Royals hope McWilliams is next Rule 5 gem

Right-hander looking to duplicate Keller's success in 2018

February 18th, 2019
Sam McWilliams (38) P Arizona Diamondbacks March 16, 2018, DBacks - Cubs AA/AAA MiLB Camp 03/16/2018 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. Freek Bouw - Phrake PhotographyFreek Bouw - Phrake Photography

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Can Rule 5 Draft pick and right-hander Sam McWilliams be the next for the Royals?

Club officials hope for a similar success story.

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"There's certainly a lot of upside there," general manager Dayton Moore said of McWilliams.

Trying to match the success of Keller, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the previous offseason, will be a tall order for McWilliams. Keller wound up as the Royals' Pitcher of the Year in 2018.

But McWilliams comes with a similar resume. Like McWilliams, Keller had not risen about Double-A when the Royals selected him. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

Turns out, McWilliams and Keller are friends from their days in the D-backs' organization. One would assume that Keller therefore has provided plenty of advice.

"I think he's keeping some secrets from me so far, I think," McWilliams said.

Keller immediately protested.

"He hasn't asked!" Keller said, smiling. "No, I've talked to him. I've told him to just be himself. I said, 'There's a reason the Royals took you, so just be yourself.'"

McWilliams confesses Keller has indeed been helpful.

"Yeah, he's been good," McWilliams said with a grin. "He's just told me to stay confident and show what I can do."

Although primarily a starter in the Minors where his best season was a 2.84 ERA in 25 starts at Class A in 2017, McWilliams will be competing for a bullpen job with the Royals.

And there will be plenty of competition for McWilliams. The Royals have proven veterans , , , and , along with , , Jake Newberry, and fellow Rule 5 Draft pick Chris Ellis, not to mention whatever rotation candidates don't win the No. 5 spot.

"It's a deep bullpen," manager Ned Yost said. "Way deeper than last year at this time."

McWilliams brings a big frame at 6-foot-7 with a fastball that as a starter topped out at 97 mph. He might be able amp up that velocity as a reliever.

"I'm not cranking it up right now in camp," McWilliams said. "That will happen when the games start."

If anything, McWilliams certainly would like to find a permanent home somewhere.

McWilliams, 23, was selected by the Phillies in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He then was traded to the D-backs. He then was traded to the Rays. And then the Royals selected him last December.

That's a lot of moving around.

"If anything, it has been a good thing," McWilliams said. "I've met a lot of guys around baseball, made a lot of friends. I consider it a good thing."

The downside?

"Always being the new guy," he said. "But I'm used to it now. It's fine. And it definitely was an honor to be picked by the Royals. I had a decent idea I was going to go. It was exciting."