Three Takeaways From the Royals’ Latest String of Roster Moves

We are starting to see a bit of regression from the Royals as Opening Day nears. The Royals have lost three straight games after starting 14-2 in Cactus League play, which includes back-to-back walk-off losses against the Reds and Rangers, respectively.

Furthermore, Royals fans are starting to see the final Opening Day roster shape up, which makes sense considering that we are roughly two weeks away from Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium on March 30th.

Today, the Royals announced the “options” of three players to Triple-A Omaha, meaning that those players will begin the 2023 season with the Storm Chasers. They also announced the addition of a pitcher to the 60-Day IL, which will clear up an extra roster spot on Opening Day.

Let’s look at those moves, and what they could mean for those four players and the roster as a whole as we approach the official start of the 2023 campaign.

Taylor Optioned After Solid Spring; Does That Open Up a Spot for Duffy or Beaty?

One of the first “option” announcements was utility player Samad Taylor, who has seen some time in both the infield and centerfield this Spring, especially in the wake of injuries to Drew Waters and Diego Hernandez.

The Taylor announcement was a bit of a surprise considering he’s had a stellar performance in Cactus League play, especially offensively.

In 10 games and 20 at-bats, Taylor is hitting .400 with a 1.285 OPS with two home runs, seven RBI, and three stolen bases on three attempts. The former Blue Jays prospect, acquired in the Whit Merrifield trade, hit his second home run last night against the Reds, launching the ball into the right-center gap.

The only knock against Taylor this Spring is that he hasn’t walked much, as he has only drawn one walk in 10 games. On the plus side, he hasn’t struck out much either, as he has only accumulated three strikeouts as well.

That said, plate discipline has always been a bit of a concern for Taylor in his Minor League career. While he did post a 0.45 K/BB ratio in Triple-A Buffalo last year, he also struck out 22.1 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs, which is high for a hitter with Taylor’s toolset (i.e. more contact-oriented in order to take advantage of his speed).

Royals fans have to wonder if JJ Picollo optioned Taylor so he could get more intentional work with Drew Saylor and the Royals’ hitting development team in Omaha. Saylor and his team can help Taylor in his approach in order to cut down on the whiffs in April and May, which could make him better prepared when he does get his eventual promotion.

After the game against the Rangers, according to Royals writer Anne Roggers, manager Matt Quatraro made it sound like Taylor would get an opportunity in the big leagues soon, even if he wouldn’t be on the Opening Day roster.

With Taylor out of the running, one has to wonder if this means that either Matt Beaty or Matt Duffy will make the Opening Day roster. Franmil Reyes seems like a shoo-in at this point after a solid Spring, but Beaty and Duffy have certainly done their part to prove that they could be valuable pieces off the bench.

I wrote about Beaty primarily in a recent post, but I also projected Duffy would make the Opening Day roster in my first set of roster projections (a new one will be coming either tomorrow or Saturday). Both offer pluses and minuses: Duffy offers more defense and positional versatility; Beaty offers more offensive upside.

Regardless, expect Beaty or Duffy to be in Kansas City on March 30th, especially with Taylor out of the running.

Will Castillo and Kowar Transition to Bullpen Full-Time in Omaha?

Two other Royals players optioned today were pitchers Max Castillo and Jackson Kowar, who both have had mixed Spring campaigns in Arizona.

Castillo is currently pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but he didn’t really impress in his short stint with the Royals in Cactus League play.

In four outings and 5.2 IP, Castillo posted an 11.12 ERA, which included him allowing seven runs on seven hits and four walks. He has struck out seven batters this Spring, but the high number of walks allowed has negated those solid K numbers.

Kowar’s performance mirrors Castillo’s, though Kowar is currently with the Royals’ Cactus League roster.

In three outings and five innings of work, Kowar is posting an ERA of 9.00, which includes him allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks this Spring. He also has the same number of strikeouts as Castillo in one fewer appearance, but the long ball has been more of an issue. Kowar has allowed three home runs in Cactus League play. Comparatively, Castillo has only allowed two (though that still isn’t good).

And hence, one has to wonder if the Royals will be looking to transition both of them to the bullpen, which would begin in Triple-A Omaha this April.

Kowar has flashed this Spring he can be effective in short-inning stints, despite the meltdowns. He has had innings when he has struck out multiple batters with ease, and his changeup could be an effective go-to pitch in a relief role, especially if his four-seamer and slider don’t develop as expected (which seems to be the case so far).

As for Castillo, he may need some more pitch development in Omaha, as really none of the pitches he throws offer much shape or upside.

Here’s a look at his PLV from a season ago:

He not only had an overall below-average PLV (5.00 is average) but nearly all of his pitches rated pretty low on a PLV and PLA end. It seems like Castillo’s sinker (SI) has some potential, though it was such a limited sample (hence the lack of a PLV number).

On the flip side, his four-seamer was not a great pitch on a PLV end, and one has to wonder if he may think about lessening its usage and perhaps incorporating that sinker more often as his primary four-seam pitch.

Moving to the bullpen would put less pressure on Castillo to throw his four-seamer as much, and instead, perhaps push him to utilize his sinker and slider more. That in turn could make him at the very least a valuable middle reliever, maybe an “opener” in the right situation.

The same kind of development focus in Omaha could help Kowar as well, whose changeup looks REALLY good on a PLV end, but his slider is really lacking, as one can see below:

It hasn’t been a great spring for either Kowar or Castillo. But a move to the bullpen could perhaps re-energize their career outlooks, though it may be until the second half of 2023 before we see them back up in Kansas City (barring injury of course).

Zerpa Sidelined; Does Another NRI Reliever Benefit?

In some depressing news, talented lefty Zerpa was added to the 60-Day IL due to a left shoulder injury. The injury should put him out until at least the end of May, though not a lot has been shared just yet in regard to the severity of the injury.

Zerpa has flashed potential at the Major League level, mostly thanks to his pinpoint control and quick approach on the mound that makes up for a lack of swings and misses (at least at the big league level). However, he has been dogged by injury recently, as he was shut down at the end of the year due to a knee injury, and now he has been set back by a shoulder injury that prevented him from making any appearances this spring.

While Zerpa’s injury is a bummer, it does open the door for a possible non-roster invitee pitcher to gain a spot in the bullpen.

Brooks Kriske looked like an early sleeper, but he had a rough recent outing against the Mariners, and he may be better off in Omaha, much like Daniel Mengden a year ago. I also thought Nick Wittgren and Mike Mayers could be candidates to make the roster as well, but they have had mixed results this spring as well, with Mayers coming off a particularly rough outing against the Mariners that inflated his ERA up to 8.64.

It will be interesting to see how Picollo and the Royals fill Zerpa’s open roster spot (any move the 60-Day IL opens up a spot on the 40-man and no roster announcement has been announced just yet).

Will they use his roster spot on an NRI pitcher? Or will they perhaps add two or three NRI position players, with the idea that there is a greater need for hitting depth than bullpen depth?

I guess Royals fans will have to wait a couple of weeks to see what Picollo and the Royals exactly do. It’s likely that we won’t know until the final days of Spring Training in Surprise.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images


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