Though the Royals dropped the first part of a two-game road series against the Reds at Great America Ballpark on Tuesday evening, the Royals made an interesting roster move earlier that day:
The Royals’ decision to bring up Guzman, a defensive-first prospect, was an interesting move by Dayton Moore, especially considering he has not played beyond the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. Guzman was a highly-prized international signing by Moore during the 2015-2016 International Signing period, as the Royals inked him to a $1.5 million bonus (the Royals also signed OF Seuly Matias that year as well, who signed for $2.25 million). However, despite the financial investment in Guzman, the Royals have moved him slow in the Royals farm system, as he played in the Dominican and Arizona Rookie Leagues in 2016; the Appalachian League with Burlington in 2017; Burlington again and Lexington of the South Atlantic League in 2018; and Lexington full time in 2019 in a repeat of the level.
In his repeat of the South Atlantic League with the Legends, Guzman played in 121 games (his most in a single season at the professional level) and posted a .669 OPS to go along with 15 stolen bases and 7 home runs. Offensively, the 21-year-old Dominican-native doesn’t possess much upside to the Royals as of this moment. That being said, his defense has earned rave reviews from scouts, as he could arguably be the best defensive infielder in the system, which is high praise considering Bobby Witt, Jr. was drafted as shortstop.
Even if the bat doesn’t come to fruition, Guzman’s glove could carry him up the ladder. He’s capable of making spectacular plays at shortstop thanks to outstanding lateral range and arm strength that’s up there with best in the Royals’ system. His high error totals are a product his range, and club officials think he actually was better on making the types of routine plays he’s struggled with in the past. Whether Guzman will hit enough to be an everyday player remains to be seen, but the Royals are encouraged by the progress he made in 2019.“No. 21: Jeison Guzman” Top 30 Kansas City Royals Prospects of 2020; MLB Pipeline.com
Considering Guzman is on the 40-man roster, and the Royals are expecting Bubba Starling to come off the Injured List soon, it seems unlikely that Guzman will be up for the Royals long, let alone see any time on the field barring an emergency situation (Guzman is the Royals’ only primary backup infielder on the bench). That being said, it would be interesting to see if manager Mike Matheny would utilize “one tool” kind of players like Guzman and outfielder Nick Heath during the course of the 2020 season.
After all, with expanded rosters (28) and the Royals suddenly looking more competitive than initially expected after 13 games, it’s possible that Guzman and Heath could be valuable players to insert, especially in crucial or late-game scenarios.
There’s no question that Guzman and Heath are far from ready for regular playing time in the Royals infield and outfield, respectively. Guzman may flash some great leather, and he had a decent Spring Training considering his experience, as he posted a .760 OPS in 20 at-bats in Cactus League play. However, he lacks power (he only posted a .120 ISO in Lexington last year) and he still struggles with swing and whiff issues (he posted a 20 percent strikeout rate despite repeating Low-A Lexington). Furthermore, the same is true with Heath: not only did he strike out in 30.9 percent of his at-bats in Double-A Northwest Arkansas and 27.8 percent of his at-bats in Triple-A Omaha in 2019, he is also striking out in 42.9 percent of his at-bats so far as a Royal in 2020 (even though he only has 7 plate appearances).
That being said, Guzman and Heath offer plus tools: defense for Guzman (he’s a 60 field and 60 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale) and speed for Heath (he led the Minor League in stolen bases a season ago). Those could be valuable weapons off the bench for Matheny to utilize in close games this season, especially if the Royals continue to improve in the standings. In terms of Guzman, Matheny could put him in at third as a defensive replacement for Maikel Franco, whose defense leaves a lot to be desired. And as for Heath, he can be a valuable pinch runner, and could serve a Terrance Gore or Jarrod Dyson role that Royals fans were used to seeing from 2014-2017.
What’s even more tantalizing is that Guzman and Heath have other tools which also could develop in 2021 and beyond. Guzman was pretty apt at stealing bags in 2018, as he stole 26 bags on 31 attempts between short-season Burlington and low-A Lexington. However, he was caught 13 times last year in a repeat of Lexington, so while the raw speed may be there, Guzman may have to improve his instincts if he wants to make his “speed” tool more tantalizing to Royals management, especially Matheny. As for Heath, while he may not have the best arm, his glove certainly poses potential, as he can gain ground and make spectacular catches, as he already made a wall-crashing catch to end a game, which resulted in a Royals win.
And thus, Guzman and Heath may not be get many opportunities to embrace such roles due to a crowded roster situation this year (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they did later in the year due to Matheny being more open to “unorthodox” strategies). That being said, they not only could develop into “one tool” bench weapons in 2021 with more regular MiLB playing time next year, but they could also develop other tools as well to make them even more diverse weapons and perhaps dependable utility players for the Royals in the near future.
The Royals have certainly been aggressive when it has come to promoting prospects in this Minor League Baseball-less season of 2020. They brought up Kris Bubic even though he hadn’t pitched above High-A. They have brought up Heath and Guzman, even though they were primarily added to the 40-man roster this off-season in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Before COVID hit, it seemed highly likely that they would have played mostly in the Minors in 2020. Furthermore, Guzman and Heath won’t be the last “aggressive” call-ups either. Do not be surprised if pitchers Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar make their debuts, and things should also get interesting after the Royals made this announcement on Tuesday:
The Royals seem to be open to trying different things to compete in 2020. Whether it’s defensive shifts, constant lineup rotations, the fluidity of bullpen roles, etc. Matheny is proving that he’s a changed manager from his days in St. Louis. And thus, it seems like this season could be a good opportunity to use Guzman and Heath in more specialized roles, especially since they won’t be getting much “in game” at-bats due to the lack of a Minor League season.
As stated before, it may not happen. Or it may not happen unless the Royals thrust themselves into playoff contention in the second half of the season (which is possible). But Royals fans should pay attention to these two players. Because if the Royals are in the hunt for that second spot in the Central, it would not be surprising to see Matheny utilize Guzman and Heath in late-inning specialist roles off the bench.
And hell…it will be like 2014 and 2015 all over again…sort of.