Three takeaways from the Royals’ 60-man player club pool

Today, all MLB teams were expected to submit their 60-man camp rosters for the 2020 season by 3 p.m. CST today, and as expected, all the roster news caused some buzz throughout the baseball blogosphere. One of the more interesting tidbits about the 60-man roster is that it won’t have an effect on service time or the 40-man (unless they designate them on the 40-man and active 30-man to play in 2020), so the roster gave incentive to teams to bring up top prospects, even if it was unlikely that they would play at the MLB level in 2020. Just because they made the 60-man roster didn’t necessarily mean they had to be put on the 40-man roster this year or next, and thus, it’s not surprising to see names like Wander Franco of the Rays and Emerson Hancock of the Mariners, make their respective teams’ 60-man squads.

Furthermore, the Kansas City Royals posted their 60-man roster that would report to Kauffman Stadium on July 3rd for workouts, and as expected, the list generated some interesting discussion among Royals fan circles.

Thus, with this information being known, let’s take a look at three interesting stories from this Royals roster announcement in anticipation for Summer Camp on July 3rd.

The Royals still believe in Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto

No two prospects took bigger steps back in 2019 than outfielder Seuly Matias and first baseman Nick Pratto. After making noise in 2018 with the Lexington Legends and his performance in the Futures Game during All-Star weekend, Matias struggled in Wilmington (though most of it was due to injury), posting a .148 average and .566 OPS in 57 games and 221 plate appearances with the Blue Rocks. Pratto, also playing in Wilmington last year, had his share of issues at the plate as well, as he posted a .191 batting average and .588 OPS in 124 games and 472 plate appearances. Considering that Matias was big-time international-signee, and Pratto was a former Royals first round pick, it was sad to see both prospects take such a dramatic dive in the prospect rankings by the end of the 2019 season.

However, even though neither player was invited to camp for Major League Spring Training, both earned spots on the 60-Man roster for Summer Camp. Thus, while it is unlikely that Matias or Pratto will see any time in Kansas City in 2020, them being added to the 60-man squad may be a sign that GM Dayton Moore still believes in the two as prospects, and that they may be on the upswing in terms of player development.

One big reason to believe in this is due to the Royals revamped hitting development approach, which was chronicled in the Athletic by Alec Lewis last October. Matias and Pratto, who struggled with massive contact and plate discipline issues in 2019, were major targets of Royals Player Development and this new system (in addition to Bobby Witt, Jr., who had also had contact issues in the Arizona Rookie League last year; this new focus on hitting development also could have a been a big reason why Witt also made the roster as well). Hence, one has to wonder if the progress they had made with the organizational coaches swayed Moore to add them to the 60-man roster over other logical choices such as Gabriel Cancel and Dairon Blanco, who were both projected to play in Triple-A Omaha this year, but did not make the cut.

Whatever the reason for Matias and Pratto’s invitations, Royals fans need to pay attention to Matias and Pratto this summer, for their development could be key to the Royals’ future, as I have talked about on this blog before. Matias’ raw power may be the best in the Royals organization beyond Jorge Soler, and that has been on display through various Twitter and Instagram posts circulating on the web regarding Matias, as evidenced below:

As for Pratto, though he has had his fair share of struggles as a professional, he is still only 21-years-old, and showed flashes of being a Eric Hosmer-lite during a decent campaign in Lexington in 2018. And thus, if these two can turn it around and continue their development in 2020 with the “taxi squd”, they can perhaps give the Royals more positional depth in their system, as well as a couple of long-term options in the outfield and at first base in 2-3 years.

The Royals are going to be prudent with Asa Lacy

A surprising omission from the 60-man invite list was Asa Lacy, the Royals fourth overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft. Lacy was considered the best pitching prospect in the draft class, and there was some hope that with no Minor League season on the horizon (still nothing about whether or not MiLB will continue), Lacy would be called up in perhaps a Brandon Finnegan circa 2014 role (Finnegan debuted during the same year he was drafted). However, it seems like Moore isn’t eager to rush Lacy to the Major League just yet, especially with the “Core Four” (Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic) all making the 60-man list as well.

Here’s what Moore told Royals beat writer Jeff Flangan in regard to the decision to leave Lacy off the 60-man Royals player pool:

“There was some talk about adding him,” Moore said, “but at the end of the day, we like where he is right now — he’s got a good workout spot at College Station [Texas]. We could only have so many players on the 60. There were a lot of players left off. But hopefully there’ll be an opportunity for many of them this fall in Arizona.”

“Royals set 60-man player pool ahead of camp” by Jeff Flangan;

The decision is both simultaneously wise and disappointing for Royals fans. Lacy may be a Top-5 prospect in the Royals system already, and thus, it would be prudent for Moore to make sure he is developing at a proper pace, and breaking in as a starting pitcher from the get-go. While Finnegan certainly generated some excitement by coming out of the pen in 2014, it seemed to take a toll on his development, as he has struggled with consistency and injury ever since being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, whom moved him back to a starting role. It would be a shame to see Lacy follow a similar path, especially since Lacy is a much more heralded prospect than Finnegan was at the time.

That being said, Lacy is an exciting pitcher, and it’s a bummer to see him having to continue to work out in College Station while other less “exciting” options such as Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin, and Gabe Speier will report to camp with a chance to make the active “30-man” roster. While Lacy would primarily be used in a bullpen role if he had earned an invite and made the player pool, it feel like he, despite still a long way to go in terms of development, would have had impact, especially over other pitchers on the list who were invited. He certainly has the raw stuff and ability, and one has to wonder if Lacy getting even 15-20 innings of work at the Major League level would be a lot better for his development than sitting out an entire 2020 season due to the lack of Minor League Baseball.

The Royals preferred players who can help them immediately

Other than Matias, Pratto, and Witt, the Royals for the most part seemed to prefer players for the 60-man player pool who had a realistic chance of making an impact with the Royals at the Major League Level in 2020. Instead of adding any rookie pitchers from their 2020 draft or signing class, the Royals went with guys like Braden Shipley and Tyler Zuber, who could realistically help the Royals bullpen if given an opportunity during this shortened 2020 season. Furthermore, they also invited players like Khalil Lee and Kyle Isbel, who had solid Spring Training campaigns before COVID shut things down, and perhaps had shots to break in with the Royals squad in September before the season got affected (I think the same is true for Lee, but it may be tougher for Isbel, who only played at High-A Wilmington last year). And lastly, Moore omitted infielders like Cancel and Kevin Merrell for more proven (though underwhelming) options such as Humberto Arteaga and Erick Mejia, which further shows that Moore and the Royals preferred the familiar over the unknown.

In many ways, that roster composition makes sense, especially considering that Moore and new manager Mike Matheny were going into 2020 with a “win now” mindset before COVID hit and stopped play. It seems like that mindset hasn’t changed, and perhaps it has even gotten more amplified, as the Royals do have a better chance of competing with fewer games on the slate (as well as opponents, as they will only be playing against AL and NL Central teams). Thus, sensing an opportunity to be more competitive than expected, it shouldn’t surprise Royals fans that Moore has opted to keeping it safe with player pool options who can realistically contribute in Kansas City in 2020.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with the mindset, and honestly, other than perhaps Cancel and Lacy, there are not really any egregious omissions from this 60-man player list. The Royals have some talent this year, and though the organizations is still probably a couple of years (at least) from seriously competing for a playoff spot, a shortened season and perhaps expanded playoff format could give the Royals the motivation they need to make the moves necessary to be a playoff team. After all, Fangraphs projects the Royals to go 26-34 in 2020. A couple things go right or unexpectedly in their favor, and the Royals could be right in the thick of the playoff hunt this September.

Granted, I’m not sure if players like Shipley or infielder Matt Reynolds will help the Royals surpass that 26-win mark on their own. However, as a collective group (along with others), this roster could compete at the MLB level. And that seems to be what Moore and the Royals are trying to say with this 60-player list: the Royals are here to steal a playoff spot in 2020, not be a place to build up prospects for the future, which some “rebuilding clubs” have opted to do.

But then again, that could all change in August should things go south for the Royals in W-L column. After all…the trade deadline is August 31st, and if the Royals aren’t competing by then, it wouldn’t be surprising to make some moves and focus more on the “future” in Kansas City with prospects and younger players in the field and on the mound.

That’s the problem with a shorter season: while a good start could help boost the Royals’s chances of a playoff berth, a bad start could sink it quickly, and make the season a lost cause sooner than in full 162-game campaigns.

Let’s hope as Royals fans it’s not the latter.

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