Matt Beaty Has Been a Cactus League Success (But Will He Find a Spot on the Royals’ Roster?)

The Royals have been a tremendous success story this Spring as they sit at 14-2, which puts them clearly at the top of the Cactus League standings, as of Monday, March 13th.

Granted, Royals fans can debate how relevant their W-L record will be in regard to it transitioning to regular season success. This is especially true since 2018 as the Royals have had solid Spring Training campaigns over that time frame, only to fizzle out once the “real games” begin (2019 was a prime example).

However, under new manager Matt Quatraro and the Royals coaching staff, the approach this spring demonstrated by this Royals squad on both the hitting and pitching end has been well-noted and a sign that the Royals are progressing in the right direction, as David Lesky of Inside the Crown wrote about today.

As expected with any team in Spring Training, whether it’s in the Cactus League or Grapefruit League, there tend to be “success stories” which involve non-roster invites on Minor League deals who end up “earning” their spots on the Opening Day roster after successful Spring campaigns.

Going into this Spring, it seemed like Franmil Reyes was a lock to be that Cactus League “success” story, especially considering he wasn’t that far removed from a successful stretch in Cleveland as their primary designated hitter. While Reyes has certainly done his job to earn himself a spot on the Royals’ Opening Day roster (and maybe the starting DH job to boot), there has been another Royals non-roster invite who has impressed this March in Arizona.

That player is none other than Matt Beaty, the former San Diego Padre, and Los Angeles Dodger outfielder/first baseman.

Let’s take a look at what Beaty has done this Spring, and why he may be another non-roster invite who could earn one of those coveted bench spots on the Royals’ Opening Day roster on March 30th.

Beaty Mashing This Spring

Beaty is coming off an underwhelming season in San Diego where he only hit .093 with a .158 wOBA in 20 games and 47 plate appearances.

That being said, a big reason for his lackluster performance was due to a left shoulder impingement which put him on the IL on May 9th. Prior to the injury, he had gone 7-for-17 in Triple-A El Paso which included a home run and five RBI.

Beaty eventually returned to play but was never quite the same, both at the Major and Minor League level. While Royals fans are certainly familiar with his lackluster line in San Diego in 2022, his Triple-A numbers weren’t much better either. In 35 games, he hit .270, but he showed absolutely no power, as he hit only two home runs total, posted an ISO of .079, and produced a wRC+ of 89 with El Paso.

This is despite El Paso having some of the most hitter-friendly park factors in all of Minor League Baseball, as David Gerth wrote about in the “Down on the Farm” newsletter.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise that no MLB-guaranteed contracts were thrown his way this winter, even though he wasn’t far removed from a 2021 campaign with the Dodgers that saw him slash .270/.363/.402 with seven home runs and a wRC+ of 114 in 120 games and 234 plate appearances.

So far this Spring in eight games and 22 plate appearances, Beaty has proven that his shoulder injury issues from a year ago may be behind him.

Not only is Beaty hitting .409 with an OPS of 1.253, but he also has collected three home runs, which included two against the Guardians on Sunday. (Only two are official though, as he hit his first home run of the Spring in an exhibition against Great Britain).

Here’s the first home run he hit against Cleveland on Sunday against Guardians right-hander Xzavion Curry.

And here’s the second one he hit, this time in the fifth inning against closer Emmanuel Clase which helped give the Royals the lead for good.

While a majority of his home runs came in that Sunday contest, Beaty has shown an excellent ability to hit line drives this Spring throughout the Cactus League campaign.

In this hit below against the Milwaukee Brewers, Beaty was able to lace a line drive double down the line, which was what he was known for in 2021 while playing in Dodger Stadium’s spacious yard.

Below is also a look into Beaty’s spray chart from his 2021 season with the Dodgers in which he produced his best MLB season yet. Notice Beaty taking advantage of the gaps and foul lines during that season (and how those base hits would “transition” to Kauffman Stadium’s dimensions).

There’s no question that the combination of Beaty’s health and solid Spring Training campaign could earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster, especially with a team starved for offense after finishing 24th in runs scored a year ago.

In fact, is already hinting that Beaty could be a candidate to earn a spot on the bench as a utility bat who could rotate at first base or in the corner outfield, depending on the situation.

But of course, while Beaty has been one of the Royals’ most productive hitters this Spring, his situation may be more complicated than Royals fans may think, especially considering the needs of this Royals lineup.

The Roadblocks to Beaty Making the Roster

If there’s one thing Quatraro has harped about since being hired, it has been having depth at nearly every position on the 26-man roster, whether it’s on the hitting or pitching end of things.

Positional depth was a calling card for the Rays under manager Kevin Cash (whom Quatraro worked with as a bench coach). It’s likely that Quatraro will follow a similar strategy to his former boss and look to give out a lot of at-bats for guys off the bench rather than burying players for long periods of time, which previous manager Mike Matheny was privy to do.

If the Royals are going to have a position player on the 26-man roster, it is expected that they will be able to contribute on a semi-regular basis both at the plate and in the field. The latter is especially true considering the Royals will need to keep the DH position flexible, as Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez may need to man that position at times in order to conserve their health (and maximize their ability) behind the plate.

Unfortunately, Beaty’s defense historically has been a lot more questionable than his bat.

For his career, Beaty has been 14 outs BELOW average, according to Baseball Savant fielding data. From 2021 to 2022, he’s been serviceable at first base with a +2 OAA mark. However, his outfield defense has been quite lackluster, as he produced a -7 OAA in left field and -3 OAA in right field from 2021 to 2022.

To get a visual of his defense, let’s take a look at his box plot visual data, via Savant.

While first base could be a position that Beaty can be serviceable at, it is likely that Vinnie Pasquantino will see a majority of innings there in 2023. Additionally, the Royals also have current 40-man options such as Hunter Dozier and Nick Pratto who could play the position, though Dozier is expected to play a majority of his innings at third, and Pratto will probably begin in Triple-A, though he’s had a better-than-expected Spring (.333 average; .991 OPS in 18 at-bats).

Therefore, a corner outfield position may be Beaty’s best bet to get playing time in 2023, should he make the Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, he may not be a better defensive option than Edward Olivares or Nate Eaton, two outfielders expected to get time in left and right field, respectively, according to Roster Resource projections.

In addition to questionable defense, there are some concerns about Beaty’s ability to “barrel” balls, especially when one takes a look at his rolling hard-hit rate chart over the course of his career, via Savant.

One can forgive his 2022 hard-hit numbers, especially since he was still recovering from his shoulder injury that year (and probably never fully recovered honestly). On the flip side though, there was already significant regression happening for Beaty in his hard-hit rate in 2020 and 2021 from his more stellar 2019 rates in his rookie year in Los Angeles.

The rolling chart on his runs added on his decision value from 2021 also present an interesting picture of how Beaty’s decisions at the plate affected his overall performances during his “breakout” season. To summarize, PLV’s decision value is defined as the “modeled value (runs per 100 pitches) of a hitter’s decision to swing or take, minus the modeled value of the alternative.” It basically quantifies how a hitter’s decision to swing or not swing contributes to their ability to add (or take away) runs.

Based on his decision value chart, Beaty experienced a huge spike in the middle of the year where he was near the 75th percentile, but he was below the league average at the beginning and end of the season.

Was that 75th-percentile decision value from the 2021 season just a flash in the pan? Or can Beaty perhaps get back to that level on a more consistent basis in a limited utility stint with the Royals in 2023?

Unfortunately, we do not have this data for Beaty (or any Royals hitter) available from Spring Training stats (both hard-hit rate and decision value).

In order to see if Beaty has indeed shown improvement in both of these metrical categories, Beaty will have to get MLB at-bats, which will require JJ Picollo to clear a spot on the roster for him.

Predictions on Beaty’s Future in Kansas City

With Pasquantino gone for at least a little bit longer with Italy advancing in the WBC, it is likely that we will see Beaty get more at-bats this Spring, perhaps at the first-base position with Pratto.

At this point in Spring, it’s hard to see Beaty regressing significantly enough to where his overall line will be affected in a major way. While he has only walked once, he has only struck out four times, thus showing a solid ability to make contact, even if he may not be a walk-drawing machine by any stretch of the imagination.

If anything, it’s possible that Beaty could capture the role that Ryan O’Hearn was expected to have prior to O’Hearn being designated for assignment to make room for Jordan Lyles on the 40-man roster. Quatraro mentioned when O’Hearn was on the roster at the time that O’Hearn was going to see an increase in at-bats from his 2022 season.

Could Beaty fill that role in April, May, and maybe June, especially as Pratto, Maikel Garcia, and Nick Loftin continue to mature at the plate in Omaha to begin the year (with the idea that they would be ready in mid to late June to replace Beaty)?

If so, who gets booted from the roster projection in the process to make room for Beaty?

My guess would be either Samad Taylor, who’s had a solid Spring (.368 average), or Matt Duffy, who is a fellow non-roster invite and hitting .529 this Spring.

Both have proven that they can hit this Spring, and Taylor offers some MLB-ready speed to boot. However, with Nicky Lopez having a solid campaign with Team Italy, it may be better off for Lopez to have the utility infield role, and use the other roster spot for offensive reasons (regardless of fit defensively).

Beaty provides more hitting and power upside than either Taylor or Duffy.

Here’s another home run video to prove it (this time from the Royals’ exhibition game against Great Britain).

There’s still some time left in Cactus League play. A lot could still happen roster-wise for the Royals, especially with the WBC going on, which gives more Royals fringe guys a chance to prove themselves.

But at this point, I would be surprised if Beaty is NOT on the baselines of Kauffman Stadium on March 30th against the Twins.

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


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