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Lesky’s Notes: This is the team, for better or for worse

The deadline has come and gone and now it’s time for the Baby Royals to play.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Without the waiver trade deadline that we used to have, there’s an interesting finality to the season when the trade deadline hits. Yes, there can be player movement through DFAs, releases and non-40-man trades, but mostly we now have two months of this being the team the Royals field. There’ll be some callups and options and all that, but the lineup we’ve seen the last couple of nights is very homegrown, has some very real upside and might struggle to score runs at times. We’ve been so pleased with the plate appearances and ability to swing at the right pitches from these young players that it’s easy to forget sometimes that they’re rookies. Rookies will struggle. I have faith that most will come through, but to put it in the words of Toronto Blue Jays great Whit Merrifield, it isn’t going to be all peaches and roses. But ultimately, you look at this roster and then you look at the current rotation and realize that four days out of five, you’re seeing a start from a pitcher drafted and developed by the Royals (okay, Greinke was drafted 20 years ago, but still true) and seeing a position player group that currently has literally one player who wasn’t drafted or signed by the Royals and that’s at least sort of fun.

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When are changes coming?

The Royals had a solid stretch where they were over .500 over more than a 40-game sample. It’s a little easier to stomach a loss when you aren’t completely sure the next day will be another and the next day after that and all that. But one of the things I noticed as they were winning some games and looking borderline competent was that people were getting worried. Would the winning save jobs? I think it’s at least a reasonable thought that last year’s 38-35 after the break potentially saved some jobs. So I get it. But I also want to reiterate just how hard the Royals remaining schedule is. The Red Sox came to town at .500. From yesterday through the end of the year, the Royals have 17 full series and then a random one-game makeup with the White Sox left. Of those 17 series, three of them are against teams who were .500 or better as of yesterday. They face the Padres, Dodgers and Mariners, two of the biggest buyers this week and the best team in the sport. If they win enough to save jobs with this particular roster, they might deserve their jobs saved.

But, that said, all I hear through various sources is that change is coming. Like you, I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’ve heard the same thing from different people who I don’t think have any knowledge of each other’s existence. Okay, they probably know the other exists, but it’s interesting how the message is the same from multiple people who aren’t associated. What does that change mean? My gut is that it isn’t a full house cleaning, but the only person who I never hear is in trouble is JJ Picollo. I’d love to see him get a chance to show what he can do without Dayton Moore. I, of course, have my questions. I like a lot of the moves he’s made, but part of his job is putting together the big league roster and it gets weird sometimes. Like why is Ryan O’Hearn still a part of it? Some of that is probably Mike Matheny as well, but Picollo deserves to answer that question. But given how he spearheaded the overhaul of the hitting development, I think he deserves a shot to do the same on the pitching side. So I’m skeptical until it happens, but things could get interesting at Kauffman Stadium after the season finale on October 5 in Cleveland.

Where MJ?

We’ve been talking about this for awhile now with MJ Melendez, but the big question is where is his positional home going to be? He was a fine defensive catcher in the minors without the throwing issues we’ve seen at the big league level. I think with the implementation of an automated strike zone, that would help. But he’s really struggled with blocking balls, which will never go away and he’s behind Salvador Perez, who is under contract for three more seasons. I think what we’ve seen in right field is a player who likely has the tools to succeed but just hasn’t had the work out there. I think I mentioned during the offseason that if the Royals are going to get Melendez involved at the big league level, he’d have to play another position. They were gung ho about third base, which I sort of get given the lack of options they have organizationally, but it just seemed with his foot speed and arm that right field would make some sense. He did work out there some, but he played two games there in Omaha before getting called up.

Maybe he was going to play there more, but the Cam Gallagher injury expedited his callup and there just wasn’t time. I think we’ve seen he does a pretty decent job going left and right out there, which isn’t easy, but it is easier than going in and back. He made a couple of nice catches on Tuesday night in Chicago and we all remember his great catch against Baltimore in that Jonathan Heasley start. I just think that the tools are there and he’s been so rough defensively behind the plate that I’d love to see him spend the winter really learning right field. The Royals have some corner outfield options in the pipeline like Tyler Gentry and now Gavin Cross in addition to Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares, but I think Melendez’s bat, if it progresses as we hope and assume, can play anywhere. My gut feeling is that right field (or left, I suppose, after he played there last night) is the home, so I hope they see if that’s the case this winter for him.

Okay, but where Bobby?

While there might be some clarity starting to form about where Melendez plays, there is also a question about Bobby Witt Jr.’s future on the diamond. He started the season, as you all know, playing third base as a part of a legitimately fantastic defensive infield. But when Adalberto Mondesi went down, Witt eventually shifted to shortstop full-time. He has shown that he can make some absolutely spectacular plays. He’s quick, has a good arm and has great reflexes. But he also hasn’t been good at all at shortstop. It’s almost crazy that this is even possible, but he’s been worth -16 defensive runs saved in only 540 innings at shortstop this season. And sometimes DRS and outs above average on Statcast disagree, but he’s sitting at -5 OAA. By the numbers, he does nothing well defensively at shortstop. I tend to think some of that might be a bit overstated, but among players with at least 500 innings there, he’s last. By a lot. The second-worst is Brandon Crawford with -7 DRS.

So enter third base. He was solid there before moving to shortstop, and I wonder a little bit if part of the calculus in trading Emmanuel Rivera was that the Royals don’t need to be trying guys out to be their third baseman of the future. No, in fact, their third baseman of the future is the guy who was their shortstop of the present. The numbers peg Witt as average at third in his limited time there, but I think you can see how he could be above average in no time with a little work. I understand the desire to try your best young player out at his natural position, but I think with Nicky Lopez or Maikel Garcia or even…Mondesi…you can see that he’s probably the fourth-best shortstop of the bunch. I remember starting to hear some talk last year around this time that maybe he won’t stick at shortstop for long, but after seeing him in action this season and making so many errors, I’m okay if the Royals tell him he’s a third baseman who will help out at shortstop at times and just to focus on being an offensive force and a great defender at the hot corner.

Eric Hosmer’s return

It’s kind of funny that it took five years for a team Eric Hosmer played for to come to Kansas City. The Padres were supposed to visit the Royals in 2020, but that obviously didn’t happen. And then the schedule shows they’re part of a Royals homestand at the end of August. But then he was included in the Juan Soto deal and supposedly heading back to Washington. The Nationals don’t come to Kansas City this year, so it seemed like that again wasn’t happening, but after he vetoed the deal and ended up in Boston, he had the chance to come back and come back quickly.

I don’t have a ton to say about his return other than something I mentioned this morning on Inside the Crown as well, but I’m glad the young players got a chance to see the reception a former World Series hero got in this city. They obviously see the way everyone loves Salvador Perez every day, but to see someone come back as an opponent five years after his last time in the stadium and get that reception has to be at least somewhat motivating. As I said on Twitter, I’m so thankful the Padres gave him the money they did and he chose their offer, but I’m also so thankful he was part of those Royals teams that gave us some of our favorite baseball memories.