Kansas City Royals add intriguing prospects in Rule 5 Draft. Here’s who KC selected

The Kansas City Royals added organizational depth in the 2023 Rule 5 Draft. The Royals drafted pitcher Matt Sauer with the second overall pick in the major-league phase.

Sauer, 24, was added to the Royals’ 40-man roster. KC is required to pay $100,000 to the Yankees, per MLB rules. Sauer must remain on the Royals’ active 26-man roster next season.

Additionally, the Royals selected outfielder Joseph Gray, pitcher Keylan Killgore and infielder Ryan Fitzgerald in the minor-league phase.

“There were a handful of arms that we liked,” Royals general manager J.J. Picollo said. “I think the difference between (Sauer) and the other guys is more we like his ability to start long term.”

Sauer pitched across three minor-league levels last season. He posted a 3.41 ERA in 74 innings. A bulk of his work came in Double-A, where he recorded 83 strikeouts in 14 games (13 starts).

Picollo said the Royals will bring Sauer along slowly. He has never pitched above the Double-A level in his career. However, the Royals were impressed with his upward trajectory and similarities to former Rule 5 draftee Brad Keller.

“Physical guy, good fastball and good breaking ball,” Picollo said of Sauer. “Strikeout numbers are good. … I think our scouting department did a great job because all the names we talked about went. He was the one at the top of our list.”

Sauer is likely to begin in the Royals’ bullpen. He can operate as a multi-inning reliever and possibly be called upon as an opener. Picollo didn’t rule out Sauer becoming a starter, but viewed it as a long-term option.

“A lot of that depends on how others are performing at the time, too,” Picollo said. “We wouldn’t want to put expectations on him to start right out of the gate on our big league team, coming out of Double-A. That’s a pretty big job. So you want to kind of get their feet wet, get them comfortable, and then over time you decide when it’s the right time to possibly start him.”

Sauer was selected in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He will get an opportunity to carve out a role with the Royals in 2024.

If the Royals decide to pursue different options, there is a multi-step process to part ways with Sauer.

First, Sauer will be put on outright waivers. As a Rule 5 Draft selection, Sauer would need to clear waivers and be offered back to the Yankees alongside $50,000. The Yankees reserve the right to reacquire Sauer.

If the Yankees decide to pass on reacquiring him, Sauer can be outrighted to the minor leagues.

There is another caveat to consider. The Royals could work out a trade with the Yankees to acquire Sauer’s full rights. Per MLB rules, KC would then be able to send him to the minors under traditional circumstances.

The Royals hope to avoid those options. Sauer, who was New York’s No. 25 prospect, will be another reliever who competes for a key bullpen role in spring training.

KC is also excited about Gray, Killgore and Fitzgerald. The trio has intriguing traits that impressed the Royals.

Gray arrives from the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He hit .232 with 11 home runs, 60 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 111 games across two minor-league levels. Gray was selected in the first round of the minor-league phase.

Killgore and Fitzgerald were selected in the second and third rounds, respectively, of the minor-league phase.

Killgore was in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He posted a 5.20 ERA throughout 46 minor-league appearances. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald hit .268 in 99 games in the Boston Red Sox organization.

“We’ve seen a lot of Joe the last few years in Milwaukee ... against our High-A team,” Royals director of player development Mitch Maier said. “As you go down, you look at a power lefty in Keylan Killgore. There is some upside projection there after dealing with some injuries in the past.

“And then, Ryan Fitzgerald is someone we targeted from Boston. We know there is versatility and impact in the bat.”

The Royals will add each player to their minor-league system. While KC acquired multiple players, the Royals also lost a few prospects in the minor-league phase.

Pitcher T.J. Sikkema was selected by the Cincinnati Reds, while shortstop Clay Dungan was drafted by the San Diego Padres. Right-handed pitcher Wander Arias will now head to the Washington Nationals.

Notably, the Royals retained a few eligible prospects in Devin Mann and Asa Lacy after the Rule 5 Draft.