After failed negotiations last weekend, Major League Baseball has announced not only the delay of the MLB regular season but also the cancellation of another week of Spring Training games in both Arizona and Florida:
At some point, the Royals and other clubs will report to their Spring Training camps when the lockout ends and a new CBA is negotiated. However, Spring Training this year will be a lot different length-wise, as the focus will be more about getting players into baseball shape rather than playing any meaningful baseball in the Cactus or Grapefruit League this Spring.
As a result, there are some players on the Royals’ 40-man roster who will suffer due to the (likely) heavily-shortened Spring Training schedule.
In this post, I am going to take a look at five players who stand to lose the most with a shortened Cactus League campaign, and how that also could impact their overall outlook for the 2022 season, however long it should be.
Nick Pratto & MJ Melendez
It was going to be tough for Pratto and Melendez to make the Opening Day roster in the first place without a major shakeup happening this Spring in the first place.
After all, Carlos Santana is still entrenched at first base as he enters the last year of the deal he signed last offseason. While Santana was underwhelming in his first season with the Royals, he didn’t command a whole lot of trade interest from other clubs this offseason prior to the lockout, and it doesn’t seem likely that the Royals will be able to pull off a deal before the season actually begins.
Thus, Santana’s presence, along with Ryan O’Hearn’s, who made the non-tender cut, will limit Pratto’s opportunities at first base this Spring. Unless Pratto really smashes the ball in Cactus League play, or the Royals are able to trade Santana in Spring Training, it seems likely that Pratto will begin the year as the starting first baseman in Omaha (though he may join AFTER the Storm Chasers begin playing, especially if the lockout carries into May).
The same is true for Melendez, who probably is better in the long term than Cam Gallagher and Sebastian Rivero, two other catchers on the 40-man roster. However, with limited opportunities this Spring, and Gallagher and Rivero a bit more proven as backups to Salvador Perez, it also seems like a given that Melendez will be joining Pratto in Omaha to begin the 2022 season.
Kowar had an underwhelming rookie debut with the Royals in 2021, as he posted an 11.27 ERA and -0.3 fWAR in nine appearances and 30.1 IP. That was a far cry from his performance in Omaha, which was absolutely dominating.
With the Storm Chasers, Kowar posted a 3.46 ERA in 17 appearances and 80.2 IP, which helped him earn Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2021. The former Florida Gator also struck out 115 total batters last season, good for a K/9 of 12.83.
On frequent occasions, the right-handed Royals pitching prospect demonstrated sensational strikeout staff against Triple-A hitting, especially when he was able to command his changeup effectively:
Right now, it doesn’t appear that Kowar has a whole lot to prove in Triple-A Omaha in 2022.
That being said, he seems to be behind in the starting pitcher pecking order, as it appears that Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Carlos Hernandez appear to be better fitted at the end of the Royals rotation. While Kowar may be ahead of Angel Zerpa and Jon Heasley, who also made their Royals debut last season, they did show more flashes of success against MLB hitters in 2021 than Kowar.
A strong Spring Training could give hope to Royals fans that Kowar could at least break camp with the Royals roster, even if it was in a hybrid starter/relief role. Such a role would allow him to gain confidence in short-inning stints, which seemed to work for Bubic a season ago after he struggled in Spring Training.
Unfortunately, a short Cactus League campaign gives Kowar fewer opportunities to prove that he belongs on the Opening Day roster in 2022. And hence, that will probably spell a return to Omaha for the 25-year-old, even if he may be too “good” for Triple-A at this point in his career.
Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares
Even with the lockout going on, that hasn’t stopped many Royals fans and experts from making Opening Day roster projections. Craig Brown of Into the Fountains posted his on February 24th, even though he wasn’t totally optimistic at the time the season would start on time:
The one surprising roster projection he made was Whit Merrifield being the starting right fielder on Opening Day, and Kyle Isbel beginning the year in Triple-A Omaha.
And this would be a shame, especially considering Isbel’s strong finish to the 2021 season in Kansas City (I likened his profile to Akil Baddoo’s, even though Isbel has less power and stolen base ability than Baddoo).
Furthermore, the move of Whit to the right-field position on a full-time basis could also spell trouble for Edward Olivares, who had trouble staying on the Royals’ active roster a season ago:
I get where Brown is coming from: right now, the Royals need Adalberto Mondesi to play as much as possible, if healthy. And if Bobby Witt, Jr. makes the Opening Day roster (less likely due to the lockout, but still in play), it would be best for Witt to play his long-term position every day, which would be at shortstop. That means Mondesi would be playing every day at third base and Nicky Lopez would move back to the keystone full-time.
While that would produce a pretty good infield defense, it, unfortunately, leaves Isbel out of the mix, and limits opportunities for Olivares, especially if the Royals hope to play Hunter Dozier in right field when Whit is playing second base.
Last year, Isbel had a stellar Cactus League performance, which helped him earn a spot in the Opening Day starting lineup.
However, if the Spring Training slate is shortened, that gives fewer opportunities in right field for Isbel and Olivares, which could mean not only a demotion for Isbel but also Olivares, who also has one Minor League option remaining.
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