The World Baseball Classic was an electric prelude to the coming MLB regular season. Ten Royals played in the spectacle, including regular starters Salvador Perez, MJ Melendez, Bobby Witt Jr., and Brady Singer. Team USA advanced to the championship round, ultimately falling to Japan on Tuesday night 3-2. Despite some exciting matchups, the Classic wasn’t without controversy.
Following injuries to Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve, some have called for the tournament to end. Many have cited injury concerns as a reason MLB players should forego the games and instead prepare for the upcoming regular season in Spring Training like normal. Others have used a lack of playing time as a reason for concern heading into the season’s first month. The latter — thankfully — is more applicable to the Royals. Many of the Royals’ regulars saw themselves riding the bench for much of the time for their respective teams.
Bobby Witt Jr., for example, tallied 18 at-bats prior to departing to join Team USA. Since then, he’s taken just two at-bats in WBC play. It’s even worse for the pitchers. Brady Singer pitched just 4.2 innings before departing for Team USA and has pitched just two innings since.
Projected Royals Regulars in the WBC
|Player||G||AB / IP||OPS / ERA|
|Player||G||AB / IP||OPS / ERA|
|Bobby Witt Jr.||4||2||1.667|
Will the small workload this Spring have an extenuating impact on those players as the regular season kicks off? We’ve seen it before. In the 2017 Classic, 22-year-old Alex Bregman made his Team USA debut. He finished with just four at-bats in two games. Then, over the regular season's first ten games he hit just .243. Bregman’s first home run didn’t come until game 36 on May 14th that year and his April OPS (0.650) was nearly 200 points lower than May (0.838).
In the same Classic, a young up-and-coming starter for the Cardinals named Carlos Martinez pitched just 8.0 total innings for the Dominican Republic and rejoined the Cardinals only 13 days prior to the start of the regular season. Once the season kicked off he averaged fewer than six innings per start with an April ERA of 4.71. Once ramped up in May, Martinez averaged more than seven innings per start with an ERA of 2.03.
A slow start may be in store for some Royals
Over the next nine days, the Royals will hope to get their young stars ready for Opening Day on March 30. MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Nicky Lopez returned to the lineup on Tuesday. Salvador Perez should be next to return, either on Wednesday or Thursday. For Brady Singer and Bobby Witt Jr., they’ll likely have just five Spring Training games to finish their ramp-up for the team’s regular season.
Brady Singer was scheduled to pitch for Team USA on Tuesday but didn’t make an appearance, putting him even further behind schedule than expected. He likely starts the season on a pitch limit to protect against injury early on. That limitation will impact the Royals' roster construction.
Lefty Kris Bubic has attempted to claim a place in the rotation out of Spring Training. However, his outing on Tuesday was less than stellar, finishing with 1.2 innings pitched and allowing 3 hits and 2 runs with 2 walks. For Kansas City, it makes sense to pair up Singer and Bubic to start the season, with both arms still ramping up and unable to pitch to a full workload at this point.
For Witt, the impact will likely mean a slow start offensively rather than limited playing time. That’s less than ideal for a player in need of better swing decisions in 2023. Starting the season off strong with good timing and plate decision would’ve gone a long way toward helping Witt improve his walk rate and drop his chase rate in year two. Instead, he will start behind the eight ball following limited at-bats over the last two weeks.
Beyond the Royals that participated in the Classic, the coming week will be a big one for many roster hopefuls that gained valuable playing time in their absence. As Perez, Pasquantino, Witt, and others re-join the lineup to prepare for Opening Day, the Royals will start trimming their roster down to the required 26 players. Will prospects Nick Pratto or Maikel Garcia get their chance? Have any non-roster Spring stand-outs — Franmil Reyes, Matt Beaty, Matt Duffy, Logan Porter — done enough to earn a spot? With the band back together, those decisions will come over the next week.