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Categorizing the 2019 Royals roster by future value to the rebuild

Who’s important? Who’s not?

Adalberto Mondesi #27 of the Kansas City Royals hits a two-run home run in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 06, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
Adalberto Mondesi #27 of the Kansas City Royals hits a two-run home run in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 06, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

As we trudge closer and closer to the quarter mark of the 2019 season, it’s clear that the Kansas City Royals aren’t a good team. They are a very bad team, in fact. Sure, they probably aren’t as bad as they have been, but at some point it doesn’t matter. The Royals are 11.5 games out of first place in the American League Central. We aren’t even halfway through May. Plus, they have the worst record in the American league.

And so it’s time to examine the current Royals roster to see who on the team can be building blocks for the next great Royals team. Just how far do the Royals need to go to assemble a worthwhile team?

Below, I’ve stratified most of the Royals’ 40-man roster into tiers based on their long-term value to the rebuild. I didn’t touch those on the 40-man who haven’t debuted yet or who are emergency filler. The tiers that I’ve landed on, and the number of players in each tier, are:

  • Core Players (5)
  • Potential Pieces (8)
  • Just Guys (8)
  • The Old Guard (3)
  • Bad Veterans (9)

While the Royals have some nice building blocks, the vast majority of their 40-man roster doesn’t have much of a future with the Royals and likely won’t be on the team, or at least making positive contributions to the team, when the Royals are next good. It’s weird to think that a majority of the next 25-man roster playoff squad will be almost entirely new guys, but that’s just how it is.

Let’s take a look and see who ends up where.

Core Players

  • Hunter Dozier
  • Whit Merrifield
  • Adalberto Mondesi
  • Brad Keller
  • Richard Lovelady

The best way to describe the core pieces here is that they are most likely to turn into the old guard tier down the road. They are going to be the productive vets on the next great Royals squads, should everything fall into place.

Dozier is a wildly talented offensive force. He always has been, really, but talent and production don’t always match up (see Starling, Bubba or Hosmer, Eric). Dozier has carried a wRC+ of 192 through May 7, an absurd figure. And it’s powered not by luck, but by fantastic plate discipline and an uncanny skill to utterly murder baseballs. While he’s 27 now, which is a little old, rembember that one Alex Gordon was 27 in his breakout year in 2011.

Merrifield and Mondesi make up a middle infield that has an abundance of power, speed, and defensive aptitude. Merrifield is already 30, and he won’t be great for much longer—unless he truly is the Second Coming of Ben Zobrist—but Mondesi is still only 23. Mondesi is talented enough to be the best player in the American League someday. Even if he doesn’t get there, he is extremely productive.

Keller seems too good to be true, but until he’s not he will be in this tier. Thus far, he’s been nothing but solid as a starter. Not an All-Star, but not just a guy, either. That kind of pitching is valuable, and he still has age on his side (he’s just 23) to refine his craft and get better. Lovelady, like Keller and Mondesi, is only 23, and his age, arm angle, handedness, and snappy slider make it very likely he has a long, productive career as a reliever.

Potential Pieces

  • Jake Junis
  • Kyle Zimmer
  • Brett Phillips
  • Terrance Gore
  • Ryan O’Hearn
  • Kelvin Gutierrez
  • Jorge Soler
  • Scott Barlow

These guys are all in their 20s but have one or more flaws that are significant enough to either limit their ceiling or sow doubt about their long-term viability as big league players. Extended good play by these guys could see them bump up a tier, but the opposite is true as well.

Junis is a decent pitcher, and has the potential to be a regular league average guy. Whether or not he can consistently maintain that production is the main factor in whether or not he stays relevant. Zimmer is self evident: he’s very talented but injury prone and, so far this year, hasn’t been any good. You could argue he doesn’t deserve to be in this tier, but his talent is still enticing.

Phillips and Gore are a pair of outfielders with significant flaws but great defensive and baserunning skills. Phillips has a huge strikeout problem. Gore, meanwhile, probably won’t be able to hit much due to his size and total lack of power. Both could operate as fourth or fifth outfielder.

And in O’Hearn, Gutierrez, and Soler you’ve got a trio of corner players who have varying kryptonite. O’Hearn can’t hit lefties at all—his wRC+ vs southpaws in his big league career is, uh, 5—and Gutierrez doesn’t have much power or plate discipline to work with. Soler has been injured all the time in his short career, and his defense is flatly terrible. If he can’t thrive offensively and stay healthy, his value tanks very, very quickly.

Barlow squeaks into this tier because he’s been quietly quite good so far as a reliever. He’s been a bit of a strikeout machine and hasn’t given up many walks en route to that production.

Just Guys

  • Tim Hill
  • Frank Schwindel
  • Jorge Bonifacio
  • Jorge Lopez
  • Jake Newberry
  • Glenn Sparkman
  • Cam Gallagher
  • Kevin McCarthy

This tier is filled with guys who are homegrown talents but mainly exist to fill holes until better players come up. In an organization fighting for a playoff spot, few if any of these players would warrant looks at the big league level.

Sure, you could squint and see Lopez being an ok reliever. You could see Bonifacio producing similarly to his rookie year and being an ok bench bat. But the much more likely result is that all these guys exist as replacement level players and are out of professional baseball entirely within five years. They are Just Guys. Significantly more talented Just Guys than you or me. But, in the context of the insane world of MLB talent, Just Guys.

The Old Guard

  • Alex Gordon
  • Salvador Perez
  • Danny Duffy

These three will probably all make the Royals Hall of Fame someday for their longstanding contributions as Royals and their hand in the Second Golden Age of Royals fandom. And while they are still valuable to the team, their high salaries limit their overall value, and their age limits their long-term effectiveness.

Whether or not these three are on the next great Royals team depends entirely on when that next great Royals team happens—and whether or not they re-sign with Kansas City after their current contracts run out.

Bad Veterans

  • Lucas Duda
  • Wily Peralta
  • Chris Owings
  • Billy Hamilton
  • Brad Boxberger
  • Jake Diekman
  • Martin Maldonado
  • Ian Kennedy
  • Homer Bailey

This list is painful to read. It’s like reading a list of drug side effects or Web MD headache diagnoses. Just...unpleasant. Thankfully, the only player who will remain a Royal next year will be Kennedy—and he might be the best of the bunch.