KANSAS CITY -- One prospect Royals fans may want to keep an eye on next Spring Training is right-hander Kevin Lenik, who could be one of the more intriguing bullpen candidates for the 2018 season.The Royals signed Lenik out of the independent Frontier League (where they found Balbino Fuenmayor) last
KANSAS CITY -- One prospect Royals fans may want to keep an eye on next Spring Training is right-hander Kevin Lenik, who could be one of the more intriguing bullpen candidates for the 2018 season.
The Royals signed Lenik out of the independent Frontier League (where they found Balbino Fuenmayor) last June, and the 26-year-old shot through the low Minors all the way to Triple-A Omaha in less than two months. Lenik, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, posted a 1.88 ERA in 12 relief outings for the Storm Chasers, striking out 24 batters in 24 innings.
"He was just really impressive," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "Mid-to-upper 90s fastball."
Lenik started out as an outfielder in college at Cal-State Dominguez Hills. But in the last two months of his college career, he transitioned to the mound. The Rangers signed him to a deal in 2016 after an open tryout. But they released him after a short stint with Class A Spokane.
Lenik started this season in independent ball with the Windy City Thunderbolts and went 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 appearances. The Royals noticed his high-velocity fastball, which was touching 98 mph.
"He worked hard," T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said at the time. "He's putting up high-velocity numbers. He's deserving of the opportunity."
The Royals sent Lenik to the Dominican League for winter ball, but his season was cut short after getting hit in the face with a line drive.
"The severity of the injury wasn't as bad as we anticipated," Picollo said. "It wasn't surgical. He'll just have six weeks of no lifting, no conditioning. He's got facial fractures. Just let it heal.
"He did a great job this year. He'll be ready for Spring Training. He's a great story. Shortstop/outfielder in college until the last months of his college career. Then went to open tryout and got signed by Texas. ... He dominated Triple-A. He could be a factor in 2018."
Picollo said he would expect Lenik to get a Spring Training invite.
"More than likely," Picollo said. "We haven't had those discussions yet."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015.