It’s easy to overreact to just about everything in baseball, and equally easy to forget that there are a whopping 162 games in the regular season. The Kansas City Royals have only played four of them. If the baseball season were a football game, there would be 13 minutes and 30 seconds left in the first quarter right now. Four games is nothing.
However, that doesn’t mean those four games are meaningless. It’s important to keep in mind their context, yes, but there’s something about watching actual real life baseball games that helps convert what we know to be true into a more concrete form—from theory into practice, so to speak. Watching something happen is viscerally different than thinking about it happening.
So, with all this in mind, let’s go over some reasonable takeaways from the Royals’ opening series with the Cleveland Guardians.
Bobby Witt Jr. is probably going to struggle at times
It is a fair assessment to say that how Bobby Witt Jr. performs is the single most important part of this season. That’s because he is the only Royal to carry the potential of superstardom since Eric Hosmer in 2011. There are a lot of potential outcomes for Witt, and a Hosmer-esque result as a solid above average regular is one of them. But if Witt is a superstar, a perennial All-Star and MVP vote-getter, that’s a huge deal.
But even if he ends up like that, there’s going to be a growing period. Despite Witt’s huge hype, his first series was rather mediocre at the plate. Yes, he had a great go-ahead hit on Opening Day, and that was great.
But his overall line: 17 plate appearances, two hits, one walk, and four strikeouts for a triple slash of .125/.176/.250? Look; Witt is going to struggle, and he may struggle for a while. It is hard to be an above average hitter in the big leagues if you’re 21 years old, let alone with his hype. He started slow last year, too. Don’t be surprised.
The rotation is still shaky
In the offseason, the Royals’ pursuit of Frankie Montas seemed...odd. After all, they had a lot of candidates for the rotation, including all four of the 2018 class of college pitchers, who were all healthy and rarin’ to go. They had Zack Greinke. Carlos Hernandez was poised for his first full season as a starter. And you had to think that Brad Keller would bounce back.
Well, after the Guardians shellacked the Royals for 27 runs on Sunday and Monday, the need for more, shall we say, reliable pitching is a little more clear now than it might have been through the rose-colored glasses of Spring Training. That’s because, somehow, Hernandez, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Jackson Kowar all gave up at least four earned runs in limited pitching time.
The rotation is shaky. There’s a lot of pressure on Greinke and Keller to perform, because everyone else is a big question mark.
Carlos Santana’s release this year is inevitable
No, Santana is not going anywhere soon. He is owed $10.5 million this year and the Royals are not going to cut bait until they have to. But it’s coming because Father Time marches on, and Santana just turned 36. The number of 36-year-olds who remain productive in Major League Baseball is thin, and, except for a stretch at the beginning of 2021, he hasn’t really been more than a league average hitter at best since 2019. And, to kick the year off, he’s hitting .083/.267/.167 in 15 plate appearances. Not great.
The issue with Santana is that he is blocking, single-handedly, up to three Royals minor leaguers: first basemen Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino, and catcher MJ Melendez. All three can’t make the roster without some other moves—Ryan O’Hearn’s demotion or release would be an easy one—but unlike O’Hearn, Santana is soaking up daily plate appearances at DH or first base.
Pratto, Pasquantino, and Melendez have not started particularly hot this season, and so they are not yet banging on the door to force the issue. But they will, and Santana has yet to offer much evidence that Father Time hasn’t arrived for him yet. Ideally, he’d hit the snot out of the ball and get traded to a team that could use his services in June or so (or, even more ideally, would hit the snot out of the ball and be a key part of the Royals’ first divisional title since 2015). But the ideal does not always match up to reality.
The new powder blue uniforms are fire
Yes, they’d be better with powder blue pants, but ugh, just look at them!