Kevin Lenik Takes The Road Less Traveled
Six-foot-5 righthander Kevin Lenik took the road less traveled to become a relief prospect and a non-roster invitee to Royals' big league camp.
He quit playing baseball in high school after his freshman year. He picked up the game again at JC of the Canyons in Arizona and spent two years there as an outfielder. He then headed to Division II Hawaii Pacific and finally to D-II Cal State Dominguez Hills, where he made nine relief appearances as a senior in 2015.
"I went to a couple of pre-draft workouts,” Lenik said. "(Those teams) wanted me as a hitter. I went as a pitcher, which was probably not the best idea. I didn’t get drafted . . . It was kind of a depressing situation.
"After school ended, I was just trying to find a way to make a dollar. I was an Uber driver and a personal trainer. I slept on the couch at my brother’s house.”
A friend introduced Lenik to pitching guru Tom House, who trained him for six months. The Rangers signed him as a nondrafted free agent out of a tryout camp in February 2016 but released him in spring training 2017 after just 17 relief appearances at short-season Spokane.
Lenik received an offer from Windy City of the independent Frontier League, where he struck out 17 in 10.1 innings. A Royals scout saw his fastball sitting 97 mph, and the club signed him on June 15. Lenik began at Rookie-level Burlington but quickly moved to low Class A Lexington.
On July 24, Lenik jumped to Triple-A Omaha, where he recorded a 1.88 ERA in 12 relief appearances, allowing 11 hits and striking out 24 in 24 innings.
The Royals sent Lenik, 26, to the Dominican League, but he made just one appearance before being hit in the face with a line drive and suffered facial fractures.
The 26-year-old Lenik was among the Royals' final spring cuts but was impressive. Manager Ned Yost compared his path to Kerry Ligtenberg, who went from an indy league to saving 30 games as a Braves rookie in 1998.
"I’m not where I want to be,” Lenik said. "I’m not only trying to make the team, I’m trying to make a name. The end goal is not making the major leagues—but dominating.”
What Went Wrong: Lessons Learned From 11 Recent Draft Busts
Eleven top draft picks of recent vintage who failed to live up to expectations—and what scouts learned from those players’ unrealized potential.
>> Outfielder Bubba Starling, the 2011 first-round pick, started the season on the disabled list with an oblique injury. He missed significant time last year with a pulled oblique, but this spring training injury was on the other side of his body.
>> The Royals brought first baseman Nick Pratto, a 2017 first-rounder, over from minor league camp to DH in a split-squad game on March 17. He homered against the Rangers.