When it comes to Kansas City Royals baseball, there are normally a few things you can always count on. They are normally a team that arrange a solid defensive unit out on the field, they’ve been known to compile a slew of fiery arms for their bullpen and maybe most notably to us fans, an offense that relies on putting the ball in play more than the average team.
While on the surface none of this sounds bad, it’s the Royals offense that has been put in question and for good reason. After coming off of a less than stellar 2021 season offensively the team barely did anything to improve on their lineup for 2022 and in fact have attempted to use the old ‘try the same thing again but expecting different results’ thinking for this year. Let’s just say this flawed belief should have all Royals fans up in arms.
Let’s start by taking a look back at 2021. The Royals finished the year near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, including last in walk percentage and next to last in wRC+. Besides the lack of walks (which has become a staple for Royals baseball for the last 30+ years), the power numbers in 2021 were very lackluster. Kansas City was last in home runs, next to last in the league in isolated power and barrel percentage, and 13th in slugging percentage and runs.
Now the Royals did actually hit the ball fairly hard last year, as they were 9th in hard hit percentage and 6th in exit velocity. But they also had the 5th highest ground ball rate and fly ball rate was 36%, 11th in the American League. Combine that with an average BABIP and you have a team that would hit the ball hard but a lot of times they found gloves.
While lack of walks and lack of power hurt them, the real killer for last year’s team was their plate discipline or more to the point, lack of. The Royals led the AL in swinging at pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing%) and swing percentage in general and were in the top five in swings and misses (SwStr %). Apparently the belief within the team was that when all else fails, keep swinging at pitches whether or not they are strikes. Considering how high their ground ball rate and infield fly ball rate was last year (IFFB %), it’s easy to see why this team struggled to score runs.
So you would think with all of these issues surrounding the offense that the Kansas City front office would make improving the team’s batting at least a minor focal point this offseason, right? Nope. In fact, back in November Royals General Manager J.J. Piccolo sounded like he was fine with the group of bats they already had:
“Big time,” Picollo said of the priority on the bullpen. “We like a lot of our position players. Defensively, they were really sound. We’ve got a lot of promising starting pitchers that need to take that next step. But the bullpen is going to be what protects them.”
Defensively they were sound. Offensively, not so much. We are all aware that a lot of hope for the team’s batting this year was going to be focused on the rookies: Bobby Witt, Jr., Kyle Isbel, Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and possibly even Vinnie Pasquantino. That is a lot of weight to put on the back of players who haven’t even played a major league game before this year.
Even back then, I felt like they were missing the boat on the offense or at the very least should go looking for a couple of veteran bats just in case. That way if the rookies struggle or the veteran bats continue to regress, they have an emergency plan in place. Instead, they did nothing.
It amazes me that the #Royals felt that the best way to handle their offensive issues from last year was do nothing & expect rookies (BWJ, Pratto, Melendez, Isbel) to be the only additions. Between that & expecting the struggling vets to improve their numbers feels shortsighted.
So where are we at so far in 2022? The Royals are last in runs scored and OPS, next to last in slugging percentage, wOBA, wRC+, and 13th in Win Probability, Isolated Power and home runs. Somehow they are 9th in walk rate (I fully blame the White Sox series for this), and 8th in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, two big issues they have had for years.
A big concern came while glancing at the Statcast numbers. Royals have an average Exit Velocity of 88.7 and a 36.3 hard hit rate. Throw in the 13.5% infield fly rate and a 43% ground ball percentage and you have a recipe for a pungent offense.
While the Statcast numbers are worrisome (and lower than last year’s numbers), this would be a good time to throw out there that offensive numbers are down all across the board in baseball. Whether it is the deadened ball, the humidors, a shorter spring training or even the weather, offense in general is not booming. This is affecting every team, not just the Royals. So there has to be at least a little leeway given to all of these factors. But the bigger picture is the concern here.
While the weather will warm up and the Royals bats could as well, this is still a front office that saw all the issues with their run production and said “We are good with this. Let it fly.” It’s one thing to see the monster seasons that Pratto and Melendez put up last year and expect them to help your lineup when recalled. There are even numbers that show Hunter Dozier had a massive improvement in the second half of last year. But while you can point to those players and see the positive, you also have to look at the negative.
Carlos Santana is aging and probably won’t see his bat speed increase. Whit Merrifield has started regressing and even at his peak was praying at the altar of the BABIP Gods. Michael A. Taylor is a great defender…and that kind of sums up his offense. There were major flaws in the lineup last year and counting on a couple of rookies and aging vets to improve on those numbers is the definition of shortsighted. It feels like the Kansas City front office had a Plan A that was the best case scenario yet no Plan B in case there were issues.
The rookies very well might pick up the offense and help in a few of the categories (walks, home runs, etc.) that have plagued this team for years. Dozier is off to a good start and looks more like the 2019 version of himself. Andrew Benintendi is playing like a player wanting a contract extension. I’ll even say that the hitting development program in the minors has been a success and appears to be the impetus for the turnaround for both Pratto and Melendez (as well as the power numbers we have seen from Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez over the last few years).
But this also neglects the lack of depth in the organization and the issues that have arisen whenever players ascend to the major leagues. It’s almost like there is a disconnect between what is being taught in the minors and what is emphasized on the big league club. We’ve already seen that with the pitching, so maybe it is happening with the hitters as well.
The Royals have been a team for years that tried patterning their offense around Kauffman Stadium: spray hitters who could hit line drives all over the stadium and a couple of big boppers to drive them in. The problem the last few years is a reliance on hitters who don’t get on base enough and streaky power hitters. Which also leads to this:
The Royals lost to the Yankees, 6-4. KC got swept. Daniel Lynch gave five IP of three-run ball. Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield and Michael A. Taylor had two hits each. Eight runners were left on base. 72 in their last 8 games. KC has lost eight of their last 10. The record is 7-13.
72 runners left on base in their last 8 games. For those that struggle with math, that is an average of 9 runners stranded per game. Think about all the opportunities the Royals have had recently to score and how many times nothing happened. I can’t even count all the games I have turned off recently because I could tell by the 4th inning that the offense wasn’t going to do anything. This isn’t just a ‘this year’ thing or a ‘cold weather’ thing. This is a ‘the Royals have bad hitters’ thing.
I am fully aware it won’t be like this all year long. I know there will be periods where the Royals look like an offensive juggernaut and the last two weeks will be a distant memory. I know this because I have seen this film before and it plays out the same way every time. There are flashes of hope but at the end of the day the Royals front office is valuing the wrong things. Having good people on your team is a positive. Having good people who aren’t really good for the overall production of your team is not positive.
It has been said many times that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Some of us have smartened up to the fact that while the names have changed, this whole thing plays out the way it always does. Until the front office starts putting value in performance and production over everything else, don’t expect too much.
Here we are, the middle of February and normally we would be discussing the elation of pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. Instead, the players and owners are stuck in a grudge match that I can only assume includes table, ladders and chairs (Oh My!), putting a cease and desist order on not only the start of camp but also possibly Opening Day.
But I don’t want to discuss the doldrums that are “The Lockout”, so instead today I figured I would piece together what I think the Kansas City Royals Opening Day lineup will look like (whenever that happens). Sure, every Royals blogger known to man has probably already pieced together their thoughts on the topic, but I haven’t read any of them so whatever spills out here is purely one man’s thoughts on what we could be seeing in April…or sadly, maybe May.
This might be the easiest position on the team, as it is a no-brainer. After the 2021 season Salvador Perez had, he is a lock to start the year behind the dish. Salvy’s monster season will go down as one for the ages in Royals history and he definitely put a stamp on making sure to this point he is the greatest catcher in Royals history.
All that being said, we are getting closer to Salvy not being the “main man” behind the plate and in fact his successor might make his major league debut in 2022. MJ Melendez elevated his status within the Royals prospects rank in 2021 and won so many awards along the way that it would be foolish to ignore what he could bring to the Kansas City lineup.
The Royals have already discussed other positions for Melendez to play if he was recalled, including a short tryout at third base last year in AAA Omaha. Perez saw a hefty amount of time at DH last year and I would imagine that total continues to go up as the season wears on in 2022. All that being said, Melendez more than likely will start the year in the minors, so for now, Perez has a lock on the catcher position.
By the end of last season, the DH spot became a revolving door for the Royals and no one player really had planted down permanent residence in the spot. I would expect the same in 2022 but to start the year, Carlos Santana is as good a candidate as any to fill the role.
Everyone knows Santana had a down year in 2021 and it wouldn’t be a shock if the Royals trade him, possibly even before the All-Star break. But to start the year, I would expect him on the Kansas City roster and filling a role either at first base or DH.
The Royals have a gaggle of first base/DH types either on the main roster or down in the minors and there already feels like there is a logjam between the two positions and Perez’s decline defensively is only going to make that worse. So while I picture Santana here to start the new campaign, the likelihood of him being around all season is probably slim and none.
Speaking of down years offensively, Hunter Dozier had quite the doozy in 2021. In fact, it felt like a tale of two halves. Here are his numbers as we break up the two halves of his year:
While the core offensive stats (Homers, RBIs, doubles, etc.) are basically the same, the real “Tale of the Tape” is in the slash line. An almost 100 point increase in On-Base Percentage and an over 100 point jump in Slugging Percentage really points at how it felt like two different seasons for Hunter. Throw in the giant increase in Batting Average on Balls in Play (BAbip) and it’s easy to see why there are so many questions for Dozier to start a new season.
Now he did have a few injuries early in the year that played a part in those numbers, but it makes sense to question just what kind of production we will get from Dozier in 2022. But no matter how many fans want him gone, he just signed a new extension before last season and isn’t going anywhere. So why do I have him penciled in at first base?
Dozier struggled defensively last year for Kansas City, whether it was in the outfield or at third base. The one position he seemed at the very least ‘capable’ at was first base. Since I can’t imagine him not in the lineup to start the year, first base seems like the best position to hide the man without a position.
But we all know Nick Pratto is knocking at the door and by the time the year is done he will more than likely be manning the position. But to start the year, my guess is that Pratto starts in Omaha and makes his way to Kansas City either by hot streak or injury. So on Opening Day, Dozier appears to the the best answer. Where will he be by September? That is a question for a later time, albeit a good question.
All these months later and I still can’t believe what we saw from Nicky Lopez last year. If there was a player on the Kansas City roster who took an opportunity and ran with it last year, it was Lopez. After being sent down near the end of spring training, he studied tape, adjusted his swing and when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi ended up on the injured list to start the year, Lopez was ready to step up…and step up he did.
All Nicky did was post a 4 win season (according to Baseball Reference), play Gold Glove defense at shortstop and became not just a replacement for Mondesi but a guy who will be in the lineup on Opening Day with absolutely no arguments. In a matter of months, Nicky turned around his career while also probably changing the trajectory of the Royals 2022 infield.
With all that being said, you might be wondering why I have him stationed at second base. First off, he is very familiar with the position and is a Gold Glove caliber defender at the position. Second, the Royals have a plethora of options in the infield and in some ways you can’t go wrong with the 3-4 options at pretty much any position. Third, there’s a certain top prospect that has worked himself into a spot in the lineup and that’s where we are headed to next.
The question going into this season wasn’t if Bobby Witt Jr. would be in the Royals Opening Day lineup but where. Witt has vaulted himself up almost every baseball prospect list and after last year it feels like he has nothing else to prove down in the minors. It is pretty much a lock that we will see Witt in the lineup from day one and nary an argument will be found.
So what position do you slot him in at? I’m going with shortstop, which is his main position. The Royals had him playing at either SS or 3B last year in the minors and even had tried him out at 2B and the outfield last year in spring training. But for an optimal defensive lineup, I would leave Witt at SS and let him play.
Could the Royals move him around this upcoming season? I would almost bet on it. Manager Mike Matheny has shown a tendency to move around and shuffle his lineups so I would almost guarantee Witt will see action at multiple positions in 2022. But the smarter move might be to keep him in one spot as long as you can to let him get comfortable in the major leagues before turning him into a chess piece to move around at a whim. Less will be more with Witt to start out and shortstop feels like the best landing spot.
Third base felt like a black hole for Kansas City in 2021. It didn’t matter who you toss onto the position, they either struggled on defense or offense (or both). Near the end of the season, the team moved Adalberto Mondesi over to third base to not only see how he would do at the spot but also to try and keep him on the field. Mondesi only played in 35 games last year and 20 of them were at the hot corner in September.
So to start the 2022 campaign, Mondesi seems like the best fit for third base and it will be interesting to see if this becomes something that sticks or if the Royals have other ideas for him. I personally feel like Mondesi in a super utility role isn’t an awful idea, especially if it meant him playing both the infield and outfield.
Speaking of the outfield, I am a firm believer in trying Mondesi out in center field. As of right now the Royals don’t have a prospect firmly slotted for the position (Kyle Isbel is a possibility, but he could also be used on either corner position) and the team would be able to utilize his speed at the spot. But if the Royals were interested in that position change, they would have already tried it out. So for now, Mondesi appears to be only an infielder.
I could spill more words on Mondesi and his role on this team but for now third base feels like not only the best spot for him but also for the Royals. In all honesty, 2B/SS/3B could be almost any grouping of Mondesi/Lopez/Witt Jr. and Kansas City would be fine. I firmly believe they are all capable of playing all three of those positions so in some ways the Royals can’t go wrong with whatever configuration they end up deciding on.
I almost just wrote in Alex Gordon for left field in this Kansas City lineup. I’m pretty sure you understand; it was pure instinct. With 2021 being the first year in a long time with no Gordon out in left field, the Royals brought in Andrew Benintendi to take his spot in the lineup. The end results were very average, although he did win a Gold Glove award (which very few of us expected). It would appear the plan was to pencil in Benny again out in left, but what should we expect?
While the Royals were hoping for the 2018 version of Benintendi, he came a lot closer to the 2019 version that no one was really a big fan of. The problem is that at times last season we saw a guy who the Royals should be falling over themselves to sign to a contract extension…while other times we saw the guy that Boston was fine with dumping for Franchy Cordero. First, here is Benny’s number broken down by month:
May and September were great months for Andrew, but he was dealing with injuries for a good chunk of the summer so maybe some of that is to blame for his numbers during that span. But here are some splits that worry me:
For a guy who is supposed to be a gap hitter, it is frightening to see his numbers at Kauffman Stadium. Kauffman has one of the biggest outfields in baseball and should be a good spot for the type of hitter Benintendi can be. Instead, it feels like he tried to go deep way more than he should have and in all honesty, that is a hitting philosophy that has proven to be inefficient for him.
Benny is a lock to start the year out in left field, but if he is looking for a long-term deal, how he performs this year might be a sign of what his future is going to be in Kansas City.
First, the good news: Michael A. Taylor was so good defensively in 2021 that he won a Gold Glove.
Now, the bad news: if you are expecting Taylor to provide much offense then you will be very disappointed.
“The Taylor Experiment” appeared to at least pay off in that he came in to upgrade the defense in center field and he definitely accomplished that. It was just the hope for more offense never materialized and he ended up producing about the same as he did previously in Washington.
So while Taylor is back and will more than likely start the year as the regular center fielder, it also feels like the Royals don’t expect him to be the main guy all year. While center field isn’t a deep position for the organization, there is hope that Kyle Isbel can take over at some point in 2022 and provide more offense than Taylor did last season. Taylor is also around through 2023, so once the time comes for him to be a fourth outfielder, he can occasionally start while also filling in as a defensive replacement late in the game.
Until then, expect some great defensive plays out in center field that will have you cheering him this year followed by at bats that will make you the master of the “heavy sigh”.
There are times I really wish Kansas City didn’t have so many infielders. Right now is one of those times, as the move that makes the most sense is to start Whit Merrifield out in right field. Yes, I realize he had an amazing defensive season at second base. But that is exactly why I wish they didn’t have so many infielders; you could then just slot him in at second and find someone else to man the outfield. But if we are trying to use logic here, Whit in right structures the lineup and the defense better for the Royals.
Now, this doesn’t mean he will play the whole year out there but I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw the largest chunk of that time patrolling the outfield at Kauffman. Maybe if Hunter Dozier played better defense out there or if Bobby Witt, Jr. wasn’t so good defensively at shortstop you could put one of them out in right field. Instead, Whit is almost being punished for being versatile. But it makes sense.
While I don’t want to pile on here (and I don’t want to be that guy) but I also believe we have started to see the beginning of the regression for Merrifield. His offensive numbers were noticeably down last season and while his BAbip and hard hit rate were up, both his strikeout and groundball percentages saw an increase. Merrifield is entering his age 33 season and while he could see a slight bump up this year, one would think some of these numbers will continue to see a slide in 2022.
Many said for years the Royals should trade Whit and Kansas City stood firm on their loyalty to him. The Royals front office can definitely be loyal to a fault and Whit will be another example of that. We all love what Merrifield brings to this team but we should probably accept the fact that his peak playing days are in the rear-view mirror.
This was the one spot in the Opening Day lineup that I wavered on and if I’m being honest, no one in the Royals rotation felt like a great choice. So almost by default it would appear Brad Keller has the best chance of being the Opening Day starter in 2022.
We all know about Keller’s awful 2021 and how frustrating it was watching him from start to start. Every time you felt like he was getting his groove back, he would have a start that felt like a big leap backwards. If the Royals are going to be serious about contending in the next few years, fixing Keller should be one of the main assignments.
While Keller isn’t a lock in this spot, the only way one of the other starters take this spot would be if they had a jaw-dropping spring. Considering most of us have our concerns about the young arms in the Royals rotation and have even more concerns about Cal Eldred as the Kansas City pitching coach, it would be even more shocking if one of the youngsters broke from the pack this spring. It would be great to see a Daniel Lynch or a Jackson Kowar start dominating but it feels more and more like that is farther away than we originally thought.
So for now, Keller is my guess. I would love to be shocked by another option but that feels like a 2023 thing. Hopefully we get a different Keller than the one we saw in 2021 on Opening Day.
So here is how I would structure this lineup for Opening Day:
SS Witt, Jr.
So this is what I tend to believe the Royals Opening Day lineup will look like. It could drastically change between now and then if there are any injuries or any other acquisitions, but this feels like the best bet with what the Royals have right now. It’s not a blow-away lineup but it is one that needs to improve on it’s 2021 showing.
The interesting part will be to see what it looks like by the end of the season. With names like Isbel, Pratto and Melendez waiting in the wings, this could be a very different team in September than what we will see in April…or whenever the season actually starts.
Going into the 2021 baseball season, there was a lot of buzz around the Kansas City Royals. In fact, there was even discussion that Kansas City could make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the American League. The combination of exciting offseason signings and the possibility of growth within their slew of young pitchers could cause one to squint and see a world where the Royals were contending in September.
Instead what happened was a season that was borderline schizophrenic. The team got off to a great start in April, followed by a May and June that we should just purge from our collective brains. After that, the Royals settled into a team that hovered around the .500 mark. The last three months of the season were ones that elicited excitement at times, while other times it felt like a team that needed to tear it all down and start over. You can say a lot of things about the 2021 Kansas City Royals, but boring isn’t an option.
It will be hard to look back at this past season and not fondly recall the greatness that was Salvador Perez. In 2020, we saw Salvy take a major step forward in his production but some of us (okay, definitely me) was leery that he would be able to sustain the kind of output he compiled in those 37 games. Instead, what we saw this season was possibly what a full season of 2020 would have looked like for Salvy: 48 HRs, 121 RBIs, an OPS+ of 126, 337 total bases and 5.3 bWAR.
But what stood out to me were the numbers that showed why Perez has become an elite hitter. His average exit velocity this year was 93 MPH, with 74 barrels, 16.3% barrel rate and a 55.9% hard hit rate. All of these numbers were the best in his career and even compared with 2020 there is a noticeable bump. Salvy has figured out where to look and what pitches are going to give him the best option for success. It can’t be said enough, but the work Perez has put in with special assignment hitting coordinator Mike Tosar these last few years has paid off handsomely.
The interesting part to Salvy’s season isn’t the fact that he took over the record for most home runs in a season for a primary catcher or that he tied Jorge Soler for the Royals single season record for home runs or even that he tied for the American League lead in 2021 for homers. No, the most interesting part to his season is his standing in the history of the game and where it is now compared to just a year ago. He has not only turned himself into a legit power threat, but the way he is looked at for history discussions has changed.
For beginners, his status in Kansas City lore is even bigger now than it used to be. Sure, Salvy was already an icon and the guy who many come to the ballpark to see. But now he is in the same category as George Brett and Alex Gordon when it comes to guys who defined an era for the Royals. As long as he remains in Kansas City and doesn’t completely lose his production, Perez is on pace to not only be a future Royals Hall of Famer, but also get his number retired and probably even a statue. These are all things that are rarely done in KC and yet both Gordon and now Perez will be able to add their name to this scarce list.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, this season sprung actual real discussions on whether or not Perez could be a future Hall of Famer. My initial knee-jerk reaction was a quick ‘NO’, because while Salvy has been one of the leagues top catchers for awhile now, the numbers he compiled before 2020 were more “average” than “HOF worthy”. The last two seasons though have elevated those numbers and this year alone added a little more thought into the discussion.
Salvy currently sits at 39th in JAWS (Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score) all-time for catchers and according to the Hall of Stats, he sits 60th all-time. From that along, it feels like a big climb to get Perez in that discussion. But if he continues to produce like he has has the last two seasons and can do that for the next 4-5 years, that discussion becomes a bit more real. He is only 31 years old and while the day he moves away from catcher is getting closer, the position is one that is highly underrepresented in the hall.
It’s the longest of long shots, but there is a scenario where Salvy makes a push and serious hall of fame discussions start happening. The fact we are even having this discussion alone should tell you what kind of season he put together in 2021. But Salvy’s monster year isn’t the only one that we should remember when looking back at 2021…
As spring training was wrapping up this year, Nicky Lopez was on the outside looking in. He had struggled all throughout spring and despite his immaculate defense, he was being sent down to the minors to work on his offense. Before the 2020 season, Lopez had tried to bulk up a bit and focus on adding some pop to his numbers but in doing so was veering away from what worked for him in the minors. Gone was the patient hitter who sprayed the ball all over the field and in it’s place was a hitter who was barely even walking.
Luckily, fate swept in and after an injury to Adalberto Mondesi right before Opening Day, Lopez was recalled and would start the year as the Royals starting shortstop. While April and May weren’t blockbuster months for Lopez, we did start to see the hitter we originally expected, as he was taking more pitches, drawing more walks and in April was even close to a league average hitter. Then June happened and what started as Nicky filling a need for the Royals turned into him taking ownership of the position.
In June, Lopez hit .333/.413/.348 with an sOPS+ of 113…and from there he never looked back. Nicky became not only a guy who was consistently getting on base, he was also a go-to guy when it came to clutch situations. If the Royals needed a big hit or needed a rally started, Lopez was your guy. It got to a point to where when the Royals needed something to happen, you knew that Nicky was going to be the spark the team needed. In fact, by the end of the year Lopez had compiled a 1.26 WPA (Win Probability Added) and .87 Clutch (a number factored on how you do in high leverage situations).
Add in his sparkling defense at shortstop and it is guaranteed that Lopez will be a starter for Kansas City in 2022. The only question becomes which position, as the team has an abundance of infielders and it appears uncertain who is going to be playing where next year. The good news for Nicky is he should feel secure that he will be in the starting lineup and not on the outside looking in like he was in March. Amazing how a few months can change things.
But once you got past the two feel good stories of the year, the Royals slide into a team that performed either right around average or well below average. When it comes to the offense, Kansas City fit into either the middle of the pack in most offensive categories or closer to the bottom. The offense not only saw a number of starters struggle for long periods of time, but they also followed a pattern that we have seen far too often over the years. As you can probably expect, the Royals offensively were not a team that walked very often and also did not produce a ton of home runs. Per usual, this was a recipe for disaster as the team struggled to score runs at times and did not have the depth to make up for underperforming starters.
Hunter Dozier was the most glaring hole in the lineup, as he struggled to hit .216/.285/.394 with an OPS+ of 81 and -2.6 bWAR. Dozier dealt with some injuries early in the season which affected his swing and despite a solid second half, his numbers are tough to look at. In fact in the first half of the season, the struggles of Dozier and Jorge Soler sank the team, as they were two middle of the order bats that were supposed to help lead the way. Instead, they led the team to the bottom of the standings.
It didn’t stop there. Carlos Santana’s offense disappeared in the second half. While Michael A. Taylor was a gold glove contributor on defense, his offense was pretty much non-existent. Whit Merrifield saw a dip in his numbers this year, the possible start of his regression. Andrew Benintendi struggled to stay healthy. All in all, only five players performed above league average in the second half and one of them was backup catcher Cam Gallagher and his 67 plate appearances. While many considered the Royals offense to be a plus going into the season, the truth was ranking them in the middle of the pack would have been generous.
Could help be on the way? Possibly. If you followed the Royals this year you were probably very well aware that there was a trifecta of monster seasons down in the minors that has given us all a glint of hope. Bobby Witt Jr, Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez absolutely tore it up this past season and put a lot of questions out there to ponder in 2022. Does Witt Jr start the year in the big leagues and at what position? When do we see Pratto and Melendez? Does the team trade Santana this offseason to start making room for Pratto at first base? Is Salvy’s transition to DH getting closer due to Melendez? Will someone be traded to shore up another position or get pitching help?
See? All of those questions and none of us are 100% for sure which direction everything will fall. The Royals obviously need a charge of offense next year and these prospects could provide that. But as we know with prospects, success in the minors doesn’t always transfer to the big leagues. Which is a smooth transition into the team’s pitching situation…
When the season started, I had told someone that how the Royals did in 2021 would be determined on the development of the young arms in their farm system. We’ve heard all about the pitchers that Kansas City accumulated in the 2018 draft for three years now and in 2021 we got to see a large chunk of them on the big stage. The problem was that like many young pitchers, it wasn’t all wine and roses. In fact, one could see it was a truly bumpy road we traveled down.
The big four of Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar all showed signs of future success in 2021, with some showing more than others. Singer and Bubic had pitched for the Royals in 2020 and while one would think they made advances this past season, it instead feels like they are in essentially the same spot. Lynch struggled in his first stint in Kansas City this year and while he proved to be dominating on occasions during his return, he also wasn’t the model of consistency.
Then there is Kowar, who was probably in the lead when it came to riding the struggle bus. Kowar had a horrible debut in the bigs, and if we are really being fair, it never drastically got better. Sure, there were outings were he would string together a couple innings of solid work but that would be after a disastrous inning that would put the Royals in a hole.
The thing is, Kowar’s struggles are a good sign of why people are calling for pitching coach Cal Eldred’s head. You would think as a major league coach and a former big leaguer pitcher, you would be able to work with a guy who was stressed out about being with the big club and would get that part of his game sorted out after the first start. But his entire first run, Kowar looked lost and seemed to not handle the pressure of the majors.
It really felt like Eldred had no answers for Jackson and it felt like a giant red flag that maybe he isn’t the right guy to lead a group of young pitchers who are a big part of the Royals future. I’m normally not one who would call for a coaches head, but the Eldred situation is one to heavily monitor this winter and if nothing happens you really wonder just how far the organization is willing to go with their young pitchers showing very little consistency.
But while some of the Royals younger pitchers struggled, there was a few that showed marked improvement. Carlos Hernandez showed his value as improved the amount of base runners allowed (1.284 WHIP) while also allowing less hard contact, as the hard hit rate and barrel rate both dropped this year against him compared to last. His control saw some improvement, even with the higher walk rate (11.5%) but the strike outs went up and by the end of the year had proven to be one of the Royals more reliable starters.
Add in the positive results from Danny Duffy (when he was healthy) and Mike Minor’s up and down season and you have a rotation that at times looked great and others made you question why Dayton didn’t sign like 20 pitchers in the offseason. Look, the bottom line here is that there was a heavy burden put on the shoulders (or arms) of the ‘Class of 2018’ and there just wasn’t a consistent level of improvement out of them. I’m sure there are multiple takes on why that was and who to point the finger at, but there are so many factors (especially when you consider what a mess 2020 was) that none feel like the sure and logical answer to the struggles they dealt with.
Which leads us to the bullpen and how you view them this past season probably is determined on how you felt about the rotation. If you believe the lack of innings from the rotation really taxed the bullpen, then you probably were willing to let some of their stats slide. If you felt the bullpen should be judged purely off performance, you might not have felt as good. For me, considering the extra innings the starters tossed on them and the brutal months of May and June that saw the pen implode, it’s almost amazing to me that most of their rankings within the American League this year were in the middle of the pack. This wasn’t an amazing group of arms but there were some bright spots and some big positives to close out the year.
The big positives were mostly Scott Barlow but there were some big contributions from Josh Staumont, Jake Brentz, Domingo Tapia and Richard Lovelady. Toss in a healthy Ronald Bolanos and see if Dylan Coleman can replicate what he did in the minors this year and you have the beginnings of a solid pen in 2022. Add in the loss of veterans Greg Holland and Wade Davis and the pen very well could be a strength come the new year.
This is not to say they didn’t have periods of success, but it was painfully obvious both were past their prime and shouldn’t be relied on for key innings. The one veteran arm that out performed expectations was Ervin Santana. It was obvious in the offseason that Erv was signed to eat innings in blowouts and be the occasional spot starter. In other words, he was just another warm body to fill a hole. Instead, he saved the team in a number of games that could have gotten out of control and while he wasn’t at his peak, he did become one of the most reliable arms in the bullpen. I know his numbers on the surface don’t scream ‘major performer’ but when you consider where the Royals would have been without him, the results would have probably been even bleaker.
The other area that saw marked improvement in 2021 was the team’s defense, especially if you glanced up the middle. Adding Michael A. Taylor in center field brought stability to the team and with 19 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) he showed the real reason he was brought in to man the giant outfield of Kauffman. The Royals also saw an improvement in the middle infield, as Nicky Lopez at shortstop and Whit Merrifield at second base made a lethal defensive 1-2 punch that helped the pitching on an almost nightly basis.
There were some issues on defense, though. Before he was traded, Jorge Soler saw more time in the field than he ever should, as he has racked up -12 DRS this year between both KC and Atlanta. We mentioned Dozier’s offensive woes earlier, but he also struggled on defense, as he compiled -9 DRS in right field and -12 DRS at third base. In fact the only position he was average at was 1B and it really makes one wonder just where the Royals should play him 2022 without becoming a liability.
In fact, in general the Royals are going to have to decide what is the best offensive/defensive balance they can put out on the field next year as they have a slew of players and nine lineup slots. It’s hard to imagine taking Lopez or Merrifield out of the middle infield, but you also have Witt, Jr and Adalberto Mondesi to consider. Throw in Taylor’s lackluster bat and the logjam that is piling up at the first base/Designated Hitter positions and you can only hope Kansas City finds a mix that combines solid defense and extra offense.
This leads to the issue of Salvador Perez and what to do with him in the lineup. I know some might be wondering ‘What?’ and I get that, but the truth is the matter is that Salvy will be entering his age 32 season in 2022 and his defense has been on the decline for a couple of years now. Yes, he still calls a good game and has a great arm, but his framing has always been bad and the older he gets and the more abuse he takes behind the plate, you have to wonder when seeing more at bats at DH becomes a reality.
With MJ Melendez on the rise and the Royals needing Perez’s bat more than ever, it only makes sense to continue the gradual shift to him being a full-time hitter. I love Salvy as much as the next person but it’s all about how best he can help the team moving forward and where they can get the most value for him. If it’s my call, once Melendez is recalled and starts seeing playing time, I make sure he sees more action at catcher than Perez. It isn’t going to sit well with a lot of the fanbase, but if you want the Royals to win this appears to be the direction they are headed.
So in a lot of ways, that sums up the Kansas City Royals in 2021. Some things went well, others not so much. The Royals finished the year 74-88 and while that was eight wins off of my projected total (I was feeling optimistic that day), considering how bad the team looked in May and June it feels like a solid win total. It’s obvious the Royals need to figure out their game plan for next year and a lot of that is ‘who fits in and where’.
What can be said is that this year we did see a hint of a really good Royals team whenever everything fell into place. When they get solid pitching and the bats knock in a few runs, this can be a team that looks good and in the American League Central that could even mean contending. But that also means consistency and that is where Kansas City stumbled and fell this year.
So while it’s great that the front office wants this to be a ‘pitching and defense’ squad, that doesn’t mean you can just ignore the offense. Bumping up the offense is a must this winter and whether that means dedicating themselves to Witt Jr, Pratto and Melendez in 2022 or trading some pieces to pick up another bat or two…or even a combination of both. At the end of the day, this team needs consistency and depth, two things that were sorely lacking in 2021.
So another season is officially in the books. I’m already in a 2022 mode and ready to see what is done to improve this team. This year definitely had their ups and downs and after ‘Year 4’ of the rebuild (yes Dayton, it is a rebuild. Even if you don’t want to call it that.) it’s time to see a winning Royals team again. No more clichés, no more trusting, no more BS. This team was far from boring this past season and now it’s time to see them win. It’s time for another winning era at Kauffman Stadium. Let’s see if the front office feels the same way.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the 2018 MLB Draft will go down as one of the most pivotal in the history of the Kansas City Royals, one way or the other. The Royals farm system has been continuously ranked as one of the worst in baseball by almost every publication around. With Kansas City getting compensation picks this year from the free agent losses of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, this year’s draft was the perfect time to re-stock the farm and begin the slow climb back up to contender. If their goal was to make a big splash, then they have succeeded.
The Royals first pick was at #18 and their pick was Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Brady Singer from Florida. Most had Singer going in the top five of the draft and some felt the lowest he would drop would be around #10. So what did Kansas City get with their top pick? Here is part of the scouting report from MinorLeagueBall.com:
So why did he drop to #18? I’m sure sign-ability came into play, but there were also some concerns by some scouts when it came to Singer:
Despite the good statistics, several observers have noted Singer’s harder pitches, especially the fastball, flattening out at times this year. This is traced to changes in his arm angle although the exact cause/effect chain is a bit unclear from a distance.
His delivery has always been somewhat unusual with a three-quarters approach and some whippy action. His arm angle and release point looked higher at times this year and this has been enough to lower his projection in the eyes of some very respected observers.
So there are a few worries about Singer, but overall he has a plus arm that is already pretty far along in his development. What this means is as long as things go according to plan, Singer could be in the majors by the end of 2019. This was a great pick for the Royals and one that could pay off sooner rather than later.
With the 33rd pick in the draft, the Royals would draft Singer’s teammate at Florida, Jackson Kowar. Kowar is an interesting pick, as evidenced by the reports on him this season:
As a prep his fastball was generally 88-92 with higher peaks. In college that’s up to 92-95 with peaks as high as 97-98.
His best secondary pitch is his change-up, drawing plus ratings. Development of his breaking ball has been key this spring and while it is sharper and more consistent than in 2017, it is still his third pitch behind the fastball and change. Further refinement of the breaking stuff and general sharpening of his command will obviously be the first items on his agenda as a pro.
So while Kowar isn’t as far along as Singer, there are a few scouts that preferred him to Singer:
When Kowar is at his best he shows three plus pitches. He’s not as close to being a finished product as Brady Singer but in some ways Kowar is a more conventional prospect than his teammate and some scouts like Kowar better.
Kowar might be the more interesting pick to watch out of the two Florida boys, and I like the idea of the two teammates getting to move through the Royals system together.
At #34, Kansas City would stay in the college ranks and draft left-handed pitcher Daniel Lynch from Virginia. Here is an assessment of Lynch earlier in the year:
A lean and narrow 6’4’’, Lynch won’t overpower hitters and needs to hit spots to have success. He throws from a clean abbreviated windup, getting consistent extension over his front half with little overall effort in his mechanics. He repeats well, able to stay around the zone with a four-pitch mix. The fastball has fringy velocity, sitting right around 90 mph while ranging anywhere from 88-to-93 mph without a lot of lateral movement. He’ll mix a cutter in the mid-80s as well, though the pitch has light, sweeping action and doesn’t project to be more than a wrinkle pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. Lynch commanded both sides of the plate with his four-seam fastball and cutter, though the loud contact allowed shows the limited margin for error he has within the zone. He’s more comfortable with a changeup than a breaking ball, showing more confidence in a fading low-80s circle-change that can get righties out on their front foot.
While Singer and Kowar would probably be ranked as power arms, Lynch appears to rely more on location:
Lynch projects to be a finesse lefty at the professional level. Scouts cite his thin frame as reason to wonder if his already fringy stuff backs up when he pitches on a more demanding schedule in the minor leagues. The best-case ceiling is that of a fifth starter who can soak up back-rotation innings, though he could fit a long or situational reliever if he ultimately lacks the stuff to face lineups more than once pitching out of the rotation.
So through their first three picks, Kansas City went with college pitchers with a good amount of upside. Their next pick didn’t stray far from the pattern.
With the 40th pick (a competitive balance pick), the Royals would draft Stanford lefty Kris Bubic. Bubic has a delivery similar to Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw but that is where most of the similarities end:
Bubic is armed with a fastball that works best in the low-90s. He has a little reach-back velocity and can touch 95 MPH. It has some natural arm-side run, as is common with most lefties. What really has him on a path to success is a plus-changeup. He’s able to repeat his delivery and arm slot with it, giving it the look of a fastball. It has good fade down-and-away to right-handers, but he isn’t afraid to throw it against any hitter in any count. His curveball is a work in progress. He didn’t use it much during his first two seasons with the Cardinal, but it has improved enough this season to be a viable third pitch.
The good news is that while his ceiling is a bit unknown, his floor is higher than most:
A standout in the Cape Cod League last year, Bubic has the ceiling of a low-end No. 2 starter should everything click. More likely, he’s a solid No. 3/4 guy who thrives with his command/control profile and a borderline double-plus changeup. He could move quickly if he takes well to professional instruction. But don’t expect much more velocity, as he’s physically maxed out.
I’m interested to see how Bubic develops and he feels like a pitcher to keep an eye on. His change-up should get him places and it will be interesting to see what the Royals will want to do with his curve.
At this point it just made sense to continue on the trajectory they were on, so the Royals drafted another college pitcher, going with Memphis right-hander Jonathan Bowlan at #58:
The Memphis product has a solid fastball in the low-90s. The slider will flash better than average at its best, while an average changeup completes his arsenal. Not really a guy who will punch out a lot of hitters unless there is a serious uptick in stuff, Bowlan is probably a fifth starter or middle reliever within a few years.
Bowlan appears to be a underslot signing for Kansas City, but it also felt like the Royals had a direction they wanted to go in once Singer fell to them and they just went with it.
So what direction might that be? Maybe it’s just what lingers on the surface, but it appears Kansas City went the safe route with their picks on the first day by going with college pitchers. The Royals have been burned in the past by prep pitchers, so maybe they felt going with the older, more mature arms would garner a higher success rate than going with a high school player who has more talent but would take much longer to develop.
It also would make sense that the college pitchers could possibly start at a higher level, possibly in A ball. Maybe someplace like Lexington, where Royals prospects Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias are currently playing at. Maybe, just maybe, the Kansas City brain-trust remembers how the core players from their 2015 championship (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, etc.) came up through the minors together and won together on their way to the major leagues. Maybe…they are looking to repeat history. I could just be reaching here, but if I’m not it’s definitely not the worst idea in the world.
The one thing we absolutely can determine from the draft is that the Kansas City Royals have done a good job of replenishing the farm system, especially with their pitching. It will be years before we can determine the true value of these players and where they rank among other former Royals draftees.
The one thing we can say is the team went in with a game plan and it appears they followed it down to the letter. The baseball draft always feels like a crap-shoot and as far as we know none of these picks will truly leave their mark. But there is a chance they could be the next Splittorff, Saberhagen, or Duffy. Pitching is the currency of the sport and the Royals just increased how much they have sitting in the bank.
Here we are, the middle of April and I’m sure a number of you are already frustrated with the Kansas City Royals. I mean, the bullpen has been a dumpster fire, the offense feels anemic and it’s just been a struggle to play games on consecutive days. Luckily, there is another way to enjoy Royals baseball this summer without watching the big league club.
For those of us longtime fans, we spent a number of the ‘Lean Years’ paying attention to the Royals minor league teams and keeping track of what the top prospects were up to. It was a way to keep an eye on the future while figuring out if these players fit in to what Kansas City needed.
So doing this can be daunting for a newcomer to Royals baseball or just for someone who has only ever focused on the major league squad. To help you out on this journey, I’m going to pass along some links and websites to keep track of so you can follow the progression of the Royals of tomorrow.
Let’s start with the Royals AAA affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. To keep tabs on the team you just need to go to their website where you will get daily updates, schedules, statistics and more. You can also follow them on twitter or instagram. Top prospects currently on the Storm Chasers roster include Hunter Dozier, Richard Lovelady and Trevor Oaks. Since Omaha is the Royals top rung of the minor league system, they are a good source of seeing players who could be on the main roster sooner rather than later.
Going down the line, there is the Kansas City’s AA team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. You can check out their official site for daily updates and the regular updates on Twitter. The team right now houses prospects like Foster Griffin, Samir Duenez and Donnie Dewees. The Royals occasionally promote players from AA but not as often as they used to, as many will receive a little bit of time in AAA before their promotion to the big leagues. The Naturals are also the team that current Royals bullpen coach Vance Wilson was managing for the last couple of seasons. I mention Wilson, since I’ve long believed he is a future Royals manager in waiting, which is relevant since Ned Yost’s contract runs out at the end of the year.
Sliding down to High A ball, where we check in on the Royals affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. You can check out their main page and follow them on Twitter. Their roster has a nice array of prospects like Gerson Garabito, Chase Vallot, and top prospect Khalil Lee. The team will probably see a plethora of other top prospects recalled to their squad this year, since a number of the team’s top talent is in the lower section of the farm system.
Finally, there is the Royals Class A team, the Lexington Legends. Once again, they have their official minor league site and Twitter to follow. The team has a number of the Royals top shelf prospects, like last year’s number one draft pick Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias. The players at this level are names you should be keeping tabs on and watching their progress, as they could be a big part of the major league team’s future. While the Royals are ranked as having one of the worst farm systems in baseball, the players at this level could start to turn the tide and we could start seeing results from them as early as this year.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the great work that Minda Haas Kuhlmann does, especially covering the Storm Chasers. You might have noticed that she took a number of the photos you see in this article and writes a weekly feature over at Royals Review. The feature is called “This Week in the Minors” and is a good way to keep up to date with what is going on with the organization on a weekly basis. Minda is a great writer and I highly suggest you check out her work, as it is always top notch.
Meanwhile, I will occasionally write about some of the up and comers here at bleedingroyalblue.com. One of the fun aspects of being a baseball fan is keeping track of the players who are on the way and I’ve always enjoyed writing about them on this blog.
So that should get you started on following the Royals minor league system and help educate yourself about ‘who is next’. Just remember that while the major league team will probably struggle most of this 2018 season, they won’t lose forever. The odds always come around at some point and the Royals will be a contender again. When that happens, you will already have an idea who will be a part of the “Royal Resurgence”.
Sometimes, when I’m half asleep and veering off into unconsciousness, I remember. I remember a time when we relied on hope. It was a simpler time, when players were “mistake free” and reporters were told to “rewind yourself”. It was a time when the thought of a winning season, never mind a full-blown championship, was enough to put a smile on any Kansas City Royals fan’s face. During this period, a phrase was uttered so many times that it became both a mantra and a sarcastic answer to another blow-out loss. That phrase was “Trust the Process”.
I was reminded of this the other day when reading the latest from a former Kansas City scribe, Joe Posnanski. Joe was around for a number of the lean years and remembers them (I’m sure) somewhat fondly. More than that, he remembers Dayton Moore and his beliefs B.C. (Before Championship):
Moore isn’t naive about it; he dutifully answers those questions. But this idea of baseball being bigger than baseball, this is what he really wants to talk about … and it always has been. He has believed from his first day on the job with the Royals that if he could hire great people, acquire talented players who love the game deeply, create an atmosphere where everyone looks forward to coming to the ballpark and appreciates just how lucky they are, that the team unquestionably would win a championship.
People — again, including me — had their doubts.
But that team absolutely did win a championship exactly as Moore planned.
So here we are again. The rebuild has begun. Once again, Moore wants us to believe in “The Process”. But as fans, did we fully buy in before?
The answer is yes…and no. At first we bought all in. The Royals had become a laughingstock and at that point any sign of an actual plan that might come to fruition seemed promising. What wasn’t promising was the farm system. To truly understand, here are the top ten prospects going into 2006 according to Baseball America:
1. Alex Gordon
2. Billy Butler, of/3b
3. Justin Huber, 1b
4. Chris Lubanski, of
5. Jeff Bianchi, ss
6. Luis Cota, rhp
7. Chris McConnell, ss
8. Mitch Maier, of
9. Donnie Murphy, 2b
10. Shane Costa, of
It started out promising…and then just flat-lines (although I will admit to being a Mitch Maier fan). The system was ranked 23rd in all of baseball to start the year and it was obvious that Moore had his work cut out for him when he took the GM job in June of that year. So at first, we trusted; Moore had an idea where he wanted to go and how to go about it. But as time wore on, our faith wavered.
By 2012 the Royals were almost six years into “The Process” and by the end of May it felt like we had been dealt some cruel, mean joke. Do you remember the slogan for that year? “Our Time”. For those of you not following the team back then, you probably can imagine how that slogan went down as the Royals limped to a 72-90 season. At this point, “The Process” had become a joke.
All it took for me was a quick glance at my blog posts in 2012 and I can see where my faith had diminished. In fact, read just about any article I wrote from 2012 to 2013 (which you can check out at bleedingroyalblue.com) and I was no longer aboard the “Process Express”. It took Moore seven full seasons to grasp a winning record and while the Royals were in the pennant race into the last week of 2013, a number of fans weren’t sold yet that Dayton’s mantra was the end-all, be-all answer.
Then 2014 happened. The wild card game, the sweep through the American League playoffs and a seventh game of the World Series. Then the Royals won it all in 2015. At this point, we had forgotten about our lack of faith (I’m sure Dayton found it disturbing) and bowed to GMDM’s greatness. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, “The Process” had worked and reached its final destination.
So here we are in 2018 and we begin to wrap our heads around putting faith back into Moore’s plan. I won’t lie; the first time I heard him utter those two words again I froze. But when I look at the farm system right now, I feel better than I did in 2006. Here are the top ten current prospects according to Baseball America:
While there will probably be a few misses on this list, there is also a chance for some major upside with guys like Lee, Pratto, Matias and Melendez. In fact, by 2021 the Royals lineup could be way better than say, the 2009 Royals:
I can’t help but point out that nobody is thinking the Royals can win anytime soon, but he says that has always been true — and he’s right, most experts thought that the 2014 team would battle for last place, and they won the American League pennant. Most people thought it was a fluke, and the ’15 team won the World Series.
True, but then I point out that those Royals had some big prospects — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas — that this team lacks. He then says, “Nobody had [five-time All-Star] Salvador Perez on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Lorenzo Cain on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Greg Holland or Kelvin Herrera on their Top 100 list.”
Moore is right about this. While it’s easy to point out the Hosmer’s and Moustakas’ that toiled for “The Best Farm System in Baseball”, it was the off the radar guys that pushed the Royals to the next level. All it takes is for a few players to outperform their expectations and push the team back into contention.
So is it time to “Trust in the Process” again? The better question might be why you should put your trust back in Moore. The truth is a lot of us doubted him and he proved us wrong. While it might be easy to snicker and roll your eyes when he discusses his ‘grand plan’, it did procure us fans some of the greatest moments in Royals history. For that, I will be forever grateful to Dayton Moore.
It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything he says, and it doesn’t mean we have to like every move he makes; you can still disagree with decisions while being supportive. But it does mean putting a little dab of faith and a nice chunk of hope into the eventual finished product. We might all be crazy for going down this road again…but if it ends with the same payoff, then I am all in.