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Lesky’s Notes: They’re interesting...sometimes

They’re worth watching for at least a few innings when the young guys are going.

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals aren’t an especially young team. Using weighted playing time, their batters are the third oldest in baseball. Their top three hitters on many days are Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez with Salvy the youngest of the bunch at 31. Add in Michael A. Taylor and they have four every day players who are 30 or older. Not having Adalberto Mondesi for most of the year has hurt as he’d be the only position player in his age-25 season or younger to play regularly, though Emmanuel Rivera is 25 and getting some opportunity now. Still, they’re pretty old in their lineup. The rotation, though, is a little different and that’s where the Royals are actually interesting sometimes. The Royals pitching staff as a whole is the eighth youngest. With Danny Duffy moved, the only starter, even in a six-man rotation older than 25 (or in their age-25 season, I guess) is Mike Minor. Yes, there are bullpen innings going to Wade Davis and Greg Holland and mopup innings to Ervin Santana, but it’s a young staff and five of out of six days, the start is made by someone who wasn’t even born yet when the 1994 strike hit. I don’t know if they’ll ever be good, but that’s at least interesting.

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In today’s article on Inside the Crown, I look at some of the 40-man decisions the Royals will need to make this winter, but within it, I broach the topic of Bobby Witt Jr. being added to the big league roster before the end of this year. That situation really has me going back and forth on whether I think it’s a good idea. From a readiness standpoint, he’s probably about there. I think there’s a little more swing and miss than you’d really like, but in general, he puts together good at bats and has such loud tools that it’s hard not to want to see that in the big leagues. This is a guy who can both beat out a routine ground ball to shortstop and can crush a ball 440+ feet with relative ease. Add to it that he’s a plus defender on the left side of the infield and other than wanting to be a month too late than a month too early on bringing a guy up, there aren’t a ton of reasons on the field that he shouldn’t be up.

But the decision making process that Dayton Moore and the Royals front office has to go through doesn’t only rely on the field. You might think it should be that way, but it’s not. There’s always the question of service time. I think that’s likely a non-issue given that he’ll likely be on the Opening Day roster anyway, so this doesn’t change anything, but if they were to keep him down for a couple weeks next year, they could buy an extra year. But that’s assuming the CBA keeps service time the same, which it honestly probably won’t. So is it even worth worrying about? I don’t know. There’s also the issue of the 40-man roster. While I mention in the article on ItC that it’s not as big of a crunch as it could be, there are still a number of worthy players and having Witt on the 40-man for a lost season taking up a spot that he can claim at the end of March instead might be a detriment. And then I also think about the value of getting his feet wet now so maybe he can hit the ground running in April rather than going through some of the struggles we’ve seen early with players like Jared Kelenic and Wander Franco. I tend to lean toward being okay with him coming up to get the experience, but I also understand if it doesn’t happen for all the other reasons.

Somewhere between directly related and loosely related to Witt is Mondesi, who should be coming off the IL any day now after his latest injury. Dayton Moore’s comments last week about not being able to count on him were interesting and with the way Nicky Lopez is playing, they could start the process of using Mondesi in a utility role, but I imagine he will be playing shortstop the rest of this season whenever he comes back and for however long he can stay healthy once he is back. I know the idea of moving him to another position has been broached, but he’s played shortstop in all of his rehab games and learning a new position in-season is pretty difficult. He could play second for sure, as he has in the past, but I just think he ends up staying at shortstop once he’s back in the big leagues. The best Royals infield defense likely has Mondesi at short, Witt at third and Lopez at second, so if Witt comes up this year, I think that’s what we’ll see a lot of.

But in the long-term, there has been discussion of Mondesi as a utility player or a center fielder. The Royals don’t have much in the pipeline in center. Kyle Isbel is really about it since it’s clear they don’t see Edward Olivares as a center fielder in the big leagues. You can also argue for Dairon Blanco, and I won’t push back too much on that, but still, there’s not an elite talent knocking on the door of center. If they are to move Mondesi, I imagine that will happen after an offseason rather than during the season, and I have my doubts that center field will be less of an injury risk for a guy who has muscle issues like he has had. To be clear, I don’t know that it won’t help, I just don’t know that it will. I’m very curious to see how they handle Mondesi this winter. As a center field option, it does open up some possibilities with a rotation including Isbel and Olivares as well as Andrew Benintendi if they choose to go that route with next year’s roster. While, as I’ve said so many times before, the Royals are very qualified to deal with Mondesi’s injury issues since they have three big league capable shortstops, they also could deal with him missing time in center. I really don’t know where I land on it, but I can’t say I’m not interested to see what that speed could do in the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield with a winter to work on things with Rusty Kuntz.

To keep with the theme of “where do they play when they come up?” the topic of MJ Melendez has gained some steam with his promotion to AAA. The Royals kind of put themselves in a bit of a quandary when they signed both Hunter Dozier and Salvador Perez to long-term deals before the season. It’s easy to pan the Dozier deal because of both his play and the emergence of Nick Pratto, but the Royals really couldn’t know that he would come through playing so well. I still maintain that Dozier’s extension is the sort of thing that provides depth to the offense that we always seem to complain isn’t there, but he does take up a roster spot now that there are prospects knocking on the door. On the Salvy side of the extension, I don’t think that would have changed if they had known that Melendez would have such a big minor league season, so it probably doesn’t matter, but having him signed through 2025 with an option in 2026 still doesn’t make it easy.

I always say that the farm system’s job is to supplement the big league roster whether it’s through the player being promoted and contributing or being a part of a trade to bring back someone who will contribute. I could honestly see it working either way with Melendez. The word is that Melendez is going to work at multiple positions in AAA. He has the athleticism that you’d think he could handle a corner outfield spot and he played some third at the alternate site last year, which is pretty interesting. There aren’t many catchers who can play all over, but if he could be one and maintain offensive performance, that could be a really nice piece for their roster. Perez isn’t someone who should be able to catch 130 games a year forever, so if you can get Melendez something like 70 starts behind the plate, 25 at third, 25 in right and 20 at DH or something like that with Salvy catching 90 games and DHing 40ish times, that could be pretty beneficial for everyone. So there is a way to make it work. It’s a good problem to have. And it’s also one I’m glad I don’t have to find the answer to.

I think the Royals have made some really poor decisions with injuries this year. First it was bringing Dozier off his rehab assignment so quickly when they had a free opportunity to keep him in the minors to work on things. Then there was the Danny Duffy situation where he came off the IL with no rehab time in spite of missing six weeks. There’s also the case of Brady Singer who made two rehab starts, neither of which went well, before he was back in the big leagues. But the one I haven’t heard much discussion on is Andrew Benintendi, who was having a really solid season before he went on the IL with his rib injury. After a slow start, Benintendi hit .323/.374/.506 with 8 homers in 174 plate appearances over 44 games before he hurt his ribs in Oakland and then missed about three weeks. At this point, the Royals season was in the tank, so what does it hurt to give the guy 30 at bats over a week and a half in Omaha to get his timing back?

Well, whatever it would have hurt, I think the big league numbers were hurt worse. He did hit a couple of homers in that first week back leading up to the break, but he just hasn’t been able to get going and then had that shoulder issue as well. In all, since coming back from the injury without a single at bat to get his timing down, he’s hitting .180/.229/.348. Arbitrary endpoint alert, but he’s 3 for his last 29. Of course, he’s at the point now where he should have had his timing down and be back, but I just can’t help but wonder if getting him back so quickly without any kind of time in AA or AAA was more of a hindrance than a help and has kind of torpedoed what was looking like a solid first season in Kansas City. Now he’s rocking a 94 wRC+ and is really hurting the team in the middle of the order no matter how often Ryan and Hud try to will him to get a hit. I think there was a chance that he could get traded in the offseason, but he’s going to have to have a strong finish for that to happen because if this keeps up, his value will be even lower than it was six months ago when the Royals traded for him.