The Royals are pretty much playing out the string at this point, 8.5 games out of a post-season spot. Barring an amazing comeback, they are going to be playing in September without anything meaningful baseball for the first time since 2012.
Falling out of contention does have its advantages, however. The Royals will get to audition players for the future, as rosters expand to 40 in September. Teams will call up players from the minor leagues for a taste of big league action, often times serving as a prelude to the performance for the following season. Already the Royals have called up top prospect Raul Mondesi, but who else might Royals fans see this September? Let’s take a look
With Mondesi up, Dozier is probably the top prospect in the organization at this point. The former first round pick had fallen off the radar after a disastrous 2015 season, but has stormed back in a major way, destroying AA before being promoted to AAA and continuing his sensational season. He is hitting .307/.378/.549 with 21 home runs overall, giving Royals fans hope he could be a middle-of-the-order bat for the future.
Dozier regularly plays third base, but with Mike Moustakas firmly entrenched at that position, and Cheslor Cuthbert playing well there in his absence, Dozier has begun playing outfield as a path to the Major Leagues. He has played five games in right field recently, suggesting this is where he could start next year, perhaps even with the Royals. He simplified his swing this year, causing him to snap out of a year-long funk, how will his swing play against Major League pitching?
The younger brother of former Royals infielder Emilio Bonifacio, Jorge has gotten lost in the shuffle of Omaha outfielders this year. But he has had one of his finest professional seasons, hitting .270/.337/.460 with 16 home runs for the Storm Chasers. Bonifacio has had trouble with plate discipline in the past, but has improved his numbers this year with a walk rate of 8%, although his strikeout rate is still high at 24%.
Bonifacio has displayed a lot of power in his career, but he has a wide road/home split this year, hitting 13 of his home runs at home, and hitting just .245 on the road with a .295 average at home. He has a a terrific arm, but average to below-average range. Bonifacio is still just 23 years old, so most likely he will get a taste of big league action in September, returning to Omaha in 2017.
Royals fans have already gotten a good look at Whit Merrifield, who hit .308 over his first 40 games before a slump got him demoted back to Omaha. Merrifield has hit just .232 since his demotion, but look for him to return to give the Royals lineup flexibility and audition for a big league job next year. With Raul Mondesi up and likely to take over second base next season, Merrifield makes the most sense as a true utility player on next year’s roster.
Edwards began the year at AA Northwest Arkansas, but after just ten games was promoted to Omaha, where he was the only Storm Chaser named to the AAA All-Star Game. The hard-throwing reliever has a 2.73 ERA in 52 2/3 innings with 67 strikeouts this year. The right-hander can hit the high-90s on the radar gun, giving the Royals the power arm they prefer in their pen. However he also has major control issues, walking 6.2 hitters per-nine-innings in Omaha this year. Perhaps spending some time with Dave Eiland will help the 24-year old harness his command, and he could step into a bullpen role for the Royals in 2017. Edwards is not on the 40-man roster, so including him would require some roster shuffling.
Remember him? Minor was supposed to be back in June after recovering from labrum surgery in 2015. However he suffered setbacks in his rehab and just recently began rehabbing again. He gave up just one run in 4 1/3 innings this week for Omaha, striking out four and walking three. The Royals will be counting on him for the back of the rotation next year, so it would be nice to see what he can do against Major League hitters down the stretch.
Vargas was thought to be out for the entire season after he was diagnosed with a UCL tear requiring Tommy John surgery last year. But his rehab has gone well, and he recently left for Arizona to begin rehabbing there, perhaps even throwing against live hitters soon. It has been suggested that Vargas could pitch for the Royals at some point this season. The Royals do have a $6 million insurance policy on him if he does not pitch, although that may be pro-rated if he only makes a start or two.
Once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the system, Almonte suffered a major setback in 2016. He struggled mightily with his command, putting up a 5.55 ERA in Omaha before being demoted to AA Northwest Arkansas. He has been moved to the bullpen, perhaps a sign of how the Royals see his future. He could be called up as an audition for next year’s bullpen. With his electric arm, he could prove to be a decent reliever.
The Blue Springs native was claimed off waivers a few weeks ago, after bouncing around from the Rangers to the Athletics to the Dodgers. He has Major League experience as a pitcher with the Rangers, so the Royals may want to get a look at him to see if he can be a low-cost option for the pitching staff for next year. Tepesch is 27 years old and won't even be eligible for arbitration until after next season. His trouble with the Rangers were low strikeout totals, so perhaps a shift to the bullpen could resurrect his career.
The Royals don’t really need his speed to win games in September, but we may see the pinch-runner extraordinaire come up anyway. He is already on the 40-man roster, and has already burned an option year, so the Royals may call him up just to see what he can do, perhaps even letting him hold a bat. Gore is hitting just .241/.313/.259 in AA Northwest Arkansas, but with 35 steals in 39 attempts.
Yes, Bubba has had an abysmal season, hitting .190/.251/.316 across both AA and AAA, with a strikeout rate of 33%. However, the Royals already promoted him once despite terrible numbers, and they could promote him again to help his confidence and give him a taste of Major League action. Reportedly his defense is already terrific for the Major League level, and the Royals had hoped he would make his Major League debut this season. Playing in front of his hometown fans could be a thrill for the 24-year old outfielder in an otherwise bleak season.
Others: Catcher Tony Cruz, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, pitcher Scott Alexander, pitcher Alec Mills, pitcher Brooks Pounders
Long shots: First baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, infielder Ramon Torres, pitcher Jake Junis, pitcher Luke Farrell