The KC Royals won, but Tyler Tolbert stole the show

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Give KC Royals prospect Tyler Tolbert an inch, and it looks like he's more than willing to take a mile.

Tolbert, Kansas City's 13th-round pick in the 2019 amateur draft and a defensively versatile minor leaguer who hasn't seen a single pitch above High-A ball, was in the Royals' dugout Saturday for the club's Cactus League game against Texas. Chances of him playing were slim: only if manager Matt Quatraro really needed him was he likely to see action.

As it turned out, Quatraro had to summon Tolbert before the Royals and Rangers could complete two innings of KC's 10-5 victory. Center fielder Diego Hernandez, a non-roster invitee MLB Pipeline considers Kansas City's 20th best prospect, went down with an apparent shoulder injury that inning, forcing Tolbert, unranked by Pipeline, into the lineup.

Tolbert took full advantage of the opportunity. He was so good, in fact, that even before the contest ended KC beat writer Anne Rogers speculated that "This might be the best day of Tyler Tolbert's life."


KC Royals outfielder Tyler Tolbert put on a great show against Texas

So, just what did Tolbert do Saturday to so impress Rogers? It certainly wasn't the called strike he took to end the top of the third inning. Instead, it's what he did in the fourth and fifth frames that will be among the best highlights replayed from the club's first telecast of the spring.

Take the fourth inning first. Tolbert, batting again so soon because the Royals were in the process of pummeling Texas for seven runs, belted an Antione Kelly offering over the left field bullpen and onto the slope behind it to score Daimon Blanco and Nick Pratto to make it 7-3 Kansas City.

Not content to let the inning pass without providing another highlight moment, Tolbert turned on the speed that enabled him to steal 60 bases at High-A Quad Cities last season, and 55 the year before across stops at Rookie ball, Low-A Columbia and Quad Cities, to run down and make an inning-ending lunging catch of Travis Jankowski's sinking liner.

The homer and the catch:

Tolbert gave Surprise Stadium fans a defensive encore in the fifth when he outraced Josh Smith's fly to left-center, then held onto it despite colliding with the outfield wall. The effort earned a tip of the cap from Royal reliever Carlos Hernandez:

Tolbert finished the day 1-for-2 with three RBIs and a run scored. Saturday's performance won't warrant a spot on Kansas City's Opening Day roster: even if he stays hot, he's destined to start the season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. And whether he eventually makes it to the majors depends almost exclusively on a bat that definitely requires work: Tolbert will carry a three-season .230/.335/.345 minor league line into the 2023 campaign. Because they can use his speed, the Royals should be working diligently to improve Tolbert's hitting.

Some other KC Royals had good performances in Saturday afternoon's victory

How did the day go for a few other Royals? Hunter Dozier, making his first start of the spring at third base and Nick Loftin, Pipeline's No. 4 KC prospect, both hit solo home runs. Big league veteran and non-roster invitee Matt Duffy played second and went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs. And although starter Mike Mayers surrendered three runs in two innings, relievers Hernandez, Scott Barlow, Josh Taylor, Dylan Coleman and Richard Lovelady didn't give up any.

The Royals, now 2-0 in early Cactus League play, face Seattle in a 2:05 p.m. CT contest Sunday.

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