Despite a promising start, the 2021 Royals are far out of contention here in August. Without a playoff spot to pursue, the team should be looking to next year, or at least the near future, to figure out which players will be retained for the next competitive Royals ballclub.
The trade of Jorge Soler to Atlanta opened up a spot for outfielder Edward Olivares, who was brought back to the roster on August 1. It has been a yo-yo season for Olivares, who has been recalled from the minors on five separate occasions this year. But in his time in the minors he has flourished, hitting .322/.395/.572 with 13 home runs in 52 games.
Minor league numbers may be a bit inflated this year, but this could also represent positive development for the 25-year old acquired from the Padres last year in the Tim Hill trade. As former beat writer Jeffrey Flanagan recently tweeted, it is time for the Royals to get a long look at the young outfielder.
And another thing: The organization has been divided about Oliveras since he arrived but he needs a long look now. The organization has never been divided about Rivera, and he needs a long look, too. He looks like he belongs. BWJ at 2B?— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) August 6, 2021
And yet, Olivares finds himself on the bench in the series opener against the Yankees on Monday for the second time in a week. With Soler gone, right field is up for grabs, but manager Mike Matheny elected to start lefty Ryan O’Hearn, as he also did on Friday in St. Louis.
Here's how we'll line up behind Carlos Hernández to open the homestand tonight vs. the Yankees.#TogetherRoyal pic.twitter.com/r8zPUkcCZf— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) August 9, 2021
Part of the reason may be due to matchups - Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright started on Friday, it was Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon on Monday. Wainwright has been traditionally very tough on right-handed hitters due to one of the best curveballs in the game. But Olivares has actually had a reverse split, hitting much better against right-handers in limited big league action. That has largely been true in the minors - he hit lefties better in Omaha this year, but he hit both very well, and in past minor league seasons he has usually been better against righties.
Sure, Ryan O’Hearn has been playing well lately - he’s hitting .344 over his last 13 games. But is he part of the future? He’s 28 years old (older than Andrew Benintendi!) with 840 career big league plate appearances and a line of .218/.296/.418. He has been a fantastic minor league hitter who hasn’t seen those results translate to the big league level. It happens. A lot. It is not likely to get better at his age.
As much as Dayton Moore and Matheny like to talk about the importance of winning, the most important thing for the Royals these last two months is developing players that will be part of the future. That means getting Olivares exposure to pitchers from both sides. Perhaps the Royals have reservations about Olivares, as Flanny suggests. I share those reservations. There are doubts about whether Olivares has the power to hit for a corner outfield spot, or the defense to play center. His walk numbers in the minors aren’t particularly great. He profiles as a tweener, a fourth outfielder.
But this is the time of year to see if he is capable of more. I had doubts about Whit Merrifield too - the Royals seemed to share those doubts. And yet he made the most of his chance and busted the door down. Olivares has done all he can do in the minors. At some point, you have to send a signal in your organization that it is production that is rewarded. Not scouting reports, not pedigree, not who you know, but cold hard stats.
We’re probably making too much of two starting lineups - what else are we going to focus on in August with the team nearly 20 games back, Chiefs practices? But it’s time for Matheny to put Olivares in the starting lineup every day to see what he can do.