Two years ago, not long before they opened their 2022 spring training camp, the KC Royals offered a comeback chance to veteran big league reliever Sam Freeman. The lefthander hadn't thrown a pitch in the majors since early August of 2020, when he made the last of his seven appearances for Washington before a flexor strain sidelined him for the rest of the season. Tommy John Surgery followed, and he didn't pitch at any level in 2021.
But his baseball career wasn't over: the Royals, sorely in need of pitching help and always willing to take chances to find it, signed Freeman as a free agent in late January, 2022. He began the campaign at Triple-A Omaha and pitched relatively well — despite an occasional bump in the road, he went 2-1 with a superb 1.50 ERA in 34 games and allowed only four of the 19 runs he inherited to score.
Curiously, though, and despite needing the bullpen help he might well have given them, the Royals never called him up. And because the Storm Chasers let him go in late August, he never got back to the majors. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues or minors since and retired last September. In 271 relief appearances spread across nine seasons, he was 8-7 with a 3.58 ERA.
Now, he's getting a second chance with the Kansas City organization.
Sam Freeman is becoming a minor league coach for the Royals
Kansas City has revealed its full minor league field staffs, and Freeman is among the coaches who'll mentor the organization's prospects during the 2024 season. Like so many of those under his tutelage, he'll start near the bottom of the minor league rungs — Freeman is slated to join Single-A Columbia manager Jesus Azuaje's staff as assistant pitching coach.
Freeman's hiring is not, however, the only thing notable about the organization's latest minor league staff selections.
Tony Peña Jr. won't return as a manager this season
After breaking in as a professional manager with the Royals' rookie ball affiliate in 2018 and managing Columbia for the past two seasons, Peña, a former KC player and son of ex-Royals manager Tony Peña Sr., won't skipper any of the franchise's clubs this season. Instead, Azuaje will manage Columbia, while Peña is slated to move into the role of minor league infield coordinator. Whether that means the Royals no longer consider him managerial timber remains to be seen.
Mike Jirschele will again manage Kansas City's Triple-A club
Not surprisingly, Kansas City is retaining longtime Royal hand Jirschele at Omaha. Jirschele, who served as a big league coach for the Royals for several seasons before returning to the minors, is entering the second year of his third stint with the Storm Chasers — he first managed them from 1995-1997, then returned to the Omaha helm from 2003-2013 before joining Ned Yost's major league staff.