While the Royals did tender and agree to a contract this offseason with Adalberto Mondesi, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mondesi wouldn’t last the remainder of the season in Kansas City.
After all, the Royals have plenty of depth in the infield on the 40-man roster, and with Mondesi being a free agent after 2023, it was unlikely that they were going to sign him to a long-term deal as well. If JJ Picollo and the Royals wanted to do that, they would have likely come to a deal back in 2019 or 2020, when his stock was at its highest.
Thankfully, it seems like the separation was a mutual one with no ill will between either party.
Mondesi will get a chance to prove himself with a Boston organization that needs help at shortstop in the wake of Trevor Story’s injury and surgery. In addition, the Royals organization wished Mondesi the best after their trade announcement.
As for the Royals, the move seems to indicate that they are ready to proceed with Bobby Witt, Jr. as their full-time shortstop in 2023.
In a Zoom press conference this week, Picollo mentioned that they plan for Witt to primarily play shortstop right from the get-go, unlike in 2022, when he began the year at the hot corner (with Mondesi as the Opening Day shortstop).
There’s no doubt offensively, Witt had a great rookie season, even with his power tailing off a bit at the end of the year (probably effects from a hamstring injury he suffered in late July). Witt led all Royals hitters with a 2.3 fWAR last season, and despite his 99 wRC+ being slightly below the league average, he made up for it in counting stats such as home runs (20) and stolen bases (30).
While many Royals fans dreamed that Mondesi could be a 20-30 or even 30-30 HR-SB kind of player, Witt actually proved he could do so in his first season at the Major League level. Offensively, it seems like Witt is on the ascent as a player, though it would be nice to see him lower his strikeout rate (21.4 percent) or slightly increase his walk rate (4.7 percent) next season.
Even though Witt certainly showed promise on the offensive end during his rookie year, his defense was a bit of a different story.
Most defensive metrics painted Witt’s rookie season as poor, especially in comparison to his fellow Royals infielders.
Witt and MJ Melendez both posted -18 DRS marks at SS and C, respectively, which were the worst marks in that category for all Royals players, according to Fangraphs. His -11 OAA ranked last of all Royals fielders with at least 10 fielding attempts in 2022, according to Baseball Savant.
Thus, one has to wonder how long Picollo and new manager Matt Quatraro will keep Witt at shortstop…
Especially with Maikel Garcia gaining more and more attention after a solid 2022 and impressive Winter League campaign in Venezuela.
Why Garcia is a Good Issue for the Royals
I ranked Garcia as my top prospect to watch in 2023 for a couple of reasons.
First off, he’s progressed so much in the Royals system since debuting in the Arizona Rookie League as a scrawny 18-year-old back in 2018. The nephew of Alcides Escobar and a cousin of Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña, Jr., Garcia certainly has the baseball background and pedigree. However, he’s also proven each season that his tools and ability could make him not just an MLB regular, but perhaps an All-Star as well.
Last season, Garcia performed well in both Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.
With the Naturals, Garcia posted a 104 wRC+ highlighted by a .291/.369/.409 slash and four home runs and 27 stolen bases in 78 games and 369 plate appearances. In his promotion to Omaha, Garcia continued to rack up the stolen bases (12) and maintain a solid wRC+ (110). That being said, the big development in his promotion to Triple- was a boost in power, as he hit seven home runs in only 40 games, and increased his ISO (isolated power) from .118 in Northwest Arkansas to .189 in Omaha.
Garcia also earned a short promotion to the Majors in the wake of the Royals’ fiasco in mid-July that saw 10 players unable to travel to Toronto due to them not being vaccinated. In 23 plate appearances with the Royals, Garcia slashed .318/.348/.364 and collected seven hits and two RBI to boot.
In addition to budding power, Garcia has also demonstrated strong plate discipline at nearly every level of play.
In Columbia, he posted a 1.15 BB/K ratio. In Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas, those ratios were 0.60 and 0.68, respectively. They did decline a bit in the promotion to Triple-A (0.40) and the Majors (0.20), but one has to wonder if those numbers would’ve stabilized with more plate appearances at those levels.
While 2022 was one to remember for Garcia, his Winter League campaign in Venezuela has catapulted him not only in the eyes of Royals fans but hardcore prospect analysts and baseball fans outside of Kansas City as well.
In 58 regular season VEWL games, Garcia has slashed .323/.444/.498 with four home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 46 walks to only 31 strikeouts (a 1.48 ratio). He has also been a catalyst for Tiburones La Guiara this postseason, which is impressive considering the squad also features MLB players like Ehire Adrianza, Franklin Barreto, Juan Yepez, Yolmer Sanchez, and family members Escobar and Acuña.
Just check out the swag of Garcia after he hit this clutch home run last week:
Right now, if Garcia transitions this hot Winter League campaign to Cactus League play in Arizona this Spring, he could perhaps not just make the team as a utility player, but as a starter on Opening Day as well.
As I have stated before, the Royals have a hole at third base right now, with options like Nate Eaton and Hunter Dozier being realistic possibilities.
While Eaton can play third base, Eaton’s skill set would be better utilized in the outfield. As for Dozier, while being traded (or released) would be the preference, his ideal position should be first base in a platoon role when the Royals are facing left-handed starting pitchers. He has shown he cannot handle the third-base position defensively.
Garcia on the other hand could not just handle the third base position, but perhaps the shortstop position as well. Early jitters resulted in a couple of errors for Garcia in his first few MLB starts. However, in his last game against Minnesota, he showed some impressive range and skills that demonstrated what he could do when he’s more comfortable at the MLB level.
Of course, the shortstop position may be the ideal position for Garcia, especially since his power profile probably fits better at shortstop than third base. In addition, Cayden Wallace could be a candidate to slide into to be the Royals’ Opening Day third baseman, especially if Wallace can build on his impressive Minor League rookie debut in Low-A Columbia.
Also, it may be better for the Royals to treat third as a “utility” position, with perhaps Lopez and Minor League signing Matt Duffy rotating at the position based on pitcher matchup.
Nonetheless, the Royals have options with Garcia.
It certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to start at third, as it could give the Royals some insurance for Bobby if Witt’s defense doesn’t improve much. At least they will get excellent defensive play at the hot corner from Gracia initially.
And of course, Garcia and Witt could also switch positions mid-season if it is clear in 2023 that Witt is better served at third base than shortstop long-term.
Why This Could Be A Problem for the Royals
I am not totally of the mind that Witt can’t handle shortstop long-term.
In a post last season, I wrote about how the White Sox’s Tim Anderson could be a good comp for Witt long-term (numbers looked bad initially, but got better over time). Furthermore, it’s hard to totally give up on Witt when he makes spectacular plays like this:
There’s no question that Witt is the cornerstone of this franchise, along with MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and perhaps Brady Singer (especially if they can come to an agreement on some kind of extension, which is the rumor). It is not only important for the Royals to build a winner soon with this young core not just to energize this fanbase, but also to ensure that they can sign players like Witt to long-term extensions.
It’s hard to do so now, especially with the club coming off a 65-97 season in 2022. That said, if the record improves next year and the club takes the right steps roster-wise in 2023, it’s possible that Witt could be more privy to an extension, especially if Melendez agrees to one as well.
But is Witt set on playing shortstop? And does Garcia’s presence, even at another position on the active roster, perhaps threaten his ability to play the position long-term, especially since Garcia profiles as a better defensive shortstop?
Those questions are unknown, and it’s hard to know what Witt truly wants, especially since he’s a pretty laid-back and positive player. He’s not going to express dissatisfaction about being moved off of shortstop to the media like Whit Merrifield did when he was moved off of the second base position prior to 2022.
Nonetheless, the Royals cannot afford to ruffle Witt’s feathers, especially since the window to sign him to a long-term deal will be very small. Witt’s a franchise-altering player, and the longer a player like that goes without an extension, the more likely they will leave in free agency.
Picollo knows that and knows it’s important to try to keep those kinds of players since it’s so difficult to attract free agents of that caliber to Kansas City.
The last thing the Royals need to do is ruin their trust in Witt, especially with 2023 being a critical year. And as said before, Garcia doesn’t HAVE to play shortstop. He could succeed at third base, even if it would be an atypical profile.
But Witt at third and Garcia at shortstop would be ideal…
And Royals fans just have to hope that is something Witt would embrace at some point this year.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
9 thoughts on “Maikel Garcia Complicates the Royals’ Situation With Bobby Witt, Jr. (In Good and Bad Ways)”
Great stuff, love the article. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but it looks like Baseball Reference isn’t capturing the full winter league stats. Below is the link from the team site which I wanted to share as Maikel’s overall stats are even that much more impressive!
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Hey Kyle! Thank you so much! And thank you for sharing that!! I was looking for updates VWL stats but couldn’t find anything. I appreciate it and agree, he looks even more impressive right now! Can’t wait to see him this Spring
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