It’s the final weekend of regular season baseball in 2022. It’s too early to start writing up the seasonal summaries but too late to talk about anything the Royals might do for the rest of the season. That means it’s prime time to be way too early to talk about next season’s roster!
The good news is that the Royals have discovered quite a few promising pieces for next season’s roster! The bad news is that there aren’t nearly enough pieces to feel at all confident that the 2023 Royals will actually be a good team. The best news is that it means there’s lots of room for speculation!
The position players
The Royals probably are pretty locked in as far as position players go for 2023. The promotion and relative success of a variety of rookie hitters has been one of very few highlights to the 2022 season. Still, let’s go over the 13 positions and see what there is to see.
Rivero will probably be up and down all season depending on where they might need additional help as his roster spot essentially exists for the emergency situation where Salvy or Melendez have already been pulled and the remaining player gets hurt. Neither Melendez nor Perez take many days off so Rivero can’t expect much playing time. He can, however, expect a major league paycheck for a chunk of the season. That wouldn’t be so bad.
Melendez, of course, can play in the outfield, too. And given how few days off Perez gets, maybe he should be listed there, but it’s just easier to keep him here for now.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Yes, I’m listing Nate Eaton as an infielder for this exercise because I think there’s a decent chance he takes the starting third base job. That would shift Bobby Witt Jr. full-time to shortstop but even if he doesn’t ever hit the defensive metrics people expect of him, his bat and general athleticism will play well enough there that it should be fine. Massey and Pasquantino have done more than enough with their bats to justify inclusion as their respective positions even though Pasquantino is probably better served as a designated hitter especially if Nick Pratto is going to be in the lineup.
And, yeah, despite Nick’s difficulties this year I think he can and should be the starting first baseman breaking camp in 2023. The defensive comparisons to Hosmer appear accurate - including the proclivity to dive at balls that should almost certainly be left to the second-baseman while making a simple retreat to the bag for an otherwise routine out. He walks enough that you have to think his strikeout struggles can be improved upon as they aren’t due to a poor eye. I’m not sure how they’ll fix it, but if it can be done I have faith in the Royals’ hitting coaches to figure it out. After the way things have turned around so quickly for so many hitting prospects in the last year or so, they’ve earned that much respect.
Nicky Lopez will move to a reserve role. He has played every position but first and he has a more-than-adequate glove, pretty good bat control, terrific bunting skills, and decent speed. He’s very nearly the platonic ideal of a backup infielder.
Michael A. Taylor
Between these four you have two excellent defenders, one excellent hitter, one good hitter, and - despite plenty of speed - no particularly good baserunners. I’d say that if the Royals were looking for a place to improve their lineup, the outfield is where to start, but with Eaton, Melendez, and Pratto all able to move to the outfield under the right circumstances, J.J. Picollo can very nearly add to the lineup wherever he wants and shift guys around as necessary to fill in the gaps.
If the Royals don’t make any changes, then the way I’d probably draw up this outfield is with Olivares in left, Waters in center, and Melendez in right. In small sample sizes, Olivares has been better in left than right and Melendez is about even. Isbel and Taylor can be defensive replacements and occasionally spell their opposite-handed brethren. I’d want to get Isbel at least semi-regular at-bats because when he gets those he’s shown flashes of being a competent hitter over the past couple of seasons. But I wouldn’t want to rely on him, either.
You probably quickly noted that Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn are nowhere to be found on this roster. If J.J. Picollo has any sense of self-preservation, the Royals will non-tender O’Hearn and make some sort of bad contract swap with Dozier for some other team’s underperforming reliever or something. If either one of them is employed by the Kansas City Royals in 2023 then owner John Sherman should be looking for his third General Manager/President of Baseball Operations in as many years.
Maikel Garcia also doesn’t make my 2023 opening day roster which is kind of a bummer to me. I was, despite the defensive blunders, quite impressed with his major league debut this year. I have high hopes for that kid going forward. I’m just not sure where he fits on this team. If the Royals decide to shake up the outfield situation a bit perhaps Garcia could be the starting shortstop, Witt could play at third, and Eaton could move back to the outfield. He certainly can’t languish at Omaha for very long but he also needs to be getting the at-bats of a starter, which is something the lineup I’ve constructed doesn’t have room for.
Finally, the other notable name that is missing from this roster is Adalberto Mondesi. I tried to find room to keep him around. The potential is still there for him, and he won’t be expensive in 2023. That said, it just didn’t make any sense to keep him given all the other pieces they have available. Maybe they can bundle him with Dozier to get a better return from some other team that can be excited about what they’ve each shown in the past. Or maybe the Royals deal Taylor and Mondesi can try what I outlined above for Garcia. Garcia would then be waiting in the minors in case Mondesi couldn’t figure it out, got hurt, or got traded because he avoided the other two fates.
Let’s mock up a lineup because it’s fun:
SS Witt Jr.
I tend to think the left-right thing that Ned Yost started and Matheny continued is smart lineup construction in an era where relievers must face three batters; I don’t want to make it easy on the opposing manager to decide which reliever he’s going to call on. Since Olivares has the highest OBP on the team, right now, it makes sense to slot him in lead-off and then build from there.
I feel pretty good about my top 5, the bottom four are not where I’d like them to be - at least not yet. But they do have the advantage that none of them feel like automatic outs at this moment. Something not even the 2015 Royals with Omar Infante and Alex Rios could say.
One thing I’d keep an eye on is whether the Royals attempt to trade one guy to bolster multiple other positions. The more I think about it, the more I think the Royals could really make hay if they were willing to trade Melendez. Something about the way I see him discussed by other writers around baseball makes me think he might bring back a real haul. I don’t know if the Royals would be willing to do that deal. I remember being vehemently opposed to such a trade when it was discussed during the last off-season that the Royals might want to deal him or Pratto to reinforce the pitching.
Now that I’ve watched him play, however, I’ve come away feeling that if I was in charge, he could be more valuable to some other team than he would be to mine. But then I look at his FanGraphs page and realize he is at 0.0 fWAR with a 101 wRC+ and a lot of negatives as a defender and I wonder if I imagined it all.