KANSAS CITY -- It's not often that pitchers go from college closer to Minor League closer to Major League closer. Of course, former Royal Greg Holland comes to mind.But if all goes well, that will be the path for Royals right-hander Walker Sheller, selected in the ninth round of the
KANSAS CITY -- It's not often that pitchers go from college closer to Minor League closer to Major League closer. Of course, former Royal Greg Holland comes to mind.
But if all goes well, that will be the path for Royals right-hander Walker Sheller, selected in the ninth round of the 2016 Draft out of Stetson University (Florida).
Sheller, 23, has been a closer for almost the entirety of his baseball career. In 2 1/2 pro seasons, he has 12 saves and a 3.19 ERA.
MLB.com chatted with Sheller recently by phone:
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Sheller: "I grew up in Jacksonville. It was a good time growing up there. I have a younger brother, Max, who is 21. My dad, John, works for the railroad at CSX Transportation. My dad always coached Little League teams and was very supportive. My parents were very supportive. They were always at the games. My mom, Rebecca, works at Myriad Genetics where they do genetic breast cancer testing. She knows her stuff.
"But I was always into sports, always outside whether it was fishing or hunting or playing sports. If you couldn't find me, I was always on the water or over at a neighbor's house playing tennis, baseball. Always doing something outside."
• Inbox: Who will be Royals' biggest surprise?
Were you always a pitcher?
Sheller: "Yeah, I always pitched. But in high school I also played outfield and first base. In college, I played outfield and first base and DH'd. And I was the closer.
"I actually played a lot of golf back then, too. Growing up in Jacksonville, I had TPC Sawgrass right there. That was a no-brainer. My handicap used to be good. Not anymore. I can still swing it a little, but I don't have the time."
Did you have a favorite pro team growing up?
Sheller: "Not really. I didn't sit around much and cheer for teams or players. And I'm not a stats junkie. I just didn't have a favorite baseball player growing up. I just liked watching pitchers and players and how they performed and trying to learn how they did it. Every different player has a way of going about their business. I would say Craig Kimbrel is one guy I look up to, though, just the way he conducts his business. It's amazing to see all these guys play the same sport, but they're all so different in how they become the best at what they do."
In the Royals organization, who have you learned the most from?
Sheller: "Everyone. But if I had to pick one guy, it would be Nick Dini. We were roommates. He's a catcher who deals with pitching and hitting, so being able to talk to him about what works best in facing batters, different tendencies, that helps. I think Nick and I have had the best conversations on how to better ourselves."
When did you first think that baseball might be your life's work?
Sheller: "Maybe my first year at juco [Lake-Sumter State College in Florida]. I was kind of feeling it out, and I saw guys who were getting letters from Major League teams, and I thought to myself, 'I can pitch as good as that guy or even better. I got a chance at this.' I got lucky enough to get a chance to go to Stetson and that kind of cemented it. People around me said I had a chance. Then I started getting some attention from Major League teams."
When do you think you got on the Royals' radar?
Sheller: "I knew from one of the guys [Vance Vizcaino] on our team they might be interested. His dad [former Royals scout Junior Vizcaino] was in the Royals organization. Honestly, if I had to choose, I would not have guessed the Royals would have drafted me. But I'm glad they did. It's been a great opportunity. They called me right before the pick. It was a great moment. [Vance, an outfielder, was drafted by the Royals two rounds later.]"
What has pro ball been like?
Sheller: "It's definitely not what people think -- that it's a bunch of rich people playing a game. It's not, but I like it. I like getting up every day and not knowing for certain what will happen. It's just a matter of proving to myself that I can pitch at the Major League level someday and get Major League hitters out."
Describe your repertoire.
Sheller: "I have a four-seam fastball -- 92-95 [mph] -- two-seam fastball, changeup and a slider. I'd say I'm mainly a two-seam kind of pitcher. If I had to pick an out pitch, it would be my slider. That's what people say. I trust my changeup just as much as any pitch. It can always get better, but I trust my changeup in any count."
Best highlight of your pro career so far?
Sheller: "The coolest game was probably my first game in Double-A two years ago. I got off a plane that day and went right to the bullpen. The guys in the bullpen kept telling me, 'Man, I don't think you know what you're in for tonight.' I thought, 'What are they talking about?' Well, they had an extra-inning game the night before and no one was available but me and the starter. I knew it might be a long one. But I went in and went three scoreless and got the save. It was just cool to be thrown in the fire and have such a good outcome."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.