RHP ∙ 2011—present
Kelvin Herrera signed with the Royals in December, 2006 as a 16 year old kid in the Dominican. Dayton Moore had just started as GM in June of that year, and immediately began ramping up scouting and signing in international markets. He hired Rene Francisco to lead international operations in August, 2006, and Francisco and his scouts have had tremendous success with signings including Herrera, Salvador Perez, and Yordano Ventura. The team tried Herrera as a starter in rookie league and Class A ball between 2007—10 before converting him to a reliever for the 2011 season. Herrera’s wicked fastball, now unleashed with max effort, carried him all the way through Classes A, AA, AAA, and then two September innings in the show that 2011 season.
He made the bullpen out of spring training in 2012, and in his second appearance of that season lit up the gun with a 103. He was excellent for that entire year, establishing his niche and modus operandi that continue to serve the team so well. Herrera protects close leads in the seventh or eighth innings with that incredible fastball complemented by an equally nasty change-up usually thrown around 88 MPH and sometimes touching 90. Since Herrera has never been given the limiting role of closer, manager Ned Yost feels more freedom on when he can call on him, and Herrera leads the bullpen in appearances and innings since the start of 2012.
Herrera suffered a set-back in the early going of 2013 when his command went AWOL and he yielded eight homers during a stretch of 14 innings. Towards the end of June, his ERA had ballooned to 5.20 and he was sent down to Omaha to get his groove back. He returned to KC a few weeks later and has been back to cruising ever since. In his career to date, Herrera has struck out nearly one-fourth of the batters he’s faced, and that fastball has averaged 98 MPH. He’s definitely the hardest throwing Royal since the advent of PITCHf/x, and probably the fastest in team history.
He got even better in 2014. He was locked into the seventh inning role, and combined with eighth inning maestro Wade Davis and closer extraordinaire Greg Holland to form an almost unbeatable late innings machine. Herrera allowed zero home runs to the 285 batters he stared down in the regular season and was an integral player in getting KC back to the playoffs.
Those playoffs started off a little rocky for Herrera in the Wild Card game when he was called in to stop the bleeding that James Shields and Yordano Ventura had started in the sixth inning. Herrera yielded three softly hit singles before getting out of the inning after the A’s mounted a 7-3 advantage. But Yost brought Herrera back to pitch a spotless seventh, a mark of the trust Yost has in Herrera and a sign of pitching coach Dave Eiland’s and Yost’s playoff strategy to sometimes count on both Herrera and Davis for more than one inning per game that served the team well all October. Things took a worrisome turn in game one of the ALDS when Herrera walked the only batter he faced, winced in pain, and exited with tightness in his right forearm and numbness in the index and middle fingers. An MRI revealed no damage and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Herrera came back to pitch a perfect frame in game three. Herrera shined brightest in the ALCS, hurling 5.2 crucial, scoreless innings. He came up big in the World Series as well, with Yost leaning on him hard in game seven, squeezing eight outs of the hardy reliever.
Herrera serves as an instructive lesson on the franchise as a whole over the last nine years. Whereas the Royals had basically ignored the international market before, Dayton Moore immediately made it a focus in 2006 and hit big with Herrera and others. Herrera took time to develop and mature but payed off big in 2014, right along with the rest of Moore’s long-term strategy. In an era where power reliever success is so often fleeting, Herrera is working on his fourth straight season as a remarkably reliable and resilient rocket arm.