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Lesky’s Notes - April 17, 2020

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Come for the Tommy Boy reference, stay for the baseball talk.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Chicago Cubs
Feb 26, 2020; Mesa, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez (1) singles during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian  
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If you remember, last week I noted that this column is a great opportunity to keep track of all the ideas MLB has had to be able to have a 2020 season. Between writing it and publishing it, though, they came out with another idea, so while it’s not new anymore, I suppose it is new to this space, so we can talk about the newest one a little bit at least. I have to be completely honest with you. It’s not easy to find things to discuss here, but I’m making it happen because I write blog posts for the American baseball fan because that’s who I am and that’s who I care about. Now ice down your marbles and get to reading.

  • It has been really interesting to see the ideas that come out of MLB during all of this to see how they can get playing. As you know, I think the dollar signs mean they’ll find a way to play whether they should or not, so they might as well throw every idea against a wall to see what’ll stick. The Arizona idea has a lot of holes in it. The Florida/Arizona hole has a similar number, but is less daunting for teams, I think, because they’re split up in a way people are familiar with. The Royals proposed division would be a bit easier with the Rangers, Mariners, Padres and Brewers (plus, a lot of Cain and Hosmer), but I don’t think any divisional alignment short of Royals, Marlins, Tigers, Orioles and Pirates would give them a real shot at whatever the postseason looks like. There was also something mentioned in Ken Rosenthal’s article the other day that I’d heard a couple weeks ago but thought it was so farfetched that it wasn’t worth mentioning. That’s playing round robin style in five cities with six teams in each city for two or three weeks. Honestly, I don’t even know how that would work unless it was just a series of tournaments to whittle down teams to the point that you can rank them one through 30 at the end of the year. Actually, that’d be kind of fun. What’s interesting is that Dr. Fauci has come out recently to say that ideas like the Arizona one could work from a health perspective. I still think it would be difficult to get buy in from all the players to be both isolated and monitored the way they would have to be, but to have someone like him talk about the idea’s validity makes it at least a little more likely. Look, I want baseball back badly. As much as anyone. I’m just not going to pin my hopes on any idea right now because there won’t be a single one that comes out that doesn’t have holes in it. Maybe next week’s will be the one, though.
  • Season or not, there will be some semblance of a draft and pretty much every mock has the Royals taking New Mexico second baseman Nick Gonzales. In 16 games (in some excellent hitter’s environments), Gonzales hit .448/.610/1.155 with 12 home runs, three doubles and a triple with a 12.2 percent strikeout rate. He also hit .432/.532/.773 with a 10.6 percent strikeout rate last year as a sophomore, so this isn’t newfound offensive ability highlighted by a non-conference schedule designed to get him numbers. Defense is the biggest question with Gonzales who some don’t think can even stick at second base as a pro, but he was playing shortstop in the brief 2020 start to the season. From what I’ve heard, he wasn’t spectacular there and wasn’t really tested all that much, but just playing the position adequately helps to make people believe he can stick there. There’s been some comparisons to Keston Hiura, which would be incredible if the Royals could get that into their system, but I think there’s a bit less power and he’s probably better defensively. Gonzales is more quick than fast, but from what I’ve seen and read (honestly probably should flip those two), he should be solid enough. I really like the idea of this pick. One thing I’ve been thinking about it since there won’t be much of a minor league season if any is that teams would do best to pick super raw players who may not play in a league anyway or pick guys who are super polished. Gonzales fits in the latter category. I would really love this pick for the Royals.
  • I believe there is some upside for the Royals in a shortened/weird season like the one we’re likely going to have. The first benefit is that we’ll almost certainly be looking at expanded rosters. No big deal that both Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips are out of options (if it was a big deal to start) because there’s room on the roster for both. Feel like Randy Rosario and Jorge Lopez can contribute but were hesitant about their roster spots? Problem solved! Jesse Hahn and Stephen Woods, Jr. are also potential beneficiaries of the expanded roster as well. So that’s a plus. The other plus is one I’ve talked about before, but can’t help but keep thinking about. The most Kansas City thing in the world would have been for the Royals to be a title contender and have this happen, but something has apparently changed in Kansas City in the past few years because this Royals team was never, ever going to be good. No matter what the simulations say, they probably weren’t even going to be average or slightly below average. This was going to be a bad team no matter how you sliced it, and now this season is going to be largely forgotten outside of it being memorable for how silly it was. Now, they’ll face some development issues, but the teams that put higher emphasis on their minor leagues will likely find something to do to keep the development train rolling and whether you agree with the Royals philosophies or not, they do place a huge emphasis on their minor leaguers. I think that will put them ahead of at least some teams who maybe aren’t quite as committed to their system. That was more teams a few years ago, so it won’t be a huge edge, but I would expect the Royals to at least turn over every rock to try to keep development as on pace as possible.
  • If the full season were to be played in Arizona, the Royals have a few guys who would likely be helped and a few who would be hurt, at least superficially. Obviously the offensive players in general would find themselves enjoying playing all their games in that environment while the pitchers would find themselves wishing for a return to Kauffman Stadium pretty quickly. But there are a few players who could see their stocks rise as a result of the thinner air. My gut here is that Nicky Lopez, Ryan O’Hearn and Maikel Franco benefit greatly from hitting in Arizona, but I could see Whit Merrifield with more home run pop and maybe Adalberto Mondesi putting up a 30-home run season (prorated to 162 games of course) potentially. On the pitching side, the guys who jump out to me are Jakob Junis, Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy. Guys giving up fly balls are just going to be hurt more, simple as that. Hey, maybe they play something like 130 games and Jorge Soler takes advantage of the Arizona air to break his own team record. Just something to think about once they do finally settle on that plan if it is the plan they settle on.