Trying to understand the Royals’ approach this year with Edward Olivares

It has been a frustrating 2021 thus far for Royals outfielder Edward Olivares. Acquired in the Trevor Rosenthal deal last summer, Olivares is a toolsy outfielder who performed decently in an 18-game sample in Kansas City during the shortened 2020 season. In 65 plate appearances, Olivares posted a triple slash of .274/.292/.419 which included two home runs and a wRC+ of 87. While it wasn’t stupendous by any means, Olivares had never played above Double-A prior to 2020, so to see him hold his own with the Royals was a promising sign that he could be a contributor in the Royals outfield in 2021.

This Spring, with a crowded outfield due to the acquisitions of Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor, Olivares was demoted to Minor League camp early on. However, he got off to a great start in Triple-A Omaha, as he has posted a .370/.452/.610 slash with six home runs, eight stolen bases, and a wRC+ of 183 in 115 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers. That performance earned him some looks with the Royals in 2021, but unfortunately, he has not gotten much of an extended look, as Craig Brown of “Into the Fountains” highlighted the transactional journey of Olivares so far this season on Twitter:

Olivares isn’t really performing well in Kansas City this year, as he is only posting a slash of .261/.292/.261 with a wRC+ of 56. That being said, he’s only played in seven games and 24 plate appearances, and considering how much he has moved between Kansas City and Omaha, it hasn’t been easy for him to get a rhythm either at the Major League level.

Thus, with all this movement, Royals fans have to ask these two questions: 1.) What are the Royals trying to do with Olivares this year? And 2.) How will this affect his long-term outlook with the Royals?

While only Dayton Moore and the Royals front office know for sure what the plan is for Olivares, I have three ideas on why the Royals have been moving Olivares so much over the past month, and I explain what each could mean for Olivares when it comes to his future as a Royals outfielder.

The Royals are moving Olivares so much because they don’t have any better outfield options on the 40-man roster

I have found the Royals’ treatment of Olivares befuddling, but when I took a look at the Royals’ 40-man roster, it makes more sense why he’s been constantly moving between Omaha and Kansas City.

The Royals don’t have a lot of outfield depth on their 40-man roster, especially available in Omaha.

Here are players who could play outfield on the 40-man roster, currently in Omaha, who could be eligible for call-ups, other than Olivares:

  • Kyle Isbel
  • Lucius Fox
  • Ryan McBroom

Honestly, that’s it.

As for McBroom, even though he has been mashing lately in Omaha, the former Yankees and Blue Jays prospect is a defensive liability in the outfield. With Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier already getting more innings in the outfield than normal, the Royals probably view McBroom as a Four-A player who really doesn’t fit in the mold of what they’re looking for. Furthermore, if Mike Matheny wants a bat off the bench, he’s been more prone to use Ryan O’Hearn for that role this year than McBroom (even though McBroom made the Opening Day roster over O’Hearn). That is evident in O’Hearn’s 57 plate appearances with the Royals in comparison to McBroom’s seven.

Thus, that leaves Isbel and Fox as the only other realistic options for outfielder call-ups from Omaha other than Olivares. Unfortunately, Fox has struggled with injury this year, as he is currently on the seven-day IL and has only played in eight games this season (though he is posting an OPS of .819 in limited duty). As for Isbel, while he made the Opening Day roster and had a good first week with the Royals, he hasn’t been exactly great in Omaha, as I profiled earlier this month. Going into Thursday’s games, Isbel was only posting a .227/.306/.340 slash and wRC+ of 74 in 157 plate appearances. Considering the hitter-friendly environment of Triple-A so far, that kind of line is not promising, and is probably a big reason why Royals fans haven’t seen Isbel return to Kansas City since his demotion.

And hence, that leaves Olivares as the only reasonable option. If Fox was healthy or if Isbel was performing better at the plate this season in Omaha, it is possible that one or two of the promotions that went to Olivares would have gone to either Fox and/or Isbel instead.

The Royals are looking to move Taylor before giving Olivares a full-time look

This may not be an idea on it’s own, but one that probably piggybacks on the other idea listed above. It is possible that the Royals do not necessarily want to give Olivares a full-time look until a position opens up in the outfield. One would think with the injury to Andrew Benintendi that time would be now. However, it seems like the Royals want to get creative when it comes to utilizing their left field position.

In the Tigers series, the Royals used three different players in left, with Olivares there in game one, Jarrod Dyson there in game two, and Whit Merrifield there in game three. It would not be surprising to see other players employed in Alex Gordon’s former stomping grounds in the coming weeks, with Hunter Dozier as another candidate to fill the left field hole until Benintendi is ready to return (whenever that will be).

Considering Olivares’ speed and athleticism, the Royals may be planning on Olivares being a regular center fielder, which has been his primary position in Omaha. If that’s the case, the Royals may be waiting with Michael A. Taylor, who may only have another month or so left in Kansas City.

If the Royals continue to regress and sink further and further out of the playoff race, then the Royals may try to trade Taylor, even if it for a lower-level prospect. That being said, Taylor is currently posting a 19 wRC+ in the month of June, and his 35.2 percent strikeout rate is above even his career rate of 31.8 percent. That doesn’t exactly making him an enticing commodity on the trade market. Thus, it would not be out of the question to see the Royals part ways with Taylor in July, much like they did with Billy Hamilton in 2019, whom they designated for assignment after it was clear no team would trade anything for him.

Therefore, it could be just a waiting game for Olivares, and once Taylor is out of the equation, the Royals will utilize Olivares as a regular player. Only this time, it would be in center field, not in the corners.

Olivares has fallen out of favor with the Royals front office

Unfortunately, a lingering feeling I have is that Olivares is following the same path that Brian Goodwin and Brett Phillips went down during the 2018 to 2020 seasons. Both Goodwin and Phillips were acquired in major mid-season trades, and even though their tenures in Kansas City started off well, they eventually fell out of favor with the Royals organization, and eventually found homes with other clubs (or multiple clubs in Goodwin’s case). Goodwin fell out of favor more quickly, as he was cut near the end of Spring Training in 2019 (in favor Lucas Duda of all players), while Phillips was teased for about a year and a half before he was eventually traded to Tampa Bay for Lucius Fox.

The Royals have seemed to view the players they have acquired over the past couple of years as liquid assets. After acquiring “super toolsy” outfielder Franchy Cordero from San Diego in the Tim Hill deal, Moore wasn’t afraid to deal him away in the Andrew Benintendi trade this off-season. At the time, it seemed like a head-scratcher, as Cordero seemed to be on the upswing, and had a lot more long-term value in terms of team control (Benintendi will be a free agent after 2022). However, Cordero struggled in his limited time with the Red Sox and eventually found his way back to Triple-A, while Benintendi has been one of the Royals’ most productive offensive players until his rib cage injury.

All the signs as of now seem to indicate that Olivares’ tenure as a Royal is going to be similar to Goodwin, Phillips, and Cordero’s. I thought Olivares would have a shot to get a starting outfield position this Winter, and then Moore proceeded to acquire Taylor and Benintendi. In Spring Training, the Royals demoted Olivares early on in Cactus League play, and then later named Kyle Isbel the Royals’ starting right fielder on Opening Day. Remember, Isbel had not played above High-A going into 2021, while Olivares had 31 Major League games under his belt. And yet, the Royals felt Isbel was worthy of a starting job out of Surprise, unlike Olivares.

And now, we are seeing Olivares fail to get any consistent playing time at the MLB level. He starts on Monday against the Tigers, and sits the bench the next two games, sans a pinch running appearance in Tuesday night’s contest. Then, after just three games in the big leagues in his return, he is sent back down to Omaha:

Maybe this is rash, but it doesn’t feel like an organization would do that to a player if they felt highly about their future value in the organization. That kind of movement is more to be expected for someone they think is simply organizational depth, especially at the Triple-A level.

And perhaps that is what Moore and the Royals think of Olivares. After all, Olivares is currently rated as the 19th best prospect in the Royals system according to Baseball America, and is in his third organization since 2018 (he was previously in Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres systems before coming to Kansas City). He is not a top prospect like a Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, or heck, even Isbel. Olivares may be a good player, but his likely projection is maybe as a Michael A. Taylor type with less strikeouts but less walks and power as well. That is not a bad kind of player to have in the Royals organization, but it may not be enough to merit regular playing time at the Major League level, especially during a time where the Royals are on their last gasps when it comes to a possible playoff spot.

Time will tell in the coming weeks and maybe months which of these three ideas will come to fruition for Olivares.

But knowing Moore and this Royals organization, it will be surprising if Olivares DOESN’T fall into the third scenario by season’s end.

Which means he probably be in another organization by Spring Training of 2022.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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