'Sky's the limit' for Klein with new addition to pitch arsenal

Royals prospect, potential starter is banking on refined changeup as he builds up innings

March 9th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After a breakout first professional season in the Royals’ farm system, in which he dominated High-A hitters with 121 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings and helped Quad Cities to a Central Championship, hard-throwing right-hander Will Klein headed into the offseason with a clear goal to help him build off the momentum he created in 2021.

Klein had to refine and develop his third pitch.

“I knew it would be a big piece to determine my future this year and next year,” Klein said.

Klein, the Royals’ fifth-round Draft pick out of Eastern Illinois in 2020 and ranked as the organization’s No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline, threw a changeup as his third offering last season. But there were mechanical aspects to it that he wanted to change, and both he and the Royals wanted him to throw it more to develop into a true weapon for him. So Klein spent the offseason in St. Louis working with Premier Pitching Performance (P3) to adjust the pitch to his liking.

He used technology like Trackman and Edgertronic to track release, spin, movement profiles and more on the pitch while also trying to repeat it every time he threw.

“I’d find a grip and it moved well, and the next day would come and I couldn’t replicate it, so that didn’t work,” Klein said. “And then I’d try a new grip, it would look right to the naked eye, and then you’d look at the movement and how it’s coming out, and that wouldn’t be right. It took awhile, probably until a week or two before I came here, before we found the one I’m using now that I can repeat consistently and it has good movement profiles. And I can throw it for strikes.

“It was a long process, pretty frustrating, but I’m happy with where we are now.”

What Klein landed on was more of a splitter grip. He’s been able to throw it consistently facing hitters already this spring and he has seen good results with it. As elite as Klein’s fastball and curveball are, mastering his third pitch will be crucial for him this year because the Royals plan to have him build up more innings.

The 22-year-old was used in a multi-inning reliever role in High-A last year, mostly appearing in the backend of games, and there’s ample debate among Royals officials and staffers about Klein’s future as a starter or reliever. He has the look of a two-pitch power reliever, but his third pitch and durability give him a chance to start. Klein will likely appear in Double-A this season and build up innings to where he could start games.

“I’m looking forward to stretching him out a little further even just to see what we have, get him to use that third pitch a little more and see what we have,” director of pitching Paul Gibson said.

“He’s a very talented guy. Just a great demeanor. The sky’s the limit. It really is.”

Roaming the Royals’ backfields of their Arizona complex during live batting practice sessions, it’s hard to find a more imposing presence than the one Klein gives when he’s on the mound. It’s dominating and intimidating, even in a very controlled setting like Spring Training.

“When you talk to him outside the fence, you get one feel. When you talk to him inside the fence, it’s a completely different feeling,” Gibson said.

That’s by design, in Klein’s eyes.

“If you think the hitter’s scared of you, then you’re probably right,” Klein said. “If you’re going up there with the attitude that you’re going to strike him out, and you have the stuff to back it up, that’s the right mentality to have. You got to go out and dominate guys and prove that you can, and it builds itself from there. It’s fun.”

Klein’s mindset? Throw nasty, efficient stuff. With all three pitches.

“I try to be a little more aggressive on the mound because it’s you vs. the hitter,” Klein said. “I know sometimes they say throw it in there and let him touch it, but I don’t want any hitters to touch any pitches. I want to throw three pitches and see him go sit back down. We’re going to make this game quick.”