What will happen with top Royals prospects?
Much of the anticipation for Royals’ fans this upcoming season is dependent on the outcomes of our soon-to-be rookie hitters. Many questions surround them such as:
When and in what order will be called up?
How will they perform?
Will any of them be traded?
How much will they help improve the team?
The most anticipated hitters that we look forward to being called up next season are Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Vinnie Pasquantino. Let’s examine each case.
Bobby Witt, Jr.
Bobby will be the first of the bunch called up and should be on the Opening Day roster for 2022. In 123 games across Double-A and Triple-A, Bobby slashed .290/.361/.575 with a .936 OPS. He also raked in 97 RBIs with 35 doubles, 29 steals (should be 30), and 33 (really 34) home runs. He is the Royals' top prospect and is undoubtedly at least a top-three prospect in all of baseball. If he somehow doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, I couldn’t imagine him lasting more than a few weeks away from the big-league team. Expect Bobby to play either shortstop or third base once he is up.
I believe the adjustment for Bobby in the big leagues won’t be as drastic as we have seen from some other prospects and think he could get it figured out well within a few months similar to Wander Franco’s turnaround with the Rays. Bobby has all the tools sought after in a prospect and if one or two of his tools are lacking upon call up (very likely) his other areas of skill will still shine through.
Projected 2022 MLB Stat-Line – 135 Games, 528 PA, 482 AB, .278/.341/.471 slash-line, .812 OPS, 134 Hits, 23 Doubles, 2 Triples, 22 Homeruns, 24 Steals, 42 Walks, 132 Strikeouts, 84 RBI, 76 Runs
This is a tricky one in terms of predicting call-up time. Purely by looking at the stats, MJ should be called up as soon as possible. He slashed .288/.386/.625 with a 1.011 OPS over 123 games in Double-A and Triple-A. He also led the entire minor leagues in home runs with 41 while hitting in 103 runs. The dilemma here is that our very own, Salvador Perez just led the entire major league in home runs, and they both play the same position. Sure, you could just put Salvy at DH and have MJ behind the plate, but that could be a tough sell to your franchise player who prioritizes going out there and catching every single day.
Therefore, the most likely option would be for MJ to play some designated hitter (which seems to be a crowded filler spot for this team next season), catch the days Salvy rests at DH, and possibly fill in at either third base (9 starts in minors) or right field (0 starts in minors) when possible, just to get his bat in the lineup. I expect MJ to be called up to the majors one month into the season but am not sure if he will get as many consistent at-bats starting off compared to some of the other prospects.
Projected 2022 MLB Stat-Line – 105 Games, 325 PA, 290 AB, .259/.338/.459 slash-line, .797 OPS, 75 Hits, 10 Doubles, 0 Triples, 16 Homeruns, 2 Steals, 33 Walks, 75 Strikeouts, 48 RBI, 43 Runs
The first of two first base prospects to be discussed here is Nick Pratto. Over 124 games across Double-A and Triple-A Nick slashed .265/.385/.602 with a .988 OPS. He had 28 doubles, 7 triples, 36 home runs, 98 RBIs, 83 walks, and 157 strikeouts. Nick seems to be a “three-true-outcomes” guy coming up (home run, strikeout, or walk). Out of his 545 plate appearances last season, 276 of them (50.6%) resulted in one of those three outcomes.
While first base needs an upgrade next season after Carlos Santana’s poor second half, Pratto’s last 45 games of his season seemed a little concerning for what is to come. While he still managed an impressive .948 OPS, he batted only .239 with a 30.7% Strikeout-Rate against Triple-A pitching. The gap from Triple-A to the MLB has seemed very large lately which could mean Pratto may need more time to adjust than other players in the farm system. The gap is displayed best by the Mariners' top prospect Jarred Kelenic. In 2021 he slashed .320/.392/.624 in Triple-A but only .181/.265/.350 in the MLB. The potential is for sure there for Pratto, but I could see the team wanting him to work on bringing that K% down in Triple-A for a few months before getting the call up to the big leagues. Once he makes it up expect him to get reps at first base, designated hitter, and possibly right field as well (3 starts in AAA).
Projected 2022 MLB Stat-Line – 90 Games, 352 PA, 383 AB, .235/.318/.435 slash-line, .753 OPS, 73 Hits, 10 Doubles, 2 Triples, 16 Homeruns, 3 Steals, 40 Walks, 110 Strikeouts, 52 RBI, 47 Runs
Vinnie Pasquantino – The wild card prospect that many fans seem to be forgetting about is Vinnie Pasquantino. Across 116 games in High-A and Double-A, Vinnie slashed .300/.394/.563 with a .957 OPS. He hit 37 doubles, 3 triples, and 24 home runs with 64 walks and only 64 strikeouts as well. I am not sure if you counted, but Vinnie had the same amount of extra-base hits as strikeouts last season which is nearly unheard of in today’s game. This first baseman/designated hitter has Billy Butler written all over him. He seems very MLB-ready with his high contact and low strikeout rate and has a knack for finding the gap often. While I don’t think the Royals will actually hop Vinnie over Nick in the ‘call-up order’, it should be seriously considered as Vinnie seems to have an unbelievable eye for the ball. I expect him to be up in the majors about three months in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened a lot sooner or a lot later with this team.
Projected 2022 MLB Stat-Line – 80 Games, 300 PA, 268 AB, .276/.353/.425 slash-line, .778 OPS, 74 Hits, 14 Doubles, 1 Triple, 8 Homeruns, 2 Steals, 30 Walks, 45 Strikeouts, 43 RBI, 35 Runs
The Royals have a lot of good future depth at a few key positions with these prospects on the rise. Shortstop (Bobby Witt Jr., Nicky Lopez, and Adalberto Mondesi), catcher (Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez), and first base (Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino) all look awfully crowded. This leads to the question, Will any of the prospects be traded?
The answer to this can go two opposite directions and may work out either way. If the team opts not to move any of the four prospects mentioned above, then it could work, but several of the players would not be in their natural positions.
This lineup could play out long term in this scenario, although it would essentially be a game of musical chairs regarding first and third base, catcher, right field, and designated hitter.
1 - Nicky Lopez SS
2 – Whit Merrifield 2B
3 – Bobby Witt Jr. 3B
4 – Salvador Perez DH
5 – MJ Melendez C
6 – Vinnie Pasquantino 1B
7 – Nick Pratto RF
8 – Andrew Benintendi LF
9 – Michael A Taylor CF
Other options could be considered such as trading MJ Melendez for an All-Star level center fielder and/or one of Pratto/Pasquantino for an All-Star level starting pitcher.
These types of moves can always backfire heavily, but they can also prosper like how the Wil Myers/Jake Odorizzi trade for James Shields paid off for the team in the past. I would like to see the prospects all get a shot on the Royals next season before anything drastic is changed, but then you run a risk of losing value for a player throughout a season.
In my scenario above, although Nick Pratto is out of his normal position in right field, he’s surrounded by two Gold Glovers, and one of them, Michael A Taylor would be hitting ninth in the lineup. So, maybe trading a high ceiling prospect for another bat wouldn't be worth it, but a move for established starting pitching may sway the Royals' interest.
Let’s assume no trades are made going into next season and each of the prospects mentioned gets played around the number of games played that I predicted. How much could they realistically swing the win/loss column for the Royals next season? Could we make an 8 win jump from 74-88 to 82-80 next season? I believe barring any unexpected trades/signings or the stars aligning, this team will be maxed out at around 82 wins in 2022. As long as we are competing and floating around .500 while also getting all of the prospects some time in the majors, I could consider this a very successful stepping stone season, leading us into competing for the playoffs in 2023.