The Royals fell to 3-8 for the season last night after a historic night by Andrew Heaney that resulted in the Rangers starter striking out nine batters in a row at Globe Life Field.
Safe to say, it wasn’t exactly a night to remember for Royals fans, with the exception of a position pitcher performance from Nate Eaton. Eaton arguably looked like the best Royals pitcher last night, based on his mid-90s velocity, and a strikeout of Adolis Garcia, who hit a grand slam off of Jose Cuas which effectively put away the game for the Rangers.
Despite Eaton’s surprising appearance on the mound, there weren’t many positives from Monday night’s 11-2 loss. While it is too early to make any drastic changes just yet roster-wise, it’s likely that there could be some major moves on the horizon in two to three weeks, especially if some position players or pitchers do not turn it around.
Conversely, it’s been a bit of a different story for the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate. They sit at 5-4 and have had some strong performances from some players currently on the Royals’ 40-man who could be optioned easily up to Kansas City.
In this post, I am going to take a look at three players in Omaha who are off to hot starts, and how they could help fix the Royals’ current woes if given an opportunity in the next couple of weeks.
Samad Taylor, Utility
Taylor had a strong Spring, as he hit .360 with two home runs and an OPS of 1.174 in 29 plate appearances in Cactus League play. However, the Royals opted for him to start the season in Triple-A Omaha, partially due to the fact that he missed the last couple of months of the 2022 season due to an oblique injury (he did not play any games for any Royals affiliates after being traded from Toronto last August).
In nine games and 45 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers, Taylor has gotten off to a scorching start. He’s slashing .341/.378/.537 with a wRC+ of 133, according to Fangraphs. He also has collected a home run, nine RBI, and stolen three bases in four attempts.
Not only has Taylor shown incredible speed on the basepaths, but he has also shown a propensity to generate hard-hit contact on a consistent basis, as evidenced by this triple below on April 1st:
The Royals could benefit from Taylor being a right-handed bat who could play multiple positions in the infield and even outfield.
He has played seven games at second base this year and two games in center field, and those are positions that the Royals haven’t gotten much production from at the plate to begin the season. While Taylor doesn’t have the defensive upside of Nicky Lopez, he has demonstrated already that he has more power potential than Lopez, which is something this Royals offense desperately needs at this time.
Taylor showed off his “all-fields” approach in Arizona this Spring, which included this opposite-field home run off of Cincinnati Reds ace Hunter Greene.
The only concern with Taylor, for now, is that he still strikes out at a high clip and doesn’t walk nearly enough to make up for it.
While his 22.2 percent K rate isn’t egregious by any measure, he is only walking 6.7 percent of the time, which has produced a 0.30 BB/K ratio, as of Tuesday. The Royals have had a problem with “over-swinging” at the plate, especially from their young hitters, and it’s likely that Taylor could go through the same struggles in his initial call-up.
Additionally, Taylor’s defense hasn’t been too flawless to begin the season. He has made some questionable plays in the field, including this error on a pop-up that ended up resulting in a run for the Toledo Mud Hens on April 8th.
Taylor may not have the most upside of position players on the Storm Chasers roster, but he certainly is a talented individual who may be the most promising piece from Toronto in the Whit Merrifield deal (with Max Castillo being the other player coming over). While he isn’t imposing in his figure, he sports a lot of pop for his size, and it’s likely that those batted ball skills will transition to the Major League level, even if his plate discipline may not.
His possible call-up depends on how long the Royals will want to stay with Lopez and Matt Duffy as their primary backup infielders. That may take a few weeks, but if Lopez and Duffy continue to not offer much pop off the bench, Taylor replacing one of them may be a reality that could happen sooner than Royals fans may think (especially since it seems like Lopez or Taylor are not in the Royals’ long-term plans).
Josh Staumont, RHP
The Royals surprisingly optioned Staumont to Omaha to begin the year, even though Staumont has been a mainstay in the Royals bullpen over the past two seasons.
In 2021, it seemed like Staumont was on his way to being a long-term setup man or possible closer, especially after posting a 2.88 ERA and 1.0 fWAR in 65.2 IP. Furthermore, Staumont got off to a strong start in 2022, especially after generating stuff like this in early April.
Unfortunately, a combination of injury and his lackluster performance on the mound ended up sinking Staumont’s 2022 and once-promising future.
Staumont only pitched 37.2 innings in 2022, and he not only posted a 6.45 ERA, a career-high at the MLB level, but he also saw his K/BB ratio go from a respectable 2.67 in 2021 to a disappointing 1.48 (which was highlighted by a career-high walk rate of 16.5 percent).
The 29-year-old reliever also saw a massive decline in fastball velocity last season, as it only averaged 96.1 MPH, a 0.5 percent decline from 2021, a 1.9 percent decline from 2020, and the lowest velocity on the pitch since his rookie season in 2019 (when it was 95.9 MPH).
As a result of this velocity regression, the Royals ended up shutting him down the stretch in 2022 and seemed to treat him with kid gloves this Spring.
He only made eight appearances in Cactus League play for the Royals, and while he did strike out 10 batters and posted an ERA of 1.13, he did walk five batters as well.
Furthermore, his quality of competition score was only 6.8, which is not that high (more around Double-A to Triple-A quality), especially for a player with nearly four years of MLB experience. Thus, it’s not surprising that the Royals opted to keep him in Omaha to begin the 2023 campaign in order for him to get more work and harness that command a bit against lower-tier competition in Triple-A.
Staumont hasn’t pitched much in Omaha, but when he has, he’s been dominant.
He hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances and three innings of work, and he also has struck out 6 while only walking one to boot. Of all the relievers who were thought of as possible options this spring (Josh Taylor, Collin Snider, Nick Wittgren, and Ryan Weiss), Staumont has been the most impressive thus far.
There was some thought that after Dylan Coleman’s rough outing on Monday as well as his overall start to the year (he is sporting an 18.00 ERA in five innings pitched) Staumont would be called up to take his place in the bullpen. However, Minor League pitchers have to stay a minimum of days in the Minors before being called up, and the soonest someone from Omaha can be called up is Thursday, as Anne Rogers of MLB.com pointed out before Tuesday’s game.
Staumont may be in Omaha for a bit longer but don’t be surprised if he’s up in Kansas City for this weekend’s series against Atlanta.
Maikel Garcia, Utility/Infield
Garcia is in the lineup tonight for Omaha so we will see how he does and how his stat line is affected after tonight. That being said, going into Tuesday’s game against Iowa, there hasn’t been a Storm Chasers hitter who’s been more impressive than Garcia.
Despite some massive hype from a solid Cactus League campaign, Garcia has pretty much done it all so far in Omaha through nine games.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan-born prospect is slashing .353/.489/.529 with a wRC+ of 171, according to Fangraphs. He not only has hit a home run, but he has collected 12 RBI and stolen two bases from the three-spot in the Storm Chasers lineup. Much like Taylor, Garcia has not just barreled balls with ease, but all over the outfield to boot.
The main difference with Garcia is that his plate discipline is worlds ahead of Taylor’s.
Not only is Garcia posting a 1.11 BB/K ratio, but he is also walking 22.2 percent for the year. That’s an insane percentage and just goes to show how mature Garcia’s plate discipline continues to be, especially as he climbs up the ladder in the Royals’ Minor League system.
Garcia has also shown a strong ability to come through with runners in scoring position. That is not just evidenced by his high RBI total in only 45 plate appearances, but this single below against Indianapolis.
The big question for Royals fans is not IF Garcia will be called up to Kansas City, but rather WHEN?
If the Royals do bring him up, it will be important that he gets everyday at-bats. His outlook appears to be more than just a utility player like Lopez, but then again, Garcia will have to prove it at the Major League level first.
Garcia has seen some time in Omaha at both third base and center field, the latter being a position he just started playing this spring in Surprise. While Garcia is a natural shortstop, it seems like the Royals are committed to Bobby Witt, Jr. at short for the time being. Thankfully for Matt Quatraro and JJ Picollo, Witt has made good on that trust, with strong defensive metrics and sensational plays thus far at the position in 2023.
So if Witt is cemented in at shortstop for now, where will Garcia play when he is called up?
Third base seems like the most logical decision, especially with Hunter Dozier struggling, and Duffy not offering much upside at the position on an offensive or defensive end (though he hasn’t been bad by any means).
Royals fans will see though how long they will stay with Dozier at the hot corner, especially with Doz still owed another year on his deal after this season.
Hopefully, that doesn’t delay Garcia’s arrival in Kansas City for too long.
Photo Credit: David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images
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[…] On the other hand, what about Samad Taylor and Maikel Garcia, who are off to solid starts so far with the Storm Chasers? […]