Hello RR! It’s been a while since I last put figurative pen to paper on the Royals, but with news that the 2020 season would not be a total loss (probably, more on that later), I felt it was time to go over some thoughts I’d had in the recent months but didn’t feel were worthy of their own article. It feels great to be back writing and I hope you enjoy!
The 2020 season is a go!
A few short weeks ago it felt like the season was likely lost. The owners and players exchanged offers but couldn’t reach an agreement, and it was left to the commissioner Rob Manfred to set the schedule. As of now, it appears teams will be playing a 60-game schedule predominantly against their own division and regional teams from the other league.
Without trying to make this political, I am not confident that the season will actually happen. Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across the country, and multiple players have tested positive since they reported for summer camp. I am expecting travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders to return sometime between now and the end of the season, and possibly before it is slated to begin (sometime around the 25th of July). I really, truly, deeply hope that I am wrong, because I have really missed baseball this year.
No expanded playoffs, but...
Hear me out. In a 60-game season a lot of things can happen. At this point whichever teams manage to avoid injuries are likely to have a large leg up on the competition. While the Royals lack both top-end talent (only four position players and one pitcher who earned more than 2 fWAR in 2019) and depth, that might not mean a lot if divisional rivals have worse luck with injuries.
A 60-game season is not enough time for baseball, a game with extremely high variance, to equalize. If a starting pitcher has two or three bad starts, or a hitter goes cold for a week or two, their season will be tanked. Likewise, a hitter or pitcher who gets hot could do wonders. If an entire offense clicks for 20 games (which can happen) the team could easily win the division.
My point is that going into 2020 I fully expected the Royals to be out of it by May, but circumstances have allowed for the possibility, no matter how remote, that a team like the Royals could make it to the post season this year.
Players to watch this year
I think there are a lot of interesting storylines for the Royals this season. With so many recent draftees being added to the 60-man taxi squad (Singer, Kowar, Lynch, Witt Jr., Nick Heath, Kyle Isbel) we are likely to see a flurry of big-league debuts. While I am as excited about these as the next person, there are some other names I am going to be closely watching.
Players who I think are likely on their last chance include Jorge Lopez, Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Glenn Sparkman, Bubba Starling, Brett Philips and Ryan O’Hearn. The pitchers in particular are going to be feeling the pressure with the aforementioned crop of minor league pitchers knocking on the door. For the position players don’t rule out the possibility of free-agent signings to fill at least some of the holes going into the 2021 season.
The two players I will have my eyes on specifically are Nicky Lopez and Hunter Dozier. Lopez has been an on-base machine at every step along the way, and minor league walk % is fairly predictive of major league walk %, so we should expect him to take a step forward and post somewhat respectable numbers.
For Dozier, I’m interested to see what the “real” Hunter Dozier is. Is he the pre-injury Dozier from last season (through May 30 he hit a monstrous .314/.398/.589, good for a 154 wRC+), or the post-injury, more back-to-earth (.260/.320/.484, good for a 106 wRC+). I believe that it is most likely somewhere between the two, but his career numbers in the majors are eerily similar to his post-injury numbers last year (.258/.320/.466, 105 wRC+), so I do fear his early 2019 season may be a blip.
The draft happened, too!
The Royals had six picks over five rounds of the draft, and with the #4 overall pick went with Asa Lacy, the lefty Texas A&M nicknamed “Ace.” Most did not expect Lacy to still be available at #4, and some argue that the Royals perhaps should have gone with Austin Martin, but Lacy was undoubtedly a better prospect than the Royals expected to be getting at #4.
I don’t pretend to be an expert at prospect evaluation, but the evaluations of the Royals 2020 draft I have seen from those who know far more than me seem to range from “pretty good, better than expected” to “about average”, so at least nobody seems to think they blew it entirely.
I have some reservations at the idea of the Royals taking another pitcher so high in a draft. The Royals have not shown much success in developing, well, major league talent, period, but especially pitchers in the last several years. That being said, the consensus seems to be that the Royals were lacking a true potential #1 starter in their minor league system, and Lacy puts a stop to that argument having already drawn comparisons to Clayton Kershaw and David Price (though comparing any prospect to arguably the best players in their positions is a common click-bait move by writers and fairly ridiculous, so take that with a grain of salt).
Excited and cautiously optimistic
I’m going to end this with a bit of optimism. 2020 has not been a great year for many, and I feared for a long time baseball would not happen until 2021. I’m now cautiously optimistic that we’ll all get to sit back and watch our favorite team play baseball. I look forward to the great catches, Soler-powered bombs in the fountains and Gordon’s last hurrah, and I’m even looking forward to the inevitable bad games that will happen when you field a team with as many likely holes as the Royals. It’s a glimmer of hope in the near future, and I can’t wait for it. I look forward to many more discussions about the team in the comments section, so feel free to let me know what YOU think is going to happen this year.