Nothing is normal about the 2020 MLB season. With only 60 games and no MiLB season, any team in the Kansas City Royals shoes has decisions to make about the future. A Royals season preview shows that they will need to evaluate what they currently have on their roster while determining if they should let top prospects have a shot.
2020 was going to be, and still will be, a year of transition for the Royals. Mike Matheny takes over as manager after Ned Yost retired following the lows of three consecutive losing seasons, including back-to-back 100-loss seasons. Yost, the same manager who brought the team to back-to-back World Series, sees the potential coming to Kansas City.
“With the development of our young players and our returning veterans, I feel and hope the worst is behind us in this rebuilding phase of our organization,” Yost said at his retirement press conference. “My plan all along was to get us through the rough times then turn it over to a new manager to bring us the rest of the way.”
Matheny brings six-and-a-half years of experience from his days managing the St. Louis Cardinals, and he led them to three seasons of 90+ wins. That includes 97 wins and a NL pennant in 2013 and 100 wins in 2015. Additionally, Matheny went back to school in between the two stints in order to better his leadership, media relations, and knowledge of analytics. He was working as an assistant in the Royals organization before being hired.
He gets to work with the following players as he tries to guide the Royals out of their rebuild.
The most notable outfielders on the Royals roster are Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Alex Gordon. Merrifield played in every game in 2019 and made his first All-Star Game. He should see more time in the outfield in 2020 after making the transition to a full-time outfielder in the middle of 2019. He led the league in hits for the second straight year with 206. Although his OPS+ was 112, he was a very productive hitter with 41 doubles, ten home runs, and a league-leading ten triples to accompany 20 stolen bases.
Soler also played in every game in 2019. He will most likely see more time at designated hitter than the outfield, but he is still listed as an outfielder on the roster. 2019 was a breakout year for Soler, who led the league with 48 home runs while driving in 117 RBI with a .569 slugging percentage.
Gordon, the lifetime Royal, won his seventh career Gold Glove in 2019 while posting average offensive numbers in his age-35 season.
Hunter Dozier will also play a key role in the outfield after an impressive 139-game season. He hit 26 home runs and tied Merrifield for the league lead in triples. Bubba Starling and Nick Heath could also play roles on the team. Heath, specifically, stole 60 bases in MiLB in 2019.
. @Royals fans: Keep an eye on OF Nick Heath, who had 60 SB in the minor leagues last year. The 26-year-old is making a strong case to be included on the Opening Day 30-man roster. He was a 16th-round pick from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in '16. @inheathwetrust
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 14, 2020
The infield will be manned by players like Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan McBroom, Ryan O’Hearn, and Maikel Franco. Lopez struggled at the plate in his rookie season. His on-base percentage was below .300 and his OPS+ was 59, well below the average mark of 100. However, he played solid defense and recorded three defensive runs saved in 76 games at second base.
Mondesi also tied for the league lead at 10 triples, and he stole 43 bases. He played solid defense as well, posting eight defensive runs saved at shortstop. He can be penciled in as a key contributor up the middle for the team.
Franco comes over to play third base after years of disappointment with the Philadelphia Phillies. He flashed his potential posting a 130 OPS+ in 2015, but he has only posted an OPS+ higher than 100 once since then. The 2019 season was one of his worst, posting below-average numbers on offense and defense. The bright side is that Franco is only 27 years old, and it is possible that he could put together a decent season.
First base duties will most likely be split by O’Hearn and McBroom. Saying O’Hearn had a disappointing 2019 is an understatement. After posting a .262/.353/.597 slash line and 154 OPS+ in a small sample of 2018, he posted a .195/.281/.389 slash line and 70 OPS+ in 105 games. McBroom was better in 23 games, with a .293 average and .361 on-base percentage. However, his .360 slugging percentage translated to overall below-average offensive OPS and OPS+ numbers.
Veteran catcher Salvador Perez should get the bulk of the innings behind home plate. He is coming off a season lost to Tommy John surgery and was dealing with Covid-19. He was cleared to return to action on Tuesday. The team will benefit from getting the four-time Gold Glove winner and six-time All-Star back in the lineup.
If healthy, Cam Gallagher should be the backup catcher, although he learned that he tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. If he does not recover by Opening Day, Meibrys Viloria is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
The Royals pitching finished 13th in the AL and 27th in the majors with an abysmal 5.20 ERA in 2019. Some of the returning pitchers from that staff include Scott Barlow, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller, and Ian Kennedy. None of these pitchers posted an ERA below 4.00, with the exception of Kennedy. He posted a 3.41 ERA in 63 1/3 innings pitched while saving 30 games in his first year as a relief pitcher.
Part of the Royals issues stem from their control. Their staff walked the sixth-most batters, allowed the 13th-most home runs, and struck out the seventh-fewest batters in 2019.
The team acquired Chance Adams from the New York Yankees. Adams is a low-risk, high-upside acquisition. The former second-ranked prospect in the Yankees organization has not panned out, posting a 8.18 ERA in 33 career innings pitched.
They also signed Trevor Rosenthal. The seven-year veteran allowed 23 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings pitched in 2019. Additionally, Greg Holland returns to the team on a minor league contract. Holland closed games in 2014 when the team won the AL pennant.
Rest of 60-Man Roster
One of the tough decisions that the organization will have to ponder is if it is worth giving some of their top prospects any experience at the MLB level. Seven of the Royals eight-best prospects made the team’s 60-man taxi squad. That includes their top-four prospects, shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and pitchers Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar.
None of these players have played above Double-A. Normally they would continue their development moving up the MiLB ladder. However, with no MiLB season in 2020 and low expectations, the team could decide to add some of these players to the 40-man roster and see what they can do. Singer and Kowar, respectively, were expected to be MLB ready at some point in 2020.
Above all else, this season marks a transition into the future for Kansas City. While the team is not expected to contend, it will be a successful season if they can show an improvement in their pitching and see some of their position players continue to take steps forward with their game while the team decides which players will be around for the long haul.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images