The deadline to add Rule 5-eligible Minor League players was Friday afternoon at 6 p.m. and the Royals made their 40-man roster additions on Twitter in what was a big news day for the Kansas City baseball club, as they also revealed new uniforms and received the Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic service:
The additions of Melendez, Pratto, and Bowlan didn’t come as a surprise to any Royals fan, as they are Top-10 prospects in the Royals system, and are seen as key pieces to the Royals’ future (they could impact the big league club as soon as next year).
Maikel Garcia may seem like a mild surprise, but he tore it up in Low-A Columbia and High-A Quad Cities last year, and has a strong baseball lineage (he is related to Alcides Escobar and Ronald Acuna). Furthermore, it seemed like Garcia was going to be a strong 40-man candidate after the Royals announced that the Baltimore Orioles picked up Lucius Fox on waivers, which opened up an infielder spot on the roster.
However, the two biggest additions were relief pitchers Nathan Webb and Collin Snider, who aren’t exactly “highly ranked” prospects in the Royals system, and appear to be solely bullpen arms at this point in their professional careers.
On the other hand, Dayton Moore and the Royals front office have tabbed “under the radar” prospects for 40-man spots before, and the decisions have paid off, especially as of late. Two years ago, the Royals added Carlos Hernandez, and just last year they added Angel Zerpa to protect both of them from the Rule 5 Draft. Both pitchers didn’t necessarily “stand out” in comparison to their higher-ranked pitcher brethren in the Royals farm system. And yet, Hernandez could open the 2022 season in the Royals rotation, and Zerpa could be joining him soon, especially after a solid Major League debut:
Thus, Snider and Webb could contribute to the Royals bullpen in 2022, especially since that seems to be a point of emphasis from the Royals front office this offseason, and after the recent DFA of former first-round pick Kyle Zimmer, who struggled last year after a solid 2020:
Let’s take a look at each pitcher, and examine whether or not they can make an impact in the Royals bullpen in 2022 and beyond.
Can Snider “anchor down” the Royals bullpen?
Snider was a Royals 12th round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt who was primarily a reliever in college. He struggled in his final season with the Commodores, as he posted a 5.40 ERA and a 1.81 K/BB ratio in 21 appearances and 33.1 IP, which explains why he nosedived so much in the draft. Snider signed immediately after being drafted and did well in short-season rookie ball with the Burlington Royals, as he posted a 1.85 ERA in 24.1 IP. While he did show much better control at the professional level (2.22 BB/9 with Burlington) than college (4.3 BB/9 with Vanderbilt in 2017), he didn’t strike out a ton of batters in rookie league play (5.92 K/9), which is a primary reason why his FIP (4.10) was so much higher than his actual ERA in his professional debut.
Snider spent 2018 entirely in low-A Lexington as a reliever and spot-starter with the Legends. While he continued to demonstrate solid control (1.89 BB/9; 3.13 K/BB ratio), the hits and home run numbers spiked in his first full season of professional ball, which contributed heavily to his 5.57 ERA and 5.25 FIP that season. In 29 appearances and 76.1 innings of work, Snider allowed 111 hits and 13 home runs, which produced H/9 and HR/9 rates of 13.1 and 1.5, respectively. Hence, considering his low draft status, and mediocre numbers, it’s not surprising that Snider wasn’t on Royals fans’ radar a few seasons ago.
In 2019 however, Snider really thrived in High-A Wilmington, as the more pitcher-friendly environment seemed to suit his high-contact, groundball-inducing pitching style. Snider pitched 52 innings with the Blue Rocks, and his HR/FB rate went from 21 percent in 2018 to only 4.5 percent in 2019. As a result, his ERA and FIP regressed to 2.25 and 3.38, respectively. Additionally, Snider continued to maintain his excellent control against High-A hitters, as he posted a 3.09 K/BB ratio.
In high-A, Snider sported a strong three-pitch mix that includes a fastball, slider, and changeup, as evidenced from his highlights in Wilmington below:
Snider showed some promise in Cactus League play in 2021 and made the transition to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he looked better than ever in 36.1 IP with the Naturals. He nearly doubled his K/9 (10.16) while still maintaining his signature control (2.93 K/BB ratio) and high groundball rates (47.7 percent GB rate) in Texas League play.
Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report also tweeted this interesting bit, which may give some context in terms of why the Royals added him to the 40-man roster over other more “highly ranked” pitching prospects like Josh Dye and Austin Cox:
Snider did get some valuable experience closing games for the Naturals last season, as he saved three games, which included this one against the Tulsa Drillers, which he ended by striking the batter out looking to end the game:
That being said, despite the positives of his tenure in Northwest Arkansas, Snider didn’t quite impress in Omaha. His K/9 regressed to 6.90 and even his usually stellar K/BB ratio fell to 1.90 with the Storm Chasers in 30 innings of work. While he did still generate a ton of groundballs (2.04 GB/FB ratio), the home runs flew in Triple-A play, as his HR/FB rate went from 3.7 percent in Double-A to 26.9 percent in Triple-A, which was a career-high.
The big key to Sinder’s success next year, both in Omaha (where he will likely start) and eventually in Kansas City, will be if he can limit the long ball. It seems like he’s adjusted his approach to strike out more batters, even if it comes at the expense of a few more walks than typical for him. That will suit him better in 2022, especially considering Triple-A ballparks tend to be more hitter-friendly environments (which he learned the hard way last year).
However, he’ll have a hard time making it in the Royals bullpen if he allows the ball to fly like it did last year in Omaha and in 2018 in Lexington. While Snider doesn’t have much upside as a possible reliever in Kansas City, he could be a dependable middle relief arm, which wouldn’t be the worst thing to have, especially since the Royals failed to find consistency from their arms in the middle innings in 2021.
Can Webb, the local product, succeed in his hometown?
Webb is an interesting story, as he is a former Royals 34th round pick out of the 2016 MLB Draft who hails from Lee’s Summit North High School. While most 34th round picks out of high school tend to go the college route, Webb instead signed with his hometown club and has been grinding in the Royals farm system slowly since.
From 2016 to 2019 Webb didn’t advance past rookie league ball, as he played in the Arizona Complex League in 2016, Burlington in 2017, and Idaho Falls in 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, there was a reason why Webb failed to transition to full-season Minor League ball over that time frame, as he consistently put up rough ERA numbers in short-season play.
In 175.1 IP across four rookie league seasons, Webb posted a 6.11 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, both incredibly pedestrian numbers, even for a pitcher right out of high school. In fact, it was pretty common to see Webb give up big hits like this one below when he was pitching for Burlington in 2017:
That being said, it seemed like Webb worked on some things with the Royals player development team in 2020, despite the lost Minor League season, and he ended up soaring on the mound in Low-A Columbia and High-A Quad Cities, respectively. In 26.2 IP with the Fireflies, he posted a 3.38 ERA and a career-best 14.51 K/9. With the River Bandits, Webb flourished in the late innings, and even though he posted a 4.41 ERA, he did produce a 5.10 K/BB ratio, which was highlighted by a 2.48 BB/9, a career-best for him in that category.
JJ Cooper of Baseball America also mentioned after Quad Cities won the Central League title how Webb was touching a 100 MPH with his fastball, a sign that Webb has come a long way as a prospect after struggling in rookie ball for the first four years of his professional career:
When watching Webb on tape, it is easy to see that the 100 MPH stuff isn’t just hyperbole and that it is possible to imagine his stuff transition easily to the Major League level, especially if he continues to grow as a pitcher thanks to the Royals Player Development team.
Much like Snider, Webb’s ceiling is as a reliever at the Major League level, though I think he could have more late-innings potential than Snider. Snider may be the safer option in the Royals bullpen in 2021 or 2022, but Webb definitely has more upside, and his tremendous development since the 2019 season shows the dedication and ingenuity of the Royals player development team, especially in the lower Minors. For anyone thinking the Royals aren’t investing in analytics, they need to look at Webb, who could be the next “success story” for this organization, should Webb get an opportunity to pitch with the Royals out of the bullpen in 2021.
Furthermore, it’s hard not to root for this guy, especially when Royals fans hear stories like this which broke yesterday after the Royals announced that Webb was added to the 40-man roster:
The Royals have invested heavily in “local talent” in the draft lately, as they drafted Ben Kudrna out of Blue Valley Southwest High School and Carter Jensen out of Park Hill High School in the 2021 MLB draft.
Perhaps Webb could be the “local kid” who starts this wave of “Kansas City-based” talent in the Royals farm system that experiences success at the Major League level.
Photo Credit: Our Sports Central/Lexington Legends