The Royals Harp Patience With Pasquantino and Pratto…But Why?

On Monday morning, KC Star Royals beat writer Lynn Worthy published this story about a conversation he had with Royals general manager JJ Picollo about the status of first base prospects Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto, who are the 4th and 2nd-best prospects in the Royals system, according to MLB Pipeline.

The story has generated a fair amount of “buzz” across Royals’ Twitter, Reddit, and Social Media circles (and that is putting generously):

Royals fans, already frustrated with a 16-30 record and the worst record in the AL Central currently, are not too happy with the comments from the Royals front office regarding where Pasquantino and Pratto stand in their “MLB readiness”. Baseball fans in Kansas City are looking for hope in what appears to be another lost year. Thankfully, it’s been the play of young stars like Bobby Witt, Jr. and MJ Melendez, who have been able to excite this Royals fan base amidst this brutal first two months of the 2022 season.

One would think that the Royals would parlay on this momentum from Witt and Melendez and bring up either Pasquantino or Pratto in the near future.

And yet, it’s comments like this one below from Picollo, which cause Royals fans to scratch their head in confusion, as well as anger.

“The evaluations are very good. Vinnie, in particular, is swinging the bat exceptionally well,” Picollo said. “Nick continues to get better with his at-bats. Vinnie, I was looking at this the other day, he just hit the 150 at-bat mark in Triple-A. He had 200 at-bats in Double-A.

“So when you look at upper level at-bats, he’s had 350 upper level at-bats. That’s not even a season’s worth, over two levels. You’d like to get, really, a full season at the highest level. That’s not set in stone, but generally you’d like to see 500, 550 plate appearances at the highest level.”

Pasquantino, a left-handed-hitting first baseman/designated hitter, began last season at High-A Quad Cities and played just 55 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

“As the at-bats compile, we’ll be able to make a better evaluation of how ready he is,” Picollo said. “What he’s doing right now is outstanding. What Nick is doing right now is outstanding. We still think there’s things that both of them need to work on, not only at Triple-A, but they’ll need to work on in the big leagues too. They’re just on a good track. It’s a good spot for us to be in.”

“Kansas City Royals GM Picollo: Pasquantino and Pratto getting closer, but not there yet” by Lynn Worthy; Kansas City Star

Is the Royals front office actually serious when they say that they need more plate appearances to make a serious evaluation about Pasquantino and Pratto as prospects?

Or is this a smokescreen to help them hang onto a struggling Carlos Santana a little bit longer, with the hope that Santana can go on a tear for a week or two and generate a trade, much like Jorge Soler a season ago?

It’s easy to automatically think the worst with this Royals organization at this time. I know, personally speaking, it’s hard to make sense of what this club is doing in order to salvage this season.

To be fair, the AL Central is not quite the AL West or East in terms of competitiveness.

The Minnesota Twins are the only team in the division with a winning record, which certainly says something about the quality of play from Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit this season (who had much higher expectations than the Royals from the national media). However, the Royals have a 0.2 percent chance to win the division and a 0.3 percent chance to make the postseason, heading into Monday’s series against Cleveland.

If the Royals believe that they are still in the thick of things in the division, one would think that Pasquantino and Pratto give the Royals a much better shot at winning than Santana and Ryan O’Hearn, who are both posting wRC+ marks of 66 and 50, respectively.

Nonetheless, I take a deeper dive into Pasquantino and Pratto’s situations and see where the Royals front office is coming from, and what Royals fans could expect from the two highly-anticipated first base prospects for the remainder of this season.

Does Pasquantino Need 500 Plate Appearances in the Upper Minors?

It seems like the primary reason why Pasquantino is NOT up, according to Picollo, is that they want him to accumulate 500 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A combined before they can deem him “ready” for the big leagues.

The benchmark, as stated by Picollo in Worthy’s piece, is kind of weird though, as this hasn’t really been stated as a priority before with other prospects. Rany Jazayerli pointed this out on Twitter, mentioning other Royals position prospects who made their debut (and did just fine) without hitting that 500 plate-appearance threshold.

Hence, the question is this: why are the Royals using this as a benchmark for Pasquantino, and not for other heralded prospects like Hosmer and Salvy?

The only thing I can point to as possible justification for Picollo’s arbitrary number for the former Old Dominion player could be the fact that Pasquantino’s meteoric rise as a prospect has really been a product of the past year.

Hosmer was a No. 1 prospect in the Royals system (2011) as well as a first-round pick. In addition, Salvy was a high-profile International signing at the age of 16, who ranked within the Top-20 in the Royals system every season from 2009 to 2011 by Baseball America.

The same kind of prospect expectation couldn’t be said for Pasquantino prior to this year.

Pasquantino went under the radar in the scouting process, as he didn’t get selected by the Royals until the 11th round of the 2019 draft. For context, the Royals have had three 11th-round picks in their franchise history who have had productive careers with the Royals: Kevin Seitzer (1983; 28.9 bWAR); Scott Sanderson (1974; 27.7 bWAR); and Joe Randa (1991; 21.4 bWAR).

Beyond those three players though, no 11th-round pick has touched the six bWAR mark over their career, and only 13 draft picks in that round since 1968 have actually made the Majors (with 2007 pick David Lough being the most recent).

To compare, 11 first-round picks in Royals history have produced a bWAR over 10 in their career, and an additional five second-round picks in Royals history have produced a bWAR over 10 as well.

In addition, according to Baseball America, Pasquantino has never been ranked in the Royals’ Top-30 prospect lists until this past year (he wasn’t even an honorable mention in Baseball America’s Top-40 list going into 2021). While he currently was ranked 10th in the pre-season and is currently ranked No. 4 by Baseball America after a series of graduations, it’s not typical for prospects, in general, to jump up so high in a system over such a short timespan.

The “plate appearance” requirement could be a situation where the Royals front office is making sure that Pasquantino’s breakout is truly legitimate, and is not a “hot streak” or product of hitter-friendly Triple-A environments (though according to Baseball America, Omaha ranks as a pretty neutral ballpark for both hitters and pitchers).

Obviously, the advanced metrics paint Pasquantino as a solid hitter, even stemming back to his rookie year in short-season Burlington when he hit 14 home runs and posted a .963 OPS over 57 games and 211 at-bats. And the film of Pasquantino’s at-bats has only become more impressive each and every game, which further stunts the “not-ready” notion.

The Royals front office could be over-analyzing themselves a bit, hoping to avoid a situation where they promote a guy too soon, which has hurt them with their pitching prospects. Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez didn’t accumulate a whole lot of innings in the upper minors but are now back in Triple-A figuring things out mechanically and pitch-mix-wise. In all honesty, it was surprising to see Pasquantino have so few Minor League games (219) compared to Melendez (413) and Pratto (467), as it feels like he’s been in the Royals system longer.

Then again, in a February piece in Baseball America, Alec Zumwalt claimed that they were not surprised by Psquantino’s quick progression at the plate, despite the lack of Minor League at-bats.

Here’s Zumwalt’s quote and I do wonder if anything has changed from his perspective since the piece posted prior to Spring Training:

“Nothing that Vinnie Pasquantino has done surprises us as an organization,” said Alec Zumwalt, the Royals’ director of hitting performance and player development. “We firmly believe in him and his tools.

“We’re just really excited about his progress last season, and obviously what he’s going to continue to do in 2022.”

“Steady Gains Vault Vinnie Pasquantino Onto Royals’ Radar” by Bill Mitchell; Baseball America.

Of course, as stated before, the Royals could be implementing this benchmark just to buy Santana a bit more time to (somehow) get him traded and get his contract (somewhat) off the books. If someone trades for Santana tomorrow, it’s possible that this “benchmark” goes out the window and Vinnie is in Kansas City the next day.

Either way, whatever the reason, the longer they wait, the worse this “stance” gets, especially once Pasquantino passes that vaunted “500 plate appearance” mark.

Pratto and the Strikeouts?

Unlike Pasquantino, Pratto has crossed that 500 plate appearance threshold (he has 719 appearances between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha since 2021). He is also on the 40-man roster, which makes bringing him up easier on a transactional end.

That being said, Pratto’s offensive profile is a lot more questionable than Pasquantino’s, and a lot can be tied to his strikeouts not just this season, but last year with the Naturals and Storm Chasers as well.

Now, Pratto is definitely a patient hitter, as he is posting a walk rate of 14.9 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.48, according to Fangraphs. He also makes the most out of his swings and contact, as he is producing an HR/FB rate of 22 percent over 174 plate appearances.

Here’s an example of Pratto able to make the “productive” contact on a home run against the Louisville Bats which he hit 462 feet:

The power and walk numbers are nice, but his strikeout rates do unfortunately put a damper on those two positive progressions from Pratto this year.

The 23-year-old is producing a strikeout rate of 31 percent, which is his highest K rate since 2019 in High-A Wilmington when he posted a K rate of 34.7 percent and nearly tumbled out of many Royals Top-10 prospects lists the following season as a result. Furthermore, his batting average is only .231 as of May 30th, and this is despite a .296 BABIP (to compare, Vinnie is producing a .303 average with a .288 BABIP).

Considering his K rate was 28.5 percent in Omaha and 29.1 percent in Northwest Arkansas in 2021, the fact that Pratto has continued to struggle with strikeouts, despite more at-bats at the Triple-A level, is a concerning development. This Royals lineup struggles already with strikeouts and getting on-base consistently (which is what prompted them to get Santana in the first place). As of now, it seems like Pratto would only amplify those struggles at the big league level, not alleviate them.

However, as Down on the Farm on Twitter mentioned, Pratto hasn’t really been all that worse on a swinging strike rate end compared to the league average Triple-A hitter, and most of his strikeouts can be credited to an “overly” patient approach.

Therefore, one has to wonder what could happen if the Royals could tap into his aggressiveness a bit more since the raw contact skills suggest that he’s better than the .231 hitter that he currently is demonstrating in Omaha this year.

On the other hand, his sub-20 line drive rates in Omaha this year are a bit concerning, as many of his fly balls which are going for home runs in Triple-A, could turn into long fly-outs in the Major Leagues, especially with the deadened ball. Additionally, Pratto has struggled with high pop-up rates in the minors, and that could amplify in Kansas City, especially with Pratto’s approach at the plate.

If you compare Pratto and Vinnie’s batted ball numbers against each other (as I do below), it’s easy to see that Pratto’s batted-ball profile isn’t nearly as impressive as his Storm Chasers teammate:

Pratto (left); Pasquantino (right)

These are some other issues that are not as widely talked about that Pratto could be working on prior to an MLB call-up (which I am sure he is).

However, should Pratto continue to be working on those issues in Omaha? Or should he be up in Kansas City with Alec Zumwalt and Drew Saylor, who already have produced results with him, based on his bounce-back campaign in 2021?

I got to imagine the Royals are weighing their options with Pratto, even if his profile this year hasn’t been as impressive as Pasquantino’s.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him somehow get the call-up to Kansas City before Vinnie, especially due to that relationship Pratto cultivated with Zumwalt and Saylor back at the Alternate Site in 2020.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

5 thoughts on “The Royals Harp Patience With Pasquantino and Pratto…But Why?

  1. Definitely agree that Vinnie looks like the better hitter, but If both players came to KC, Pratto’s defensive ability could be an asset as well, right? (Although, there are already 6,438, 293 utility-type defenders on the roster.)

    Regardless, it’d be nice to see Melendez, Vinnie, Merrifield, BWJ, Rivera, Benintendi, Isbel, Dozier, and Salvy play. That’s a lineup worth watching, even if they lose. Pratto and Dozier could bounce between the corners, Perez and MJ at catcher/DH, Lopez at UT, MAT as a PR/def replacement. Plenty of room for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree. I always think you should just bring up your best players, and let the chips fall where they may playing time wise. There’s a 162 games after all to figure it out.


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