When the last edition of these notes posted, the Royals were 15-8 and in first place and hadn’t lost more than two in a row at any point. Since then, well, it’s been ugly. Three games against the Twins where they only looked good in one snowballed into a truly ugly series with the Indians that saw the team lose their cool (understandably so) and lose all four games. Now instead of being in first place, they’ve dropped to third place and are lucky the Twins haven’t seemed to put anything together because they could easily be in fourth in a couple days if they had. All hope is not lost, though, because this is why a fast start is such a good thing. You can have a brutal week and still find yourself right in the thick of things.
This is the spot where I tell you to subscribe to Inside the Crown in a shameless way because it’s still free and stuff. Now that we have that out of the way, I wrote over there on Monday that Andrew Benintendi was getting hot. It’s kind of crazy that it’s been such a quick turnaround for him to get his season stats up to basically his career numbers only with slightly less power. HIs .286/.353/.419 line absolutely works. I’d like to see those power numbers come up, but since the Royals hit the road to Detroit, he’s hitting .409/.469/.659 with five extra base hits, five walks and five strikeouts. I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen more doubles from him, but I feel like those will come. He’s hitting it hard, and good things happen when you hit it hard.
So now the question becomes what the Royals do if he can keep this up. Before the season, Dayton Moore talked about needing to be more transactional. I don’t think even with that thought that they’d look to deal Benintendi later this season but with his team control up after 2022, I do feel like they need to make a decision on whether or not they bank on him long-term or try to cash in on a bounceback season from him, either at the deadline or in the off-season. Knowing this organization, I would imagine that they will think about a long-term deal, and this is super premature, but he’s doing pretty close to exactly what they expected and when you deal for a guy within a couple years of free agency at this age, you tend to want to keep them around. James Shields is an example of a pitcher they only had for two years and didn’t really try to keep, but he also wasn’t right in his prime, so I’m very curious to see what they do.
One thing that I’m also curious about is why they continue to give Ryan O’Hearn opportunities. I know I preach hard contact a lot, so it might seem a little hypocritical to be done with O’Hearn, but it has to have become very apparent that he’s just not good enough. HIs power potential is intriguing in the lineup, sure, but the roster fit just isn’t there with him needing to DH if he’s playing with Jorge Soler playing right field. Soler hasn’t been terrible out there, but he also hasn’t been good. His arm is brutal. He’s slow. It’s just not a good fit with him playing defense nearly every day. If O’Hearn could really hit, it’d be totally worth it, but his bat is just way too slow to catch up with some of the fastballs you see today.
I think the Royals made a move too early in spring on Edward Olivares, so I’d like to see them give him a big league look, playing right field every day. The outfield defense hasn’t really been a problem, especially not compared to the infield, but Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor and Olivares in the outfield could be pretty fun to watch. And yeah, small sample and all that, but Olivares is hitting .636 through three games in Omaha with two walks. I liked what I saw from him last year after they acquired him and I think they could stand to add a little more athleticism to the lineup. The thing with O’Hearn is that I understood why they pushed him in 2020 to see which of 2018 or 2019 was the fluke, but at this point, we have an answer. It’s time to find out with someone else.
The bullpen went from a pretty clear strength to a weakness quickly. A lot of the talk is about the loss of Jesse Hahn and Kyle Zimmer, but Hahn has been out for awhile now and was terrible before he went on the IL and Zimmer was very good before his injury but he wasn’t exactly the glue to the bullpen. I think some of what we’re seeing is expected regression, but some of what we’re seeing is some early fraying from being so exposed from the starting rotation just not giving enough innings. It also never helps when guys like Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow are giving up runs because those are the guys who are being counted on, but I think they can get back to being a quality and deep unit.
I was a little worried that Greg Holland might be toast a couple weeks ago after that blowup against the Rays, but since then, he’s looked better. It’s only four innings over five outings and it seems like he worked his way out of the inner circle, but I’ve liked the fact that he’s only walked one and struck out six in those four innings. What I like is that his fastball is averaging 93 in those five outings and his slider has looked fantastic. Between him and liking what I’ve seen from Zuber, I think the Royals can find some of that depth again with what they already have. I also think there might be some reinforcements potentially in the minors. Personally, I’d love to see what Jackson Kowar could do in the bullpen what that fastball and changeup combo. I’d also love to see Jonathan Bowlan in a relief role. I’m not asking for that tomorrow, but I think those are a couple possibilities a little later on this season.
Outside of it just being awesome that minor league baseball is back, it’s so nice that it’s back because we can actually see a few things. For one, the organization can no longer tell us what they want us to hear about this player or that player without having to back it up with any kind of proof. They could say all day long that Bobby Witt, Jr. was crushing the ball at the alternate site, but who knows? Now we’ll have a chance to actually see the progress he made at the site. They can talk about thinking that Kyle Isbel has a chance to handle center field at the big league level at Kauffman Stadium. Now we can see if they actually play him there (which they have in two out of three games now). There’s also a chance to really see who deserves callups and who needs to work on things and just everything we haven’t had an opportunity to see over the last year plus.
One of the things that was most disappointing for me as someone who follows the Royals and their organization was that we never had an opportunity to see what the change in the offensive development program meant for the young hitters. Obviously the trio of Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias and MJ Melendez had a truly forgettable 2019 season and it’s not until just now that we’re getting the chance to really see if the work they did with them is going to pay off. It’s not just them, but obviously they are the focal point of that. It’s just so great to have minor league baseball back and to flip through on the MiLB First Pitch app every night to see what the Royals affiliates are doing. And it’s not the worst thing to have that available to focus on when the Royals look like they do right now at the big league level.