Are We Seeing the First Signs of Changes in the Royals Organization?

I wanted to just get a quick post in since it is an off day, and it’s already pretty late on a school night (plus, last night’s game pretty much wiped me out today).

However, it’s hard not to write or share thoughts after seeing Royals Farm Report’s tweet this evening regarding Royals pitching coordinator Jason Simontacchi.

We still have roughly a month left of Royals baseball, but this is a small sign that some changes could be in store for the Royals organization this offseason. And not just at the Minor League level, but at the Major League level as well.

Here are three takeaways from this evening’s announcement about Simontacchi.

Expect Some Sweeping Changes to Royals Minor League Pitching Development

The addition of Drew Saylor and Alec Zumwalt after the 2019 season has had a tremendous impact on the hitting in the Royals Minor League system over the past three years. If it wasn’t for Saylor and Zumwalt’s work, it’s hard to imagine that MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, and of course, Bobby Witt, Jr. would all be up and doing what they are doing at the Major League level.

Even the recently drafted hitters have been making an impact, which shows that the Royals’ hitting philosophy and scouting are finally meshing. Need an example? Look no further than Royals first-round pick Gavin Cross, who hit another home run for Columbia last night.

Unfortunately, the pitching in the Royals Minor League system has disappointed considerably this year, incredibly disappointing considering the hype Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan, and Anthony Veneziano had going into the 2022 season. All five of those pitchers have taken giant steps backward developmentally, and possess glaring red flags that could prevent them from experiencing any kind of success at the Major League level (Kowar has already struggled to do so).

Simontacchi was the Royals’ Minor League pitching coordinator, and it seems that after five years with the organization, the Royals front office wasn’t satisfied with the results.

With him officially gone, it would not be surprising to see the Royals part ways in the coming weeks with a lot of other coaches related to Minor League pitching development. Mitch Stetter (manager of Minor League pitching performance) and Jeff Suppan (roving pitching coach) could be two other names that follow Simontacchi out the door in the coming days or weeks.

What Does This Mean for Cal Eldred?

Cal Eldred has been around the Royals organization for five years as the Royals’ pitching coach and served an additional two as a special assistant to the general manager.

Considering that Eldred took over as pitching coach at the same time Simontacchi took over as pitching coordinator, it seems likely that the writing is on the wall for Eldred, who was the pitching coach for two years prior to manager Mike Matheny’s arrival.

From 2018-2022, Kansas City ranks dead last in pitcher fWAR with a 35.9 mark, according to Fangraphs. Here’s how their other metrics compare to other clubs that rank near the bottom of the league over that five-year span.

The Royals are 1.9 wins behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins, who rank 28th and 29th, respectively. And yet, the Diamondbacks and Marlins have a plethora of young pitchers (Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly for the Diamondbacks; Sergio Alcantara and Pablo Lopez for the Marlins) that give hope to those respective fanbases. The same can’t be said for the Royals beyond Brady Singer and maybe Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic (and even then, the upside of those three isn’t as high as those Arizona or Miami starters).

Simontacchi being gone probably signals a desire to change on a pitching end for this Royals organization. And if the Royals feel a change is merited after five years for Simontacchi, it is likely they make think a change is necessary at the Major League level after five years with Eldred as well.

The Royals will probably wait until the end of the season, but it seems likely that an Eldred announcement will come swiftly after the season is over for Kansas City in early October.

Who Else Could Be Gone in Kansas City?

The hope for many fans may be that Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny will be gone as well, like Simontacchi and (likely) Eldred. I am not so sure, however. A move like this shows that the Royals’ front office and management know the heat is on, and thus, they’re making moves to protect their own jobs.

(Dayton Moore was listed as No. 3 on CBS Sports’ “hot seat rankings” for general managers this offseason.)

Will Moore and Matheny get an extension after this season? Of course not, but I think they know next year is a “make or break” year for them, and they’re doing what they can right now to get the process started as soon as possible.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Matheny and Moore on a firm “hot seat” in the first couple of months of play. If the Royals get off to a start in April and May in 2023 like this season, I could see the Royals parting ways with them by June, much like the Royals did with Trey Hillman, the Royals manager in 2010, or Allard Baird, the Royals general manager in 2006.

One name I would pay attention to this offseason would be Paul Gibson, who will be finishing his first year as Senior Director of Pitching with the Royals.

While some Royals fans may think he may have more time due to him being in his “first” year in this role, that title can be misleading. Gibson will be finishing his 12th season with the Royals, as he held the title of Director of Pitching Performance from 2020 to 2021, was a pitching advisor/special assistant to the GM in 2019, and national supervisor in the scouting department from 2011-2018. While Gibson may be new in the current role, the Royals are probably familiar with what Gibson can and can’t do as pitching coordinator, which primarily supports the Major League team.

It wouldn’t be surprising that Gibson follows Eldred, with the Royals perhaps looking to do a clean sweep when it comes to pitching support in order to find a fresh new voice and “team” to help turn around this Royals pitching staff in 2023. In addition to Gibson, bullpen coach Larry Carter is also a likely candidate to be gone, especially considering he has worked closely with Eldred and the Royals relievers for the past three years.

Since 2020, which covers Carter’s tenure as bullpen coach, the Royals rank 20th in bullpen fWAR, according to Fangraphs. That doesn’t look so bad in comparison to their general pitching staff ranking. But, over the past two years (full seasons, a contrast to 2020), the bullpen ranks second-to-last in BB/9 with a 4.22 mark. Walks have been a source of frustration for this org at both the Major and Minor League levels, and the Royals bullpen ranking poorly in this category only hurts Carter’s chances of returning for a fourth season as Royals bullpen coach.

Moore, Matheny, and JJ Picollo will likely be back in Kansas City in 2023.

But the dominoes seem to be falling in place for a massive change in their pitching development team at both the Major and Minor League levels (which goes beyond just Eldred).

And that could be exciting. The Diamondbacks made such changes last offseason, and it has had a tremendous impact on the future of their pitching staff and development at the Minor League level.

Let’s hope a similar revitalization can happen in Kansas City next year…

Or else there will be even greater changes in 2024.

Photo Credit:  Reed Hoffmann/AP

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