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The Royals sign some interesting minor league free agents

Not headliners, but these could be low-risk, high-reward moves.

Midland RockHounds v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

This season has showed just how thin the Royals are in the upper levels of their organization, and in the last week they’ve looked to address that lack of depth with some interesting minor league signings. While these moves won’t generate headlines, these are the kind of under-the-radar moves that can help teams back into contention under the right kind of player development structure. Recently I wrote about how the Royals are squandering playing time to over-30-year-old players when they could be auditioning younger “freely available talent.” In the last week, the Royals have taken fliers on three players that could fit that bill.

Brett de Geus

The Royals signed 25-year-old right-hander Brett de Geus out of the independent Atlantic League. He had some great walk rates in the lower minors and pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, but after the cancelled 2020 minor league season, he was selected in the Rule 5 draft and jumped straight from A-ball to the big leagues. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline considered him one of the top prospects in that draft and he was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the #27 prospect in a deep Dodgers organization. But in 50 innings with the Rangers and Diamondbacks that year he posted a lackluster 7.56 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 25 walks.

After the season, de Geus returned to Double-A with the Diamondbacks, but struggled with a 5.96 ERA and high walk rates in 22 23 innings before they released him in June. He ended the season in the Atlantic League, and returned there this year before the Royals called. Because his career path was interrupted by COVID and the Rule 5 draft, de Geus could be a late bloomer. He throws a low-90s fastball, a sinker, cutter, and curve giving him an arsenal that induces a high groundball rate. His curve gets good drop, so with some tinkering, he could become an effective short-inning reliever.

Jackson McClelland

McClelland had retired from the game in 2022 before the local Kansas City Monarchs of the independent American Association signed him last winter. But before he ever got into a game, the Royals snatched him away, signing him to a minor league deal last week.

The 28-year-old was once a 15th round pick by the Blue Jays out of Pepperdine in 2015, but re-worked his delivery to add velocity as a pro. He has a fastball in the high-90s that occasionally hits triple digits, but his strikeout rates have been inconsistent and his walk totals have been high. I wrote about him in 2018 as a potential Rule 5 selection after he struck out 57 hitters in 43 13 innings in High-A and Double-A combined, but he continued to struggle with high walk numbers the next year. In 2021, McClelland saw his strikeout rate fell off considerably in Triple-A and he was released by the Jays, spending the rest of the year with the Cubs’ top affiliate. He ended with 5.54 ERA with just 17 strikeouts in 26 innings between the two teams.

McClelland gets set with his back almost turned completely to the batter, hiding the ball deceptively. He throws a slider and change up, but with his velocity, he will need to throw strikes to be a factor with the Royals.

Greyson Jenista

Jenista is a local kid from DeSoto High School who became a stud at Wichita State and Cape Cod League MVP as a power-hitting first baseman/corner outfielder. The Atlanta Braves selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft, but the power seemed slow to develop. Jenista brings a big left-handed swing and an imposing 6’4’’ frame, but has been knocked for having a very level swing without enough loft to produce home runs. In 2020, Prospects Live gave him this scouting report:

Some of the inherent mechanics of Jenista’s swing make it difficult for the imposing lefty to create consistent contact. The long stride and moderately high hands make him susceptible to breaking balls and offspeed pitches away. He has shown the ability to really drive mistake pitches though.

He made adjustments and smacked 19 home runs in 89 games Double-A in 2021, but hit just .216 with a 35.8 percent strikeout rate. He basically repeated those numbers but with less power in Triple-A last year and the Braves released him this spring.

It seems a bit premature to outright release a former second-round pick with power potential at age 26. The Royals did acquire former top prospect Drew Waters from the Braves last year, another young player who had struggled in the minors despite a high pedigree. With Royals hitting coach Alec Zumwalt, Waters made adjustments with the Royals and looked impressive in 32 games last year. Jenista seems like a good candidate to unleash more potential through hitting development. The Royals could use some power-hitting corner outfielders, so if he is able to show some of the pop he displayed at Wichita State, he could be a terrific find.