Drew Storen’s comeback bid took another step forward this week, as the Royals have assigned him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, per Paul Boyd of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Twitter link). Storen, who signed a minor league contract back in February, opened the season building up arm strength in extended Spring Training with the Royals.
It’s been nearly 21 months since Storen set foot on a Major League mound. The longtime Nationals reliever spent the 2017 season with the Reds but made his final appearance on Sept. 1 that year, learning two weeks later that he would require Tommy John surgery. The timing of that procedure unsurprisingly wiped out his entire 2018 season and relegated interest in him to minor league offerings this past winter.
At his best, Storen sat near 95 mph with his fastball and demonstrated above-average swinging-strike, ground-ball and walk rates while serving as the Nationals’ closer. A former first-round draft pick, the now-31-year-old Storen owns a career 3.45 ERA with 99 saves, 8.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9 and a 46.1 percent ground-ball rate. His results dropped off in 2016-17 in a pair of mediocre seasons split between the Blue Jays, Mariners and Reds, as his fastball experienced a precipitous decline (90.2 mph average in 2017).
It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Storen’s progress and velocity as he begins to work at the minor league level. There’s ample space in the Kansas City bullpen should he either restore some of that lost life on his heater or simply demonstrate an ability to work with a diminished fastball. Despite strong showings from Scott Barlow, Jake Diekman and a revitalized Ian Kennedy, Royals relievers as a collective unit rank 25th in the Majors in ERA (4.98), 22nd in FIP (4.58) and 18th in xFIP (4.55).