Every season there will be players who break out and players who disappoint, it’s a tale as old as time. Nearly all athletes have at least one ‘off year’ in their career (especially in a sport as technical as baseball) but having back-to-back disappointments could result in a trade or limited playing time for these three players. In 2022, we desperately need to see several bounce-back seasons, especially if the team is looking to compete sooner rather than later. If these few Royals can prove themselves once again and perform to the levels we have seen before, then this season could be the beginning of something great.
Dozier looked great when he broke out in 2019, which later helped him earn a multi-year deal with the franchise. The problem with Dozier is that he is already 30 years old, he just came off a season slashing .216/.285/.394 and has not performed well defensively at any of the positions he has played. Dozier is looking exactly like the type of player who could be forced out of a starting spot by the younger prospects. He did begin to pull it together after the all-star break where he slashed .261/.331/.449 with 24 extra-base hits (15 of which being doubles). If he can produce stats similar to this next season, he will always find a spot on the roster, wherever needed. However, if his first half next season is the same as it was in 2021, Dozier will soon see his way out of consistent playing time.
To turn it around in 2022, the most important focus for Dozier should be to listen to his body when and if he gets injured. Early in 2021, when Dozier sprained his thumb, he rushed back far too quickly and the results were a change in his swing mechanics and sub-.200 hitting the entire first half of the season. If he can stay solid with his technique and not push through injuries like he did this past year, Dozier would likely already look a lot similar to what we saw from him post-All-Star Game. The next thing Dozier needs to do is work on his fielding in right field and at third base. He will get the most opportunities in these two positions and he was terrible defensively in 2021 (second to last in the entire MLB in defensive runs saved). If he can improve on both of these things by even a minuscule amount, he will likely get plenty of playing time, especially as the team tries to prove the value of his contract extension.
The definition of potential in the dictionary likely has Adalberto’s picture right next to it. He has shown all of the flashes that a team could ask for in a player: excellent defense, unbelievable pop that allowed him to hit a casual 464 foot homerun in-between stints to the IL, and one of the best abilities to steal bases in the major leagues. He can play shortstop, second, or third base at elite levels and likely has the athleticism to play any of the outfield spots as well. There were times in his short career when he has looked like a star, but they have mostly been overshadowed by his inability to stay on the field.
Early on, Mondesi (if healthy) should have plenty of opportunities to be an everyday player in the infield even once Bobby Witt, Jr. is called up. However, if his production is slipping and he faces the same injury issues as in the past, we could see Mondesi get transferred to more of a ‘super-utility’ bench role. This could be the best scenario to keep Mondesi healthy, but it would be even harder for him to get into a groove if he is switching positions every day and taking rest every few games.
For Mondesi to turn it around, he really just needs to try to stay on the field (easier said than done) and take advantage of any opportunities that the team gives him. In 2021, he started out unbelievably hot, slashing .347/.360/.755 through his first 14 games, but this short stretch of games was from May to September. In his 21 games to finish the year, when he finally got consistent playing time again, Mondesi slashed .156/.217/.260. He is a true wild card in 2022 and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is heard in trade talks much more often next season.
Brad Keller is in an interesting situation with this team. In the two seasons after being discovered as a Rule 5 pick, Keller had a 3.68 ERA and 1.332 WHIP through 69 games (48 starts). He had a great shortened 2020 season with a 2.47 ERA and 1.024 WHIP through nine games. He came into 2021 as the opening day starter with a great chance to prove to the fans that he is the ace of this franchise. Unfortunately, Keller instead gave up six earned runs in 1 1⁄3 innings against the Rangers. This first game led him down a terrible spiral through his second Boston game on June 29. Over this stretch of 17 starts, Keller had a 6.67 ERA and 1.88 WHIP while allowing his opponents to slash .328/.403/.510 with 35 extra-base hits (12 home runs) over 335 at-bats.
It was following this game that Keller was able to see his form from another angle. After watching film from that Boston game (which has a much more straight-on view compared to Kauffman’s camera), Keller was able to realize that he wasn’t sitting back and his drive towards the plate was way off. Following this performance, Keller put up a 3.42 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP across his final nine games of the season while striking out 53 and only walking 22. Over this stretch, his opponents had an OPS below .700 and Brad Keller looked back on track until a lat strain forced him to the IL in late August.
Brad Keller must take the corrections he made following that game in Fenway and run with them. He has many young starting pitchers breathing down his neck right now, and if he doesn’t keep form, he could be on the way out via trade or have his role relegated. There are five or six spots in a starting rotation and many of the other players looking to fill them this year and soon include Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernandez, Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Mike Minor, Jackson Kowar, Angel Zerpa, Jonathan Heasley, Asa Lacy, Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox, Alec Marsh, and Noah Murdock.
Keller was already viewed once as the ace in the Royals’ eyes, can he prove that he really has what it takes in 2022?
Who will have the best bounce back season in 2022?
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