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Lesky’s Notes: We’re into the final month

And hey, Adalberto Mondesi picked up his third RBI last night!

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As the season has unfolded, we’ve learned quite a bit about this Royals team. Some things, like them not being especially good, we knew before the season started. Some things, like the bullpen being a strength, I at least thought would be the case but we didn’t know. And some things, like Mike Matheny looking like a pretty impressive tactical manager most of the time, have come as a complete surprise. And now we’re down to just 22 games before it’s already the offseason again, and we have to start thinking about needs and all that once again. Of course, we don’t really know for sure what kind of season we’ll see in 2021 because this pandemic doesn’t seem to be slowing down for much of anything. There’s plenty of time, though, so I feel at least sort of confident we’ll see 162 games. I do wonder if we’ll see a universal DH and the extra innings rule next year too, but those are topics for another day, I suppose.

  • One thing to look forward to in the offseason is that the Royals have to know they need more bats. And one are that I think they really need to focus on is professional bats. I know they like the athletic types who have some boom or bust to their game, but this lineup absolutely needs at least two more guys who are going to give a good plate appearance every single time at the plate. The Royals have never been better offensively than when they had Ben Zobrist in there. They can absolutely turn to the trade market and deal from their stable of pitching prospects. I sort of expect them to do that, which means we need to try to pinpoint who the James Shields is as a position player to supplement this group. Could they move someone like Jackson Kowar for someone like Tommy Pham or Michael Conforto or a hitter like that? Maybe so. I’m not sure I full on see it, but even if they were to dig into some free agents who aren’t top tier they could come out of it with a couple guys like Tommy La Stella and Marwin Gonzalez. Both those players are actually nice fits because they allow the Royals a lot of options. Gonzalez isn’t having much of a year, so maybe he’s a bad example, but you get my point here. If they insist on hanging on to Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler, that’s fine, but you have to do something to add to the lineup to give them some protection. Personally, I’d tell Michael Brantley he can have whatever he wants and let him sign for a year or two and let him give his professional at bats four times a game for a year or two. I don’t know how they’re going to convince him to sign in KC, but I just really want to see a couple guys who know what they’re doing at the plate come in and help deepen this lineup to help boost the pitching staff that looks like it has a chance to keep the team in most games.
  • The Adalberto Mondesi question is one that I can’t get through a radio spot without someone asking me about. And the answer isn’t simple. The Royals completely destroyed his development by promoting him too soon every step of the way. Eventually it got to a point where they ran out of options with him, so they’re not able to do what he truly needs right now and that’s to send him to the alternate site. So they’re stuck with him on the roster and he’s playing every day. Maybe if Nicky Lopez was actually hitting, they’d be able to justify putting Lopez at shortstop and Whit Merrifield at second and playing someone like Bubba Starling, Khalil Lee or Edward Olivares in center, but Nicky isn’t hitting, so it’s hard to make that call. He did sit on Tuesday and has had some better plate appearances of late, so if you’re looking for a small victory to help you sleep at night, there you go, but the guy honestly needs to sit. Between he and Lopez, he’s the one with the star potential. I don’t know how much of that is there anymore, but it wasn’t that long ago that he put up a half season that paced him for nearly 30 homers and 70 steals while playing very good defense (which he has maintained, by the way). My opinion is you don’t worry about Lopez and you do what you can to get Mondesi right. I think that means you sit him down and you play him occasionally, but you work with him as if he’s at the alternate site. And when game time comes, most days, he’s on the bench with whoever it is he needs to be on the bench with while Lopez plays short and Merrifield is at second. This serves two purposes. The Royals need to add Khalil Lee to the 40-man roster at the end of the season anyway. You may as well do it now (there are plenty of cut options or a Kennedy 45-day IL stint works too) and see what you have with him in center every day. You can also put Nick Heath back out there or play Edward Olivares, which I’m fine with too. But the point is that Mondesi needs to sit and he needs to sit knowing he’s doing it so he can regain what he was in 2018 when 2021 starts.
  • Jakob Junis has really picked a heck of a season to struggle with staying on the field. First it started with him testing positive for COVID-19 and having to miss the start of the season. Then he missed some time with the back injury and now he had to be removed from his last start after a line drive hit him in the throwing arm. He may or may not miss time, we won’t know until next week, but in a season where he was only going to get a maximum of 11 or 12 starts, he’s sitting at just four with three weeks to go. His rookie year and first full year gave us glimmers of hope with him because the slider was getting so many strikeouts and he was limiting walks, but then he struggled through a tough season last year and really needed a nice season to stay in the Royals plans for the future. He hasn’t been bad by any stretch with a 4.32 ERA, but the strikeouts haven’t been there, partially because the slider hasn’t been that good. HIs spin rate is down by about 100 revolutions this year, which is in direct contrast with Danny Duffy and Brad Keller who have both seen their slider spin rate rise. He has a 27.3 percent whiff rate on it compared to 38.2 percent last year. He’s given up four homers on it in 22 at bats compared to four last year in 237 at bats. He just hasn’t progressed the way I thought he would and the way many thought and now he’s about to start facing some stiff competition. We’ve already seen Brady Singer and Kris Bubic in the rotation and Carlos Hernandez has seen his first big league action with Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Austin Cox and Asa Lacy at the alternate site. Those guys are on their way, and with Keller, Singer and Bubic looking like parts of the rotation for at least the next couple seasons, the spots for Junis will continue to dwindle. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t miss any time and does get to make his last four or so starts to give the Royals some decisions to make.
  • The Royals offense has been largely a disaster all season long, but one development that I’m pleasantly surprised by is their ability to draw a walk. They still rank near the bottom of the league for the season, but a lot of that is that they were allergic to the walk for the first couple weeks of the season. Since August 6, which was that outburst against the Cubs, they’ve drawn 89 walks with a 9.8 percent walk rate. Coming into play last night, that ranked 11th in all of baseball in that timeframe. Sure it’s an arbitrary endpoint, but at this point it’s a pretty big sample. Hunter Dozier has led the way with a rate above 20 percent, but Ryan O’Hearn, Cam Gallagher and Jorge Soler have played a big role as well as Nicky Lopez and Alex Gordon. They still have big issues with strike zone judgment, but this is one of the first extended periods of plate discipline I can remember in some time. I mentioned the need for professional hitters and the professional at bats they bring with them, but it’s been nice to see a few more of them over the last few weeks. In fact, in that timeframe, the Royals offense has been pretty much about average in every category but the one that ultimately matters, runs scored. They get the guys on, but the lineup is just too shallow to get them home. That’s a problem that we all know about, so let’s just go back to being happy about them working some walks. That’s at least a little more fun.