The Royals selected right-handed pitcher Sam McWilliams from the Tampa Bay Rays with the second-overall selection in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The 23-year old had a 5.02 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings across High A and AA last season. They also acquired pitcher Chris Ellis from the Rangers, after Texas took him eighth from the Cardinals. The right-hander turned 26 last September, and posted a 3.93 ERA with 124 strikeouts and 37 walks in 132 2/3 innings across AA and AAA.
Standing 6’7’’, McWilliams was originally an eighth-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014 out of high school in Tennessee. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016 and was dealt again last summer as the player to be named later in a three-team trade involving outfielder Stephen Souza, Jr. the previous winter. He has served mostly as a starting pitcher, and Baseball America profiles him as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
McWilliams features a low-90s fastball and a “solid” slider, according to J.J. Cooper at Baseball America, who writes “he’s been improving his changeup to the point where it’s a viable third pitch.” He has always featured a strong strikeout rate as a starter, whiffing nearly a hitter per inning, and he has posted solid walk rates, although it took a spike upon his promotion to AA last year. Adam McInturff at 2080 Baseball calls his slider more “fringy”, lacking depth and questions his “in-zone command.”
With his height and his three-quarter delivery, McWilliams could provide different angles for hitters to pick up, as noted by Alex Duvall at Royals Farm Report:
One finds in McWilliams an unusual and imposing combination of height and velocity. John Eshleman of 2080 Baseball saw McWilliams sitting at 94-96 mph roughly a month ago. From a 6-foot-7 pitcher with a high-three-quarters arm slot, the effect is unsettling.
Chris Ellis was originally a third-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014 out of the University of Missisippi. He was dealt to the Atlanta Braves in a deal for Andrelton Simmons, then went to the Cardinals in 2017 in a trade for Jaime Garcia.
Ellis has been a starter and a reliever, but Cooper notes he had a velocity bump working out of the pen. Cooper writes his “slider is not the swing-and-miss pitch scouts expected it to develop into”, although Alex Duvall at Royals Farm Report writes his “slider is his second best offering with some decent break and a chance to be a slightly above average major league offering.” Duvall also notes Ellis has improved his command considerably. Ellis should be familiar with Royals pitching Cal Eldred, who once worked as a pitching instructor in the Cardinals’ minor league system.
The Royals did lose pitcher Elvis Luciano to the Toronto Blue Jays in the draft, which was a huge surprise considering Luciano is 18-years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. He was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Jon Jay deal last summer as a high-upside arm and was only eligible for the Rule 5 draft due to a technicality.
Instant analysis. Blue Jays pick of Royals' Elvis Luciano is the highest-ceiling guy taken but is also the least ready to stick. They can stash the soon-to-be 19-year-old who is only eligible bc of renegotiated contract, but that rarely works out.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 13, 2018
Players eligible to be selected are those players not on the 40-man roster who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years or who were signed at 18 and have played for five years. A selected player must stay on the active Major League roster for a full season or be offered back to his original team after clearing waivers.
The Royals have a lot of holes to fill in their bullpen, and McWilliams and Ellis are polished enough that they can at least compete for Major League roles. The Royals now have a full 40-man roster.