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Royals claim pitcher Conner Greene, designate Burch Smith for assignment

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Greene had major control issues last year.

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Royals have claimed right-handed pitcher Conner Greene off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals and have designated pitcher Burch Smith for assignment. Greene will be protected from the Rule 5 draft next month, while Smith is now exposed.

The 23-year old Greene was originally a seventh-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 out of Santa Monica High School in California. Standing at 6’3’’, Greene throws in the mid-90s, according to MLB Pipeline, who ranked Greene as the 27th-best Cardinals prospect, with his fastball occasionally reaching triple digits.

When he is throwing well, he throws downhill and with sink to elicit ground ball outs, but too often the heater has flattened out of late, leading to him being more hittable than he should be. So does his lack of consistent secondary stuff.

Greene reached AA by 2015 and was ranked the #100 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus before the 2016 season. Despite some good velocity, he has never put up great strikeout numbers. His progress stalled the next season as he had trouble throwing strikes, and despite a decent ERA at 3.51 across High A and AA, he had a very poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. His numbers got even worse in 2017, his third tour in AA.

Greene was traded to the Cardinals in a deal for outfielder Randal Grichuk before last season, and his control issues grew worse. In 88 innings, mostly in relief for the Cardinals’ AA and AAA clubs, Greene walked 63 hitters and struck out just 69. He was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and his walk totals exploded with 15 free passes in just 9 23 innings. Over the past three seasons combined, he has walked 13% of all hitters he has faced.

Despite the walk issues, Greene is fairly young, close to Major League-ready, with good velocity. Perhaps the Royals see something in him to tweak mechanically, to get him to throw more strikes and miss more bats. Greene alluded to some adjustments he is working on in an interview last spring.

From an analytics standpoint, they have a lot of good information that shows me who I am. I’d been trying to be a sinker ball guy while I have a high spin rate, so it’s like I’m fighting myself there. There are things we’re going to focus on more than other areas. Instead of trying to go heavy groundballs and sinkers all day when I’m a four-seam fastball guy throwing really hard.

He also says that his command was affected by anxiety from ADHD medication he was on, although he continued to have command issues this season, when he was off the medication.

Burch Smith was acquired by the Royals in a trade following the Rule 5 draft, requiring him to stay on the Major League roster all season. He had a 6.92 ERA in 78 innings with 77 strikeouts and 40 walks.