With the release of veteran reliever Blaine Boyer came an opportunity for the Royals to add to their 40-man two weeks before rosters expand on Sept. 1.
So the first minor-leaguer they turned to was right-handed pitcher Jake Newberry, whose contract the Royals selected from Class AAA Omaha on Saturday. He joined the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field in the afternoon, taking the major-league roster spot of fellow righty Jason Adam some 18 hours after the White Sox exposed Adam’s proclivity for allowing home runs in the Royals’ 9-3 loss Friday night.
Newberry, 23, has been in the Royals’ organization since they chose him in the 37th round of the 2012 draft. He’s played at every level in the farm system and of late has torn through both the Texas and Pacific Coast leagues.
Newberry has never graced prospect lists or been a highly coveted target for other teams. He was eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft in December and was passed over.
But he’s turned heads within the organization and drawn attention in recent months as his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 1.69 (44 strikeouts, 26 walks) last year to 3.79 (53 strikeouts, 14 walks) this season. Since being promoted from Class AA Northwest Arkansas in late June, Newberry has held opposing Class AAA hitters to a .191 average. He’s allowed just two earned runs in 20 innings over 16 games and collected three saves for the Storm Chasers. He converted 12 of 13 save opportunities and posted a 2.12 ERA in 25 games with the Naturals.
“Good slider,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Fastball, he can get it to the mid-90s but pitches come low 90s, 92. Keeps the ball down really well.”
When he enters his first game, Newberry will be the lowest-round draft pick to debut for the Royals since Jarrod Dyson (50th round in 2006) broke into the majors in 2010.
Newberry spoke with reporters before the Royals and White Sox played Saturday night. Here’s a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Question: How did you find out you were being called up?
Newberry: We were in Colorado Springs. Manager (Brian Poldberg) called me in. I was actually getting food. He said my name real lightly, so I didn’t really do anything at first. Then he was like, ‘Hey, come here.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ He walked into the office and our pitching coach wasn’t there. He was out getting food at the time, too. So he found out pretty much the same time I did. That was really exciting. It was almost like he was more excited than I was.
Q: You guys had a really long day, right? Your bus broke down?
N: Yeah, we got in at 7 a.m. and had the bus break down at 8 or 8:30. Were down there (on the side of the road) about an hour and a half. They said there was another bus coming. It never came. .... They ended up fixing it an hour later.
Q: Guess it was a good thing you didn’t have to ride a bus again. What does it feel like to have finally gotten that call?
N: It’s amazing. It was honestly really unexpected. My fiancé, she kept telling me it was gonna happen. I was like, “Yeah, awesome, I’m sure.” But it was really unexpected. After the game I was like — I had the opportunity to throw last night. I said, “I wonder why I didn’t pitch.” I didn’t think anything that that might have been the reason.
Q: Did you ever ask?
N: I was too flustered and overwhelmed at that point that I didn’t even remember that I didn’t throw.
Q: What did you have going for you this year?
N: Fastball location was one of my strong points down there. Fastball is on the glove side. A lot of those hitters are waiting for the one pitch they’re gonna do damage with in certain situations. You have to be able to throw it in certain spots. I was able to command the fastball, and that kind of played well with my slider and change-up.
Q: Anything you want to work on here?
N: Change-ups to righties would be a big thing. I really haven’t thrown any this year to any of them. I’ve just been fastball-slider to them and I’ve thrown fastball-slider-change-up to lefties. I don’t wanna be just a two-pitch pitcher to righties because they can kind of cancel one out if one’s not working that day and that’s when it starts getting rough.
Even last year there, it was the same kind of thing. I was talking to the pitching coach up (in Class AAA) and I said, “You know, I wanna throw some change-ups to righties and see what happens.” It worked out a little bit well. And this year I was a little bit more on line with all my pitchers. Slider was the better pitch to keep going with. That’s kind of why we kind of just didn’t even use the change-up at all.
Q: After all you went through, being passed over for protection on the 40-man roster and spending a lot of time at each level (Newberry was first promoted to Omaha last August but returned to Northwest Arkansas out of spring training this year), did that motivate you even more this year?
N: Yeah, it definitely did because everybody wants to have that opportunity. But at the end of the day, they need to do what’s best for the team and their organization. Whether that was with or without me at the time, that’s what happened. I couldn’t dwell on it.