The Royals announced they have acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Willeman from the Los Angeles Dodgers as the player to be named later in the Danny Duffy trade back in July. Duffy did not throw a single pitch for the Dodgers due to a strained flexor.
Willeman was a reliever at Kent State in Ohio until his junior year when he posted a 4.91 ERA in 66 innings. But he brought a high-90s fastball that made him a 19th round pick by the Dodgers in 2017. He would not pitch professionally that season and most of the next due to Tommy John surgery, and he struggled in A ball in 2019 with a 5.38 ERA. In December of 2020, Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs gave a short scouting report on the right-hander.
Willeman was a 35+ FV prospect last year, as he was throwing really hard in Arizona while rehabbing from TJ, which cost him much of 2017 and 2018. He was held back to start 2019 and his stuff was down a bit when he returned, more 89-94 than sitting in the mid-90s the way it was the year before.
Willeman improved his walk rate this year in Double-A and found more success, with a 3.78 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 47 2⁄3 innings. He throws a curveball and slider to go with his fastball. He explained his new approach to The Crescent-News this summer.
“I’d credit being able to pound the strike zone and having a simpler approach this year,” explained Willeman of his first full season as a reliever. “I started using more pitches as more of a reliever and luckily through that first month, I was killing it with that, eliminating the walks and being able to get guys out.”
He also took a line drive off the back of the head from Royals prospect Dennicher Carrasco that caused him to miss some time due to concussion protocols.
Willeman will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter, so the Royals will have to make a decision on whether or not to add the 25-year old to the 40-man roster. Duffy is a free agent this winter, free to sign with anyone. He had 10-5 rights this summer, meaning he had the right to veto any trade, but accepted a trade to his hometown Dodgers.