Royals Go Back To The Rule 5 Well

The Royals are hopeful that this year’s Rule 5 righthanders Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis will be able to duplicate or surpass the success of Brad Keller, one of last year’s editions.

Keller began the 2018 season with 21 relief appearances before joining the rotation on May 30. He went 8-5, 3.28 in 20 starts, including 4-1, 2.45 in his last seven.

The 23-year-old McWilliams is well-traveled, having been drafted by the Phillies out of high school in 2014 and traded twice before going second overall in last December’s Rule 5 draft.

“Sam has a chance to be a No. 3 starter,” pro scouting director Gene Watson said. “He has a high upside. He’s a big guy (6-foot-7) who can spin it. He knows how to pitch. He has high-octane velocity. He’s a bonafide prospect, a young starter.

The 26-year-old Ellis went a combined 10-4, 3.93 at Double-A and Triple-A in the Cardinals’ farm system last season.

“Ellis has some velocity, but not high octane,” Watson said. “He is more pitchability. He could slide into the back of the rotation as the fifth guy; he could be a seventh-inning reliever or be a long guy. He can fill any role.”

Ellis, an Angels third-rounder in 2013 out of Mississippi, did not allow an earned run in three starts in the Dominican League, yielding seven hits in 17.2 innings, while walking three and striking out 14.

“What attracted us to McWilliams is the way he’s been trending up,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “He’s big, physical, a power arm who works at 93-95 (mph) and hits 96. His slider is above-average and he has a split-finger fastball. He’s pitched more than 100 innings in Double-A. We’re hoping he follows the same path as Brad Keller.

“Ellis has a heavy fastball, 92-93 (mph) but he can get it to 96. His curveball stands out as a pitch that got our attention. He’s more of a safer pick. He has more of a track record with a lot of consistency.”

In addition to Keller, the Royals also rostered Rule 5 righthander Burch Smith for the entire 2018 season. He lost his 40-man roster spot after the season and signed a minor league deal with the Brewers as a free agent.


—The Royals signed righthander Brandon Marklund, who had a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings with Auckland in the Australian League. Marklund is a 22-year-old Canadian who went undrafted last year out of Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.

—Lefthander Josh Mitchell, a 22nd-round pick in 2017 out of Pittsburgh, should be at full strength to start the season after suffering a torn patella tendon last August while pitching for high Class A Wilmington. He has struck out 68 and walked 19 in 66.1 innings in the minors.

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