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Lesky’s Notes: Anything happen lately?

It’s been an eventful week, and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It is Friday morning (or maybe afternoon or maybe even Saturday and you’re just catching up), which is why you’re likely settling in on Royals Review to read this weekly set of notes. Since we last met, a few things have happened. The Royals have won a series against a Guardians team they generally can’t seem to beat. In the one game they lost, their let their center fielder pitch two innings and he hasn’t played the field since then because of a sore shoulder. Whit Merrifield left a game early because of a toe injury (supposedly) and his consecutive games streak ended. They made a non-traditional trade where they gave up a draft pick for three Braves prospects. They swept a doubleheader, which isn’t that rare, but nobody expected that, come on. They took three of four in a series, which would have been one of the most outrageous things you could have predicted for this team even a month ago. And they played one game in Toronto with 38.5 percent of their roster on the restricted list and have three more to go before they get a few days off for the All-Star game. I probably missed something, but it’s been the most active week for the Royals in, oh, I don’t know, five years. And it’s not like things are going to get any quieter. The draft starts on Sunday, which is just crazy to me. And then we’ve got that trade deadline two-ish weeks after that.

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Clubhouse issues

Remember how over the last few weeks, there have been various stories come out about how dark the Royals clubhouse or how quiet it is or whatever word people want to use to describe it on that day? I’m going to go ahead and guess that the fact that there are 10 players who chose not to go to battle with their team for four days was weighing pretty heavily on that. I’ve previously blamed Mike Matheny because it’s a manager’s job to run a clubhouse. And I remain doing that, but something else I’ve thought quite a bit about over the last few weeks is who is leading the team on the field? I think the Royals have spoken so highly of the importance of leadership that we almost forget that it actually is important, but even looking before these last couple of days, who is the person you would have believed to be a vocal leader? Whit Merrifield, who obviously isn’t now, was never the type to speak up. Hunter Dozier isn’t that guy. Michael A. Taylor isn’t that guy. Andrew Benintendi isn’t that guy. And I thought that before all of them made the personal choice to let their teammates go to battle without them.

I think it’s difficult for it to be any of the rookies. Pitchers can be leaders, but it’s more difficult because they’re not involved in the games daily. We laughed about how much the Royals lauded Eric Hosmer’s leadership and the bulldog mentality of Mike Moustakas, but maybe it meant a lot more than we realized. I don’t think it was quite as important as they made it seem, though maybe it was. One thing I’ve noticed is this team felt different for a few days once Vinnie Pasquantino go there. He loosened things up. He made the Michael A. Tater shirts. He was laughing. I don’t know if he can be that leader, but they need someone to do it. The manager is absolutely to blame, so let’s not pretend like I’m letting him off the hook, but a team needs players to lead as well and while they may have someone in Pasquantino, they need more. I don’t know if that would be a free agent or a trade, but if they want to win, they need winning players, not what they’re currently running out there as an excuse for leaders and winners.

Trading picks

This is an old story when you look at the news cycle that the Royals have been a part of, but I haven’t had a chance to write much about the trade. I did devote the bottom of an article to it on Tuesday on Inside the Crown, but I didn’t talk about much about the ramification of trading the 35th overall pick in the draft for Drew Waters, Andrew Hoffman and CJ Alexander. We know they traded the actual pick and we also know that the roughly $2.2 million in slot value that goes along with it was moved too. So that makes me wonder a few things. My first thought is that the Royals have a guy they want with their ninth pick and they’re going to need to pay full freight for him and that made them go away from a plan they’ve used as recently as last year where they overpay their second pick and underpay their first pick (relative to slot). But then I started wondering a little bit if it actually means they go under on that first pick still and hope someone they really want falls to 49. That seems unlikely and like a lot of hope. I certainly haven’t gone deep enough in this draft to know if there are 49 or more talents that you’d be happy to spend more than $1,584,100 on, but I would hope that’s not what they’re doing.

But I think there’s more to it than just altering the draft strategy. On thing I’ve wondered is if the Royals might be seeing that they have a bit of a logjam of bodies in the minors. They see Waters as a big leaguer soon (though I’ve heard they’d like to keep him in Omaha at least for most of the rest of the season to work with Drew Saylor). I think Hoffmann can move quick. And Alexander, to me, is just a piece of organizational filler. But I think more than anything, they believe Waters can fix some of the issues that have caused him to fall off the prospect map. Over the last couple of days when it seems like everything the Royals do is wrong, one thing they continue to do right is develop bats at the minor league level and I believe they are confident that they can help Waters with his approach to turn him into a two or three-win player at the big league level. Will it happen? My crystal ball remains in the shop, but it’s a weird feeling to believe in something they do, but I do believe in these guys to help get the most of hitters. I also like Hoffmann, for whatever that’s worth. I think he has a chance to be a solid piece as well.

Building for 2023

To take a foot off the gas of bashing the 2022 team, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the holes are on this roster for next season and what could be done to potentially do something like what the Orioles are doing right now. That team went 52-110 last year and while I don’t buy it long-term this season, they’re currently right smack in the middle of the postseason race. And you can joke that there are holes everywhere, but that’s actually not true. There are some pieces on this roster that I think we have a pretty good idea are set for even more than just one year. I don’t think the Royals have any need at catcher, shortstop, first base or second base. Depending on what they do with Taylor and if they believe Kyle Isbel can handle center full-time or if they want to hand things over to Waters to start next year, they might have a need in center. And I think they believe they’ve got at least one corner outfield spot handled with some combination of Edward Olivares, Dozier and Nick Pratto. Honestly, I’m not terribly concerned about the offense. They’ve got a lot of guys (more right now obviously) already up and a few more close. But the pitching staff is what has me curious.

We don’t know who will be in the bullpen on August 2 in the evening because of the deadline, but I doubt they trade both Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont. So they’ll have one of them. Dylan Coleman will be there. And they’ll field a handful of others and I think they’ve got enough arms to put together a quality bullpen, but I’d probably go out and sign a reliever. The question is what do they have in the rotation? I think we have a pretty decent idea that Brady Singer can be a starting pitcher now. I don’t think you can call him an ace or a number two even, though he could develop into that, but I think you feel pretty comfortable with him as a three or four moving forward. Who else do you feel comfortable with? Is it Brad Keller for his final season before free agency? Is it Jonathan Heasley who has been pretty good when healthy? Is it Daniel Lynch who has shown occasional spurts but not much consistency? Is it Kris Bubic, who has been pretty much a number five/swingman? I don’t think you can count on any of them but Keller and that’s only if he’s in the organization next season. I think that’s the spot they need to find some guys if they want to make that jump. Which I know isn’t breaking news, but when you break it down that really is the spot they just don’t have the horses.

Final draft thoughts

Without the 35th overall pick, the Royals draft strategy could change some, as I mentioned before. I maintain that given the Royals ability to develop hitting that they should go after a hitter. And there are so many quality hitters at the top of this draft that the Royals should have their pick of at least a couple even though they don’t pick until ninth. I think I’ve settled on my dream scenario being Cam Collier because I just love the swing and the fact that he can stick at third long-term without a need to move to left or first. But I don’t think he lasts until nine anymore, which really stinks. I’d be all over Jacob Berry because that type of bat doesn’t come around very often, but there is some risk there because he doesn’t profile as a plus at any defensive position, even first base. If the bat doesn’t make it, there is just no value to fall back on. So I think I’ve moved on to Gavin Cross as the best mix of realistically going to fall to nine and be someone the Royals would pick. He’s a corner outfielder who has been playing center and he’s been competent enough there but he won’t stick. He has power, good bat to ball skills and I like his chances to develop into a good big leaguer with the Royals offensive development crew.

Where I fear they may go if they can’t get who they want is a high school pitcher again. A lot of mocks have said the Royals have some interest in Brandon Barriera. He’s probably the one high school arm who I wouldn’t be upset with, but even though I think there’s a ton of projection there and a chance he ends up good, I’d still avoid that, given their track record. I’d pass on Brock Porter, Noah Schultz or really any of the high school arms left in the draft. I also very much hope the Royals don’t do something like take Kumar Rocker. He may very well end up a stud like people predicted a few years ago, but I just don’t like that risk given the injury issues. That said, he has been outstanding in the Indy leagues, but I still would hate it at nine. More likely some team later in the first pops him and then gets him to the big leagues to pitch out of their bullpen this year. Ultimately, I just very much hope for a bat heavy draft. There will be lots of pitching taken as always, but I want them to lean into their strengths.