Breaking down the Royals' 2024 bullpen

February 18th, 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. -- The first thing that pops into Michael Wacha’s mind when he thinks of his former Red Sox teammate and new Royals teammate John Schreiber?

“Man, he gets amped up,” Wacha said after Saturday’s trade that brought Schreiber to the Royals while sending pitching prospect David Sandlin to the Red Sox. “He’s a competitor. Very fiery on the mound. Really suits the back-end of the bullpen well with the type of competitiveness that he brings to the game. That guy will take the ball in any spot of the game, whether it’s middle relief, a tight matchup late in the game, some of those late-inning roles.

“He can get some big-time outs for us.”

The Royals are hoping so. The addition of Schreiber gives them another experienced high-leverage arm and significantly increases the depth and competition this spring and into the season.

How might the ‘pen look now? Here’s where things stand, barring injury:

Locks: LHP Will Smith; RHPs Chris Stratton, Nick Anderson, John Schreiber
The veteran newcomers will make up the back of the Royals’ bullpen. All of them have some closing experience. The Royals won’t explicitly name a closer -- but Smith will get the early opportunities. It’s one of the reasons he signed here, and he has the most experience with 113 career saves.

Smith won’t be able to pitch every day, and the Royals have more options for the back-end of games now. They also have more stability with their newcomers -- all of whom pound the zone and have gotten outs in big situations before.

“The good thing about all this is, you’re hoping we’re putting a much better team on the field,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “The more games you win, the more times you need high leverage relievers to pitch in the back-end. So we want to have as many options as we can there.”

Likely: RHPs James McArthur, Carlos Hernández, Matt Sauer
The Royals love how McArthur finished the season, which he ended with a 16 1/3-inning scoreless streak. Hernández might have the best pure stuff of the entire bullpen, but he must show improved command. They both have four career saves and can earn high-leverage opportunities again this year.

Sauer was the Royals’ Rule 5 Draft pick in December, meaning he must stay on the 26-man roster for at least 90 days -- essentially, he’s a player without options. If the Royals need to take him off the 40-man roster, he has to go through waivers and then be offered back to the Yankees.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a lock, though. The Royals remade their bullpen to emphasize strike-throwing and increase competition, and if the 25-year-old Sauer, who hasn’t pitched above Double-A yet, doesn’t show he’s ready, the Royals might not force him onto the Opening Day roster.

Others to consider: LHPs Jake Brentz, Josh Taylor, Angel Zerpa, Anthony Veneziano, Daniel Lynch IV; RHPs Steven Cruz, Will Klein, John McMillon, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan
Whether it’s one, two or three spots open at the end of spring, there’s competition here.

“We’re going to have a lot of healthy competition for those last couple spots,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “April’s a tough month. We play a lot of good teams. And it’s going to be who’s throwing the ball well as we break Spring Training and really throughout the month of March.”

Brentz, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since early 2022 before he had Tommy John surgery, is healthy this year and raring to go. He threw his first live BP on Saturday and looked good, hitting upper-90s. The Royals will likely want a second lefty, and Brentz or Taylor make sense there. McMillon, who made his debut last year but was quickly shut down with a forearm strain, would be a nice addition because of his power arm, but he’ll have to check all the boxes to make sure he’s healthy to begin the season. He has been throwing bullpens and isn’t delayed to begin the spring.

A long-relief option is likely, and they’re not opposed to a starter in that role. Lynch, Zerpa, Marsh, Veneziano and Bowlan are all building up as starters and competing for a rotation spot.

Kansas City also has several Minor League signees and non-roster invitees competing for a spot, including Tyler Duffey, Luis Cessa and Dan Altavilla.

Those who are considered long shots but will be good Triple-A depth include lefty Christian Chamberlain and righty Beck Way, who are both younger pitchers and will benefit from more time in Triple-A Omaha. Starting pitching prospects Chandler Champlain (No. 11) and Mason Barnett (No. 12) are both in big league camp this year, but that’s to get them experience right now. They’ll open the season either in the Double-A or Triple-A rotations.