Royals hope Bender pick will pay dividends

Royals hope Bender pick will pay dividends

KANSAS CITY -- As each round passes in the Draft, it gets harder to find players who could potentially make an impact. Most of the time, you're looking for traits that stand out and hope to develop the prospect from there.

After all, there are any number of reasons a player can fall.

For right-hander Anthony Bender, he spent parts of the past season banged up, and he was never fully able to establish a rhythm. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound pitcher only pitched 16 1/3 innings last year at Santa Rosa Junior College, but that limited exposure was more than enough for him to make an impression on the Royals.

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"Our regional crosschecker ran into him early," Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. "There was a point in the Draft … he came in and said, 'Look, I saw this kid. Let's make sure we select him, tie him up and see if we can figure something out.'"

Goldberg acknowledged the unknown with Bender. He said he knows he's not a finished product. However, there's still a lot to like. The Cal State Northridge commit showcased his power and control when he pitched over the past two years.

Bender ended his freshman year with a 0.97 ERA. Going into his last game of that season, that mark was even better. Fighting through injuries as a sophomore, the 21-year-old pitched in just 16 1/3 innings, but he upped his strikeout rate while his ERA remained a minuscule 1.65.

"I know he has a big arm, big velocity," Goldberg said.

But there's also another thing that's helped Bender.

Greg Moore, who will coach Bender if he opts to go the college route, raved about the righty's temperament and mentality. He talked about the amount of pressure that can fall on a player with a pro career in the cards, adding that Bender, who pitched in a state championship game his sophomore year, embraces high-leverage situations.

"I've seen so many guys his age crumble, their values crumble, because of the pressure. Their game crumbles because of the outside voices," Moore said. "He's done an exceptional job of separating what he needs to do on the field and some of the things on the outer ring."

Now the question becomes if Bender will choose to sign with the Royals or if he'll stay in college.

The Royals know they have a talented pitcher in Bender. His fastball is sits in the mid-90s, which allowed him to dominate the JUCO scene. However, both sides acknowledged that he's a project, regardless of the path he chooses.

"He's a talented young man," Moore said. "He was a little bit banged up throughout the year … but there's great potential there."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.