Four Royals on the 40-man Worth Paying Attention to This September

The Royals avoided the sweep on Sunday with a 15-7 blowout win over the San Diego Padres to bring their record to 52-77 for the year. The trouncing of former Royals draft pick Sean Manaea and the Padres bullpen (including former Brewers closer Josh Hader) is a cruel reminder of how this 2022 season has gone so far.

For as rough as this season has gone (the Royals are 25 games under .500 after all), there have been moments, like Sunday, that has brought hope to the Royals fanbase that perhaps better days are ahead, as long as everything can click right.

Kansas City has some interesting decisions to make this offseason, both in regard to free agency, their coaching staff (especially manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred), and perhaps even the front office (the pressure will certainly be on Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo to turn things around quickly in 2023 if they’re both back).

And yet, there is still quite a bit of baseball left for the Royals in 2022, as there are 33 games remaining on Kansas City’s schedule.

Sure, it’s easy to just focus on 2023, especially with Kansas City Chiefs football season starting, and the Royals clearly out of the postseason hunt (even in a weak division such as the AL Central). That being said, there are some interesting players on the 40-man roster who could make some noise not just over this next month, but perhaps in Spring Training in 2023 as well.

Now, I’m not talking about the obvious candidates, such as Nick Pratto, Bobby Witt, Jr., Michael Massey, or even Jonathan Heasley. Rather, I am talking about some under-the-radar guys who either are still in Omaha or have only had brief stints in the Major Leagues this season.

Here are four players on the Royals’ 40-man roster who could be worth keeping an eye on not just for the remainder of 2022, but next Spring, as they could not just be candidates to make the active roster, but perhaps contributors to the Royals lineup or pitching staff in 2023 as well.

Drew Waters, OF

Waters was a surprise call-up after Vinnie Pasquantino hit the IL. In addition, he replaced a popular player in Nate Eaton, who was solid defensively but had struggled at the plate after a solid debut in Toronto.

In fact, many Royals fans and content creators questioned the Royals’ decision to promote Waters so soon.

There’s no question that the Royals like Waters, his outlook at the MLB level, and how he’s connected with Drew Saylor and the Royals’ professional development staff.

With the Storm Chasers, Waters generated a 149 wRC+ and slash of .295/.399/.541 in 31 games and 143 plate appearances. That’s a far cry from the .246/.305/.393 slash and 84 wRC+ he posted in 49 games and 210 plate appearances in Gwinnett prior to the trade, which also was his second go-around in the Braves’ Triple-A organization.

With the success of Michael Harris II in Atlanta (and his multi-year extension), it made sense why the Braves were willing to let go of their former No. 2 prospect in 2020, according to Baseball America.

Now granted, the Royals’ need for offense, especially in the wake of the Vinnie injury, expedited Waters’ Kansas City (and MLB) debut, even though many (including myself), figured that he could use the remainder of the season to continue his work with Saylor and the Royals hitting development team.

(Waters glowingly credited the Royals hitting instruction for his turnaround in Omaha this season after being traded by the Braves.)

Despite the “premature” nature of his MLB promotion, the 23-year-old outfielder has held his own so far at the Major League level, even if it is a small sample size.

In six games and 23 plate appearances, Waters is slashing .263/.391/.316 with a 112 wRC+. In addition to scoring four runs and driving in three RBI in his first Royals homestand, he has looked comfortable at the plate, as he is generating a 17.4 percent walk rate and a 0.80 BB/K ratio. Considering his K rate issues in the Minors (28.7 percent with Omaha this year and 27.1 percent with Gwinnett, Atlanta’s Triple-A organization), it is likely that Waters will see his K rate jump over the remainder of the season, especially if he stays in Kansas City. Nonetheless, it is nice to see Waters not totally look overwhelmed in his first stint against Major League pitching.

In fact, on Sunday, Waters had his best game yet, with some key hits that pretty much clinched the game for the Royals in front of the Kauffman faithful.

There’s no question that Waters’ call-up was unexpected, and probably wouldn’t have happened, had Pasquantino not gotten hurt. But, Waters is showing a lot of potential both at the plate and in the field, even though he has not played his natural position of center field very much so far in his MLB debut.

Michael A. Taylor though has cooled off after a solid start to the year, and even though he has a year left on his deal, it will be interesting to see if the Royals push Taylor more aggressively in trade talks this Winter.

If Waters has a strong September, Moore and Picollo may be more inclined to trade Taylor this offseason, which is something they failed to do at the August Trade Deadline, much to Royals fans’ chagrin.

Max Castillo, SP/RP

Castillo only had a cup of coffee with the Royals after being traded from Toronto in the Whit Merrifield deal. He made a spot start against the Tampa Bay Rays on the road and performed decently, as he allowed three hits and one run with a walk and three strikeouts in five innings of work at Tropicana Field. Castillo took the loss in his only appearance with the Royals, but that was more due to the Royals’ offensive and bullpen ineptitude rather than Castillo’s performance.

With the Storm Chasers, Castillo’s numbers don’t look good at the surface level. He is currently posting a 9.75 ERA in four appearances and 12 innings of work with the Storm Chasers, and his 6.75 FIP doesn’t look much better, unfortunately.

However, a deeper dive into Castillo’s numbers show that he’s definitely been suffering from some tough batted ball and strand luck in Omaha. His BABIP is currently .413, and his strand rate is 54.6 percent as well. Comparatively, in Buffalo this year in 27.1 IP, his BABIP was .138 and his strand rate was 100 percent. Safe to say, things have not just evened out in Omaha for Castillo, but he’s also been a victim of Omaha’s hitter-friendly confines as well.

The reality is that Castillo is somewhere in between that Buffalo self and the current Omaha version.

The positive thing about Castillo and his outlook in Kansas City is that he works fast and throws strikes, which can be rare for Royals pitchers developed in this system (unfortunately). In 25.2 IP with the Blue Jays and Royals at the Major League level this year, he is generating a 3.83 K/BB ratio. And, even amidst his struggles with the Storm Chasers, he is still producing a solid 2.20 K/BB ratio.

In many ways, Castillo’s profile feels very much like a right-handed Angel Zerpa, who was showing promise in his brief stint with the Royals before he landed on the 60-Day IL on August 3rd.

Castillo pretty much relies on a four-seam fastball and changeup, which he throws 48.4 percent of the time and 36.7 percent of the time, respectively. Against the Rays, the Venezuelan product rang up two Tampa Bay hitters on the changeup, including Brandon Lowe on this changeup below which ended the inning.

A key development for Castillo over this next month will be the development of his slider, which he has thrown 11.9 percent of the time at the Major League level. According to Savant, he’s only producing a K rate of 18.7 percent on the pitch (lower than his four-seamer and changeup). However, he is generating a -3 run value on the pitch, which shows that it has the potential to be a more-utilized pitch for him long-term.

Against the Rays, Castillo got Ji-Man Choi to chase out of the zone on the slider and strike out on a full count. Choi probably should’ve walked, but Castillo’s willingness to throw his third most-used pitch in a critical count shows Castillo’s moxie on the mound.

I think Zerpa still has more upside than Castillo, even with Zerpa’s injury issues this season. Nonetheless, Royals fans shouldn’t sleep on Castillo over the next month of play, especially if he can refine his slider usage.

It will be interesting to see if he’ll get another opportunity to pitch in the Royals rotation before the 2022 season comes to a close. Considering the Royals’ pitching issues this year, it wouldn’t be surprising, and that could help Castillo build some positive momentum for Spring Training.

Maikel Garcia, SS/UTL

I have always been a big fan of Maikel Garcia, even when he was a non-prospect after his rookie ball season in Burlington back in 2019 (and not just because of his lineage to Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Royals legend Alcides Escobar).

Yes, his power tool has always been questionable. On the other hand, he always showed mature plate discipline for his age, excellent instincts on the basepaths, and a solid glove up the middle (though he can be prone to mistakes, as Royals fans have seen this year).

I also thought he would get better once he grew into his body and got a full training regimen once he reached the upper Minors of the Royals system. As one can see below, the difference in his size from his time in Burlington to now stands out quite a bit.

Alex Duvall believes that Garcia is a top-5 prospect in the Royals system who could compete for a starting middle infield job next Spring, and honestly, I can see it, especially after the year he’s had in 2022.

First off Garcia thrived in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, as he not only slashed .291/.369/.409, but also stole 27 bases and posted a 0.68 BB/K ratio in 78 games and 369 plate appearances with the Naturals. Granted, the 104 wRC+ and four home runs don’t look impressive. But the rest of Garcia’s game was Major League ready in Double-A, which is a big reason why he got called up when 10 Royals players went on the restricted list when the club traveled to Toronto.

In nine games and 22 plate appearances with the Royals, the 22-year-old hit .318 and generated a 103 wRC+. That included a key double against the Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery that gave the Royals a 3-0 lead at Yankees Stadium.

Garcia’s time in Kansas City was brief, but he’s been an absolute force in Triple-A Omaha. Garcia has mashed six home runs in 18 games and 86 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers, and his .268 ISO is 150 points higher than his ISO in Northwest Arkansas.

Now, is Garcia benefitting from a more hitter-friendly park, and league?

Of course. But then again, home runs like the one he hit below would be out anywhere.

Going into 2022, many Royals fans and general prospect experts tabbed Garcia as a utility-infield type, much like that Nicky Lopez-mold.

After this stint in Omaha though, Garcia is proving he may be much more than that and could boost the Royals infield offensively and defensively in a big way next year along with Witt and Michael Massey.

Ryan Weiss, RP

Let’s be honest. The Royals bullpen sucks and the numbers demonstrate it.

As of Monday, the Royals rank last in the Majors in bullpen ERA, WHIP, and BB/9. Without a doubt, beyond Scott Barlow (and Dylan Coleman, who’s been pitching better after the All-Star Break), this Royals bullpen has been an inconsistent mess, and that’s putting it lightly.

With Taylor Clarke and Josh Staumont on the shelf, the Royals will need guys to step up in September, just to get through the remainder of the season.

And a sleeper could be Ryan Weiss, who was acquired by the Royals at the beginning of July when Kansas City designated Matt Peacock for assignment.

Much like Castillo, Weiss‘ numbers at the surface level do not look promising by any means. Weiss is posting a 6.39 ERA in 19 appearances and 25.1 IP with the Storm Chasers, and he’s been particularly hurt by a 22.2 percent HR/FB rate. That explains why his FIP is also high at 5.71.

Originally in the Diamondbacks organization, Weiss pretty much is a middle reliever at this point, and though he sports a four-pitch mix, there still are a lot of doubts from scouts and prospect experts that he can put it all together on the mound to be a viable MLB reliever in the near future.

That said, the Royals have nothing to lose at this point with Weiss, and they may as well give him a shot, especially considering the right-handed options they currently have in the bullpen beyond Barlow and Coleman (Carlos Hernandez, Luke Weaver, Jose Cuas, Brad Keller, and Collin Snider) haven’t been all that great.

Furthermore, Weiss has a great story, as he overcame the adversity of losing both of his parents at a young age, which is told in this fantastic interview a year ago from the Jersey Baseball Show.

Maybe Weiss won’t be on this roster when Royals pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Arizona in late February. After all, he dropped out of the Diamondbacks’ system Top-46 prospect list a year ago, according to Fangraphs, and at 25 years old, he doesn’t have a whole lot of projection left (especially with this pitching development staff).

But he’s a good Royals story that’s worth rooting for and following, especially as the 2022 season hits the home stretch in September.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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