The Royals found their most reliable starting pitcher of 2018 in last year’s Rule 5 Draft.
They’re hoping to capture that success once more.
The Royals acquired a pair of right-handed pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, the final action of the winter meetings at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort. Kansas City selected Tampa pitcher Sam McWilliams with the second pick of the draft, and it traded for pitcher Chris Ellis, whom the Rangers selected later in the process.
The two moves filled the Royals’ roster at 40.
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McWilliams, 23, was 7-9 with a 4.38 earned run average between three stops in Tampa’s minor league system. He spent the bulk of the 2018 season with Class AA Montgomery, where he was 6-7 with a 5.02 ERA while operating primarily as a starter. He struck out 94 hitters in 100 1/3 innings. McWilliams, who stands 6-foot-7, was drafted by the Phillies in the eighth round in 2014.
“We still think he’s got a lot of upside,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “He’s just sort of coming into his own right now. ... He’s got a big fastball. He’s got a big breaking ball — more of a slider. We see him as a starter in the long run.”
Per Rule 5 rules, the Royals must place McWilliams and Ellis on their 25-man roster, and both figure to factor into the bullpen in the immediacy. They have to stay on the roster for the entirety of the 2019 season or the Royals will send them back to their teams along with cash.
Ellis, 26, pitched in the Cardinals’ system last season, finishing 10-4 in 31 appearances, 21 of them starts. He posted a 3.93 ERA.
“Heavy fastball. Plus velocity. Really good curveball,” Picollo said. “We do think he can start.”
On a day in which the Royals supplemented their roster, they also lost a prospect. A particularly young one. Toronto selected 18-year-old pitcher Elvis Luciano in the Rule 5. The Royals had obtained Luciano, who turns 19 in February, in a trade with Arizona last summer involving Jon Jay. Luciano was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft because an injury had voided his initial contract. If he indeed makes the Blue Jays roster — a requirement in order for the organization to hold onto him — he would be the youngest player in the majors. He has not pitched beyond rookie ball.
In the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Royals selected catcher Chris Rabago from the Yankees and promptly traded him to the Rockies for cash considerations. Kansas City lost right-hander Luis Lugo to the Cubs in the minor league draft.
The Royals acquired Brad Keller and Burch Smith in last December’s Rule 5 Draft. Keller was the team’s top starter in 2018, finishing 9-6 with a 3.08 earned run average. Smith struggled in both a relief and starting role, compiling a 6.92 ERA in 78 innings. He was bumped off the 40-man roster last month.