Rebuilt Bullpen Has Monarchs Ready to Regain Crown
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the rebuilding of the Kansas City Monarchs bullpen and how this could help to return the team to the top of the American Association.
What Went Wrong in 2022
In 2022, the Kansas City Monarchs had one of the most impressive seasons in American Association history. The club finished with the top batting average in the league (.293), led the league in runs (696), and set an American Association record for home runs (165). They had the top pitching staff as well, finishing with the best ERA (4.40), and had the top pitcher in the league, as Matt Hall set an American Association record for ERA in a season (1.09) while going 10-2.
Kansas City finished with the top record, narrowly edging the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Everything seemed right about this club – but they did not win the championship. The Monarchs held a 3-1 edge heading into the top of the sixth in Game 2 of the West Division Championship Series, looking like they were headed all the way. However, the bullpen gave up five runs over the final three innings, helping the RedHawks rally as they won the final two games of the series on their way to the Miles Wolff Cup.
Time to Rebuild
The problem proved to be the Kansas City bullpen. While retirements and injuries played their part in the late-season struggles of the Monarchs, it was the bullpen who really battled down the stretch. Closer Jameson McGrane posted an 8.25 ERA in August and Frank Rubio struggled with a 7.50 Mark. Jeremy Rhodes also battled (5.27) and Brian Glowicki had a solid 4.02 ERA, but gave up 17 hits and four walks in 15.2 innings pitched. This proved to be the one area where the Monarchs could not depend upon.
While the group had been solid for most of the year, they struggled when it mattered most. That led to a major overhaul by manager Joe Calfapietra this year, as he has clearly made the bullpen the focus through the first seven signings.
To this date, only one position player has been officially signed – outfielder Ruben Garcia. The pitching staff has been the other six signings that the team has announced. That includes the re-signing of Alex Valdez, who took over the closer’s role at the end of last year and was outstanding in the regular season, posting a 1.08 ERA in seven appearances. He allowed three hits and four walks while striking out 12 in 8.1 innings. In the playoffs, he struggled in two of his four appearances, posting a 5.40 ERA while allowing six baserunners in 3.1 innings.
Valdez has the right kind of stuff, spending four seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks system where he was 11-13 with a 5.37 ERA in 96 appearances. It appears that the Diamondbacks were not sure exactly how to use Valdez, as he made 27 starts and finished 19 games, but he will clearly work out of the bullpen for Kansas City, an area where he should thrive.
Ryan Castellani, RHP
Calfapietra signed former Major Leaguer Ryan Castellani, who spent parts of three seasons with the Colorado Rockies and Oakland Athletics. He pitched for Oakland last season, appearing in three games where he posted a 0.00 ERA in 2.2 innings. The right-hander is 33-55 with a 5.24 ERA in 176 career minor league appearances, with 149 of those working as a starter.
He will likely slide into the rotation here, but should taking some pressure off this bullpen, especially if Hall returns. That would give a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but do not assume that Castellani will not work out of the bullpen. All three of his appearances for the Athletics were out of the bullpen, and he may see that as the pathway to his return to MLB.
Dalton Moats, LHP
Moats may be the most intriguing of all of the signings. He pitched at AAA-Durham (Tampa Bay Rays) last season, where he posted a 3.60 ERA in 51 appearances. He did make one start, but will likely take over the primary set up role for the Monarchs. The left-hander has appeared at AAA in each of the last two seasons and has a career 16-9 record with a 3.57 ERA in 208 appearances. He is even capable of closing out games, recording 21 saves in the minors, but none since 2019 when he was at AA-Montgomery.
What is likely is that whoever winds up with the closer’s job is going to have Moats as the guy setting up the ninth. He posted an impressive 1.09 WHIP last season, striking out 60 in 55.0 innings while walking just 12.
Jackson McClelland, RHP
McClelland is another with a lot of AAA experience. He did not pitch at all in 2022, battling an arm injury, but spent time with AAA-Iowa (Chicago Cubs) and AAA-Buffalo (Toronto Blue Jays) in 2021. In 2019, he reached AAA-Buffalo as well.
The right-hander has some experience closing out games, recording 26 career saves, including 15 in 2017. He is 8-15 with a 3.45 ERA in 175 career appearances in the minors. He will likely get a shot at the closer’s role, but could very easily windup pairing with Moat as a dynamic set up duo.
Zach Matson, LHP
You want another quality veteran arm? Well Matson is another who reached AAA, appearing for AAA-Indianapolis (Pittsburgh Pirates) in 2022. He struggled there, posting a 5.44 ERA in 31 appearances, 10 of which were starts, but was outstanding at AA-Altoona, posting a 1.84 ERA in 11 appearances. The move to AAA also meant a move to the starting rotation, and that may have been the problem. The left-hander may be better off working out of the bullpen, and that adds another impressive arm to this Monarchs a group. In 164 career minor league games, Matson is 12-12 with a 3.94 ERA and seven saves.
Zach Kohn, RHP
If you are playing poker, you would probably like a pair of Jacks. If you are building a pitching staff, then a pair of Zachs may be the perfect hand. Kohn spent three seasons in the New York Yankees organization, reaching Low-A Tampa last year. The right-hander has struggled with some arm injuries that has limited him to just 29 appearances over his three minor league seasons.
Kohn has an incredibly lively arm, striking out 49 in 39.1 innings while only allowing 27 hits. He also has allowed just two home runs in those 39.1 innings. The problem has been walks, as he has allowed 28 bases on balls and will be a major project for pitching coach Mike Henneman.
Closing the Door
Whether Castellani moves into the starting rotation or not, this bullpen already looks like it has the makings of a solid group. One should also keep in mind that just because he has not been re-signed does not mean that McGrane is moving on. The right-hander finished with 17 saves last year and was dominating for the first three months of the season, making the All-Star team. He may feel there is some unfinished business that he needs to remedy, and could come back with a vengeance, taking over the closer’s role while making this bullpen even deeper.
What one can be sure of is that Calfapietra is not hoping his bullpen will close out games. He has jumped into the free-agent market, making sure he has added some quality arms and likely has some other ones ready to sign. So, pass the scepter. The Kansas City Monarchs may be ready to rein once again.
American Association Transactions
February 28, 2023
Cleburne: Signed INF Ryan Hernandez
Cleburne: Released INF Kacy Clemens and RHP Alejandro Requena
Lake Country: Returned the contract of LHP Kyle Lobstein to Tijuana (Mexican League)
Milwaukee: Signed RHP Ryan Zimmerman
February 27, 2023
Chicago: Signed OF Brennan Metzger
Gary SouthShore: Signed OF Dorssys Paulino
Kansas City: Signed LHP Dalton Moats
Lake Country: Signed LHP Mason Feole
Milwaukee: Signed INF Drew Ward
February 24, 2023
Kansas City: Released OF Dylan Harris and LHP Lewis Thorpe