The collective response when the KC Royals drafted pitcher Matt Sauer in December's Rule 5 Draft was, "Who is that?" That was the appropriate reaction in 2023, but Sauer has the tools to turn heads in 2024. By this time next year, Royals fans will wonder just how high the righty's MLB ceiling is.
The KC Royals have an interesting prospect in Matt Sauer.
The New York Yankees drafted Sauer out of high school in 2017. He was a top-30 prospect in the Yankees' system and currently sits as Kansas City's 22nd-best prospect, according to MLB.com. Sauer spent all of his minor-league career as a starter, making 13 starts last season for the Double-A Somerset Patriots. However, the Royals will likely deploy Sauer out of the bullpen in 2024 as a spot starter or bulk pitcher.
The main concern about Sauer has always been health. He had elbow reconstruction surgery in April 2019 after only two starts. That rehab, plus the lost 2020 season, put him on the shelf for nearly two calendar years. But those 2021 and 2022 seasons saw Sauer become one of MiLB's most prolific strikeout artists. He recorded 261 strikeouts in 220 1/3 innings those two seasons, the third most in the Yankees organization during that span. Somserset fans will remember this 17-strikeout gem he tossed back in 2022.
But, another surgery following the 2022 season limited him to 13 Double-A starts in 2023. He still looked great in the rotation, sporting a 3.42 ERA and 10.93 K/9. The win-now Yankees could not fit him on their 40-man roster and the Royals took advantage of that this winter.
So, the real question is how will Kansas City use Sauer. MLB.com notes "he has the size, strength and athleticism desired in a starter, though he'll have to add some more power to his stuff or refine his command to fit in the back of a big league rotation." But, Kansas City already has a full rotation with other young starters waiting in the wings. Kansas City will have to keep Sauer on their MLB roster if they want to retain him, rather than stashing him in Triple-A Omaha. So, that leaves the bullpen as Sauer's sensible new home.
He has the stuff to succeed in the bullpen. His fastball comfortably sits in the mid-90s and a move to the bullpen could see his velocity jump. Add on an above-average slider, a changeup to work with, and a large frame Kansas City is looking for, Sauer has the tools needed to stick in the majors. Health will be the biggest question regarding his ceiling until it isn't. He has pitched at least 67 innings four times across the last five seasons, so a relief role might not be bad for his durability.
A single-inning reliever or bulk pitcher feels like Sauer's floor. The real question is his ceiling. Could he be a late bloomer, establishing himself as a starting option at 25 years old? Possibly. The back end of Kansas City's rotation is less than stellar and fans should expect injuries at some point during the season. That's baseball. Sauer's potential will reveal itself if he has the opportunity and capitalizes.
If you can't tell, Sauer has a lot of potential with this Royals squad. He will compete with plenty of other right-handed relievers in Arizona this spring training. But Kansas City fans should know exactly who Sauer is by the end of this season.