The Royals haven’t gotten off to the start that everyone hoped they would, especially offensively, but my alternative take on that is that it’s a good thing. I think the 16-9 start and the 38-35 finish led them to believe something was there that wasn’t last season. Not that there were significant moves to be made at any point, but I think sometimes this organization needs a huge wakeup call. The 2019 season for the top prospects was that wakeup call in the minors and maybe the start to this season will be in the big leagues. I still think this is a better offensive team than what they’ve shown and they have actually worked a few walks over the last few games, but I would hope that the start to this year would be what they need to understand they do have a lot of pieces in place, but they need more if they want to win as soon as next season. Not only is it possible for that to happen, in my opinion, but with the right moves, it’s even likely. Just as I was very wrong about this organization a decade ago, I’d love to be wrong again, but I think they’re seeing they need to change some of the way they do business in order to get to that next level.
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Let’s talk draft
The NFL draft is happening in some small town in Nevada right now, so I wanted to take a quick look at the MLB draft that’s coming up in July in Los Angeles. There was a slight curve thrown to the draft when it was revealed that Dylan Lesko had Tommy John surgery. He’s a high school righty but considered one of the best pitchers in the 2022 draft and probably would have gone top five. If he can fall to the Royals, I’d love to see it. No, he won’t be available to start until late next year, but the Royals generally take things slow with their high school pitchers anyway the year of the draft, so sure, he’d end up about a year behind, but he’d be ready to go for his age-20 season and probably could find himself at high-A to start and move as quickly as he dictates. That would be a huge win for them. They’ve gotten back to a willingness to draft some high school arms with Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna last year with their first two picks along with Shane Panzini a couple of rounds later and Ben Hernandez in 2020.
Now, you never draft for need in baseball because of how long it can take for some to make it to the big leagues, but there are some college outfielders who could be good fits for them if Lesko doesn’t make it to them or they pass on him at number nine. Gavin Cross out of Virginia Tech would be very fun. He can run, he can throw and there’s some very real thunder in his bat. Jordan Beck from Tennessee probably isn’t quite the athlete Cross is but he has a good arm and plays a solid right field. The downside is that his hit tool isn’t great, but the Royals development system is something I’m actually confident in for once. Blade Tidwell has both a great name and could be someone to watch as a pitcher out of Tennessee. My dream, though, is that Jace Jung somehow falls. If he does and the Royals take him, the happy scream you’ll hear will be from me (and probably a bunch of others).
The new Mondesi plan
As you likely know, Adalberto Mondesi has a knee injury and was placed on the IL yesterday. We found out that it’s a torn ACL which very likely puts an end to his season. This brings up a lot of questions about the future. The bat has been beyond horrible to start this season with him hitting .140/.204/.140. We know there’s more in there, but I think a lot of people (the organization included) expect there’s more than he’s ever shown for an extended period of time. As I’ve said many times, this player has told us who he is and so many of us have refused to believe him. But he is a lower average, low OBP, decent ISO hitter who can steal a crapload of bases and play some outstanding defense at shortstop. There’s value there. I think the way he gets to his numbers with extreme cold and then extreme hot stretches limits him somewhat, but there’s value with him at the bottom of a lineup. The problem, of course, is him staying on the field at a position where stability is important.
So what’s the plan here? Do they even bring him back next season? He’s earning $3 million this year and would likely be around that point next season given the limited sample. The Royals already have Whit Merrifield, who profiles much better in a backup role at this point. They already have Bobby Witt Jr. and Nicky Lopez who can both handle shortstop. They have Maikel Garcia a step away (next year, theoretically) if there’s a need for another shortstop. Do they trade him? Either now or before the non-tender deadline? I know that the thought in trading Mondesi is that you’re getting pennies on the dollar, but also, maybe his value is just his value. I could see a rebuilding team without a steady presence up the middle very interested in someone like Mondesi in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. No, the return won’t be much, but I just don’t think it’s worth keeping him around and you might as well get a low-level arm or bat to see if you can turn that into something. Otherwise, I think he’s a non-tender and gets a fresh start somewhere else. There just isn’t a fit on this roster anymore, which is sad, but the reality of the situation.
The other move the Royals made yesterday was to send Brady Singer to Omaha, which will be the first time he’s pitched there outside of during a rehab assignment. I had said earlier this week on Inside the Crown that he was a likely move down when the roster sizes drop down to 26 after the weekend. He’ll be stretched out to get back in the rotation, which makes sense given the struggles of Kris Bubic and, to a lesser extent, Carlos Hernandez to start the year. But it makes you wonder what kind of role is actually best for him long-term. On one hand, he’s barely thrown a full season’s worth of innings. We think of 2020 as a full year and he did pitch all season, but he also only threw 64.1 innings. Then he threw 128.1 innings last year. We’re treating him like this is his third season but maybe that’s not entirely fair. On the other hand, he hasn’t shown an ability to adjust and has been (sometimes publicly) unwilling to make changes that could help him.
Then you see what he did in a couple of short relief outings during the first few weeks of the season and you saw him hit 97 with his sinker and look nasty with his slider. Stuff-wise, a bullpen role is without question a fit for him. But I still question what happens with him when he’s faced with adversity. We’ve seen it for two years with him that runners on base give him trouble and it seems like when something is amiss, he struggles to control the game as well. Sure you can help him by giving him a clean inning and all that, but he’s going to have runners on regardless. So I think this is the right move for the Royals. Get him to Omaha, stretch him out, have him throw some changeups. And then give him that shot at the rotation. There will definitely be a spot for him even if Bubic and Hernandez clean things up between now and the time he’s ready to throw 100 pitches. And it should be noted that as annoying as he has been to me throughout his career, he’s been average, at least by ERA. He strikes guys out, he doesn’t walk an exorbitant amount. I guess we’ll see what he can do with another shot.
Getting a look
The reality is that while you would never wish for an injury, Mondesi being out clears up quite a bit and forces the Royals into doing something they needed to do from the start. They called up Emmanuel Rivera with the demotion of Singer and Kyle Isbel with Mondesi’s injury. Now they will actually find out some things they need to know. The quiet story of the start of the season is that Andrew Benintendi is a free agent after the year. He’s off to a fantastic start and the longer they wait to give him an extension, the more it’ll cost if he keeps this up. They need to determine if they’ve got the pieces to let him go or if they actually need to keep him in the fold because guys like Isbel, Rivera and Edward Olivares aren’t able to fill that role moving forward. It does bring up an interesting question of how they should be playing things.
Personally, my choice is to play Rivera at third, Witt at short and Lopez at second with Isbel and Olivares getting reps in the outfield. Where’s Merrifield? He’s on the bench. That’s where he belongs with the way he’s played. That, of course, won’t be happening. But it’s my dream. Instead, it looks like they’re going with last year’s middle infield alignment with Witt at third and what appears to maybe be an Isbel/Olivares platoon in right. I’d like to see Isbel in center some with Taylor getting days off, but also I don’t see that happening right now. It makes me wonder what the plan with Rivera is. He was hitting well and seeing pitches well in Omaha, so you’d think he can help this team, but unless they’re planning on making a move with Witt, which they’re not, I don’t quite get that one. Maybe Carlos Santana will find more days on the bench with Rivera at first, but I’d like to see him get some chances as well.