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Monday Mailbag: Where in the world is Asa Lacy?

From J.J. Picollo to Asa Lacy and everywhere in between

Surprise Saguaros v. Peoria Javelinas Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals had a bit of an abnormal week last week, with back-to-back off days on Wednesday and Thursday. Before that, they started their week strong with a 3-2 victory over the Nationals and a 7-0 victory over the Cardinals. Monday's victory over St. Louis saw the team bring a perfect game into the eighth inning before Mike Mayers allowed a single to Nolan Arenado to open the home eighth.

The Royals lost to St. Louis on Tuesday and then dropped two out of three to the Rockies to bring their record on the week to 2-4. It’s tough to find a lot to be happy with right now at the Major League level. Entering Sunday, the offense ranked near the bottom of the American League in every major category: 12th in runs scored, 12th in hits, 12th in home runs, 12th in batting average, and 10th in OPS. On the mound, they are even worse, ranking 14th in ERA, 13th in walks allowed, and 12th in hits allowed. All of that, of course, amounts to a 17-41 record entering Sunday’s contest. That’s good for second-worst in all of baseball.

None of this is new. No one is surprised to know any of the statistics I listed above. We’ve entered perhaps the toughest part of the season — the lull before the trade deadline and the MLB Draft. Until this roster sees a major shakeup, there won’t be much change in the product on the field. While we wait for trade rumors to pick up, why not answer your questions? I took to Twitter this weekend to seek out the questions that you all want answered. Here they are:

Tyler Gentry was named the Royals Minor League Player of the Year just a season ago by Baseball America. He earned it, with a .326/.422/.542 slash line over 108 games between High-A Quad Cities and AA Northwest Arkansas. This season, struggled a bit in Omaha and currently has just an 84 wRC+. However, despite a .239 average entering Sunday, he is still walking this season (11.1%) and he plays pretty good defense in the corner outfield. The largest difference this season is his loss of power at the plate.

For the Naturals last season, Gentry hit 16 home runs over 73 games with a .234 ISO. This season, he’s only hit four home runs and has an ISO of just .127. That’s a career low for him thus far. Through the end of May last season, he had hit just four home runs and had an ISO of .178. The bat should still continue to heat back up and as long as the approach remains the same, it’s tough to be overly concerned long-term for Gentry. He’s certainly more than a fourth outfielder but might be a little short of the Alex Gordon comparison I threw onto him before this season.

Gavin Cross seems to have lost some sparkle through the first two months of 2023. He walked 17.9% last season but is down to just 10.7% so far. He struck out a tad high at 25.2% in 2022, and so far this season that’s risen all the way up to 32.7%. He hit his tenth home run of the season on Sunday, but even in the power department, he’s seen a decline. His ISO has dropped from .303 at Low-A last season to .222 so far this season. It’s not pretty for the ninth overall pick from last season.

Cross was supposed to be a polished college hitter and was considered by some as a potential fast-mover through the system. Instead, he’s struggling as a 22-year-old in High-A. Does all of that change the perspective on Cross? It certainly makes the idea that he could debut next season a little tougher to cling to. However, I’m still not going to change my long-term perspective much over just two months of baseball. The power still exists and he’s clearly working on his approach at the plate. When you watch him play, it’s clear that he’s taking more pitches lately and he’s being more patient at the plate.

His defense in center field has been fine. He doesn’t make a ton of flashy plays (I can think of one or two he’s made all season). By the time he reaches the major leagues, it’s still most likely he makes the move to a corner outfield position. If the Royals want to aid his development, it might make sense to make that change sooner rather than later so Cross can focus more on the bat and less on defending a premium position (a la MJ Melendez).

It won’t be a popular opinion among many Royals fans, but J.J. Picollo deserves time. Yes, he’s been in the organization for many years and yes, he was a Dayton Moore “guy.” There’s still some concern that he may be all of the same things that frustrated the fan base when it came to Dayton Moore. However, we already saw a change in philosophy last season from Picollo at the trade deadline. After seasons of quiet trade deadlines characterized by middling trade returns, Picollo moved Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, and an early draft pick for a solid crop of promising prospects.

Looking back to this season, he’s been given very minimal monetary investment into this roster. The Royals signed Jordan Lyles this offseason and they brought back Zack Greinke. Beyond that, not a lot was done to reshape this roster after last season’s losing effort. This season, we’ve seen Picollo pull the plug on Hunter Dozier. We’ve seen the lineup filled with all the young talent that fans have clamored for the last two seasons. We’ve also seen him navigate a very difficult lack of pitching depth in the upper levels of the organization.

This roster is one that J.J. Picollo helped to build, but he’s only in his second season as General Manager. This is the first season in 16 years that Moore hasn’t been a part of the organization. 2023 is a clean slate for Picollo and it’s going to take more than one offseason to fix the past mistakes that have plagued the organization. Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report echoed a similar sentiment over the weekend:

If [John] Sherman fires JJ after this season, it’s a pretty good sign he has no plan for the team on the field. There’s no way the plan was, “Give it to JJ, give him no $, expect to win.” JJ should get this draft + trade deadline, 2024 draft + trade deadline, then spring of 2025 for [evaluation].

Picollo deserves a chance to build his own roster, not the one that he and Moore built together. The current shape of the pitching staff won’t be fixed in one offseason or even two if we’re honest. It’s going to take time.

Asa Lacy was, of course, the fourth overall selection by the Royals in the 2020 MLB Draft. He hasn’t pitched in game action since August 18, 2022. In that outing, he allowed four earned runs and five hits over just one inning of work. That raised his season ERA to 11.25 for the Naturals. That was after posting a 5.19 ERA for Quad Cities in his 2021 debut. Beyond the ERA, the bigger storyline for Lacy thus far in his career is a lack of innings. He pitched just 28.0 innings last season between AA and Rookie ball. He pitched just 52.0 innings for Quad Cities the season before.

He’s struggled with back problems and is trying to work through those to be the pitcher he knows he can be. The honest report on Asa Lacy is that there isn’t much to report. Anne Rogers of published a piece back on April 27 outlining the rehab process for Lacy:

He was limited to 28 innings in ‘22 because of back problems, and he felt them flare up again during pitchers fielding practice in Spring Training, which is why he was held back in Arizona to recover. He has been focused on his mobility and stretching — lots of yoga, he says — while modifying his weight-room routine to take the stress off his spine.

The Complex League Schedule kicks off on Monday, June 5. The Surprise Royals will start a 56-game slate and it’s possible we see Lacy start to pitch in some game action at that time. With him are other notable Royals prospects such as 2022 5th-round pick, Hunter Patteson and highly-touted late-rounder Austin Charles. Ben Hernandez, a 2nd-round pick from 2020, could also pitch some in Surprise as he continues to work back from injury.

For Lacy, it’s more about comfort and sustainability than results right now. He can’t become any sort of pitcher if he can’t stay on the mound. Once the Royals have figured that out with Lacy, they’ll be able to see what’s next for their former first-round pick. We’ve been here before, in sorts, with Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer struggled with injury throughout his major league career before ultimately reaching the major leagues as a reliever. That debut in 2019 came nearly seven years after he was drafted in the 2012 draft. The Royals farm system could really use a resurgence of Lacy’s prospect status, but for now, it’s just a wait-and-see.