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Lesky’s Notes: Finally some action

Minor league signings, prospect lists and it’s extension SZN

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I talked about being a little surprised that the Francisco Lindor trade didn’t open things up more, but it looks like things are starting to really take shape. Of course, that makes sense with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month. George Springer is a Blue Jay. Michael Brantley was thought to be as well until he wasn’t. And the Twins have signed another lefty starter in JA Happ who the Royals haven’t fared that well against in the past, but seems like the type they should do well against with Carlos Santana, Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield leading the way. The Royals did make a minor league signing that I’ll get to in a minute once I get to the notes, but they’re still on the hunt for that lefty bat (insert obligatory Jurickson Profar* reference here) and I still think another starter and/or reliever. No matter what they tell you, the Royals don’t expect to truly contend in 2021, so if this is the team they take to Surprise, so be it, but I think they want more.

*Profar did me dirty signing back with the Padres this morning. I thought we had something, Jurickson.

Of course, they did make a familiar signing this week, inking Wade Davis to a minor league deal that’s basically identical to the one we saw Greg Holland sign last year. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that move as the Royals do love to hang on to the past, sometimes (often?) to their detriment. It’s easy to see this move and think it will work out identically to the Holland move, but it’s also important to note that Holland never dropped off as much as Davis did at any point over the last couple seasons. He posted an ERA of 8.65 in 2019 with his strikeout rate dropping down a touch below a strikeout per nine and his walk rate skyrocketing to 6.1 per nine. His velocity is a point that can’t be ignored. In his three years with the Royals where he was a full-time reliever, he averaged a bit more than 96 MPH on his fastball. That dropped to 94.4 MPH in 2017 and 93.8 in 2018. It continued its drop to 93.2 in 2019 and then bottomed out at 91.4 this past season. Of course, there was a shoulder injury, but also that’s a reason for concern itself. His cutter was still pretty okay in 2019 and if he can somehow get a couple MPH back as a healthy pitcher, maybe he can rebuild some value. It’s a minor league deal, so there’s basically no risk, but I’m just here to warn that it might be a little tough to watch Davis get hit after seeing him give up 26 runs in 192.2 innings out of the bullpen in his first stint with the Royals. I don’t mind taking the minimal risk here, but signing Davis to a minor league deal should not stop them from continuing to look to upgrade their bullpen.

You may not have realized this, but this is prime extension season with Dayton Moore in charge. Some of it is out of circumstance with arbitration eligible players. Either they’ve both submitted their numbers and it gives the Royals a midpoint to start at in extension talks or they’ve been talking to reach an agreement, so the sides know basically where they stand. We’ve seen guys like Zack Greinke, Billy Butler and Whit Merrifield all sign extensions that got announced at or around Fanfest. With no Fanfest this year, maybe there isn’t the public incentive to get things done now, but this is still basically the time to be on the lookout. The arbitration guys who could find themselves deciding on extension are Hunter Dozier, Brad Keller and Adalberto Mondesi. I wrote about the Keller extension possibilities a few months ago, and I do think that absolutely could happen.

Mondesi is a high-risk, but potentially high-reward play if they were to work something out, but that’s also a reason why Mondesi himself wouldn’t be that interested in doing something. Still, if you can get him for a reasonable deal, you might have to consider it if you’re the Royals. His 6.6 fWAR since coming to the big leagues for good in June of 2018 is the eight highest total among 31 shortstops with at least 800 plate appearances in that time. Can you sign him to something like the four year, $32.5 million deal Nick Ahmed signed? He’s not the best comp, but that’s a number that I think is at least close to reasonable. I don’t know. It’s probably best to wait, but the Royals are pretty bare in terms of long-term deals, so they could stomach it if even Mondesi never really figured things out.

As for the rest, we talked about Dozier last week, and I just don’t think the Royals are sold on him truly long-term. That said, he’s in a pretty similar career spot to Merrifield a couple years ago and if they can get some cost certainty for a player who can bring a plus bat to multiple positions, maybe they do. The other real options are Salvador Perez (and I think that’s the most likely but we’ve talked about him recently) and Jorge Soler. I personally think Soler is more likely to be dealt in the next few months, but hey, it could happen too.

Top 100/101 prospect lists are starting to come out, and the Royals are much better represented today than just a couple years ago when they were among the list of teams with the fewest prospects. The universal top prospect the Royals have is Bobby Witt, Jr. which isn’t too surprising given the insane accolades he was getting through the summer camp and fall instructs. One thing I noticed about him in that video where he swung at 140+ miles per hour was that he actually did look like he’s put on some additional muscle. The big question with Witt is the ability to make consistent contact, and I honestly don’t have many worries about that. There’s always a fear of getting overly excited about a prospect, but I think he has a chance to come up and be a contributor right away whenever that might be. Then you go down the list and it’s pretty consistently some combination of Asa Lacy and Daniel Lynch as the two and three in the organization, followed by Jackson Kowar on Baseball America’s list and Erick Pena with Kowar on the Baseball Prospectus list. They’ve come such a long way from where they were just a couple years ago, but one thing that’s holding them back right now from ranking in the top four or five of teams is the unwillingness to trade big leaguers in previous seasons for prospects. They did build their previous great system largely through the draft, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of shape they’d be in if they had moved someone like Merrifield a couple years ago. Maybe the prospect return wouldn’t have been great, but they’ve forced themselves to rely quite a bit on a tough system to win with in today’s game. Still, I’m very excited to see how getting to actually see prospects in action can help them to rise up the rankings mid-season.

It’s pretty cool that the Monarchs are back as a functioning baseball team in Kansas City as the T-Bones have rebranded with some good looking threads and a nice logo. I put this on Twitter, but I’ll talk about it here a little bit. I think the Royals have a pretty cool opportunity coming up if they’d like to honor Buck O’Neil in 2022. He wore number 22, so they could really make the season about honoring him in a few ways. Nobody has worn the number since 2013 when Wade Davis wore it, though it might be a little weird to retire a number for someone who never played for the team when one of the team’s all-time great pitchers (Dennis Leonard) wore it and it isn’t retired for him, but that’s another story. Still, I think it would be great if they could devote a season to Buck. They could finally have him signing Take Me Out to the Ballgame every night. If they’re interested in making some money, they could even put out an alternate jersey that’s based on one of the Monarchs looks. I mean, I know that would sell very well. I personally like the 1924 look quite a bit, but whatever they do, I really believe it would be a great gesture and something that could be really awesome to welcome full capacity back to the stadium.