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Lesky’s Notes: The draft is only about two weeks away

Some thoughts on the talent in the draft, the Royals clubhouse, the fit of the position players and a plea to give Sherman some time.

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Vinnie Pasquantino (9) comes to the home plate for his first Major League at bat during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at Kauffman Stadium. Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

We know a little about losing baseball games in Kansas City, and with losing comes looking forward to the draft. Even if there’s pessimism and skepticism and any other negative -ism regarding the Royals ability to draft well or develop well or do either well, the draft is that time where there are possibilities. It’s the early spring training of a player’s professional career. Maybe Mike Stodolka really will be the ace of the 2005 World Champion Royals. Maybe Colt Griffin will harness that control and throw 100 for years for the Royals. Maybe Chris Lubanski will be the perfect up-the-middle piece of a championship roster. Okay, so none of those things happened. I could go on. But there’s hope in the draft at least, which is more than I can say for the Royals season right now. It’s pretty crazy that this team is winless when trailing after one measly inning this year. They are 0-22 when they are behind after one. And a lot of the time it’s not like it’s a 3-0 or 4-0 deficit. It’s often just 1-0. And not only have they not won a single game when they’ve trailed by three at any point. They haven’t even come back to take a lead at any point in those games. I’m going to get to something on that in a second, but first let’s just bask in the ineptitude.

And while you’re basking, I sincerely hope you’ll subscribe to my newsletter, Inside the Crown. It’s totally FREE! I write a lot there, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Draft thoughts

The general consensus around the Royals is that they’re the wild card. There are a few players who most believe they like at nine, but they’re the most likely to go underslot (other than the Orioles) or go off the board or select a high school pitcher. So it’s nearly impossible to know what they’re going to do. Last year, they surprised everyone when they took Frank Mozzicato at seventh to save some money to take Ben Kudrna. Their strategy might be interesting. At first thought, I think I want them to take a hitter. For all the frustration, they’ve actually done a decent job developing hitters at times over the years but now are a team I actually trust to develop bats. The guy we were so excited to see called up was drafted in the 11th round. Michael Massey is hitting the ball very well in AAA. He was a fourth-rounder. They got Luca Tresh in the 17th round. Carter Jensen was picked in the third round last year. They can find some bats beyond the first round and develop them. But also, can they afford to waste a first round pick on a pitcher who they can’t develop? I honestly don’t know the right path.

What I do know is that if Elijah Greene somehow falls to the Royals, they need to take him without thinking twice. He ended up there in Kiley McDaniel’s latest mock draft this week. I don’t see it happening, but that would be amazing. I know the Royals like Cam Collier, but I don’t know how much. He’s a third baseman in the long run and the son of Lou Collier. He can hit. I think the power is in there and I think the Royals can coax it out of him with their development crew. Gavin Cross would also be a nice fit, though he’s probably already a corner outfielder. He has a ridiculously fast bat. Justin Crawford is a high school center fielder. I wouldn’t love that pick, but I also wouldn’t hate it. His bat speed is pretty fun, so there’s probably some thunder in there. I also think Jace Jung is falling some and could be there at maybe a slightly underslot number. On the pitching side, you can’t count them out on any of them and that includes Brock Porter, Brandon Barriera or maybe a college guy like Connor Prielipp. My preference here is bat, but I’m prepared for them to go off the board and pick someone we haven’t even discussed.

The no-comeback kids

This isn’t a new topic, but as I mentioned in the intro and as you’ve undoubtedly heard a million times, the Royals can’t come back from deficits. That’s not entirely true. They’ve won games they’ve trailed in. They have six wins in which they trailed at any point at the end of a complete inning. They’ve come back from a two-run deficit once and a one-run deficit five times. I feel like this would be the appropriate spot for the blinking guy gif. I don’t think anyone would argue that the Royals offense is good, but they’re also not the A’s or the Tigers or, statistically, the Diamondbacks. All those teams have come back from decent deficits and will again. The Royals probably will at some point, just because it’d be crazy if they didn’t, but I can’t tell you that they’re capable of it because they simply haven’t. They’ve scored about four runs per game in June, so it’s not like they aren’t capable of scoring. They’ve scored six or more eight times in 26 games. That’s pretty good. So what’s the problem?

I’m going to go back to something I wrote about a little more than three weeks ago. The problem is in their heads and with the guy in charge of managing them, Mike Matheny. I mentioned this on Twitter, but a manager has two main jobs. He handles the game and everything in it, but he also handles the people/clubhouse. And there is way too much noise that this clubhouse is absolutely lost by him. Josh Vernier of 610 Sports was on their morning show this week and noted the tension in there. He’s not the first. I’ve heard it from people in the know. Alec Lewis has written about it in The Athletic. And it’s basically the reason why Matheny was fired in St. Louis. Okay, maybe not the reason, but one of the big reasons. From my perspective, this is a team that is simply so tightly wound and so ready for the next disaster to hit that when a single run goes up on the scoreboard before they can put one up, the game is essentially over. I will maintain that while I never thought this was a particularly good team, I don’t think they have 100-loss talent issues. Opposing scouts have told me as much. I don’t know who would take over if they fired Matheny. Maybe it’d be Pedro Grifol. Or maybe it’s Alec Zumwalt. Or maybe it’s Scott Thorman from AAA. But whoever it is, I would argue would get the bounciest dead cat bounce we’ve seen and look very good moving forward. The Cardinals went 41-28 after he was let go in 2018. I don’t think the Royals are good enough to win at a .594 clip, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them loosen up a ton and finish the year looking pretty good if they ever made the move they need to make.

Fitting it together

With Vinnie Pasquantino now in the big leagues, the question of how the roster fits together long-term starts to become even more confusing. Pasquantino plays first base and first base only (other than DH, of course). Salvador Perez catches only. MJ Melendez is able to play behind the plate and it looks like in right field. Nick Pratto is on the way and he plays first base and has played pretty well in a corner outfield spot as well in AAA. Additionally, the Royals have Hunter Dozier under contract for a few more years who can play first and corner outfield. They also have Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares. Isbel can probably handle center somewhat capably, but fits better in a corner defensively. I know that everyone loves Olivares, and I do too, but I feel like if he and Isbel are the odd men out, then so be it. There is a way to fit everyone on the field. I don’t love the idea of Pratto moving off first, though, since he’s so good defensively there. But even with that, if Melendez plays the outfield, they’re fine as long as they’re willing to push Isbel and Olivares aside.

But I mentioned the Royals acting as buyers at the deadline. I keep hearing they’re inquiring about starting pitchers around the league. And with Pratto still in the minors, still with that prospect shine, is there something to be thinking about there? Pablo Lopez is the name I keep coming back to because the Marlins are looking to deal from their strength in the rotation and they could use a guy like Pratto to hold down their infield. I just don’t know if there’s a great fit, but I think a lot about Wil Myers spending the whole year in 2012 in the minors when the Royals were getting their young guys up to get their feet wet and they had a need. Maybe they’ll get Pratto up soon too, but I sort of wonder if he’s still in the minors for more than just lack of opportunity.

Sherman deserves time

I’ve written about this on Inside the Crown. I’ve talked about it on the radio. But I want to reiterate what I’ve written and said here because while there’s probably a lot of the same, it reaches different people here. I think I was personally way too quick to call on John Sherman to clean house. I think he ultimately will need to or do some version of it, but the number of people who are so fast to proclaim that all he cares about is the downtown stadium or else he’d have fired everyone already are, in my opinion, wrong. Look at what he’s dealt with since he became owner. His first season was one that lasted just 60 games and had no fans in the stands. If you think you can evaluate anything from that, I disagree. His next season was 2021, and that was a very important year for this front office. It was the first chance to see the new offensive development. It was the first full season for them under Sherman. It was the first time for him to see how much people cared. And, honestly, things went pretty well. They were solid in the second half against a tougher schedule and were led by mostly young pitching. The offensive development in the minors looked legit and the pitching numbers perked up too. It all looked on track.

And then this season has happened. They’re 74 games in and they’re kind of a disaster. While I still feel confident in the offensive development, the pitching seems to have taken at least a small step back. So after 74 games this year, Sherman has now been owner for 296 games. To recap, the first 60 were a wash. The next 162 were sort of promising. And now the last 74 have been a disaster. And from what I’ve heard, I don’t think he’s especially thrilled with some of the comments his president has made publicly. So my point here is not to say that he’s justified in doing nothing. I think he’s justified in doing nothing so far. At this point, firing a front office maybe causes an even bigger mess than not firing them. I found his comments interesting in his one-on-one with Vernier (apparently I just write about things Vernier talks about now). But I will say that he didn’t seem to be especially praising Dayton Moore and Co. A lot of it was just boilerplate stuff, but there were a few times when I was listening and thought, ‘Huh, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.’

I think it’s long past time for Cal Eldred to go, obviously, so that seems like a mistake on many fronts and I obviously also believe Matheny is causing more harm than good, so I’m on board with that, but I think it’s fair to wait to judge Sherman until after the season. If nothing changs during the year and then nothing changes after the season, I’m all for as harsh of criticism as can be thrown, but I believe he deserves the opportunity to prove he will or won’t do it.