BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (BVM) – Will Klein had always dreamed of being part of a professional baseball organization one day. Last month, that dream became a reality when Klein was drafted 135th overall in the 2020 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals.
Klein has been a pitcher at Eastern Illinois University over the last three years, and has put in work throughout his entire career that has put him in position to become a major league pitcher.
The 20-year-old began playing tee-ball as a toddler, and continued with baseball as his primary sport throughout his youth and high school careers. Inspired by his dad, who played high school baseball as well, Klein grew up watching Cubs games with his family that further drew him to the game. He has also always loved the challenge of the sport and enjoys the individual and team aspects of baseball.
During his youth career, Klein enjoyed playing with his friends in little league. Although he knew he was one of the better players, the baseball star just had fun playing for the love of the game.
As he began his prep career at Bloomington High School North, Klein started out as a catcher on the school’s junior varsity baseball team. By sophomore year, he became the starting catcher on varsity, and would continue that role into his junior year as well.
But once he reached the varsity team, Klein began to experiment with pitching. Although he did so sparingly during his sophomore and junior years, Klein was slated to pitch more in his senior year but ended up breaking this thumb. However, the Bloomington North grad recognized he had a talent in pitching, and began throwing at camps which garnered college interest.
Klein ended up heading west to Eastern Illinois University. Going to a team who was in a transition phase, Klein and others began to change the culture of the baseball program at EIU. This season, the Panthers were slated to contend for an Ohio Valley Conference championship, and began the season playing well until their campaign would be ended by COVID-19.
“It was terrible,” Klein said about the remainder of his season getting canceled. “We had seen some other conferences shut down and figured there was no way that would happen to us. At the time no one knew what would happen and it was just kind of shocking.”
However, Klein was still able to develop over his two-plus years as a pitcher for the Panthers. He also will take away many memories from his time at EIU, including what would be his last home game where his team rallied for a walk-off win in extra innings – a game he believes showed the program had finally turned the corner.
As good as he was for Eastern Illinois, Klein really made a name for himself while playing for the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League (NWL) last summer. Klein emerged as a closer for the team, and shined with a 0.80 ERA to go along with 38 strikeouts and seven saves over 21 innings pitched. The 20-year-old began playing at a level he never had before, and is thankful for his time with the Chinooks.
He was untouchable this season and he is our Pitcher of the Year. Will Klein ended the season with an 0.80 ERA with 7 saves. He even hit 100 MPH at the Northwoods League All-Star Game. #LAKTeamAwards #ThisIsLakeshore pic.twitter.com/oB0YT7d2V9
— Lakeshore Chinooks (@LS_Chinooks) September 20, 2019
“Everyone involved was just great and it made for a great atmosphere,” Klein said. “I had a blast and I think everyone else on the team did too. Personally, that was the best I have ever pitched in my life. I came into games knowing the game was going to go how I wanted it to. That mindset and those results definitely helped push me up some draft boards this spring.”
Klein pitched so well that he would make the 2019 NWL All-Star Game. In the game, he faced two batters and struck out both, with five pitches reaching 99 mph on the radar gun, and one even reaching 100 mph. Klein has a good slider and curveball, and hopes to continue to improve his changeup as well. But it’s the heat he can deliver which ultimately sets him apart.
“My fastball is what got me here and that’s what will keep me going,” Klein said. “Hitting 100 mph in the All-Star Game was kind of crazy. I heard people cheer and knew I hit the number that every pitcher dreams of hitting. It was kind of surreal.”
As he headed into this summer, Klein was confident he would get drafted. But with the MLB Draft reduced from the normal 40 rounds down to just five, the pitcher became a little more nervous knowing this draft had a deep pitching class. With just 16 picks remaining in the draft, Klein began sweating even more.
“Going into the year I was pretty confident I would get drafted,” Klein said. “But when they cut it down to five rounds I was definitely a little bit nervous. I wasn’t too worried on draft night until we got to the fifth round but then I got the call.”
With the 135th selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, Klein was taken by the Kansas City Royals. It was a dream come true for the lifelong baseball star.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) June 12, 2020
“I was at home with my family and we were sitting in my living room waiting,” Klein said about draft night. “I was definitely nervous because no one had been through a draft like this before. The Royals called me about five minutes before the pick and it was just crazy and didn’t feel real. It still feels surreal now. I still feel like a normal college kid, but I get to play professional baseball too.”
It’s an honor to be drafted into the league with any team, but Klein is thrilled he can go to the Royals. The team has some previous ties to EIU, as last year they selected former Panther infielder Jimmy Govern. Royals’ scout Scott Melvin has also developed a strong relationship with the EIU coaching staff over the last few years.
Now, Klein hopes he can make the team proud and make an impact in Kansas City at some point.
“We had an orientation and I got to meet pretty much every single staff member. Everyone I met were some of the nicest people you can imagine,” Klein said. “They are in it for the players and are trying to develop you into a championship-caliber player. It’s not a big market team but I think they are going to do a great job so I hope I can take that and run with it.”
After being drafted, Klein decided to join the Royals and play for them right away, working out a minor league contract last month with a $200,000 signing bonus. The 20-year-old knew he would likely sign with a team right away if he was picked in the top five rounds, and the quality of the Kansas City organization made it a no-brainer.
Perhaps the only frustrating part of the process is not knowing when and where he will finally be able to get started for the Royals. With the 2020 MiLB season recently canceled, Klein will have to wait a bit longer to officially get going with his new club. However, he is eager for when that time finally arrives.
“I’m super excited to get to work with these guys,” Klein said. “Everyone is ready to get going and I think we have a great group of guys who are really hungry.”
Klein hopes to crack the big league roster within two or three years and be able to show the Royals what he can do at a young age. Right now, the plan is to groom Klein as a starter, but there is of course a chance he could develop into a reliever or closer as well.
No matter which role he is in, the 6-foot-5 pitcher has high goals for his time with the Royals, and hopes to bring Kansas City back to championship contention.
“I want to win a few championships for Kansas City,” Klein said. “I think we are built to win some with the guys we have right now and the guys we have drafted over the past few years. I want to be part of that and win a lot of games for them.”
But Klein also knows he can have an impact that goes beyond the game, and will look to accomplish that as well.
“I want to be a great baseball player but I also want to be really big in the community,” the pitcher said. “I want to help out kids at camps and work with some of the charities in the area. I want to play a part in some of those kids’ lives and help those kids out any way I can.”
It will be fun to watch Klein work his way up in the Royals farm system as he aims to make his major league dreams come true. With a selfless personality, a winning mindset, and a special talent, Klein is set up for plenty of success in the pros.