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Lesky’s Notes: It’s on to the offseason

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Those 60 games went even faster than I thought they would.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

That was, uh, fast. I feel like every baseball season, I look at the calendar and realize it’s June 1 and there’s only four months of baseball left. It makes me a little sad. The early season is no longer early. Samples are no longer too small to make any judgments. But this year, it was just...over. And in a year when more than half the league made the playoffs and the Royals didn’t, I actually felt it was pretty successful. That seems odd, but it’s true. I think we learned quite a bit about this team over the two months of baseball. There’s some pitching in this organization now. We saw Brady Singer and Kris Bubic debut and are likely part of the 2021 rotation next to Brad Keller. That’s three guys 25 or younger, all had solid 2020 seasons. There’s more coming. So that’s a good thing. We learned that Salvador Perez can come back from Tommy John strong. We learned that Ryan O’Hearn isn’t an answer and we learned that Nicky Lopez is good enough defensively to get one more shot to hit, but that’s about all he has. I’ve said this before, but sometimes in non-answers, you find answers, and the Royals have a much better idea today of what they need moving forward than they did at the start of summer camp, which is at least something.

  • I mentioned in the Royals Review Roundtable earlier this week that my prediction is that the Royals go after a bat this offseason. Dayton Moore mentioned it in his end of season remarks and even mentioned that the Royals need on base guys. It’s nice to at least hear him say it. I don’t know that they’ll land any of the big guys, but I actually think they’ll be in on them. I may have said this in this space or maybe it was on a weekly radio spot, but I would love to see them get a guy who gives good plate appearance after good plate appearance to both set an example for the offense and also just give them a weapon they don’t have a lot of. They get that from Whit Merrifield, though he doesn’t walk much, and they get it a lot of the time from guys like Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler when he’s healthy but even those two have their moments. The Royals offense in 2015 really clicked when they added Ben Zobrist as a guy who just gives a good at bat basically every time. And that’s why my top target for this team would be Michael Brantley. I know that Alec Lewis of The Athletic has mentioned him a few times as well, and I don’t know that the Royals would ever have a shot with him, but he’s kind of a perfect fit to me if they can nab him on a two-year deal. There’s risk there. He’ll be 34 next season, but in his age 30 to 33 seasons, he’s hit .307/.365/.476 with an 8 percent walk rate and 11.1 percent strikeout rate. So no, he isn’t a guy who wil put up a massive walk rate, but he’s a heck of a hitter. For those who insist on comparing this group of Royals to the last group of prospects, Brantley could absolutely be the James Shields for the offense. There will probably be more attractive situations for him, so I’m not saying I’d expect them to win the bidding, but I think about a lineup with him hitting third and feel like that could be a lot of fun. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind Jurickson Profar as a consolation prize with his 8.9 percent walk rate and 14.5 percent strikeout rate over the last three seasons, but he’s not the hitter Brantley is.
  • Looking way ahead to the 2021 draft, it appears the Royals will pick seventh. I say it appears that way because I don’t believe there’s been a final decision regarding how they determine draft order, but all indications are they won’t change anything. Some may be a little upset with the team for insisting on finishing 12-6 to fall out of a top two or three pick, and I get that, but this is a pretty deep draft, so the Royals should be able to find quite a few options at pick seven. Baseball America put out a mock draft this week that had Matt McLain, a shortstop from UCLA, going to the Royals. I’d be more than okay with that pick. A lot can change between now and then, especially because we didn’t get to see much action in 2020, but it seems like Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter and Adrian Del Castillo are pretty much locks to be gone when the Royals pick at seven, at least as of right now. My top choice for that pick at seven would be Jud Fabian from Florida. He will strike out, but he has legitimate pop and a good eye at the plate, which is something that could help him get into a system and move pretty quickly. I personally don’t think he’ll stick in center, at least he wouldn’t for the Royals, but he’s pretty athletic, so he has a chance to be good in a corner as well. Based on the Tigers draft strategy from last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if they went for Fabian or McLain at three, but I also like Jaden Hill, Ethan Wilson and Colton Cowser and I’m intrigued by Alex Binelas and Robby Martin. One name I’d keep an eye on for the Royals is James Wood (not Woods, don’t worry) because a guy with that size and athleticism could become very attractive to them if he has a good spring.
  • I love what the Royals are doing with their instructional teams, both in Arizona and at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. If you’re unfamiliar, the Royals have a bunch of prospects who will be down in Surprise playing games against the Rangers, Padres and Mariners as they’re all relatively close in the Phoenix area. They also have a bunch of prospects who will be working in Kansas City for a few weeks starting next week. The less experienced players will be getting the game action in Arizona against other teams, filled with almost all players who haven’t played past Wilmington in the Royals organization. There aren’t a ton of exciting offensive prospects in that group, but there are a few. The real glamour of the organizational prospects will reside in Kansas City where they’ll play against each other as they have been at T-Bones Stadium throughout the regular season. This is where you’ll find most of the big boy prospects in the organization, and I’m hopeful that they have a livestream as they did during Summer Camp just to watch some of these guys go at it. As a side note that probably should be more of a main note, I’ve heard some great things about Asa Lacy and Daniel Lynch, which sorts of lends to the idea that I’ve been mentioning that as good as the young pitchers were in the big leagues for the Royals, the guys who haven’t been up might even be better. I also think it’s really great as an organization that they’re doing this in Kansas City both to get more prospects work that they really missed out on in 2020, but also because it gives an opportunity for work for a lot of stadium workers who get paid by the game and missed out on quite a bit of money due to the pandemic. To me, that says so much about this ownership group and just continues the good will we remember from the Royals being one of the first teams to say they weren’t making cuts and weren’t laying people off. I’m not sure if they’ll build a winner any time soon, but it is nice to be a fan of an organization that does things the right way.
  • The Central divisions haven’t exactly lit things up in the postseason. Admittedly, a best of three series doesn’t lend itself especially well to the best team always winning, but it’s the format we have this year. The Twins, who I thought had a chance to make a run, got swept by a team that finished the season under .500 in the Astros. The Reds, who I picked to win it all (only really because I did in July and thought I should stick with them), got swept by the Braves. The Indians lost in excruciating fashion to the Yankees on Wednesday night to get swept themselves. And then the Brewers predictably got swept by the Dodgers. Oh yeah, the Cardinals blew a 6-2 lead to the Padres and now potentially face elimination today. And the Cubs may have saved themselves from getting swept yesterday by a rainout that could just push the heartbreak to today. At least the White Sox did win a game against the A’s before losing the last two to get eliminated. By the end of the day, the Central divisions which held seven of the 16 playoff teams could be left with zero, and that’s just crazy. I had wondered earlier this year if the strong pitching numbers in the two divisions were because the pitchers were so good or because the hitters were so bad, and I still don’t know the answer, but I do know that the AL and NL versions of the division did nothing to boost the reputation in this postseason.