While the current Royals team is in a much better position than the team of 2010 in the win-loss column, there are still several similarities regarding the players. Over a decade ago when that last glorious wave of prospects was on the rise and waiting to come up, most of the big-league roster was secured by what we will call placeholders. First base, shortstop, third base, left field, and the catching position were all held by players who either wouldn’t be the answer long term or would have to switch positions very soon. These positions from 2010 were taken up by the following players (in case you haven’t blocked them from your memory):
First Base: Billy Butler (127 games)
Shortstop: Yuniesky Betancourt (151 games)
Third Base: Alberto Callaspo (76 games) and Wilson Betemit (53 games)
Left Field: Scott Podsednik (92 games) and Alex Gordon (55 games)
Catcher: Jason Kendall (118 games) and Brayan Pena (47 games)
One of my favorite players ever, Billy Butler, was moved off his 2010 position to make room for young prospect Eric Hosmer. At short, it was soon clear that Yuniesky was not the solution but rather a temporary fix. Third base was played by two placeholders as Alex Gordon began his transition to left field, and then room was cleared for Mike Moustakas at the position. On July 23, David DeJesus was placed on the 15-day DL, Alex Gordon was recalled the same day, Scott Podsednik was traded five days later, and Gordon took over left field for more than a decade. At catcher, Jason Kendall played his final season in the big leagues, and the Royals shuffled several catchers in and out until Salvador Perez made his debut in 2011.
If history is a guide, there are four takeaways:
Some great players will move positions
In 2010, Billy Butler moved from first to DH to eventually make room for Eric Hosmer at first base in 2011.
With the soon-to-be addition of Bobby Witt, Jr. to the big league team, some current infielders will be forced to relocate. Whit Merrifield, the All-Star second baseman, led the American League in stolen bases and was a Gold Glove nominee in 2021. If the new Witt in town is slated at his natural position, then the .300 hitting, breakout shortstop, Nicky Lopez would have to transition back to second base and Whit Merrifield would be forced to right field.
The Major League leader in homeruns and RBIs is no exception to this scenario either. Salvador Perez, with much controversy, could begin to make the move to DH more in 2022 to make room for the young slugging, MJ Melendez behind the plate. While Salvy is without a doubt the face of the Royals franchise and loved by everyone within the fanbase, having him transition to out of the field could help him stay healthy and give MJ’s young glove a chance to prosper. Out of Perez’s 160 starts in 2021, 25% of them came from the DH spot. With a legitimate top catching prospect looking to break into the bigs, it could make sense for the Royals to relegate Salvy’s catching role down to at least 50% in 2022.
Some young players will move positions
In 2010, Alex Gordon took a demotion to the minors to learn how to play the outfield, making room for Mike Moustakas and eventually becoming a Gold Glover.
Out of the 60 games played for the Royals in 2020, 50 of them started with both Adalberto Mondesi at short and Nicky Lopez at second. After injuries to Mondesi and a breakout performance from Nicky, the pair only started three games in 2021 together in those original positions. Again, with the likely emergence of Bobby Witt, Jr. to the big-league level, this means that one of the following scenarios will most likely happen:
· Nicky is pushed to second base with Mondesi manning third, and Whit Merrifield in right.
· Bobby Witt, Jr. is pushed to third, leaving Nicky and Mondesi at either middle infield spot, with Whit Merrifield in right.
· Bobby Witt, Jr. is pushed to third, leaving Nicky at short, Whit at second, and Mondesi in right.
Regardless, some young players will have to give way positionally for all these similar skillsets on the depth chart to work out together.
Some players are just there to fill innings for the time being
In 2010, the Royals had many short-term players to hold positions until long-term players came up. Jason Kendall and others played catcher until Salvy came along in 2011, Yuniesky Betancourt took innings at shortstop until a trade was made for Alcides Escobar. Alberto Callaspo and Wilson Betemit held down third until Mike Moustakas was ready as Gordon transitioned positions.
The two players currently on the big-league roster slotted as first basemen are Carlos Santana and Ryan O’Hearn. But the long-term solution at first base since Eric Hosmer’s departure in 2018 has still not been answered. While both have their own strengths and contributions to the team, it has become clear that neither will be of help by the time the Royals are ready for the playoffs. Barring extreme circumstances, both players will be filling the innings at first base until either Nick Pratto or Vinnie Pasquantino are ready for their call-ups.
Some players are traded to create a window of opportunity
In 2010, the Royals had Scott Podsednik in left, but he was traded at the July deadline to make room for Alex Gordon in left.
This year, this scenario is not as clear to happen this upcoming season, to the dismay of many fans. However, if it does happen, the most likely possibility would be Carlos Santana getting traded to make way for either of the first base prospects previously mentioned. For this to work, Carlos would have to perform very well in the first half, similar to 2021, and build up his trade value to a contending team. If he does not perform well in the first few months of next season, we could rather just see him relegated to the bench in place of Nick Pratto or Vinnie Pasquantino in the starting lineup.
History is funny in the way that bits and pieces of it are re-assembled and shown in similar ways years down the line. Let’s just hope that the winning teams of the Royals’ past show up a little sooner than four years from now.