With the draft in the rearview window, and the August 2 trade deadline fast approaching, it is a good time to assemble our writers to discuss what could be a very important month for Royals baseball.
What did you think of how the Royals approached the draft?
Cullen Jekel: I liked everything about it except what they did in the first round. Gavin Cross is a top-ten player in this draft, but the way the board fell, he was only the fifth or sixth best prospect available at No. 9. I would’ve preferred Kevin Parada, Jace Jung, or Cam Collier. The rest of the strategy, selecting mostly college players, I liked that. The system is losing steam as young guys get called up, so they needed to replenish and get guys who, theoretically, won’t take nearly as long to develop.
Jeremy Greco: I’m generally all for drafting college players, especially college hitters. Based on the numbers I’ve seen, those are the lottery tickets you’re most likely to hit on. They’re somewhat less likely to become superstars but aiming for superstars seems like a fool’s errand, regardless. Even the highest chances of drafting a superstar are so vanishingly small as to be non-existent. Further, when you’re a team like the Royals that almost certainly won’t pay to keep a superstar I think it makes more sense to fill your roster with a bunch of reasonably good players that you might be able to afford to keep a bunch of. If you’ve got 26 two-WAR players then you’ve got a 90-win team, after all.
Cregwalker: If you had told me the Royals would draft Gavin Cross and Cayden Wallace on day one before the draft started, I would have been happy with that. Knowing now who was available at 9, I’m alright with Cross, but there were a couple players I preferred (Cam Collier and Kevin Parada). I really liked the Wallace pick. I thought their overall approach of taking lots of high-floor college guys was interesting after the 2021 draft that was anchored by prep pitchers. Is this a desperate front office trying to get results fast, or simply trying to balance out the system? Stay tuned.
Max Rieper: It was a very safe draft, but they needed a safe draft. I think Gavin Cross has a really good chance of making the big leagues by 2024. Whether he becomes a platoon player or an All-Star remains to be seen, but that’s a nice high floor. The rest of the draft is pretty meh. Cayden Wallace has some potential, and I like the ballhawks Levi Usher and Javier Vaz, but it’s hard to see the group as more than fourth outfielders and bullpen arms.
Who do you think will get traded this month?
Cullen Jekel: The only one in whom I’m confident is Benintendi. Guys like Taylor, Merrifield, and Keller are all under contract for at least another season. Not exactly this front office’s modus operandi to deal guys that early.
Max Rieper: It sounds like Whit Merrifield is as good as gone. Benintendi is a no-brainer. Whether or not they trade anyone beyond that will tell us a lot about how they think the rebuild (it’s not a rebuild!) is going and how transactional they are willing to be. I think they need to trade Scott Barlow while he still has a lot of value, but I fear they may still hold onto him with the misguided thinking he’ll be part of the next great Royals team.
Cregwalker: I’m certain Andrew Benintendi will be traded. I’m 50-50 on Whit Merrifield: I think he needs to be traded, but I also thought that several years ago and it hasn’t happened yet. I see about a 20% chance each for Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Michael A. Taylor, and Cam Gallagher. I don’t think Hunter Dozier is really tradeable.
Jeremy Greco: Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor. If it really is as much of a seller’s market as has been intimated, then Hunter Dozier, Cam Gallagher, and Scott Barlow might be gone, too.
What are you looking forward to in the second half?
Max Rieper: The kids! There is a decent chance the Royals could have a lineup mostly full (or even completely?) full of under-30-year-olds by August. Nick Pratto is already looking like a fixture, and I was impressed with what I saw in Nathan Eaton and Michael Massey in their one weekend. We could see Drew Waters before long and the trade returns will likely include some MLB-ready players. I also do think some of the pitchers are turning the proverbial corner. Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer are becoming a bit more consistent - even Kris Bubic has been pretty solid.
Cullen Jekel: What the Royals will do with their position crunch. Guys like Pratto, Pasquantino, Melendez, O’Hearn, and Dozier all kind of play the same type of position—first base, DH, or corner outfield. Thankfully, Melendez can also catch, but that still leaves four guys battling for maybe one or two spots.
Cregwalker: It’s been great watching Nick Pratto refusing to swing at pitches out of the zone and Vinnie Pasquantino crushing balls all over the field. I’m looking forward to watching the two first basemen do their thing at the dish.
Jeremy Greco: I’m looking forward to seeing more of the kids after the deadline deals are done. Watching Massey, Eaton, and Pratto play in Toronto is the most excited I’ve been in years. Imagine a lineup in which Hunter Dozier is the only player over 30. Or which includes no players over 30. Wins and losses will truly cease to matter and we’ll actually be able to find positives in the young players’ play basically every night with that many rookies playing. When a Whit Merrifield has a four-hit night, it’s pretty cool. But when a Vinnie Pasquantino has a four-hit night it’s exciting because we can imagine how many more times he might do that in the future and how it can help lead to playoff games.
Give me a prediction for the second half of the season.
Cullen Jekel: Bobby Witt Jr. continues improving at the plate, where he’s currently got a sub-.300 OBP, albeit barely. I expect him to raise his average 15-20 points, and his OBP by at least 20. He’ll finish the season as a 20/20 player but lose out on the American League Rookie of the Year Award to Julio Rodriguez.
Cregwalker: Kansas City’s team wRC+ sat at 71 through the first month of games. It’s at 103 since, pushing their season wRC+ up to 96. I predict the Royals will finish with a team wRC+ of at least 100 for the first time since 2011. Yes, it’s been that long since we’ve had even an average offense.
Max Rieper: The Royals will play .500-ish ball the rest of the season and end up around 70-72 wins.
Jeremy Greco: The hitting will continue to improve, but the Royals will still struggle because the pitching still won’t be there. Cal Eldred will finally get fired, and the team will hire someone with better leadership, analytic, communication, and planning skills; the pitchers will improve almost immediately. The team will look fantastic in September.