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Lesky’s Notes: Oh so close to baseball

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And there’s even a trade to talk about!

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals
Sep 29, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Jorge Lopez (28) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This is our last week of Lesky’s Notes where there’s no games to discuss. I feel like a kid before the first day of school. The Royals last played a meaningful game (let’s call games that count in the standings as meaningful so we don’t get into too dark of a place before this season even starts) 292 days ago. It’ll be seven more before there’s one that actually counts, but they will play three next week, including two against the Astros in Kansas City and then one in St. Louis. There will be crowd noise pumped in, which I didn’t hate when I heard it on the intrasquad broadcast. I’m going to tell you a secret that I don’t want you to repeat to anyone. I was even excited to hear Steve Physioc on the call of one of the intrasquad games. Yeah, I’ve got it bad. This is the time when we’ll really start to find out how feasible it is for them to finish the season. We know they’re starting, barring something catastrophic, but finishing is another story and teams traveling will tell the story of if it’s possible to get through this sprint or if things shut down yet again and we decide to just turn the calendar to 2021.

  • There was an actual trade last night! The Royals moved Tim Hill to the Padres and got outfielder Franchy Cordero and pitcher Ronald Bolaños in return. If you’ve followed me at all, you probably know that I’ve never been a big fan of Hill, though he did have a nice season in 2019 for the Royals. In exchange for the lefty who might struggle with the new three batter minimum rule, the Royals picked up some big-time upside. Cordero is the total package of tools. He can fly, he has insane power and if he can figure out some of his reads (paging Rusty Kuntz) in the outfield, he could be a center fielder, even in spacious Kauffman Stadium. In Bolaños, they got a 23-year old righty who jumped all the way from A-ball to the big leagues through last season with a big fastball and almost plus curve. The issue with him is that he struggles a bit with his delivery and his changeup and slider lag behind, so while the Royals should absolutely still be trying to develop him as a starter, he could fit nicely as a late inning reliever. This isn’t all that different from the Mike Moustakas trade from 2018 when they got a toolsy outfielder who hadn’t put it together and a big stuff righty who they definitely were right to try develop as a starter but still might fit in the bullpen. Only this time, I see bigger upside in their return in exchange for a lesser player in Hill. In a typical season, I’d say that both players should go to Omaha, but in this season, it provides an interesting possibility. I think Bolaños probably stays depth on the 60-man roster, but Cordero likely cracks the big league roster. It probably means the end for Brett Phillips, and you could argue that a sort of platoon between Maikel Franco and Cordero would be pretty effective with Hunter Dozier moving between third base and right field to facilitate it. Either way with a week to go before Opening Day, the Royals added some more excitement, and more questions with it. I just love that there’s a move to talk about.
  • The Royals, and Dayton Moore in particular, have always been all about their inventory. If one player has options and the other doesn’t and there’s only one roster spot, it’s usually a safe bet that the season starts with the player without options at the big league level. And I usually get it. With a long season, there’s plenty of time to get the player with options back to the big leagues in some capacity. Plus, you need a good number of players to get through a 162-game season. I mentioned before that the Royals have averaged 46 players per year (and that includes September callups) in the last 10 seasons, so you need a lot of players to make it through a full year. Obviously there are other health issues in this season, both COVID-19 and additional injuries from a faster ramp up time, but they don’t have the luxury of a full season playing out to get guys playing time who need it. I don’t think the Royals need to worry about their inventory this year when they set the Opening Day roster, especially on the pitching staff. Two pitchers in particular seem like good bets to make the roster, and I honestly don’t think I’d bother with them. Jorge Lopez and Jesse Hahn are two who I actually like and have written about with a chance to be impactful in a short season, but with a cavalry of young arms on the rise, what are the odds that they’re important even as soon as next season? Another is Randy Rosario, who the Royals like a lot and has absolutely looked good, but was available for any team to claim last year for a reason. If there aren’t better options right now, sure, go ahead and keep them, but if they’re blocking a spot for a guy who is ready now and can help, I just don’t see the point. A 16-man pitching staff likely looks like Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery in the rotation as locks and Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow, Trevor Rosenthal, Josh Staumont and Stephen Woods as bullpen locks or near locks. That leaves eight spots, and I’m assuming one goes to Brady Singer. I’d rather see what guys like Richard Lovelady, Daniel Tillo, Tyler Zuber, Chance Adams and Glenn Sparkman (in a relief role) can do than worry about playing the inventory game.There might end up being enough spots to put everyone who is deserving on the roster while keeping the inventory, but I’m just saying if there ends up being a crunch that the inventory isn’t nearly as important this season.
  • This time like four days ago, it was assumed that Nick Dini was going to be the Royals starting catcher next week and Oscar Hernandez, who was not in the organization like two weeks ago, would be his backup. Since then, Salvador Perez picked up his requisite two positive tests and Meibrys Viloria looks like he’ll be back shortly, which means Dini moves back to third on the depth chart. It’s a good thing for the Royals to have their starting catcher and another member from the 40-man back, but I was kind of excited to see Dini get a bit of a chance, even if he was only backing up Salvy given the fact that we assumed Perez would be back in time for Opening Day. Dini got caught up a bit in a numbers game when Perez was activated from the 60-day IL and needed his 40-man roster spot back as the Royals were pretty much never going to carry four catchers. I thought Dini showed a little promise in spite of his poor offensive line in his 64 plate appearances. He showed off some pop and his defense wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be (that’s damning with some faint praise). No, I don’t think he’d ever be an All-Star or anything like that, but I was curious to see what he might do in some quick action while the rest of the catchers got healthy. I thought all the catcher issues might cause MJ Melendez to get sprung into action early too, so I’m glad that won’t be the case at this point. Once Cam Gallagher comes back, I imagine the Royals catching crew will be pretty well set all year barring the obvious caveat of injury.
  • I talked about Bobby Witt, Jr. last week and how well he’s adapting to the big league camp, but we all know he isn’t going to be on the roster, nor should he. One guy who has been turning heads every single day is Erick Mejia. When the Royals made the deal with the Dodgers and White Sox to send Joakim Soria and Scott Alexander away, a lot hated it because they basically moved Alexander in a way to facilitate a Soria salary dump. And while I agreed and still do agree, I was surprisingly high on Mejia when he came over. He’s not going to really wow you, but the guy puts together a competent plate appearance and he can play all over the diamond, which is increasingly important in baseball. So far during summer camp, every time I’ve tuned in to the intrasquad broadcast, he’s been putting on a clinic at the plate and on the bases, and I think he’s worked his way onto the 30-man roster, which means he has a couple weeks to see if he can stick on the 28-man roster and then ultimately the 26-man roster four weeks in. It’s interesting that he was removed from the 40-man after last season as part of a roster crunch and the team will now need to find a spot for him, but I’m sure they can with some combinations of DFAs and trades before next Friday’s opener. The acquisition of Cordero puts some of this in question, but the Royals have been talking him up way too much for him not to have a spot, in my opinion. I don’t expect a ton out of him, but he gives the Royals an option both in the outfield and the infield if anything goes wrong and if he can keep up the hot bat, they might have a spark to help them win a few extra games early.