In some ways, this has felt like an incredibly long season. Long losing streaks and 4-20 stretches will do that to a fan. But in other ways, it sure feels like about 20 minutes ago that we were talking about the potential of this lineup and if the young starters can just find their way to success. Of course, we know how it’s turned out. The Royals are on pace for about 70 or so wins, which is right in line with the projections. The young starters have been a mixed bag, as most young starters are. And the offense, well they didn’t quite live up to their potential. There have been some good stories like Nicky Lopez becoming competent with the bat (while playing a very good shortstop) and Hunter Dozier seems like a bit of a positive lately after this first three months were basically useless. But our focus all shifts to the rest of this season in some ways, but mostly a pivotal off-season for this organization. They talk like they think they can win. I don’t think many believe they can. There’s a path if you squint, but your eyes might end up closed, which really makes it more of a daydream than a reality.
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We talked a bit about this on the Royals Review podcast this week, and I’ve written a few times about the Royals likely needing to make a trade. They have a couple of holes that I think could be filled with their farm system talent but also they have a noted logjam of players that can be eased a bit with a trade. For a long time, my thought has kind of rested with MJ Melendez being the guy they end up moving. And it does make sense. He plays the same position as a franchise icon who is signed through 2025 and he is having a good year after an absolutely atrocious one in 2019. Also, his staying at AA for awhile made me wonder if they didn’t want to expose him to another level to show other teams any potential holes. But, and maybe this is the recent slump talking, I wonder if Nick Pratto is the guy who they should be thinking about moving. Of course, the same reason they should probably be thinking about Pratto is the same reason he isn’t as valuable as Melendez potentially, but maybe that’s okay given what would be available in a trade.
The issue with Pratto that I see is the strikeout rate is still very high. Heading into play yesterday, it was down a bit but still nearly 26 percent. That’s not insane, especially in today’s game, but Melendez’s was closer to 21 percent. Now, Pratto is swinging and missing less than Melendez in AAA, but Melendez was whiffing less in AA than he is now. But I do wonder if Melendez could handle first base adequately if he might be the better player to keep. Even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure of it because Pratto’s strikeouts are at least partially a result of his great eye at the plate getting him deep into counts. And he’s shown off power, though not like Melendez has. Again, I’m just throwing out the idea because the Royals have to be right in this decision, no matter who they decide to move. It’s not that whoever they trade can’t be good elsewhere, but whoever they keep has to be good with the Royals. So this is a big decision, and not one that is easy for anyone.
Another thing I mentioned on the podcast (seriously, go listen, it’s good stuff) is that if the Royals are going to make some moves to get some of the guys up from the minors who they want to get a look at, we’ll probably see that happen relatively soon. Dayton Moore, for all his faults, really does take care of his guys (which is sometimes the problem) and with that in mind, if he’s going to cut ties with anyone, he’s likely to do it in the next week or so. The reason for that is he will likely want to give them a chance to catch on with another team before September 1 so they’ll be allowed to be on their postseason roster. You won’t see them move on from Carlos Santana or Michael A. Taylor or anything, but I could see them moving on from guys like Jarrod Dyson, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana potentially. Will they get picked up? The odds aren’t exactly great, but on a minor league deal to get the guy in the organization and have some additional big league depth, you never know. The point is that if they are going to make those moves, they’ll happen soon.
And that will allow the Royals to get looks at some of the players they really should have been getting a look at for awhile now. I don’t know if that’s enough to get Edward Olivares back for more than a few days, but it gives an extra opportunity to see some combination of Olivares, Kyle Isbel, Tyler Zuber, Dylan Coleman or any other players the Royals might want to get some eyes on before next season. With the 40-man roster decisions they’ll have coming, I would imagine anyone added to the 40-man would need to be one of those players who might be added anyway in November. So we’ll see what happens, but it’s nice to know that we’ll likely have that answer pretty quickly.
Josh Vernier tweeted something that kind of caught me off guard on Tuesday night. I guess maybe I should have realized it, but I honestly just hadn’t looked at it. The tweet, if you don’t want to click, was that Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield ranked as the best and second best base runners in baseball by the BsR stat on Fangraphs. When I last looked before yesterday’s action, Ozzie Albies actually jumped in front of Merrifield, but even so, having two of the three best base runners in baseball is certainly a good thing. And I think one thing that we haven’t talked about much because of the bad play this season is the fact that Rusty Kuntz is back and how big of a difference he makes. Personally, I hate the idea of “doing the little things” if you can’t do the big things, but the hope is that they’ll eventually be able to do the big things and having those little things will be very beneficial. I think the outfield’s general improvement throughout the season has a lot to do with Kuntz back on the team as well.
If you think back to the 2015 Royals, one thing that we could always say about them is that they were prepared. Every single game, they were likely more prepared than their opponent. That’s not just because of Kuntz, of course, but it was a nice edge to have for a team that was more talented than most, but not more talented than all. The lack of a long-term center field option is an issue with this team, but I do think that Kuntz being there for them could potentially help to mitigate some of that and maybe make it work with guys like Olivares and Isbel who are probably a bit stretched in center field in a big park like Kauffman Stadium. And truly, if they can find some power and maybe a little more OBP (maybe some of those prospects?), being able to run the bases better than other teams is a way to grab that little edge. I know I missed Rusty, and I think the team really did too.
Recently, Brady Singer has mentioned to both Josh Brisco and on The Athletic to Alec Lewis that he felt very comfortable throwing his changeup in AAA because it wasn’t the same environment as the big leagues. And you know what? I totally get that. If he’s not terribly comfortable throwing it, that’s probably not something he’s going to want to do when he’s trying to put up numbers and throw well enough to win games at the big league level. We can have another discussion about why he wasn’t working on that when he actually was in the minors or in this past offseason, but that’s not the argument right here. The point is that Singer went on the IL and went on a rehab assignment that could last as long as 30 days and the Royals left him there for two starts. His first start back in the big leagues was a disaster and he was very good on Wednesday night in his second, but he didn’t throw the changeup in either.
And my issue is that this is a continuing trend for the Royals that they don’t take advantage of an opportunity they have. When Hunter Dozier got hurt in May colliding with Jose Abreu, he went to Omaha on a rehab assignment. He could have stayed there for 20 days to work on things. He played four games before he came back and hit .174/.255/.304 in his first 102 plate appearances in the big leagues. He’s had a nice stretch for awhile now and over the past few weeks has mentioned that his thumb issue from Opening Day impacted his swing and he had to work to break those bad habits. But why didn’t he stay on that rehab assignment in a no pressure environment where he had the chance to actually break that habit? This is a continuing issue that I just don’t get with the way they handle certain players. I don’t know that I have a real point other than that it’s really frustrating to see them not take advantage of some great opportunities.