Rule 5 Pair Could Join Royals' Pitching Staff
The Royals lost three-quarters of their infield plus their center fielder to free agency, but their pitching staff appears equally thin heading into 2018.
That's why they purchased the rights to two promising righthanders selected in the major league Rule 5 draft, and it's why 22-year-old Brad Keller and 27-year-old Burch Smith have a good chance to stick with Kansas City in 2018.
Keller spent 2017 at Double-A Jackson and went 10-9, 4.68 in 26 starts with 111 strikeouts and 57 walks in 130.2 innings. The Diamondbacks drafted him in the eighth round in 2013 out of Flowery Branch (Ga.) High.
"He’s got three pitches,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "He’s got a fastball, a breaking ball and a changeup. He’s able to repeat his delivery and has a good feel for pitching. We like what we see and see him as a starter.
"We’ve got a history with him dating to high school, when our area scouts got to know him.”
The 6-foot-5 Keller’s fastball works mostly in the low 90s, so location will be key for him.
Smith, on the other hand, is a hard thrower, albeit one who has pitched a total of 96 innings in the last four seasons, with 35 of those innings coming in the Arizona Fall League. A Padres 14th-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2011, he reached San Diego for 10 appearances in 2013 before an elbow injury derailed his career.
The Padres traded Smith to the Rays as part of the Wil Myers deal after the 2014 season, but he promptly missed all of 2015 and 2016 after having Tommy John surgery. He returned in the second half of 2017 and produced a 2.40 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 56.1 innings, primarily at high Class A Charlotte.
More significantly, Smith flashed high-end stuff in his return, including a mid-90s fastball and a curveball and changeup with above-average potential. After the season, he ranked second in the AFL with 29 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
Royals low Class A Lexington pitching coach Mitch Stetter was Smith's AFL pitching coach and recommended him.
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"He has the ability to start,” Picollo said, while adding that with the 6-foot-4 Smith's velocity, he also could be a power arm out of the bullpen.