We are now officially in the stretch run of the season, as it is August 1st, which means that there are only a couple of months left in the season (the season extends to October this year, due to more off days being implemented in the schedule). Right now, the Royals are obviously looking to build for next season, as they currently are 45-58 and 15 games behind the Central division-leading Chicago White Sox. Thus, when it comes to what lineups and pitchers to utilize down the stretch, Mike Matheny and the Royals need to look for a balance. They need to put players on the field who will make them competitive in the present, but also need to give certain players time for development at the Major League level in order to improve the club’s chances of being competitive long term.
Thus, here are three roster decisions that Matheny and general manager Dayton Moore need to explore down the stretch in order to achieve that ideal “balance” which will keep the Royals worth watching in the present, while still maintaining the “long-term” focus in mind.
Make Edward Olivares an everyday outfielder
With Jorge Soler officially gone, an outfield spot has opened up on the Royals roster. Fangraphs’ Depth Charts lists a possible platoon with Jarrod Dyson and Edward Olivares, which makes sense considering Dyson is a left-handed hitter and Olivares is a right-handed one. That being said, Dyson is on a one-year deal, and he is 37-years-old. At this point in his career, it is unlikely that he will be on the Royals in 2022, let alone a factor in their long-term plans overall.
On the other hand, Olivares could be a potential fit in the Royals outfield long-term, if he can prove his production with the Royals down the stretch. The 25-year-old Olivares has mostly played in Triple-A Omaha and has absolutely mashed Triple-A pitching this season, as he is posting a 154 wRC+ in 52 games and 233 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. Olivares, who was acquired from the Padres in the Trevor Rosenthal deal last year, is an athletic and toolsy player who has showcased an interesting blend of speed and power, as he has stolen 12 bases this year and hit 13 home runs in Omaha, including this most recent one which helped the Storm Chasers beat the Toledo Mud Hens:
The Royals haven’t exactly been “kind” to Olivares’ development this year, as they have frequently promoted and demoted him this season. While he has thrived in Omaha, he has yet to really gain any traction in Kansas City, as he is posting a 70 wRC+ in 12 games and 35 plate appearances. However, the presence of Soler and Ryan O’Hearn made it difficult for Olivares to get any consistent playing time, and now with Soler gone, regular playing time is more available for Olivares, should he take advantage of it.
After getting called up yesterday, Olivares is getting the start on Sunday, as he is penciled in to be the Royals’ starting right fielder:
Olivares is an interesting case as he has the speed to cover center field, but his instincts and glove have been too “error-prone” to help him stick at the position at the Major League level. Last year, according to Baseball Savant, Olivares was two outs BELOW average in the outfield, which included a one out below average mark in center field. While Olivares may not be the most “natural” center field candidate, there aren’t a whole lot of center field candidates in the Royals farm system, and honestly, while Michael A. Taylor has been serviceable, it is unlikely that at 30-years-old he will be back in 2022.
Thus, while Olivares will get a majority of innings in right and maybe left field, the Royals should also give him some innings in center to see if he could perhaps compete for the position in Spring Training next year.
Promote Jackson Kowar and have him begin in long relief
Daniel Lynch has had a great return to Kansas City after a rough debut back in May. Though he didn’t get the win, Lynch still produced a quality start against the Blue Jays, which is nothing to shrug about considering the Blue Jays’ killer lineup:
Now, with Danny Duffy no longer on the Royals roster, the Royals need to start giving their young arms a chance to garner innings and experience at the Major League level. In addition to Lynch, the Royals have also given starts to Carlos Hernandez and Kris Bubic, and it has paid off, as they have produced some promising performances as of late. Brady Singer is still on the IL, but he is bound to join the rotation soon, as he just had a recent rehab start in Triple-A Omaha.
Thus, the only move left now pitching-wise would be to bring back Jackson Kowar to Kansas City, especially with his stuff looking like this:
Kowar has nothing to prove in Omaha at the moment. Over 12 starts, he is posting a 2.59 ERA and a K/9 of 12.97 in 59 innings of work. However, one can understand the Royals’ hesitancy to bring Kowar back up, as he was flat out disastrous in his Royals debut.
In three appearances and five innings of work, he posted an 18.00 ERA and 8.56 FIP, according to Fangraphs. That being said, it is possible that the “nerves” of the moment got to Kowar, and he could rebound in a return to the Royals, now that the expectations are much lower, especially with the Royals out of the playoff hunt.
Even though the Royals should bring Kowar back up, being prudent in his second stint with the Royals may be the wise thing to do. When Singer returns, the Royals rotation will be stacked, so there won’t really be a place for Kowar to fit in. And that’s not a bad thing. Instead of returning to the rotation, the Royals should instead implement Kowar in a long relief role. The Royals implemented that strategy with Bubic, and it ended up paying off, as Bubic not only thrived in relief, but ended up transitioning that strong performance to a starting role after the All Star break.
The same thing could happen for Kowar. He could develop confidence in low-leverage situations, and hopefully, after some time, he could be ready to join the rotation at some point in September or be ready to compete for one in Spring Training next season. That would be a major win for Kowar and the Royals, especially considering how first three outings went.
Unfortunately, promoting Kowar to a long relief role would probably spell the end for Ervin Santana, who has struggled over the past couple of months. In 20 appearances and 39.2 IP, Santana is posting a 5.90 ERA and 5.32 FIP and has given up a HR/FB rate of 15.7 percent, according to Fangraphs. As a result, Santana has fallen out of favor with Matheny over the past month, as Santana only accumulated 4.2 IP out of the bullpen after pitching 15.2 innings in June. Hence, even though Santana is a valuable mentor for many of the pitchers in the Royals bullpen, he is not really contributing, and as a result, he is simply wasting a roster spot at this point.
It will be interesting to see when Moore will pull the trigger on this move. However, it seems like it is looming, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the promotion of Kowar coincides with the release of Santana, whenever that should happen.
Explore playing Adalberto Mondesi at different positions when he comes back
Adalberto Mondesi has not played much this year in Kansas City, but when he has, he has really produced at the plate. In 38 plate appearances, Mondesi posted a 228 wRC+ and had accumulated a 0.7 fWAR, according to Fangraphs, which is crazy to think considering he has only appeared in 10 games this year. I am guessing with the Royals out of the playoff hunt, they won’t be in a rush to call up Mondesi, especially with Nicky Lopez doing so well as his replacement.
However, I imagine Mondesi will return to the lineup eventually this year, even if it may be only for a month or so. That seems to be further supported by reports of him taking reps in the field and getting some batting practice as of late:
When Mondesi does return to the Royals, the initial inkling would be for the Royals to pencil him as the starting shortstop, and move Nicky to second base and Whit back to right field. While that would be the best fit lineup-wise for the Royals to competitive in the “present”, it is a missed opportunity to help the Royals grow in the “long term”.
Bobby Witt, Jr. is currently in Omaha and performing well, as he is hitting .314 with a 135 wRC+ in 11 games and 53 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers, according to Fangraphs. It is indeterminate whether Witt will be called up this year or next. Nonetheless, if the Royals do pick him up, they should make sure that he gets regular playing time at shortstop, especially since he was drafted in 2019 to be the Royals’ shortstop of the future.
So where does that place Mondesi?
I was particularly intrigued by Clubhouse Conversation’s suggestion about where Mondesi should “fit” in the field long-term:
Mondesi is an incredible athlete, and while the initial feeling would be to keep him in the infield, the Royals should explore utilizing him in the outfield, center field especially. Mondesi’s multi-toolset would fit in well in center field, and considering the Royals do not have a legitimate center field prospect in the upper levels of the farm system, Mondesi wouldn’t be blocking anyone in the next two to three years.
There certainly would be growing pains if Mondesi makes that transition, and maybe Olivares shows that he can indeed handle the position over these next two months. But if Olivares cannot, then I think Mondesi should get a shot to at least “test” out the position when he returns to the Royals with the idea that he could perhaps work on the position in the off-season and in Spring Training. That opens up a spot for Witt to take over in 2022, and the Royals are able to utilize Mondesi at a position of need for at least the next few years (when hopefully, Erick Pena, Jr. is more ready).
It’s unorthodox, and I don’t know how Mondesi will receive it. However, if pushed right, this could be a win-win for both Mondesi and the Royals both in the short term and long term.
After all, if they were willing to try Alcides Escobar in center field back in 2018, they should at least try it with Mondesi, who is a much better athlete in comparison to Escobar.
And maybe a switch to this outfield will keep Mondesi healthier in the long-term as well, which I think the Royals and Royals fans can get behind.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports