‘Be the biggest sponge’: Ben Sears begins his journey with the Royals
Going into the third and final day of the 2022 MLB Draft, all indications pointed towards Houston for Ben Sears. Not another year at UH where the 6-foot-5-inch right-handed pitcher had spent his last two seasons but as a member of the Astros organization.
“My adviser told me that I was going to the Astros (in the 14th round) unless a team grabbed me before (Houston’s) pick,” Sears told The Cougar.
As Sears waited for pick 433rd, the Astros’ pick in the 14th round, to come around, he was caught by surprise as his name was called when the 415th pick, which belonged to the Kansas City Royals, arrived.
Sears had talked with the Royals’ area scouts on Monday night, after day two of the draft, and knew that Kansas City had an interest in him but didn’t think they would use one of their picks before the 15th round on him. While being selected by the Royals caught Sears by surprise, he was filled with excitement and gratitude the moment it happened as he took another step towards his ultimate goal of playing in the MLB.
“It was such an unreal feeling,” Sears said. “Super happy to be with the Royals. It’s a great organization and we have a great relationship, so I’m really excited that they took me. A lot of (Kansas City’s) pitching philosophies are very similar to my repertoire and how I pitch, so I think it was really a perfect match.”
Pounding the zone
One of the most appealing aspects to MLB teams about Sears is that he throws a lot of strikes. While strike throwing seems like an obvious quality that major league pitchers must possess, the lack of command has and continues to plague some of baseball’s best pitchers.
The bottom line is a pitcher’s stuff doesn’t matter if he can’t throw strikes.
Pounding the zone for Sears is not a problem. UH baseball head coach Todd Whitting put it best, saying Sears will “suffocate you with strikes.”
Sears’ leap in command played a big role in his jump from a good player in 2021 to a great player in 2022, Whitting said. And the numbers back this up.
In his two seasons at UH, Sears pitched nearly the same amount of innings each year, 67 1/3 innings in 2021 and 66 2/3 innings in 2022, yet his walk numbers were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum in those two seasons.
As a sophomore, Sears walked 24 batters before really honing in on his command to cut his walks by two-thirds, issuing just eight free passes as a junior. This improvement in command resulted in Sears’ strikeout numbers going up and increased the amount of soft-hit ground balls he generated.
“My biggest mentality going into every single hitter I face is just to attack them, make sure they’re on their back foot,” Sears. “So my biggest thing going into each and every hitter is to make sure I’m pounding the zone early in the count and then I can throw some stuff off that to get some strikeouts and get some weak contact.”
Sears became the most trusted arm in the Cougars’ bullpen and played a massive role in helping UH bounce back from a poor 2021 season to put up 37 wins, including an appearance in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game, in 2022.
Sears’ consistent ability to throw strikes combined with a low to mid-90s sinker paired with an electric changeup and solid slider made the former UH righty stand out to the Royals.
“What’s so appealing to (Sears’) pro side is he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet,” Whitting said.
While Sears made a name for himself for what he can do on a mound, his athleticism extends to many other sports.
“You’re talking about a guy who can really swing a golf club and can dunk a basketball. He’s athletic,” Whiting said.
Sears’ natural athleticism translated to the diamond by allowing him to pitch in many different roles at UH. From starting games, mostly during his sophomore season, to giving the Cougars three to four innings of middle relief to taking on the typical closer role to get a game’s final three outs, Sears has done it all.
It is currently unclear how the Royals intend to use Sears, but the former Cougar is ready to step into whatever role Kansas City decides he is best suited for.
“I’m super versatile and whatever they want to do with me, whether they want to start me or keep me in that bullpen role,” Sears said. “I’m up for anything.”
Whitting believes Sears can immediately slot in as a middle reliever within the Royals’ minor league system before working his way up to a starting role. But regardless of how the Royals choose to use Sears, Whitting is confident that his former pitcher is poised for success in whatever role he finds himself in.
“I’m sure (Kansas City) will try him in various roles,” Whiting said. “He’s had success in all of them and I don’t doubt that he can do any of them on the highest level.”
Soaking it all in
With the Royals announcing they had officially signed him on Monday, Sears is one step closer to his lifelong dream of playing in the MLB. But Sears knows that there is still lots of work to be done if he is to one day pitch on a big league mound.
While it is tempting for Sears’ to look ahead to his ultimate goal of working his way through the Royals’ minor league system and pitching in the big leagues, he has one thing on his mind as he which he believes will put him in the best position to succeed as he begins his professional baseball career.
“I just want to be the biggest sponge I can be,” Sears said. “Going out there, I’m going to be with the best professional coaches around, so anything they have to say that they think can help me or improve my game at all I’m definitely going to soak it in and do everything I possibly can in order to improve.”