The Royals have been a bit more active in the hot stove market over the past couple of weeks, highlighted by the signing of a multitude of arms.
Ryan Yarbrough was obviously the Royals’ biggest official MLB free agent signing thus far. That said, the Royals have also acquired some arms on a Minor League end that have gone under the radar, and already rumors are circulating that former Baltimore pitcher Jordan Lyles has come to an agreement on a two-year deal in the $16-17 million total range, depending on the source.
Therefore let’s take a look at those pitchers recently acquired, and what kind of outlook and impact they could have on the Royals starting this Spring when they report to camp in Surprise.
Lyles to Provide “Unspectacular” Stability to Royals Rotation
Royals fans are a fickle bunch, I get it. Not having a winning season since the World Series run of 2015 can do that to a fanbase.
And yet, they can go back and forth in terms of what they “want” from this front office. Last year, it was veterans blocking young players from getting extended playing time. This offseason, especially during the Winter Meetings, it was the Royals front office wasn’t being “transactional” enough.
In the past two weeks though, JJ Picollo has not just inked Yarbrough to a one-year deal, but also Lyles to a two-year deal that could have an AAV of $8-8.5 million.
Remember, Matt Boyd, who hasn’t pitched more than 100 innings in a single season since 2019, and only pitched 13.1 innings with the Mariners in 2022, earned a $10 million AAV deal from the Tigers this offseason (albeit for only a year). Therefore, the Royals were able to get a pretty good value for a guy in Lyles (and Yarbrough too, who is making $3 million) who should be able to add “stability” in the rotation, even if it may not be of the most spectacular variety.
Now, I get it, Lyles is not a sexy pickup by any means, and a lot of Royals fans who were originally complaining about the Royals not doing enough are now mad that this isn’t the way for the Royals to spend money. (What was that about beggars can’t be choosers? I know, “but the Chiefs!” argument so I’ll stop).
Rany of the Kauffman Corner compared Lyles’ contract to other free agent pitchers who got two-year deals, and I get at the surface level, it seems like the Royals overpaid a bit for Lyles.
First off, Quintana (Mets), Stripling (Giants), and Manaea (Giants) all went to contenders, and the Rangers (Heaney) have certainly been spending like a contender, though I am not sure they’re quite at that point just yet. The Royals, on the other hand, are not a contender after a 65-win season, and let’s be frank, eastern Kansas and western Missouri don’t have the same draw as New York, San Francisco, or Dallas to potential free agents.
The fact of the matter is that small market clubs like the Royals have to either wait until the end of the hot stove season for deals (Zack Greinke last year), take risks on guys needing “bounce-back” campaigns (Yarbrough), or maybe spend a little more for a guy who probably wouldn’t be worth as much to another organization. The latter is a prime example of what happened with Lyles, and honestly, for two years, that’s really not that bad all things considered (and let’s wait for the full details of the contract to be released first before overreacting).
On a pitching end, Lyles fits in the middle of the rotation, maybe in the third or fourth spot in the rotation, depending on how Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jon Heasley fare this Spring. Much like Yarbrough, Lyles doesn’t walk batters, as he only posted a BB/9 of 2.61 and a K/BB ratio of 2.77 last season, according to Fangraphs. He also possesses a pretty solid curveball which he threw 13.4 percent of the time and generated a 24.0 percent whiff rate and 18.3 percent put-away rate with last season in Baltimore, according to Savant.
Lyles has decreased the usage of his four-seamer over the years in favor of his sinker, which he relied on earlier in his career, especially when he was in Houston as a top prospect.
Here’s a look at his pitch mix percentage over his career, via Savant. Notice how his 31.8 percent four-seamer usage was his lowest usage since 2017, and vice versa, his 17.5 percent sinker usage rate was his highest usage since that season as well.
The Orioles are a very analytical organization, which the Royals are trying to be under new head coach Matt Quatraro and pitching coach Brian Sweeney. It could be possible that the Royals saw Lyles tap into something last year, and the Royals front office and coaching staff feel confident that they can continue to build on that positive growth and changes Lyles made after moving to Baltimore from Texas the previous season.
At the very least, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lyles find Jeremy Guthrie-Esque success in Kansas City over the next two seasons, which would make his deal even more of a steal for this organization.
Wallace Brings Intriguing Profile from Red Sox System
The Royals had to DFA Wyatt Mills to make room for Yarbrough, and through the DFA process, Picollo and the front office were able to make the following trade with the Red Sox:
Wallace produced an ERA of 3.81 in 56.2 innings pitched, and generated a K/9 of 12.07 in Double-A Portland last season. Those two things are good, but he also allowed a BB/9 of 7.78, which ultimately led to him producing a mediocre K/BB ratio of 1.55. He showed much better control in 2021 in High-A Greenville, as his K/9 was 14.05 and his K/BB ratio was 3.04. On the other hand, he was hit around a lot more in 2021, which was showcased in his 5.92 ERA and .343 BABIP (his 4.07 FIP was a much more tolerable number).
Here’s a look at how Wallace fared in Spring Training last season, and he has the potential to be an effective middle reliever with Matt Capps-like mechanics.
I like Mills a lot and was sad to see him not make the cut. However, do not sleep on Wallace and his potential in 2023, especially if he can get off to a good start in the Omaha Storm Chasers bullpen to begin the year.
Poteet and Kriske are Wild Cards on Minor League Deals
The day before the Mills-Wallace trade, the Royals also announced the signing of the following players to Minor League deals:
Reetz and Matias were much bigger names, especially since they had played in the Royals system a year ago. But I didn’t think much of Poteet or Kriske until Jeff Zimmerman, a Fangraphs contributor and author of “The Process” book (one of my favorite fantasy baseball publications ever), mentioned Poteet in a tweet shortly after the Lyles signing yesterday.
That was intriguing to hear, so I dove into Poteet’s numbers last year, and he was pretty good in Miami, albeit in a short stint (due to the elbow issues as Zimmerman alluded to).
In 12 appearances and 28 innings pitched with the Marlins last year, he posted a 3.86 ERA, a 51.2 percent GB rate, and a 1.91 K/BB ratio (though he did keep his BB/9 under four at 3.54).
Here’s an example of Poteet ramping up the velocity on his four-seamer to 97 MPH in this strikeout of former Atlanta (now Cubs) shortstop Dansby Swanson last season back in April.
Poteet also possesses some strong secondary potential as well. His changeup was his best (and most-used pitch) last season with a run value of -1, according to Savant. Also, his slider generated a whiff rate of 26.1 percent and could buckle up opposing hitters on frequent occasions.
If healthy, Poteet could be a sneaky addition to the Royals bullpen in June perhaps. But as Zimmerman mentioned, his elbow is a serious concern, and it is likely that he begins the year on the injured list for a while (Roster Resource seems to think so). Hence, it is possible that this signing was a stash with more implications for 2024, when the Royals may be more ready to compete.
As for Kriske, he is a former Yankees product who was mostly known for this disastrous outing against the Red Sox at Fenway Park a couple of seasons ago.
In this awful outing, he basically allowed two runs on four wild pitches, a walk, and a sacrifice fly. It doesn’t get more brutal than that, even by the Royals’ standards.
Last season though, Kriske went to Japan and revitalized his career with the Yokohama Bay Stars. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 21 IP and generated an 11.1 K/9 and K/BB ratio of 2.00. In the NPB, Kriske showed the kind of poise and confidence that the Yankees once saw in him as a prospect when he was drafted out of USC in 2016.
His splitter could be an interesting development for Kriske in 2023, as it seemed to be a pitch that he utilized more when he made the move with the Bay Stars. King of Juco, a popular Twitter user, caught him before he made his move to Japan, and remarked how impressive the pitch was from a catching perspective:
Daniel Mengden seemed to have some success in Omaha and some moments in Kansas City in 2022 after playing in Korea the previous season.
Could the same kind of outlook be in store for Kriske in 2023 after a year in Japan?
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