Three quick takeaways from the Royals’ latest 40-man moves

On Friday evening, the Kansas City Royals, in accordance with the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, released their updated 40-man roster, via Twitter:

To go deeper, the Royals also posted the following moves, which included the addition of a four different players to the 40-man roster as well as the release of three other Royals in order to clear space for the four (the Royals currently had only 39 people on the 40-man roster).

With it being over 24 hours since the moves were made, there were a few thoughts that popped up in response to Dayton Moore and the Royals front office’s latest moves. I will probably go into more depth on a few moves in the coming days (grad school semester is done, so I’ll have more free time to write), but I just wanted to share a few quick takeaways from Moore’s peculiar decisions as baseball prepares for the Rule 5 Draft which will take place in early December.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Sparkman, Speier, and Adams were expected purges from the 40-man

After struggling the past two seasons, the Royals pitching staff is finally showing signs of progression at the Major League level. According to Fangraphs, the Royals ranked 12th in baseball in team ERA as well as 18th in FIP, major improvements from 2018 and 2019. Furthermore, the Royals have considerable pitching depth in their farm system, as three of the Royals Top 5 prospects currently are pitchers (Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar), according to MLB Pipeline. Therefore, in order to stick on the Royals 40-man roster, pitchers had to show that they could be able to contribute at the Major League level in some way or form in 2021.

Unfortunately, that seemed unlikely for Sparkman, Speier, and Adams, who all struggled in 2020 (and even in 2019). Sparkman made the transition to the bullpen last year after posting a 6.02 ERA in 23 starts in 2019. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the same story, as Sparkman only pitched 5 innings and posted a 5.40 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 2.00, which was better than 2019 (where it was 1.98), but not good enough for a pitcher who gave up a lot of “contact” (3.60 K/9 rate; 83.2 career contact rate). At this point, the only role Sparkman seemed like he could take on would be as a late innings mop up man when the game is out of hand, and it seems like it would be better to give that role to a pitcher with a lot more upside.

Speier was acquired in 2018 from the Diamondbacks in the John Jay deal, and showed some flashes of being a productive left-handed reliever in 2019, as he struck out 10 in 7.1 IP. However, Speier also struggled with control and command in 2019, as he walked six batters as well and posted an ERA of 7.36 two seasons ago. In 2020, Speier got the role of “left-handed reliever” out of the pen early, mostly due to a Randy Rosario injury and Richard Lovelady’s “struggles” (he only pitched one time in 2020). Unfortunately, it seemed to be more of the same, as he put up a 7.94 ERA and walked 4 batters in 5.2 innings. His K/9 rate also decreased from 12.3 in 2019 to 9.5 in 2020, and thus, with the new MLB rules requiring pitchers to at least face 3 hitters in an appearance, it seemed like Speier, who was a borderline LOOGY, didn’t offer much value to the Royals bullpen both in the short as well as long term.

Lastly, Adams transitioned his struggles from New York to Kansas City, as Adams looked incredibly hittable and mediocre in six appearances and 8.2 innings of work. He posted a 9.32 ERA and 1.73 WHIP, which were both fueled by him giving up 9 runs and 15 hits in his limited sample. However, just late last week, MLB Trade Rumors broke this news about Adams:

Thus, in the wake of the news, the Royals not only were able to DFA him but also see him go unclaimed on waivers, and thus, he was out-righted to Triple A Omaha. Kyle Zimmer and Jesse Hahn have been recent success stories of relievers who have bounced back with the Royals after undergoing Tommy John and perhaps the Royals are hoping that Adams finds that kind of success when he is fully recovered by 2022. Adams did show good control (no walks) in 2020, but his lack of velocity was concerning. If TJ and his rehab produce an uptick in velocity, it’s possible that Adams could follow Zimmer and Hahn’s lead, though that may be a couple of years away from coming into fruition.

Photo Credit: Lexington Legends

Is Sebastian Rivero a more serious catching prospect than people think?

One of the two biggest surprises from the Royals’ latest flurry of roster moves was the addition of catcher Sebastian Rivero, a 22-year-old catcher from Venezuela. Rivero was up at the alternate site in KCK all season in 2020, and the Royals brass seemed really high on Rivero in terms of what he offered the organization, and how he held his own at the alternate site this Summer, as evidenced in this Tweet from The Athletic’s Alec Lewis:

That being said, Rivero is not listed on the Royals Top 30 prospect list on MLB Pipeline, and offensively, there are questions on whether or not his bat could carry at the MLB level. In 2019 as a 20-year-old, Rivero mostly played in high-a Wilmington and put up a triple slash of .212/.270/.278 and an OPS of .548 in 91 games and 326 plate appearances with the Blue Rocks. Furthermore, hitting continued to be an issue in previous stints in the Royals system as well, as he posted a .669 OPS in Burlington in 198 plate appearances in 2017 and a .692 OPS in Lexington in 306 plate appearances in 2018.

Despite the questionable hitting tool and his lack of buzz among prospect rankings and experts, Moore still added Rivero to the 40-man. This decision is particularly interesting considering that the Royals have three other catchers on the 40-man (Salvy, Gallagher, and Viloria), and Viloria will be out of Minor League options in 2021. The addition of Rivero may signalize that Viloria or Gallagher may be on their way out before Opening Day of 2021.

Thus, Rivero’s addition should make Royals fans wonder: are we sleeping on Rivero as a prospect? Does perhaps Rivero have as much upside as MJ Melendez, who is the only Royals catching prospect in Pipeline’s Royals Top 30? Rivero most likely will start around Double-A or Triple-A in 2021. If he makes gains both behind the plate and offensively at the dish with Naturals or Storm Chasers, then it may be time that Royals fans start talking about Rivero as a Top 30 prospect in the organization.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Angel Zerpa was the biggest surprise addition…and Seuly Matias and Yefri Del Rosario were the most surprising omissions

It seems like every year, Moore will add someone to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft that will come as a major surprise to Royals fans. Last year, Carlos Hernandez was added to the 40-man roster even though he had yet to pitch above low-A Lexington. This year, the winner of the “most surprising addition” award went to Angel Zerpa, a left-handed pitcher who is 21-years-old and pitched in Burlington and Idaho Falls in 2019 and posted a 3.40 ERA in 55.2 IP across both Rookie league teams. While Zerpa is young (he’s only 21), he did post a 3.93 K/BB ratio and Moore and the Royals seemed confident that they would lose Zerpa in this December’s Rule 5 Draft, per Lewis:

However, while Zerpa proved to be a huge surprise on the addition front, Moore also surprised Royals fans by not adding outfielder Seuly Matias and pitcher Yefri Del Rosario, thus exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft. Matias certainly has had his issues with strikeouts and injury, but he was a highly regarded international prospect, as he signed for $2.25 million in July of 2015, and he is currently the 14th best prospect in the Royals system, according to Pipeline. As for Del Rosario, the Royals acquired him after the Braves lost him due to their breaking of international signing rules, and he currently is ranked as the 24th best prospect in the Royals system, according to Pipeline. However, Del Rosario has missed two straight seasons of competition, as he didn’t pitch in 2019 due to recovery from Tommy John, and 2020 due to COVID.

The decision to not add Matias is interesting because the Royals added him to the alternate site this summer, and they seemed high on his development, despite his strikeout issues in the minors and injury history. However, while Matias will be unprotected for the second straight year in the Rule 5 Draft, it seems unlikely that Matias will get drafted, for it’s hard to see him sticking with a MLB club’s active roster for a full season. Hence, it’s probably a good guess to think that Moore and the Royals are banking that a depressed financial market, and Matias’ recent professional history, will deter teams from drafting him. Hence, if he does go un-selected, they could use the following year for more development without starting his roster clock.

Del Rosario on the other hand is a more curious dilemma. Pitchers are more desired in the Rule 5 Draft because teams can hide pitchers in the bullpen, and they will have less on an impact than a position player who will have to play regularly. Thus, while Del Rosario hasn’t pitched competitively in two years, and hasn’t pitched above Low-A ball, his prospect status could attract the attention of teams who are looking for a high-upside pitcher who could provide long-term value, even if they struggle at the MLB level in 2021.

And thus, while Moore’s strategy may prove to be wise in regard to Matias, it actually may backfire in regard to Del Rosario, though honestly, leaving Del Rosario unprotected may be a sign that Moore and the Royals may be ready to move on from him anyways.

Let’s just hope that Del Rosario doesn’t come back to haunt the Royals if he is indeed picked up in the Rule 5 Draft.

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