KC Royals enhance pitching depth with four additions

With the major league baseball free agent market moving at a historical glacial pace, the Kansas City Royals have made some under-the-radar moves to address their biggest need – pitching.

In December the Royals added four pitchers from outside their organization to the 40-man big league roster.  They are right-handers Wily Peralta, Scott Barlow, Brad Keller and Burch Smith.

Peralta is the only recognizable name of the group.  Only a diehard fan would know the others.

Peralta is a former Milwaukee Brewers opening day starter. He went 17-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 32 starts in 2014 with the Brewers.

Peralta won his first three starts last season with a 2.65 ERA and a 51.2 percent ground ball ratio.  Then things turned sour. He finished the season 5-4 with a 7.85 ERA in 19 games – eight starts and 11 relief appearances. He spent a month on the disabled list with a right calf injury and spent some time in the minors with Triple-A Colorado Springs.

The Royals signed Peralta to a guaranteed $1.525 million for 2018 with a club option for $3 million for 2019.

“We view him as a potential power arm to the bullpen,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Certainly we will look at him as possible rotation depth as well.”

Smith, who went to the University of Oklahoma, is a power arm that almost certainly will be in the Royals’ bullpen when the season starts. The Royals picked him and Keller by making deals to move up to make the fifth and sixth overall selections in the Rule 5 draft at the baseball winter meetings. Smith and Keller must be kept on the 25-man roster all year or offered back to the clubs they were drafted from – Diamondbacks (Keller) and Smith (Rays).

Smith does have a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour.

He was a fast riser in the minors and went 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 10 games, including seven starts, in 2013 with the San Diego Padres before Tommy John surgery interrupted his career. He was traded to Tampa Bay in the Wil Myers trade. He missed threw only 5 1/3 innings in 2014 and did not pitch in 2015-16 while rehabbing from the elbow surgery.

He returned last season and went a combined 5-3 with a 2.40 ERA with three different Tampa Bay Rays farm clubs. He struck out 56 and walked 24 in 56 1/3 innings in 13 games, 12 of them starts.

He pitched for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 26 and yielded only 12 hits in 20 1/3 innings. Mitch Stetter, the Royals’ Class A Lexington pitching coach, was the Saguaros pitch coach and endorsed him.

While Smith, 27, has a plus big league fastball, control can be an issue. He threw four scoreless innings, allowed two hits and walked none in one Arizona Fall League start against Glendale.  In another outing, he walked six.

“He has the ability to start,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.

But with his power arm and injury history, Picollo views him as a bullpen candidate in spring training.

Keller is the contrast of Smith, who thrives on three-pitch control and has a fastball that generally works in the low 90 mph range. He went 10-9 with a 4.68 ERA in 26 starts with Double-A Jackson in the Southern League last year. He allowed 142 hits in 130 2/3 innings, while striking out 111 and walking 5.  In an August 27 start against Chattanooga, he took a no-hitter into seventh inning. He left after one hit over seven scoreless innings.

Keller, 22, was ranked the No. 12 prospect in the Diamondbacks’ organization in 2017.  He will be given a chance to start with Kansas City, although he has never pitched above Double-A.

Barlow, 25, was considered the best minor league free agent.  The Royals signed him to a big league contract for $650,000, putting him on their 40-man roster. He was a 2011 sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but missed the 2012 season after Tommy John surgery.

He was dominant in the Texas League last season, going 6-3 with a 2.10 ERA, allowing 60 hits and striking out 124 in 107 1/3 innings.  He held opposing hitters to a .161 average.

He was promoted to the Dodgers’ Triple-A Oklahoma City affiliate, where he went 1-3 with a 7.24 ERA in seven starts.

These are all low dollar acquisitions with the potential for a high upside on all four and the Royals did not have to give up a player in return.

A 10-18 record with a 5.89 ERA last August spoiled the Royals’ chances of returning to the postseason.  The starting pitchers went 6-14 with a 6.25 ERA and opponents slugging .519 with an .858 OPS for the month.  Moore knew the Royals needed to upgrade their pitching, but on a taunt budget. These four acquisitions are a start.

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Article by Alan Eskew

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