball, or NPB, is the highest level of professional baseball in Japan. The 12-team league was formerly the Japanese Baseball League, which was founded in 1936. The NPB is its own beast over in Japan, averaging nearly 25,000 fans per game in 2022. American baseball fans may not be as interested in the history and tradition of the NPB, but its competition level is not far behind that of the MLB. Several NPB players, like Ichiro Suzuki, Shohei Ohtani, and even former Royals player Nori Aoki, made the jump to MLB with great results.
The NPB is hardly any American baseball player's ultimate goal, but it serves as a good backup for several reasons. The NPB has better paydays, with an average salary north of $300,000. That is great money compared to minor-league contracts or independent affiliates. But if a player wants to climb back to the MLB, the NPB is a good place to start. Here are three former Royals players who are doing just that in 2022.
Outfielder Ryan McBroom took his bat from Kansas City to the NPB in 2022 after record-setting performances with the Omaha Storm Chasers.
McBroom hit 134 home runs with 518 RBIs across seven minor-league seasons. He fit the "AAAA" profile, destroying Triple-A pitching while being mediocre in the majors. In 66 MLB games, McBroom posted a respectable .749 OPS with six home runs and 16 RBIs. But, at age 30 with no concrete future in Kansas City, McBroom opted for the Japanese route.
McBroom has not been doing terrible against NPB pitching, but he is hardly good enough to warrant MLB teams' attention. In 144 games, McBroom has collected 17 home runs and 18 RBIs, posting a .767 OPS for the Hiroshima Carp. The stats are not terrible, but McBroom has struggled to crack a weak outfield rotation in Kansas City. Unless McBroom sees a major power boost after his age-31 season, he will likely end his career in Japan.
A former top-20 prospect for the Royals, pitcher Foster Griffin is across the Pacific Ocean in his debut season.
The Royals selected Griffin 28th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft as the team was marching towards their first AL pennant in decades. Griffin was mired in the Royals pitching development dark ages, one that saw plenty of promising players not pan out. Griffin spent eight seasons in the minors, posting a 49-50 record and a 4.54 ERA. It was hardly dominant stuff, but Griffin made his way to the majors at 24 years old, appearing in one game in 2020. His time in Kansas City was brief, though, allowing six earned runs in six innings of action in the 2020 and 2022 seasons. At 26 years old, Griffin was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, where he pitched two innings of shutout relief.
Entering his prime athletic years, Griffin joined the NPB's Yomiuri Giants for the 2023 season. The move has been successful through three games. He has a 2-1 record, a 3.78 ERA, and 10.8 K/9 for the Giants. His command is also looking better, with a career-low 2.2 BB/9 in the NPB. It is too early to tell if Griffin could return to MLB action, but his current pace is a good sign for the former Royals draftee.