The Royals have a chance to finish above .500 in a month for the first time since April as they face the Cleveland “soon-to-be” Guardians tonight on August 31st at Kauffman Stadium.
Unfortunately, Royals haven’t had much luck against Cleveland this year, as they are 1-8 against them, which included a four-game sweep at Kauffman Stadium back in May (I was at the first game of that sweep, mostly to witness Daniel Lynch made his Major League debut). That being said, the Royals have gone 23-18 in the second half this year, a sign that they can be a decent team when the chips fall in their favor. While they are clearly out of the playoff hunt, as they are 16 games behind the Chicago White Sox as of August 31st, the Royals have at least played fun enough baseball in the second half to help Royals fans get excited for 2022, especially when combined with the strong play from the teams and top prospects in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas this year.
Thus, with September starting on Wednesday, I wanted to take a look at three things Royals fans should be looking forward to over the last month of play in 2021 (well, “roughly” last month, as the Royals do play a series in October against the Twins). While many KC sports fans will be more focused on the start of the NFL and Kansas City Chiefs season, there are a few storylines brewing with the Royals that should not only keep Royals fans’ attention, but also help them get more excited for Spring Training in 2022.
The Return of Jackson Kowar to Kansas City
With the Royals returning home, many of the Royals beat writers, including MLB.com Royals writer Anne Rogers, mentioned the sighting at Kauffman Stadium during afternoon warmups:
In a stark contrast to other years, MLB rosters will only be expanding to 28 active spots, rather than the full 40, which had been typical prior to 2020. While it is a bummer that Royals fans will not see more players in the dugout this season (and most likely going forward after the CBA is re-negotiated), it is actually a good thing for teams in the Royals farm system, as their regular season will extend longer than usual, which will allow some of the Royals’ best prospects to get more time not just playing together, but also an opportunity to perhaps compete for a postseason championship as well.
That being said, it looks like the Royals will be giving Kowar a second-chance with the Royals pitching staff, even though he’s been so dominant against Triple-A hitters this season, and would undoubtedly help the Storm Chasers’ chances in the postseason.
Because Kowar hasn’t been called up just yet, it’s unknown what kind of role Kowar will have in Kansas City this second-time around. Even though Brad Keller hit the IL, Jakob Junis made his return to the Royals on Tuesday, with Junis getting the start in the opening game against Cleveland at the K:
Thus, the rotation looks to be pretty stacked, which may make a stint in the bullpen more likely for Kowar, especially considering their need for depth and long relief out of the bullpen down the stretch. Nonetheless, whether it’s in the rotation or bullpen, it will be interesting to see how Kowar bounces back after a pretty disastrous MLB debut in which he posted an 18.00 ERA in three appearances and five innings of work. Carlos Hernandez and Daniel Lynch are both stories of guys who struggled early on in the year and got demoted, only to make an adjustment in the second go-around at the Major League level and find more lasting success.
Let’s hope the same success can happen for Kowar during the month of September. If he can in this second call-up show a sliver of what he demonstrated on the mound in Omaha this year, then Royals fans will have a lot to be legitimately excited about this off-season in regard to the potential of this rotation in 2022 and beyond.
Adalberto Mondesi and a possible position change?
While Kowar seems to be the Royals pitcher who will be called up when the roster expands to 28 players tomorrow, it also appears that the position player to be called up was also in attendance at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday afternoon:
The move is not surprising, as Mondesi was already on a rehab assignment in Omaha, and seemed to be tearing it up as of late, showcasing that “power potential” that has made Royals fans hopeful about his long-term potential on more than one occasion:
However, while Mondesi, if healthy of course, will be a boost to this Royals lineup in the month of September, there was also a report of this development during afternoon workouts today:
It would be an interesting move for the Royals to move Mondesi to third base, especially since in Omaha, they often moved Bobby Witt, Jr. to third to make room for Mondesi at shortstop. That being said, Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield have been really good this season and not just offensively, but defensively as well (which I wrote about this weekend). Thus, I can see Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny trying Mondesi at third in order to not mess up the chemistry that has been developing this year with Nicky and Whit up the middle.
However, while it seems like the Royals are pushing Mondesi off of the shortstop position at the Major League level, this could be a win not just for the Royals, but Mondesi as well. Right now, it’s hard to tell if the Royals believe that Mondesi will be a long-term option in Kansas City. For as exciting and productive as he has been the past few years, his struggles to stay healthy has made the Royals management and front office question whether Mondesi can be “depended upon as an everyday player” not just next year, but perhaps beyond as well:
That being said, a move to third could perhaps increase his trade value, which honestly is probably not all that high after only playing in 10 games this season. As a shortstop-only player, his trade prospects are limited, especially with so many competitive teams already with “franchise” shortstops clearly in place (and long-term). But if Mondesi can prove to be an effective utility player who can be moved around? Well, that could make teams more interested, especially considering he’s under team control for two more years after this season, and most likely won’t command more than the $2.52 million he’s making this year.
In addition, Mondesi wouldn’t be blocking anyone at third base, especially in September. Hunter Dozier has shown that he probably belongs in right field or at DH, which is further amplified if one looks at his fielding metrics on Baseball Savant (he’s been eight outs BELOW average at third base). And while Emmanuel Rivera has been a nice story at third, he’s not a real high-profile prospect, and it’s hard seeing him being more than a Cheslor Cuthbert with maybe more power potential.
Hopefully, Matheny tests Mondesi not just at third, but maybe the outfield, which could be a landing spot for him in 2022, should the Royals decide to hold onto him this off-season. Even if they do explore trading him, letting Mondesi play multiple positions over the next month will only boost his value with possible suitors this winter…
Which in turn will open up a clearer path for Witt, Jr. to Kansas City in 2022.
The Royals building their bullpen for 2022
It would not be surprising to see the Royals make some major moves down the stretch in preparation for 2022, especially in relation to their bullpen.
Greg Holland most likely will be out a while, if not the remainder of the season, which has opened up some opportunities in the Royals bullpen for other relievers to pitch crucial innings late in the game. Wade Davis has been better than he was at the start of the year, but he hasn’t been really used, and he still seems pretty over-the-hill to boot. And while Ervin Santana has been a great mentor for Carlos Hernandez, he has been a little used arm in the bullpen over the past couple of months.
To make matters worse, in addition to having some little-used veterans, the Royals have also seen Richard Lovelady and Jake Brentz hit the IL due to injury. Thus, the Royals bullpen is not just thin, but lacking in dependability, especially when it comes to arms with long-term potential.
However, that could change, especially with some bullpen arms chomping at the bit in Omaha.
Dylan Coleman is the one that sticks out the most. A former Padres reliever who came in the Trevor Rosenthal deal last Summer with Edward Olivares, Coleman has made Triple-A hitters look absolutely silly. In 25 innings with the Storm Chasers, Coleman has posted a K rate of 40.2 percent and K/BB ratio of 3.42, according to Fangraphs. Coleman has been an incredible story since being acquired by Kansas City, and his story was eloquently portrayed by the Athletic’s Alec Lewis, which makes one want to root for him as a Royals fan:
Coleman is not alone, however, as a “local-ish” guy waiting for his opportunity to pitch in Kauffman Stadium (Coleman played his college baseball at Missouri State). Grant Gavin, who is posting a 26.6 percent K rate and 2.58 K/BB ratio in 58.1 IP with the Storm Chasers, is not just a Missouri college guy (he went to Central Missouri), but also a local KC prep product as well (he went to St. Pius X high school in the Northland). It is possible that Gavin could get a look, especially since he’s performed well nearly all year in Omaha.
Additionally, the Royals could also see the return of Foster Griffin, who has pitched nearly 24 in Double-A and Triple-A combined after undergoing Tommy John last year. Griffin made his MLB debut last year, and was a former first round pick of the Royals who could provide a much-needed left-handed arm to a bullpen that is without one after the Brentz and Lovelady injuries. Griffin hasn’t been spectacular in Omaha, as he is only posting a 1.83 K/BB ratio and a 4.03 FIP, according to Fangraphs. That being said, he could be a much-needed lefty who could provide a change of pace to opposing lineups over the next month, and he would be a nice comeback story, especially considering how he hurt himself during his MLB debut.
Lastly, Ronald Bolanos has returned to the mound, first starting in Northwest Arkansas before being transferred to Omaha today, which is a surprise since he hit the 60-Day IL early in the year, and seemed like he would be out for a year at the very least:
Before his injury, Bolanos was looking to be a sleeper out of the bullpen who could be a possible setup man not just for this year, but beyond as well. Acquired in the Tim Hill deal with Franchy Cordero, Bolanos struggled early in his career as a starter, but seemed to find a groove this year when he moved to the bullpen. Bolanos struck out 10 batters and only walked two in 6.1 IP with the Royals this year, and consequently produced an ERA of 1.42 and FIP of 0.95, both impressive marks. In addition, his stuff looked also more electric than ever, as evidenced by the strikeout below of Jose Iglesias in Anaheim back in June:
If Bolanos can return to Kansas City and still be effective in the bullpen (as he was pre-injury), then it’s possible that the Royals could have at least a bonafide setup man who could have closer-potential, should he be given the opportunity. Granted, I am not sure if Bolanos will return to the Royals this year (especially considering his touchy health situation), but he was showing incredible upside pre-injury, and he should be a pitcher Royals fans should be excited about, especially if he returns to pitch in September.
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