How Klein rose through ranks to earn Futures Game nod

July 2nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Will Klein was planning to take a trip to Seattle this offseason to visit some friends and cross a few things off his bucket list in the process.

But now, he’s heading to the Pacific Northwest a few months early.

Klein, the Royals’ No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will represent Kansas City at the 2023 SirusXM All-Star Futures Game on July 8 at 6 p.m. CT (4 p.m. PT) at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park. He’s one of 50 Minor Leaguers chosen for the seven-inning contest played in a National League vs. American League format, which will air exclusively on Peacock and SiriusXM.

Klein was leaving the ballpark a couple of weeks ago when Royals director of player development Mitch Maier called him. Klein initially thought something was wrong, but Maier started talking about Klein’s season so far, in which the 23-year-old has posted a 3.22 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. 

Then, Maier informed Klein he was invited to the Futures Game.

“You grow up seeing that stuff on TV,” Klein said. “Obviously, the Major Leagues is always your dream, but [the Futures Game] was something that I didn’t really know would be a possibility. It was really exciting. And then my fiancé was here with me, too, so it was really cool to be able to share the news right then and there.”

Klein will be surrounded by prospects from around the sport, including MLB’s No. 1 overall prospect, Jackson Holliday of the Orioles, and a host of other Top 100 prospects.

“I looked at the rosters, but I kind of blacked out seeing all the names,” Klein said. “But it’ll be cool. They’re there for a reason. You want to get better by being around better players. Hopefully, I can pick up some little stuff about what they do with their game and increase mine a little bit.”

Klein has made several strides forward in 2023. The Royals’ fifth-round pick in the ‘20 MLB Draft, Klein looked like he was on a fast track to the Major Leagues in ‘21, when he posted a 3.21 ERA with 121 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings for High-A Quad Cities.

But he began the 2022 season on the injured list with shin splints. When he came back, a lack of command hurt him, and the injury might have limited him more than he let on. Klein had a 10.31 ERA in Double-A Northwest Arkansas across 43 2/3 innings last year with a 22% walk rate.

“I put so much pressure on myself last year, like, ‘Oh, you’re in Double-A. You’re close. You’ve got to go as fast as you can to get promoted,’” Klein said. “But the injuries and just not pitching well, not like myself, all kind of compiled into a [bad season] last year. This year was all about resetting, getting back on track and throwing like I did in ‘21. Trying to keep myself in line, not thinking about getting promoted while I was in Double-A and trying to do the same thing [in Triple-A].”

The Royals promoted Klein to Omaha on June 13, and he struck out five across two innings in his Triple-A debut. In seven innings (five appearances), he’s struck out 13, although his seven walks are higher than he’d like.

But overall, Klein’s having more fun in a less stressful year. He’s throwing his slider again, a pitch he had in college but scrapped because his curveball was better. This offseason, the Royals asked if he would want to throw it, giving him a pitch to cover another part of the zone that complements his power fastball and curveball. He was all in and retooled the pitch with the help of his training facility in St. Louis and the Royals.

“[I’m] able to execute fastballs to both sides of the plate, land the curveball when I want, and then the slider has been a big putaway pitch,” Klein said. “So that’s been a fun addition.”

Klein will bring that and more to Seattle this month. And if he continues on this path, he could bring it to Kansas City this season.

The Royals won’t be locked into only players who can help in Kansas City soon; they need to supplement their farm system with impact players at all levels. They can never have enough pitching, and with how many young core position players they have at the Major League level right now, they need impact bats throughout the organization, too.

A trade can be made at any time, and more injury risk is involved the longer the Royals wait. But the longer they wait, the more desperate a contending team can get.

“I think [we've] got to take a hard look at where this team is. Unfortunately, right now, we’re not in the race,” Picollo said. “So, if there’s a deal to be made sooner rather than later, then we’ve got to do it.”