The Royals begin a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium, and going into Thursday’s game, the Royals are 27-26 after roughly two months of play. Granted, the Royals haven’t been a perfect team by any means. Their run differential is -14, and as Mike Matheny said in a recent press conference, the Royals really haven’t gotten consistent production from about a third of their projected lineup in the beginning of the year (he is mostly referencing Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi). As of Thursday, Fangraphs’ depth charts projects the Royals to go 53-56 over the remainder of the year and finish 80-82.
Yes, that means the Royals most likely are not playoff bound. To some that is a disappointment, especially to impatient Kansas City sports fans who are used to “Chiefs-style” winning all the time. However, considering their injuries, and the success of their farm system thus far, the Royals are in a good position as an organization to not only win in the near future, but really build something special. And I’m not talking about 2014-2015 special, but something even greater than that.
I truly think the Royals could be setting themselves up to be the organization that Dayton Moore envisioned when he took over in 2006: a quintessential small-market club built through the farm systems and the right veterans who come at a reasonable cost. The Royals are on the cusp of being perhaps a Midwest Braves or a true competitor to the Cardinals on the Western side of Missouri.
That is of course, as long as Moore and the Royals don’t panic, and try to do something drastic to hurt the long-term outlook of this club in order to satisfy the loud and short-term-minded rabble in Kansas City. But as we all know, that can sometimes be easier said than done…
Especially for a general manager like Moore, who often wants to placate the Royals fanbase, especially in the sake of being competitive.
Going on Twitter can be a black hole at times, especially in the Royals universe. Every time I check the Twitter, it’s usually something negative about the Royals. It’s either bashing on Adalberto Mondesi and his injury struggles. Or Soler and Dozier and how they have failed to live up to expectations. Or Mike Matheny’s managerial decisions. Or how they have handled Bobby Witt, Jr. (or how overrated Witt, Jr. is in some cases…because you know, Arizona Summer League numbers!)
In many ways, I would expect this if the Royals were losing like they were back in 2018, 2019, and even last year. Over the past three years, the Royals were out of it by the start of June (or September in last year’s case). Instead this year, they are still in the hunt of a Wild Card spot, even though they have gone through an 11-game losing streak, struggled through injuries to key players, and haven’t gotten consistent production from the lineup beyond Salvador Perez, Andrew Benintendi, and Carlos Santana.
A lot has gone wrong for the Royals, and yet, they still are over .500 and still better than the Twins and Tigers in the AL Central division.
And what makes this progress even more promising is that the Royals are not only succeeding at the Major League level, but the Minor League affiliates have been off to stellar starts, with many of the key prospects in the Royals system either surprising or living up to the hype.
Going into Thursday’s games, all four of the Royals affiliates are .500 or better, with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals having the worst record at 12-12. In Triple-A Omaha, Jackson Kowar is putting up video game numbers, as he is posting a 0.85 ERA this year, and is coming off a stellar start in which he made a good Iowa Cubs lineup look absolutely silly, as evidenced by Royals Farm Report’s thread last night:
And while the Naturals are doing the worst record-wise of all Royals affiliates, they have probably been the club who’s garnered the most attention from Royals fans this season. Granted, a lot of that is due to Bobby Witt, Jr., who has been on a recent tear, with five home runs in his last four games, which has gotten the attention of the national baseball media:
However, while Witt has been succeeding lately (he is still only posting a .245/.318/.500 slash despite this recent tear), it’s the success of catcher MJ Melendez and first baseman Nick Pratto that should really be making Royals fans hopeful. Both Pratto and Melendez floundered at the plate two years ago in High-A Wilmington, as they both posted sub-.600 OPS numbers in the Carolina League in 2019. Both of them earned assignments at the Alternate Site last year, and Royals Player Development harped about the gains both players made at T-Bones (now Monarchs) Stadium in 2020. That being said, Royals fans had reason to be skeptical, as it is easy to be productive when facing the same pitchers day after day in a non-pressure packed environment.
So far, Melendez and Pratto have been the Naturals’ best hitters through the first month of play. Melendez is posting a 176 wRC+ in 91 plate appearances and Pratto is posting a 211 wRC+. Furthermore, both Melendez and Pratto have cut their strikeout rates from 2019, as Melendez is posting an 18.7 percent K rate while Pratto is posting a 22.9 percent K rate, both double-digit declines from their days in Wilmington. They are also posting 0.76 and 0.84 BB/K ratios, respectively, which shows that they are not only striking out less, but showing overall better plate discipline as well.
A couple of years ago, Royals fans were wondering if Melendez or Pratto would be around in the Royals organization much longer. Now, they are proving that they need to be considered in the Royals’ long-term plans.
In High-A Quad Cities, Tyler Gentry is starting to show his power, as is Vinnie Pasquantino, who has been a bit of a three true outcomes machine. Angel Zerpa is lighting it up on the mound, as he is posting a 1.82 ERA as well as a 13.5 K/9 to go along with a 1.46 BB/9, thus showing the Royals made the right decision in adding him to the 40-man roster this past Winter.
Lastly in Quad Cities, top pitching prospect Asa Lacy has struggled with command and control, but when he’s locating, he’s demonstrated that he’s one of the organization’s best pitchers, as evidenced below:
And in Columbia, the Royals have a pair of international prospects who aren’t widely known, but are making their case that they can be long-term options in Kansas City down the road. Maikel Garcia may not have as much fanfare as Witt or Nick Loftin, but Garcia has arguably been more productive than both of them thus far this year. Currently in 22 games and 108 plate appearances, Garcia, who is related to Alcides Escobar and Ronald Acuña, is posting a triple slash of .356/.444/.489 with four stolen bases and a BB/K ratio of 1.00. Garcia showed some chops in the Venezuelan Winter League this past Winter, and so far, he has carried that over to Low-A ball.
On the pitching side, Adrian Alcantara has demonstrated nasty stuff, and is putting himself into consideration to possibly be a fast mover in the Royals system, especially in the wake of an injury to Jonathan Bowlan. Alcantara is posting 4.57 K/BB ratio with a 38.1 percent K rate and meager 8.3 BB rate in 19.2 IP with the Fireflies. Granted, he is giving up the long ball, as his 18.2 percent HR/FB rate is a big reason why his ERA is up at 3.66. That being said, Alcantara has excellent swing and miss ability, with some nasty pitches, which includes this two-seamer below:
Throughout the system, from Triple to Low-A, the Royals have a lot of players to be excited about. And even if the Royals miss the playoffs this year, chances are, by 2022, this Royals will have the internal talent depth necessary to improve their standings in the AL Central and make a proper run at the division crown or Wild Card.
And they won’t need to acquire a bunch of older or over-the-hill veterans to do it either.
Right now, it’s easy and understandable for Royals fans to hit the panic button. Yes, Soler, Dozier, and Mondesi have provided their fair share of struggles at the plate. Yes, Brady Singer hasn’t been as good as last year, and the rest of the Royals pitching staff, both in the rotation and bullpen, hasn’t quite been consistent either.
That being said, the worst thing the Royals could do is be “buyers” on the trade market, and water down some of the depth in their system for an ill-fated playoff push. Moore will be tempted to do that, especially with a new owner in John Sherman who seems more committed to winning than previous owner David Glass, who was more keen on “winning on the cheap.” Moore and Royals fans may think they have enough depth, or think that Witt will be ready by August, or that getting a reliever in a trade for one of their lower level prospects like Garcia or Alcantara will be worth it, and put them over the top like 2014 or 2015.
But the thing is, this squad isn’t like the 2014 or 2015 squads. It’s closer to 2013, and even then, it may be slightly below in quality in comparison to that squad.
And that’s not a bad thing.
From 2018-2020, the Royals won 58, 59, and a “pro-rated “70 games each season. The Royals were arguably one of the worst franchises in baseball over that timespan, along with the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and maybe Colorado Rockies. Going into 2021, most reasonably-minded Royals fans just wanted to see improvement, a commitment to building their farm system, and a an approach of winning from within.
And the Royals have done that so far in 2021, and most likely, barring injury or a major drop-off, will continue to do that as well.
Thus, Royals fans need to enjoy it and keep the long-term in mind when analyzing this club. It is easy to think that a piece here or a piece there will make the difference, but over a full 162-game season, the cream of the league eventually rises to the top. The “hot” Orioles in April are now at the bottom of the division. The surprising Marlins from 2020 aren’t much better. The Royals weren’t as good as their successful April indicated. That being said, they weren’t as bad as their 11-game losing streak belied either. They were in the middle, which is precisely where the Royals are now, one-game over .500.
It can be easy to continues to stress, be negative and chip away pessimistically on this Royals squad. I get it. A loss to the Raiders, and this whole City is ready to fire the torpedoes on Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City sports fans are passionate about their squads, but in that passion, the whole picture at large can get lost. I am guilty of it at times too. However, I am not going to fall into that “hot take” trap.
The Royals are on the right track.
They are where they need to be.
They are set up well for the future and will be even more fun in 2022 and beyond, especially with how strong their affiliates and prospects are playing.
Let’s enjoy the ride…
And not miss out on what has been a surprising and fun season of Royals baseball thus far.
Because Royals fans know how quickly it can all go away…
And that goes beyond Matheny and Moore’s tenure in Kansas City.
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