On Opening Day, the outfielders for the Royals will likely be Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, and Whit Merrifield from left to right. While this is a very well-rounded outfield this season, what will the team’s options look like in the near future? Benintendi will be heading into his last year of club control, Taylor is on a two-year, $9 million deal, and Merrifield is an aging All-Star that is in trade rumors yearly. These scenarios in Kauffman’s outfield made me really start to think about the Royals’ organizational depth out there and left me with one question. Who is up next?
The simplest and least interesting answer to this question is that there will be no big changes in the near future. The Royals could give Andrew Benintendi a contract extension, sign a new deal with Taylor once his new extension is up, and stick with Merrifield all the way until his retirement. But, let’s go over some possibilities that could help this team accelerate and continue its course to competition.
Position Changes/Already on the Roster
This Royals team, while still finding its footing in standings, is very deep at several positions. The middle of the infield is all clogged up, our top catching prospect plays the same position as a very loved silver slugger, and our two other prospects both play first. A lot of players currently on the roster will be forced to adjust and adapt to get at-bats on this team, including but not limited to Whit Merrifield out in right.
Nick just came off of a season in Double-A and Triple-A where he was devastating baseballs. While he does need to bring his strikeout rate down, he clearly has the talent to be in the show. Pratto however has two problems. First, his position is blocked directly by Carlos Santana this season (at least for the start of it). The next problem lies with fellow top prospect Vinnie Pasquantino. They both play first base so if they each want to make it on this team in the majors, someone will have to give way. Could Vinnie take reps as the DH to keep Nick in the field? Sure, but then where do you put one of the two of MJ Melendez and Salvador Perez when the other one is catching? The other option would be to have Vinnie play first base and move Nick to right field. He has played 30 total innings in right in the minors, so if this happens he will need to start preparing soon.
After securing a four-year, $25 million dollar contract before last season, it’s only right to assume that the Royals will be very persistent in getting their money’s worth with this contract. Dozier will be getting plenty of opportunities and should get the majority of his early reps at DH this year. He will need to prove himself every at-bat this season and put in the work to improve in the field if he wants to get back to the outfield, where he was one of the worst defenders in the league in 2021 by most metrics.
MJ’s situation as seen above is intertwined with Nick Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Salvador Perez. Depending on which way the team decides to go once all the prospects are ready, MJ could end up at catcher, DH, right field, or third base.
The man that does not give up. I lost count of how many times Olivares was shipped to and from Kansas City last season, but man is this guy hard not to root for. He is scorching hot this spring batting over .600 at the time I am writing this, and yes while these games do not matter, Olivares is doing all he can to show he belongs. Olivares could potentially play any of the outfield positions, he just needs consistent opportunity to show what he can do. He most certainly has a chance to be a part of the Royals' future if he can keep this groove going.
Jacoby has a career .646 OPS across 1195 plate appearances, so nothing really stands out there, but he has logged over 2000 innings in center field, a position that looks pretty open following the next two years of Taylor’s contract.
Much to many fans' dismay, Ryan O’Hearn has the chance to prove that he has what it takes to play for this major league ball club. While the majority of his appearances for the majority of his career are at first base, he does have some experience in both corner outfield spots. He would need to really stand out this season to earn some long-term consideration at either of those positions.
Outfielders from the MLB Pipeline’s top 30 rankings
#6, projected ETA by 2023
This is the type of guy that knows how to adapt. He has experience at nearly every position through his college and minor league days already and knows how to hit the ball for contact. Loftin grades as a 55 Arm and Fielding rating by scouts, if there isn’t room in the infield for Loftin, his future home could be Kansas City’s outfield.
#7, 76 MLB At-Bats in 2021
Kyle Isbel was on the opening day roster last season and didn’t make it long before getting sent down. On his return near the season’s end, Isbel looked great at all positions in the outfield and found some consistent contact at the plate. If Isbel can sneak in some more plate appearances this season as the team’s fourth outfielder I think he will prove himself as a more than capable option for the future. Before Taylor’s extension, many thought he could be the solution in center right now, although this will likely not happen within the next two years, Isbel is looming right around the corner.
#12, projected ETA by 2024
In 40 games of rookie ball for the ACL Royals Blue, Peña put up a slash line of .161/.256/.314. However, he is only 19 years old and all of the raw tools are there, as he was the #5 ranked international prospect in 2019-20. Pena seems to have great potential for contact hitting and defense as a natural center fielder but it is still much too early on to make a firm prediction for him.
#26, projected ETA by 2023
In 2018 Darryl Collins was signed out of the Netherlands mainly for his high contact rate, speed, and fielding. In his most recent season with the Columbia Fireflies, Collins was able to draw 52 walks with only 55 strikeouts in 317 at-bats. His power still has to come along but he has already shown great flashes of his capabilities in left.
#29, projected ETA by 2023
Tyler Gentry was drafted out of the third round in 2020 for his hit tool and ability to spread the ball to all sides of the field. He has a strong arm and showed some good spurts at the corners in Quad Cities in 2021, slashing .259/.395/.449 with 6 home runs and 4 steals in 147 at-bats.
Other outfield prospects
Seuly has the physical traits and the talent necessary to become an everyday big-league outfielder, he just needs more time to put it together. While he struggled to hit for average across High-A and Double-A, Matias slugged out 17 home runs in 252 plate appearances while compiling 24 walks. He has a great arm in right and has been improving on defense. If he can continue to bring down his strikeout rate and bring up his contact rate, the future will look very bright for Matias.
While Brewer did have a high strikeout rate in Double-A last season (31.3%), he did show his capabilities of playing both corner outfield spots and the speed to possibly cover center. In 107 games, Hicklen stole 40 bases while only getting caught 4 times and also slammed out 16 home runs. His OPS was .780, so overall his bat isn’t that far off where it needs to be. I would like to see him get much more opportunities in center field as that is an area of need for this team and he seems to hit the mold better than other corner outfielders in this list.
Tucker slashed .280/.370/.430 across 360 plate appearances in Quad Cities along with 42 walks and 77 strikeouts. This is another prospect with a lot of experience at either corner outfield spot and could very well make his way to the show thanks to his hitting alone.
Could any of these players be serious long-term solutions for the Royals? The likelihood of at least two of these guys working out at the corner spots in the outfield in the future seems pretty high to me. The problem comes when you start to look at the depth of true center fielders. It becomes very slim very quick. They can only rely on Michael A. Taylor for so long, once they go their separate ways what should the team do? Should they continue working on converting a guy like Kyle Isbel to the center-field spot or will they once again reach out into free agency to fill their central needs?