The season is over, how did the Royals do? We gathered writers and friends of the site to discuss the 2021 Royals season and look ahead to the off-season.
What was the most positive thing about the 2021 Royals season?
Hokius: Depending on your perspective there are a handful of positive things from this season. Your mileage may vary on which is most positive but I think the overall record has to edge out the development of Nicky Lopez, the true star turn of Salvador Pérez, and even the progression of the farm system. It shows that they’re not nearly as far away as they have been for the prior three seasons. If the Royals make some aggressive moves this off-season we could be looking at a contender in 2022.
Max Rieper: The complete turnaround of MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto. Both seemed headed to fall out of the top ten prospects in the farm system, and they emerged this year as potential stars. The Royals are still a bit light on hitting prospects, but they are in a much better spot than they were a year ago.
Alex Duvall: The most positive development for the Royals in 2021 has to be the hitting development in the minor leagues. At the big league level, we could talk about Nicky Lopez or Salvador Pérez, but the Royals lineup showed that it is multiple bats away from being close to playoff contention. The job that Alec Zumwalt, Drew Saylor, Keone Di Renne, and Mike Tosar did with the Royals hitting prospects in 2021 is going to be the difference between this team contending in 2023 and more “meh” baseball for the foreseeable future.
Matthew LaMar: The answer is very clearly the bounceback performances of Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel, and Bobby Witt, Jr., all of whom had varying levels of 2019 disappointment but showed that they might be at least an interesting core group of young position players in the near future. But if you’re focusing on the big league club, Nicky Lopez’s emergence is huge. A league-average hitter with Gold Glove level defense at, arguably, both middle infield spots under team control for years? That’s night and day from how he ended last year.
Shaun Newkirk: Feels like it is undoubtedly two things: Nicky Lopez and also the improvement/development from the MiLB hitters.
Lopez eased some concerns that he wasn’t just Rey Sanchez-lite, even if there is probably some decent regression coming next year given his peripherals (1st percentile barrel%, 12th percentile exit velo, 4th percentile hard-hit rate, etc...) He’s at least shown that he can be penciled into the lineup for the foreseeable future, or at least until it is proven otherwise that he shouldn’t be.
While I’ve written about how the minor league ball seems juiced this year, Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez have gone from non-prospects to top 100 prospects by some sites. That’s a 180-degree turnaround and something that was sorely needed. Whether they have proven to be real assets or one hot season will be answered sometime next year when they get called up (roughly 16 days after the regular season starts I’d imagine).
Clint Scoles: The farm system rebuilding itself. Going into the season the projections said this would be an up and down season around 73 wins and that’s exactly what happened. Despite that, the future looks decent with the farm system’s bats exploding and three hitters pounding on the door at Triple-A including a possible franchise cornerstone in Witt. Additionally, Carlos Hernández looked strong at times this season and should be ready to be the opening day starting in 2022. There are pieces and some depth of arms to create a solid team that can compete in an iffy division but 2021 didn’t give a lot of answers as to which arms will fit in the best roles just yet.
What was the most disappointing thing from the season?
Shaun Newkirk: The college pitching crew. Brady Singer cemented who he is - an average or so pitcher who can be your #3 or #4 that likely plays for ten years. That’s a valuable asset but not quite the ace level some had hoped for when he was drafted. Kris Bubic followed up a decent debut season with a barely above replacement level season and it’s hard to see him being anything above a #4 or #5 starter, or potentially just a long arm out of the pen. He doesn’t have the command to not strike guys out at a higher rate and get away with it. Daniel Lynch I had the highest hopes of the four for and it was really baffling to see his ability to command the ball just disappear. Jackson Kowar was always somewhat iffy in my mind because of the lack of a third pitch, and while he isn’t actually a 12+ ERA pitcher, he is closer to being a reclamation project than on the 2023 roster.
Matthew LaMar: Starting pitching. Consider - who is the Royals’ best young starting pitcher moving forward? Brady Singer continues to have issues with left-handed hitters. Brad Keller had an enormously disappointing year in every facet. Kris Bubic’s career FIP is now over 5. Daniel Lynch did his very best Luke Hochevar impression, occasionally showing promise but mostly getting shelled. Carlos Hernandez pitched well in his 64 innings as a starter, but he still had an FIP over 4 over that stretch. And Jackson Kowar...let’s not talk about him. The Royals are in a better place than a lot of teams with the talent they have, but nobody has shown they can reliably convert talent into performance.
Clint Scoles: Big bat issues. Carlos Santana, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler were supposed to be the keys to the middle part of the batting order in 2021 and all performed disastrously with the Royals. Each player performed in the bottom four of Fangraphs value this season with Dozier and Soler’s first-half offensive performance contributing to the hole built in that half of the season.
Alex Duvall: The most disappointing thing from the 2021 season would probably be the lack of a step forward for guys like Brad Keller, Andrew Benintendi, and Adalberto Mondesi. Guys who aren’t exactly older veterans, but are both young and established veterans in Major League Baseball. Keller was pretty bad most of the year, Benintendi didn’t show any signs of being a fixture in the middle of a lineup, and Mondesi couldn’t stay on the field for more than two days at a time. Maybe only Mondesi has any real “star” potential, but the Royals will need all three of those guys to play well in 2022 if they want to be competitive. We didn’t see much of that in 2021.
Max Rieper: Very disappointing debuts from Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar, two pitching prospects I liked better than Brady Singer. Lynch had some flashes of brilliance but was far too inconsistent. Kowar seemed to be a mess at times, and will really need to put 2021 behind him and come back stronger next year. Fatigue could be a factor, as these pitchers didn’t get any innings last year, but usually good pitchers are pretty good from the start, and to see top pitching prospects struggle this much is concerning.
Hokius: The most disappointing thing is the failure of the expected guys to break out. Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, and Brady Singer were all supposed to give us a full season of tremendous ball this year. None of them pulled it off. Maybe they will in 2022, but without any of them taking a step forward Nicky and Salvy are replacing the production we expected from them instead of being able to add on to it.
Who is your Royals Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year?
Matthew LaMar: Salvador Perez is player of the year. He was the most fun to watch at the plate this year, independent of his home run totals. And as a catcher? What a season. Scott Barlow is pitcher of the year. The Royals’ volatility and big flashy names in the rotation distracted from his performance, but Barlow turned in 74 1⁄3 innings of excellence in the bullpen and was legitimately one of the better relievers in the league.
Alex Duvall: Player: Salvador “Home Run King” Perez
Pitcher: Mike Minor
Was torn between Minor and Barlow here, but Minor led the team in IP and fWAR and, for the most part, went out there every fifth day and ate innings. Something this team needed in the worst way.
Max Rieper: Salvy and Scott Barlow.
Clint Scoles: Player of the year is Sal Perez, a top 30 season in franchise history according to Baseball-Reference in total WAR value along with hitting key home runs in key spots for the team. The fact that he’s there everyday with his energy and bat probably has quite a bit of incalculable value that most ignore but 2021 will be looked back as a pretty epic season in Sal’s career with the stuff he did on the field.
This one is more difficult as the starters just didn’t have the success to justify it. Scott Barlow isn’t the prototypical closer but he’s a rubber-armed reliever that gives this team a lot of quality work with 71 appearances this season. Being available is one of his best assets but he also performed, leading the team in strikeouts-per-nine-innings and ERA while finishing second in WHIP.
Shaun Newkirk: Nicky Lopez for hitter of the year (despite some people on Twitter thinking I hate him).
Scott Barlow for pitcher of the year. Finished second in fWAR amongst all Royals pitchers, just 0.2 WAR behind Mike Minor, and he pitched 84 fewer innings than Minor.
Hokius: Salvador Perez is the player of the year and anyone saying otherwise is ridiculous. I’m not sure the Royals should have a pitcher of the year, this year. The top 3 by fWAR are Mike Minor, Singer, and Scott Barlow. Barlow was good but he wasn’t “pitcher-of-the-year-even-though-he’s-a-reliever” good. I am tempted to give it to Carlos Hernández who showed a lot more than anyone outside the organization expected from him in limited time.
What is one thing the Royals absolutely have to do this off-season?
Alex Duvall: I’ll give the Royals their choice of two options:
#1, you have to commit to letting the kids play in 2022. You absolutely CANNOT give Ryan O’Hearn everyday looks in 2022. You cannot give Carlos Santana the everyday starting job in November. You cannot plan on Hunter Dozier being your everyday rightfielder from Jump Street. Let the kids play on Opening Day, or....
#2, go make a big-time move this offseason. Whether it’s a starting pitcher or a big bat in the outfield, go find someone who is going to make a real difference on this team. This team needs a star. It needs someone you can slot in next to Salvy as the face of the team. You need a bonafide veteran star that you know is going to be good for ~3.5-4 WAR for the next 2-3 years. Go find someone to take some of the load off of Whit’s shoulders, off your young rotation, and these young, up-and-coming bats.
Matthew LaMar: The one thing the Royals absolutely have to do this offseason is...nothing. Look: between Witt, Pratto, Melendez, and Isbel, the Royals will have four different starting position players next year. That’s to say nothing of the fact that Hernández, Lynch, and Kowar will make way more starts than they combined for this season. The Royals need to not get in their own way here and see what they’ve got internally. If it works, you can make a play at the deadline and/or make some big moves next year.
Max Rieper: Resist the temptation to make a big trade. The farm system has improved a ton, it will be the pipeline that gives the Royals a more sustainable approach to winning. They’re probably still a year away, as they’ll need to sort out which pitching prospects will be worth keeping in the rotation, and it will take at least a year for the hitting prospects to get their feet wet. I wouldn’t mind going for some more bullpen depth, but for the most part I think plugging in young players makes more sense than spending more on mediocre veterans. If they are going to make a big move this winter, I’d recommend looking at the coaching staff, particularly pitching coach Cal Eldred and hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, who didn’t seem to do much to justify keeping their jobs.
Hokius: Go out and get an in-his-prime, big bat and add a veteran pitcher who can be counted on to eat innings with an ERA in the high 3s at most. Do that, promote aggressively from the minors, and they’re giving themselves a chance. Fail to get some big players to help patch in the gaps and it will be one fewer potential competitive year with Perez and Bobby Witt, Jr.
Clint Scoles: I don’t think there are any absolutes. With the Michael Taylor signing they have indicated where they’re not going to upgrade in centerfield which was a need. Bobby Witt’s addition should provide a nice safety net at shortstop if Lopez can’t repeat his BABIP hefty performance. If Lopez does hit close then Witt fits nicely at third and moves Mondesi into a utility role which given his career performance and injury history fits him better. The Royals need to find better fits in the corner outfield and shape up the rotation but with the available options via free agency they should stand pat and play it out with what they have internally. That may not be what fans want to hear but adding money on top of bad money (Benintendi, Dozier, Santana) already committed won’t give a more clear picture for 2023.
Shaun Newkirk: Truly figure out who they are as a roster and where they are on the win curve. Either they are still the 2010/2011 Royals with a good farm system and some talent on the MLB roster (though I’d argue not as good as the 2010/2011 roster talent-wise) or they are the 2013 or so Royals who are nearing their window to compete. If they are the former, they need to be patient and perhaps sell some of the guys who won’t be around or be contributors in 3-4 years. If they are the latter, they should consider being buyers and trying to move up the win curve. I’d say with the current talent on the roster and the rest of the AL Central, they are probably closer to the 2010/2011 Royals than the 2013 squad.
What is your World Series prediction?
Shaun Newkirk: Rays vs Dodgers - I’ll pick the Rays to finally get over the hump.
Hokius: Rays over Dodgers in 7.
Max Rieper: Cardinals over the Yankees because the baseball gods are punishing us for the extra-inning baserunner rule. Blasphemy!
Matthew LaMar: Putting this one out into the world: Rays/Brewers World Series, with the Rays finally pulling through.
Alex Duvall: The Rays finally win the whole thing, 4 games to 2 over the San Francisco Giants.
Clint Scoles: The Rays reward Montreal with a World Series team in 2022.