Wolters turning heads on Kansas City's backfields

March 7th, 2024

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.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Head up to the backfields of the Royals’ Spring Training complex, where the Minor League players congregate every morning, and you’ll find one of the newest -- and most talked about -- pitchers in the organization.

is starting to draw crowds every time he takes the mound. The Royals’ second-round pick (No. 44 overall), Wolters is entering his first full season of professional baseball as the Royals’ No. 7 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s newly released Top 30 list.

And scouts and evaluators can’t stop raving about him.

“He’s very impressive,” senior director of pitching performance Paul Gibson said. “He’s very focused on his work. Very convicted when he’s on the mound, whether it’s a bullpen or live [batting practice]. We’re really excited to get him into games. I hate to jump out there and make all kinds of statements about a 19-year-old, but he’s got the right tools, he’s got the right makeup, he’s got the right work ethic. It’s exciting.”

An all-area basketball player at Mahomet-Seymour High School in Illinois, Wolters gave up hoops his senior year to focus on baseball -- a tough decision because of Wolters’ athleticism and competitiveness.

“I always loved playing all the different sports because I’m super competitive,” Wolters said. “Basketball, football, all of it, it’s fun for me. It was tough, because I wanted to play basketball with my friends my senior year. But it was worth it.”

Wolters saw immediate gains in his strength, explosiveness and velocity. And that coincided with a jump on MLB Draft boards. A year ago, he set a Super 60 showcase record with 97.7 mph on consecutive pitches.

“I remember the exact number and moment, of course,” Wolters said with a grin. “It was the hardest I’ve ever thrown. You see all this hard work come to a certain point, and that’s kind of what put me on the map because I was a late bloomer.”

When the 2023 Draft came, the Royals went with upside in their first two picks, selecting catcher Blake Mitchell No. 8 overall and Wolters with their second pick. Now the two young Blakes are rooming together at the Royals’ housing facility, The Fountains, and they’re featured on Kansas City’s Spring Breakout roster for the March 17 event.

On the other side of the suite is Hiro Wyatt and Stone Russell, two other high school players from last year’s Draft class.

“We’ve developed a bond, and it’s been great,” Mitchell said. “Play video games together, cook together, do a lot of things together -- well, I don’t cook. Wolters and Hiro will do most of the cooking. I lean on them. I’ll buy some things, let them cook it. It’s great.”

Off the field, the four of them are learning to be adults, away from home for the first time. On the field, they’re learning how to be professional baseball players, and Wolters has wowed with his presence, his stuff and his command.

“He’s great to catch,” Mitchell said. “The hitters who have faced him are like, ‘Man, he’s really good.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know, I’m glad I’m catching him.’ It’s been awesome.”

Wolters is armed with an upper-90s fastball and above-average breaking ball, along with an improved changeup that will be a major focus for him this year, as he tries to maintain a three-pitch mix as a starter. That third pitch has already taken strides this spring.

“I remember I was just playing catch with Ethan Bosacker, and his changeups were gross,” Wolters said. “They were so good. And I was like, ‘What are you thinking about when you throw it?’ And he’s just like, ‘Hold it loose like an egg.’ I tried it, and threw a couple good ones. Picking up on little things like that has been really fun.

“But the biggest thing I try to do is attack the zone. Throw strikes. Throw every pitch with conviction.”

Wolters made his pro debut in instructional league last fall, so his first official outing will come this year in the Arizona Complex League or at Single-A Columbia. The past few years, the Royals have kept pitchers drafted out of high school back in Arizona until around June in their first season.

But Wolters is advanced enough that the Royals will have a decision to make when it’s time to make the affiliate rosters.

“We treat every pitcher individually,” Gibson said. “And we’ve made advanced decisions in the past, whether it’s a young Latin player or a high school pitcher, to set a target date and then see what happens. But there’s always cascading events that could speed that up or slow that down.”

Whatever happens, Wolters is ready.

“Number one goal is to stay healthy,” Wolters said. “Get used to the routine of being in pro ball. And then just have fun, wherever I’m at. And then do the absolute best that I possibly can.”