Matt Sauer is latest boom-or-bust Rule 5 pitcher for KC Royals

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Today, let's look at a new addition, pitcher Matt Sauer.

KC Royals fans have to go back to 2002 for a Rule 5 draft where the Royals drafted a position player. Arms are the common selection during the winter draft, but more so for Kansas City. The team has arguably the best track record in the Rule 5, landing future All-Star reliever Joakim Soria in 2006 and future starter Brad Keller in 2017. Well, that was a weird draft for Keller and the Royals. Moving on.

The Royals entered the Rule 5 fray for the first time since 2019, drafting right-handed pitcher Matt Sauer from the New York Yankees. He was one of three pitchers taken from the Yankees system, but Sauer has the best shot of the bunch to make his MLB mark with his new team.

Sauer flashed some electric stuff in the New York system, but the Yankees consistently added starting pitching from outside the organization. Injuries and the lost 2020 season greatly hampered Sauer's development, but he looked like he turned a corner in the 2022 season. He posted an impressive 11.1 K/9, including his astounding 17-strikeout performance in August.

Surgery to address elbow and forearm problems limited him to 16 starts in 2023, but he posted career-bests in Double-A. His 1.141 WHIP and 3.42 ERA for the Somerset Patriots catapulted his Rule 5 prospect status, and the Royals pounced. He is slated to come out of the bullpen in 2024, rather than throwing him into the rotational fire. But, how will the California native fare in the MLB?

How FanGraphs projects Matt Sauer will do this season

According to FanGraphs (Depth Chart) projections, Sauer will break even regarding fWAR, with a 4.82 ERA and 4.85 FIP across 52 innings. They project him to make 46 total appearances with two starts for the Royals.

How will Matt Sauer actually perform for the KC Royals?

To make one thing clear, Sauer will be a bullpen arm to start the 2024 campaign and will remain one barring devastating injuries. The Royals already have better rotational options, including Daniel Lynch IV, Alec Marsh, and Anthony Veneziano all on the outside looking in at Jordan Lyles. ZiPs slots Sauer primarily as a starter, but if he makes 18 starts for Kansas City, something else has gone wrong.

Also, Rule 5 picks are far from a sure thing for their new team. In 2022, 15 teams selected players in the draft. Of those 15, 10 were either traded away or returned to their original team. That is a terrible track record, but one that previous Rule 5 Drafts cannot prove 2023 is a massive outlier. Those players are eligible and unprotected from the Rule 5 draft for a reason, and a new team often discovers why on their dime.

As long as Sauer can contribute, despite feeling some growing pains, that is a win in my book. His fastball has always been solid, spiking to 97 MPH before the Yankees drafted him. His slider, curveball, and changeup can all use some work but you can squint and see a good four-pitch mix.

All in all, Sauer just needs to stay healthy, keep his head above water, and shine when his moments come. Factors outside of his control kept him out of the majors with New York. Now, he jumps Triple-A straight into Kauffman Stadium. Here is hoping Sauer goes against the Rule 5 trends and turns into another success story for the Royals pitching crew.

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