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Lesky’s Notes: The future will have to wait...probably

But they’re winning some games in the present, which is more fun than losing.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach the end of August, that usually means an exciting time for fans of teams not going anywhere - September callups! Only this season, and ostensibly for the foreseeable future, that’s a little different than it’s ever been before. The roster only expands to 28 now in September. I sort of understand why. The game played in September with bullpens as big as 13 or 14 is a very different game than the one played in April through August. And September is the time when the schedule makers go heavy on division games that could determine how the postseason shapes up. Why would you play a totally different game for one month than you do for the first five? It’d be like changing the rules of the game once it goes into the 10th inni...oh right. Anyway, there are only two open roster spots for the Royals in addition to their usual 26, and it’s already been essentially announced that they’ll call up a third catcher (I’d assume Sebastian Rivero) and another arm for the bullpen (probably one of the guys currently on the IL).

It’d be fun to get the opportunity to see Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and any of the other hitters who need to be added to the 40-man after the season. It’s not like they can’t find space by cutting some dead weight, but they don’t appear to be willing to do that. I’d like to see them moving forward allow teams to use their entire 40-man roster, but designate a certain number as playable for each series rather than allow the entire roster be in use for a game, but that’s another topic for another CBA negotiation.

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In my very first mailbag on Inside the Crown, I was asked if Salvador Perez was on a Hall of Fame track. That conversation seems to have come up again somehow. When asked, my answer at the time was that I didn’t think so. I think there is some element of nostalgia in the Hall of Fame, but ultimately now, it’s about if they had the numbers. I think there are fewer and fewer voters every year who go by if a guy “feels” like he belongs and more and more who look at the numbers, even counting stats that a lot of the statistically oriented folks tend to dismiss in a season-by-season basis. And the problem with Perez’s candidacy is that he’d never had a great full season offensively and the defensive numbers tend to ding him because he isn’t seen as a good pitch framer. But Mike Petriello made a really interesting point on Twitter this spring that by the time Perez is eligible, we’ll be years into the automated zone, so maybe nobody will care so much about the framing.

Either way, he’s had such a good season this year (and to a lesser extent last year, though it was just 37 games) that he’s at least put himself back in the conversation. He’s signed for at least four more years, and maybe a new regime might have less sentimentality toward him, but I think you have to assume he stays with the organization through all of them. The power seems to be a real change he’s made and I would think he will continue to see a fair amount of time at DH to keep him fresher. If he can average even 25 home runs a season over the next four, he’ll find himself on the doorstep of 300 homers. I have a hard time believing that he’ll retire after this four-year deal. He might play three or four more years after this deal. There are, of course, no guarantees, but if he can finish his career with 325 homers (he’s at 187 now), that’d put him in the top five all-time among regular catchers (Mike Piazza had 427, following by Johnny Bench with 389, Carlton Fisk with 376 and Yogi Berra with 358). He should finish this season about 850 hits from 2,000. I’d think he can get there if he gets the home runs. That wouldn’t get him to top five, but it’d be top 17, which is pretty darn good. And if the Royals can find some success over the next few years and he can play a big role in another winning team, that would help too. If I had to answer you right now, I’d say there’s a very small chance he gets to the HOF, but ultimately he won’t. But the fact that he’s inserted himself in the conversation at least is fun. And hey, hitting Sonic Slams is pretty fun too. Congrats to David Dicus!

I feel like we’ve talked an awful lot about the center field position for the Royals next season. It’s frustrating to me that the Royals didn’t move Michael A. Taylor at the trade deadline because I think he could have been in demand by teams who saw him as a fourth outfielder who could really go get it and because it would have given them an opportunity to see if one of Edward Olivares or Kyle Isbel could handle center field in Kauffman Stadium. As much as some may scoff at the idea that it’s more important to have a great defender in that big center field, I’d argue that they’re wrong, so it would be good to find that out. So with them not getting that opportunity, there’s a growing belief that Taylor will be back next season, which I don’t think makes people too excited, but it’s probably not the worst thing in the world. Taylor has been actually pretty fine offensively since the end of June and has played legitimately fantastic defense. He made a couple outstanding plays last night.

I’m not totally against bringing him back next season if they’re willing to move him to a fourth outfielder role if they can find someone better or if they can find a way to surround him in the lineup with some actual talent. If Taylor is your worst hitter, his defense makes him worth it, but if you’re finding him hitting in the middle of the order in some games, then it just doesn’t work. The free agent options aren’t great outside of Starling Marte and while they have a handful of prospects clustered in just a couple positions to make a trade, there simply isn’t much out there. I wrote this the other day that Taylor has actually been great value for the money, so if they do end up bringing him back next season, I would hope the deal is a similar one to what they signed him to this year. For my money, I’d look elsewhere, but just be prepared and hope they don’t spend much.

Brad Keller pitched last night and had a brutal first, but picked it up after to continue his good pitching over the last couple months. But with all the young arms working their way toward the big leagues, I sort of wonder if the Royals might consider shifting him back to the bullpen next season. I get the argument against it. He’s a big guy who can theoretically give you a ton of innings, and there’s definitely value in that. But he’s also never thrown more than 165.1 innings in a season (though it looks like he’ll get past that this year), so while he looks like a guy who can give you 200 innings every season, he hasn’t shown that just yet. And after leaving last night with an injury for the second time in August, you wonder if maybe he never will show it. But the argument for it is that we’ve seen what he can do in short stints early in his rookie year and we’ve seen that he can really crank up the velocity when he needs it, even as a starter.

I know it’s incredibly difficult to think of a guy as a reliever when he’s had the issues in the first innings that he has, but it’s a different game and I wonder with his velocity and with his slider if he isn’t the best option of all the younger starters to transition to a relief role. Again, it was a long time ago now, but we’ve seen him have success in a short relief role and I’d love to see one more big arm get back there. I love Scott Barlow, but he’s miscast as a stopper. Josh Staumont has the stop to do it, but 2021 has put some of that in doubt with his ups and downs. Jake Brentz needs to get his control in order before he can be counted on. And Kyle Zimmer has to show he can pitch without the sticky stuff (I really don’t know if he was using it or not, but his struggles started literally the day they started checking). I like Dylan Coleman a lot, but he’s unproven. Richard Lovelady has been really solid, but Keller’s big arm, to me, seems like he could be a lockdown reliever. Maybe we’ll never find out, but I’m at least curious.

Over the last week or so, both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have released their organizational rankings. The Royals are third and fifth respectively, which is just a great leap for this team. I remember back in 2019 I thought they could break into the top 10 by the end of 2020, but of course no minor league season made it so there really wasn’t much movement because nobody could really see any prospects. The Royals bats have come alive throughout the system, which is really driving the ranking with Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez becoming legitimate prospects against and Bobby Witt Jr. establishing himself as a legitimate top three or four prospect in the entire game. I’ll admit to not following other organizations closely enough to know if the high ranking is right or wrong, but I think that having two of the foremost prospect analysis sites ranking them there lends some credence to the other.

I don’t really have any great thoughts on this other than that it’s nice to see the system starting to produce the top prospects again. I guess one thought I do have is there has been a question for a long time of what’s the problem, drafting or development. I think that with the changes in the offensive development and some advances in their pitching development might be answering that question for us pretty quickly. It’s still awful that this front office let the development system stay in place with no results for as long as they did, but better late than never and it looks like they’re starting to churn some guys through. Obviously they have to do it at the big league level before it matters at all, but one step at a time.