We are officially past 2021 and into 2022. There’s snow (and ice) on the ground in Kansas City, which seems about right after a Christmas that felt more similar to the ones I experienced in Sacramento, California growing up.
First off, thank you to everyone for following this blog over the past year. This was the second full season of the Royals Reporter, and it’s crazy to think how far this blog has come from its humble beginnings back in the Summer of 2019.
Remember, that was a time when we as Royals fans were arguing about whether Jorge Lopez belonged in the rotation or the bullpen. If Royals fans think things are bad as a club now, check out that post and be thankful for how far we have come as a baseball organization (which I think is a credit to John Sherman, as Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report mentioned):
With a new year, I figured it would be nice to write a quick post of three “wishes” I would like to see come true for the Royals in 2022. There are very brief, and honestly surface-level thoughts, but I wanted to start the year out right with a new post, especially since I wasn’t able to get a closing post done on New Year’s Eve in 2021.
Hence, here are three things I would like to see happen for the Royals in the upcoming year.
Win 80 or More Games
The Royals went 74-88 this year, which was a better win percentage than their 2020 mark (.457 to .433 in 2020). While it’s easy to focus on the Royals’ slide after a strong first month of play, the Royals have slowly been getting better as a club after losing 104 games in 2018.
I know a lot of Royals fans are hoping for a playoff run in 2022, especially after splurging on some veterans in Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Benintendi a year ago. However, I simply want to see the Royals hit the 80-win mark, with a .500 or better record being the most ideal (but I’ll settle for an 80-82 record, honestly).
If they hit the 80-win mark in 2022, I think that is a sign of progress, especially in a division where the futures of the Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins are a bit shaky (those two clubs seem like the ones whom the Royals have the best shot of passing in the standings).
The Royals probably will be on the outside looking in when it comes to a possible playoff berth next season, especially with the White Sox getting better, and the Tigers suddenly loading up in free agency with the Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez signings. However, I think if the Royals win 80 or more games, and promote some of their young stars in the process, then Royals fans will have a lot to look forward to in 2023 and beyond, which better fits the Royals’ window of competing.
We See Progress from the Royals’ Young Pitchers
There is no question that the key to success for the Royals in the future will depend on the development of their young pitching staff.
As we have seen in free agency, acquiring starting pitching from outside the organization can come at a premium cost.
Yes, guys like Rodriguez are good pitchers to have in a rotation. But are they worth the magnitude of the deals we have seen this offseason? Probably not in the long run, but the market rate for starting pitching is expensive, and it’s hard to see the Royals compete currently with other clubs in such bidding, especially as a small-market club that ranks in the lower third of the league when it comes to payroll.
In order for the Royals to compete in the long term, they will need their young pitchers to take steps forward at the Major League level in 2022. It seems like the Royals are investing in their pitching development, and there have been some early results, as demonstrated in this Patrick Brennan piece about the improvement of Royals player development, especially on a pitching end, since the end of the 2019 season:
The Royals will be depending on Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Carlos Hernandez, and Kris Bubic to make improvements at the Major League level in 2022, and Asa Lacy and Jonathan Bowlan (just to name a couple) to show growth in the Minor League level. If the Royals can see three or more pitchers take some steps forward developmentally this season, then the Royals fanbase has to feel good about the organization being more competitive in the American League in 2023 and beyond.
The Royals Let the Young Position Players Play (Even with the Expected Struggles)
Let’s be honest…as excited as I am about Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez, there will be some growing pains for them at the Major League level when they debut. Alec Lewis of The Athletic mentioned this in his most recent “predictions” post for 2022:
Even in the past couple of years, we have seen premium prospects struggle in their Major League debut. Jo Adell is still going to be a potential star, but he’s hasn’t exactly torn it up with the Angels since debuting during the COVID-affected 2020 campaign. Brendan Rodgers has long been the Rockies’ top prospect, but it wasn’t until last year that he started to show some improvement and could be due for a breakout with Trevor Story likely gone (as I hinted about in a Pitcher List post I wrote last June):
It is likely that Witt and Pratto may struggle with strikeouts when they first see Major League pitchers. Melendez may have a hard time making the adjustment at the plate and behind the dish as a Major League catcher handling the Royals pitching staff (and Major League umpires). Royals fans shouldn’t just expect them to come in dominate like they did in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas last year.
But they should still get playing time, despite the ups and downs they will experience in their rookie seasons. Short-term victories with Ryan O’Hearn and even Santana (who I hope the Royals trade during the season after he gets off to a hot start…fingers crossed) should not come at the cost of long-term development.
Because if Mike Matheny gives those young position players innings in the field and valuable at-bats, that will only help prepare them for the 2023 season…
Which is going to be a more crucial campaign for the Royals organization anyways.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports