Will this KC Royals prospect make it to the majors this season?

A Top 30 prospect is in big league spring camp.

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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. Up today is pitcher Will Klein.

According to MLB Pipeline, a well-established and trustworthy source of player ratings, Will Klein is not Kansas City's top prospect. In fact, Pipeline doesn't rank him among the organization's top 10, or even its top 20. Instead, you'll find Klein in Pipeline's 25th spot, sandwiched between fellow reliever John McMillon and infielder-outfielder Peyton Wilson.

Klein is also a member of the club's 40-man roster, and as such is working in its big league spring training camp under the watchful eyes of manager Matt Quatraro, pitching coach Brian Sweeney and his staff, and general manager J.J. Picollo, whose job it is to build a roster for Quatraro to play.

How is Klein, who's preparing for only his fourth professional season, doing?

So far, so good. He's pitched the ninth inning in two of the Royals' four Cactus League games, striking out two Rangers in last Friday's mixed-result opening game loss to Texas, and another in Kansas City's 6-0 victory over the Cubs Monday. He hasn't given up a run or walked a batter.

And that's interesting. Although Klein's strikeout numbers are always high — his career 13.58 K/9 couldn't be much better — his four-year 5.50 ERA proves he gives up too many runs, especially for a reliever, and his career 6.43 BB/9 is ugly.

So, what does his scoreless, walk-less spring performance suggest? Not a lot, really; after all, the only thing worse than putting full faith in good spring training performances is relying too much on a small sample size of such showings.

What his flawless early efforts do signal is that Klein bears watching. Perhaps offseason work has improved his control, but we won't have a strong sense of anything until he pitches more, which should provide some idea of whether he'll improve on the 1-5, 4.62 record he produced during a 2023 season split between Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he posted a decent 3.38 ERA and a more palatable, but still concerning, 4.30 BB/9 ... and whether he might become a major leaguer before the 2024 campaign ends.

How FanGraphs projects Will Klein will perform in 2024

FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts Klein will go 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA, 8.83 K/9, and 5.41 BB/9 in 24 games.

What kind of season might Will Klein actually have?

Expect Quatraro to continue giving Klein Cactus League opportunities. Don't, however, look for him in Kansas City on Opening Day — instead, and consistent with the preliminary forecast of Klein's 2024 campaign we made earlier this offseason, he'll begin the regular season at Omaha, where he'll work primarily on his control, which simply isn't good enough yet for high-leverage major league relief assignments.

But contrary to that initial prediction, a late-season call to Kansas City for his big league debut may not be in the cards: the Royals packed their pitching staff with strong new additions this winter and may not have room for him until next season, especially if all the new pitching blood helps propel the club into contention in the easy American League Central.

That's OK, though. A full season in Triple-A will give Klein more time to reign in his control. Look for improvement — a decent Omaha season with a BB/9 of around 4.0, an ERA in the 3.50-3.75 neighborhood, a characteristically high strikeout rate, and at least 10 saves won't be surprising.

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