2022 Kansas City Royals: It Would Take a Miracle

LogansDad

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The 2022 version of the Royals comes into the season with low expectations but, at least in my novice opinion, some pretty high upside. I think the addition of a 6th playoff team really brings basically any team in the AL not named Orioles or Athletics into contention, and if some things (most things? everything?) break right for the Royals, it could be an interesting season. The team went 74-88 last season, but showed signs of life last, going 15-14 from Sept 3rd onward, and they are a young-ish team with a lot of pieces that will hopefully take a step forward this season.

With that said, there's a fine line here where if just a few things break poorly for them, it could be another disappointing season very early on. While I am not as bullish on the White Sox being a dominant team as others, I think they are a clear favorite in the NL Central, and the Twins, by virtue of getting Buxton back healthy and adding Correa have gotten significantly better this offseason. I think the Guardians are likely to not be very good, and I don't think the Tigers did quite enough to get themselves out of mediocrity, but those are for someone else, in a different thread to put more thought into.

Projected Lineup:

Catchers
Salvador Perez: One of the best offensive catchers in the game, the seven time All Star took his skills to another level in 2021, with 48 home runs (a new record for players who "primarily started at catcher"), a .273/.316/.544/.859 slash line and 121 RBI's. He also stole the 6th base of his career. Oh, and by the way, he's pretty good defensively as well, leading the league with a 44% CS rate, and only one passed ball. He's 32 years old, so I don't believe he will quite match those numbers offensively, but I would put him pretty firmly in the top 3 of catchers I would want on my MLB team this season.

Cam Gallagher: Gallagher is a solid enough backup catcher that he would likely start on many MLB teams, but has had only one truly above average season for KC, and that was 2020, so take it for what it's worth. He will likely see playing time in something like 25% of the games early as Perez takes the lion's share of work behind the dish, and continue to be a capable backup.

Sebastian Rivero: Rivero received a few cups of coffee in 2021, and failed to impress, and the 23 year old has a mixed bag of a track record throughout his minor league career, with not much power and not great on base skills. I would not expect to see him much in the big leagues, if at all, because......

On the way:

MJ Melendez: Melendez would likely start, right now, on a majority of Major League teams. He led all of the minor leagues in home runs last season, and has easy, easy power to all fields, great bat to ball skills, and throws out 30+% of runners. He does need some refining defensively (errors are an issue), but I would not be at all surprised to see him break camp with the Royals as their DH/3rd catcher option. He's 23, and having seen him in person 12 or so times last season before his callup to AAA, I am confident in saying that I think he is going to be a top 10 catcher in the league within a couple seasons. He is awesome.



First Base
Carlos Santana: He's old, but you can expect 20 or so home runs from him depending on playing time.

Ryan O'Hearn: 28 years old, and this is probably close to his last chance to prove himself in this organization. He has an impressive minor league track record, but his on base and power skills have never really translated to the Major League Level across four seasons and 275 games at this point. I think he likely "is what he is".

Both of these players are place holders because....

On the way:
Nick Pratto: Pratto is currently having a good enough spring that I could see him breaking camp with the team. He does have some pretty significant strikeout concerns, but much like Melendez the power is there and it is easy power, with 36 across AA and AAA last season. I don't expect him to drop in and put up a 1.000+ OPS like he did in AAA last season, especially since strikeouts are such an issue (repeated for emphasis), but I think he will eventually be an .850 OPS player with 30+ home runs, maybe as soon as this season.

Vinnie Pasquantino: Vinnie is also putting up solid spring numbers, and while he has less power than Pratto, he also has far less strikeout concerns. 24 home runs, with a nearly .400 OBP across two minor league levels, I still expect him to start the season in AAA since he never got to that level last season and likely needs a little more work before getting the callup.

Infielders:
Nicky Lopez: Lopez had a huge breakout in 2021, playing most of his games at shortstop for the injured Adalberto Mondesi. Assuming Mondesi is healthy, I expect Lopez to see most of the playing time at second base. He slashed his K rate from 21% to 13% in 2021, which translated to a .365 OBP and a .744 OPS. He may not repeat these numbers, but I see no reason the believe there will be a steep decline. Defensively, he was capable enough at SS that I think his skills will translate well to 2B this season.

Adalberto Mondesi: Everything I am reading makes it seem like Mondesi is a lock to start at short, but I’m not convinced that he is a huge upgrade over some of the other options, unless he has a 26 year old breakout season like Nicky Lopez just did. A career .249 hitter, with sub .300 OBP, he appears to be only adequate defensively, and I would not be at all surprised to see him end up the odd man out among this crew.

Whit Merrifield: The elder statesman of the infield crew at 33, Merrifield has started every game at second base for the Royals for three straight seasons. A career .291 hitter, with some pop to go along with it, he is a slightly below average defensive second baseman who will likely also see time in the outfield, and provides the team a ton of versatility along with…

Hunter Dozier: Dozier will likely see playing time at every non-catcher position at some point this season, besides maybe shortstop. Last year was a rough year for him, but he was dealing with a thumb injury all year, and I think he will bounce back close to a .340 OBP and a .750-.800 OPS, which is useful for a utility player, especially in the AL Central.

And finally:

Bobby Witt Jr: I can’t possibly fit enough good things into this thread about what I think about this kid. I got to chat with him briefly last spring before he moved from AA to AAA, and he is just a spectacular human being (I also had to “scold” him for signing autographs when the players weren’t supposed to be…but I’m just an usher so nobody really listens to me anyway). His talent on the field is just an extension of that. I think he is going to win multiple MVP awards, and will be stunned if he isn’t in the top 2 for RotY this season. I fully expect something close to a .290/.350/.550/.900 line from him this year, with 25+ home runs and steals. Anyone who hasn’t seen him play yet is in for an absolute treat.

I will drop the OF and pitching tomorrow, but I think this team will be a lot more fun than some people realize.
 

LogansDad

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Before I start the outfield, note that Pratto and Melendez both got sent down this week and will start the season in AAA, even though both hit really well this spring. Pasquantino is still in camp, however, and has been otherworldly, with an 1.179 OPS over 25 plate appearances. That might push back the date of Pratto's arrival (or make him tradeable). Bobby Witt has made the opening day roster.

The Outfield
The Royals outfield is a bit more <ahem> seasoned than the current infield and will consist of some combination of:

Andrew Benitendi- After bouncing back from a horrid 2020 to a solid if unspectacular 2021 season, Benitendi is still, unbelievably, only 27 years old. I have no idea what to expect out of him, but he's a solid veteran presence for what seems to be a pretty solid locker room, from all reporting, and I think he will be pretty valuable for them this season.

Kyle Isbel- the 25 year old Isbel had an okay 2021 season between AAA and KC, after not playing competitively in 2020 because of... well, you know. He looks good in Spring Training so far, with 3 home runs and a 1.165 OPS, but I expect him to settle somewhere in the high .700 to mid .800 OPS range, which is pretty solid for a guy who is likely to be a Utility Outfielder on this team at best this year. He may start the season in AAA due to lack of available playing time in the Majors.

Whit Merrifield- Merrifield is a guy who is quietly a pretty spectacular player in RF for the Royals, even if last year was bit of a fall off of his previous career norms. He will probably stay in his leadoff role (all 162 of his starts last year were from the 1 slot), but the Royals will look to have him improve to somewhere closer to his career .337 OBP, which would make his elite base stealing ability far more valuable than his .317 number from 2021.

Michael Taylor- Taylor plays defense. Still pretty well, actually. 3rd in the league in RF/9 as a CF, and 4th in fielding percentage at the position, he will likely round out the everyday starters, and continue to hit somewhere in the bottom of the team's lineup (I would guess 7 or 8)

Edward Oliveras- Like Isbel, Olivares is in the mix for a utility role, but may get sent down to start the season with the previously mentioned Hunter Dozier providing OF depth. He has struggled in his callups over the past two season, but has only played 70 total games at the Major League level, and his numbers in AA and AAA show a pretty good player waiting to break out.

My Projected Lineup
1. Merrifield
2. Witt
3. Santana
4. Sal Perez
5. O'Hearn/Isbel (DH)
6. Benitendi
7. Lopez
8. Taylor
9. Mondesi

I don't think it's a top 10 offense, but I think they are at least competent, and the defense from top to bottom might make them a top 3 defense in the league. I think this can be enough to reasonably support......
 

LogansDad

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The Pitching

The pitching staff for this team has a metric ton of upside this year, but coming into the season that's really what it is. I am really happy to see Greinke back with this team, not just because I feel like it's where he belongs for the twilight of his career, but because I think he is the perfect actor to take the 2018 draft class to their next level. So, let's get right into it.

Definite Starters (in no particular order):
Greinke: He's 38, and likely won't be getting better, but I expect him to put up a league average ERA and be a fantastic mentor for the rest of these guys.

Brady Singer: Singer (2018 first round pick) put up a pretty disappointing 4.91 ERA in 2021, but a lot of that was due to 4 games in which he got absolutely blown up. His FIP was an okay, if unexciting 4.04, and the Ryals have to hope his BB/9 comes down from 3.7. They also have to hope his BABIP allowed comes down from an abysmal .350, as well. He is turning 25 this year, and I am looking for him to break out in a big way.

Kris Bubic: Bubic (2018 CBA sandwich pick) also made his debut in 2020, and had a mediocre 2021 season in which he dropped a 4.43 ERA, but was a little more consistent than Singer. He relies a ton on his control, with his fastball operating at only about 90.9 MPH, and he will be looking to improve on his 1.5 HR/9 and 1.93 K/BB rates this season.

Brad Keller: Not a 2018 draftee, Keller appeared to breakout in 2020, but the Royals are hoping his 2.47 ERA that season wasn't a mirage, as he went on to post a 5.39 ERA in 2021. He pitched much better from July onward last season, so hopefully that is a sign that he worked something out. He turns 26 this season.

Carlos Hernandez: Hernandez will start the 4th game of the season for the Royals after putting up a spectacular 3.68 ERA across 85 innings of work in 2021. his electric fastball sits around 97 MPH, but he needs to get the walks under control (4.3/9) to keep finding success.

Potential Starters:
Jackson Kowar: Another 2018 1st round pick (we aren't done yet), Kowar appears destined to begin the season in AAA, but I expect him to be back up in short order (if they don't decide to keep him in the KC pen to start the season). He struggled badly in 9 MLB outings (8 starts) in 2021, so I'm going to be honest, this is entirely a gut feeling for me on this one. Control was a serious issue for him last year, both in and out of the zone (see: fastball heat map, below), but he has a changeup that I've watched a bit this spring, and that I think is much improved over last season. He is still raw, but he's turning 25 this year so he still has time to grow into it, and I think he might have the most upside of all these pitchers, if he can figure out the control thing.
50607

Daniel Lynch: The last (on this list) of the 2018 draftees, Lynch struggled between AAA and KC last season, but has looked good this spring. He is working in a curve that he threw only 2% or so of the time last year, but he has a good Fastball, Sinker, Slider, Changeup mix outside of that. Hitters teed off on his fastball last season, to the tune of a .381 BA and an insanely bad .451 wOBA, so he needs to learn to miss out of the zone with his fastball, instead of right down the middle of the plate.

There's a lot of boom or bust potential with this rotation, and, like I said earlier, I am really excited to see what effect Greinke can have on them, as, from everything I have heard, he has been an awesome teammate to them this spring.
 

LogansDad

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Sorry this took so long, life is busy.

The Bullpen
Scott Barlow will open the season as the closer for the Royals, after a major breakout last season at age 28, with a 2.42 ERA over 74 innings. His career ERA is 3.47, though, and last year was the first season outside of his 15 inning rookie year that he was under 4, so we will see how long that lasts.

Amir Garrett, occasionally brilliant, occasionally, well, not, was acquired in the offseason for Mike Minor and some money. He has similar home run issues to a guy like Emilio Pagan, which may leave the Royals uncomfortable with him as a closer, but they obviously acquired him to be a high leverage guy and he will likely be the first option to step in if Barlow struggles.

Collin Snyder is a guy who I think might be a breakout candidate this season. He put up great numbers in AA last season before a promotion to AAA Omaha where he kind of got shelled. Early returns from the young season show him featuring a slider/sinker/cutter combination, with pretty solid spin rates on all three pitches. It's early, though, so we will see.

Josh Staumont is another guy they are counting on for high leverage situations after putting up a sub 3 ERA each of the last two. He struggled this spring, but has already been used in three games in the regular season, with mixed results.

Joel Payamps returns as a middle reliver, featuring a fastball/sinker/slider/changeup mix. He came over to KC last season from Arizona and put up strong numbers in his first full season after limited action in 2019 and 2020.

Dylan Coleman made the team out of spring training, and is an interesting arm to me after having limited Major League action last season. He put up solid numbers at all three minor league levels over the last three years, and could be poised for a big season in this pen. He has a 4-seam/sinker combination that sit around 97 (occasionally pushing into triple digits), and a slider that takes about 12 miles off of that with 36 inches of vertical break (it really feels more like a curve than a slider to me, but that's what Savant classifies it as). He should be a fun pitcher to watch this season.

Finally, Taylor Clarke signed with the team over the winter, and will likely be a low leverage middle reliever for the time being.


As I write this, my man Jackson Kowar has already been sent to AAA, because the previously mentioned "meatball" issue arose mightily in relief of Kris Bubic (who also struggled mightily, much to the chagrin of my NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR FANTASY TEAM, DAVE) in a 17-3 loss to Cleveland over the weekend. Oh yeah, Brady Singer got crushed that day, too. It was Family Funday Sunday at the park, but I'm not really sure how much fun was really had.

I still think they will be okay, but this is a team that really needs all of the breaks to go their way if they are going to find a way to be competitive this year. I think the addition of a 6th playoff team helps them a lot, but after winning with two very good pitching performances on Opening Day and the day after, three straight losses with the pitching getting torched is mildly concerning. I am not terribly comfortable projecting a win/loss record for this team, but IF the pitching doesn't suck as bad as they did on Sunday I could see them staying in contention until the final month of the season. If they happen to be in the race at the trade deadline, all of Pratto/Pasquantino/Melendez are interesting trade chips depending on what the team needs at that point.

If the pitching doesn't take the expected step forward, however, this could very well be a 90 loss team. In any case, I think they are going to be fun to watch.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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MLB can't create enough roster spots to save the Royals pitching staff. Since holding Cleveland to 1 run in the first 19 innings of the season, they've allowed 39 earned runs in 44 innings (7.98 ERA). They needed more than just Greinke to eat innings and give them someone else who isn't a start or two from being demoted to AAA.

After seven games, the starting lineup has four guys with an OPS+ under 10. Bobby Witt is off to a 3-for-28 start and oddly is still looking for his first MLB single. The Royals should probably just eat the remainder of Carlos Santana's contract and send him back to Cleveland, since that's the only place he's ever played well ;).
 

Bread of Yaz

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MLB can't create enough roster spots to save the Royals pitching staff. Since holding Cleveland to 1 run in the first 19 innings of the season, they've allowed 39 earned runs in 44 innings (7.98 ERA). They needed more than just Greinke to eat innings and give them someone else who isn't a start or two from being demoted to AAA.

After seven games, the starting lineup has four guys with an OPS+ under 10. Bobby Witt is off to a 3-for-28 start and oddly is still looking for his first MLB single. The Royals should probably just eat the remainder of Carlos Santana's contract and send him back to Cleveland, since that's the only place he's ever played well ;).
Brad Keller has been quite good and looks like a bright spot in the rotation.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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Kansas City is now tied with Cincinnati for the worst record in baseball. From the rotation they opened the season with, Hernandez and Bubic have been demoted to the minors and Greinke just went on the IL with a strained flexor in his throwing arm that's been bothering him for a while. He's not expected back anytime soon. The starting lineup features three batters with a .300+ OBP. They are also now 5-for-32 with the bases loaded this season.
 

LogansDad

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Sadly, what I thought could be a fun team coming into the season, kind of stinks. They currently sport the worst run differential in the AL (tied for 2nd worst overall). None of the pitchers who I thought might break through have, and they have been more likely to be an abject disaster than even a competent MLB pitcher. Jackson Kowar lasted one start before being sent to AAA, where he hasn't been a lot better (but is starting to look a little better over his last 4 starts or so). Kris Bubic lasted 6 starts with a solid 12.83 ERA before being sent to AAA and somehow being worse than Kowar. Greinke is hurt, and was only mildly more effective than those two, Lynch has been mediocre and Brad Keller has actually been okay, with a 4.15 ERA, but is 1-6. Brady Singer has been a bright spot, with a 2.49 ERA and a 2.71 FIP over 25 innings, and has forced his way into the starting rotation.

In the pen, Barlow looks like the real deal, with an ERA under 2.00 in 19 appearances, but nobody else has been particularly good. The team is 27th overall in ERA and 29th in ERA+, with the least K's of any team in the league by a not insignificant margin, the 5th most walks, but at least they find themselves in the middle of the pack in HR's allowed, I guess.

Offensively, they are 26th in runs scored per game and OPS, they've already used 26 different hitters (tied with SF for most in the league). They don't K much, but they don't walk either, which leads me to believe they are being hyper aggressive at the plate, and with a bunch of mediocre hitters it is working about as well as can be expected.

Bobby Witt has shown flashes of brilliance, both at the plate and in the field, but has been inconsistent at best, sporting a .269 OBP, though he's on pace for something resembling a 20 HR/20 SB season. Carlos Santana looks his age, which is forty... errr, 36. The team has two players with more than 27 games played who have an OPS over .700 (one being Benintendi), and, of course, Adalberto Mondesi is done for the season (again). The last of those may be addition by subtraction, as he was hitting a stellar .140 at the time of the injury, with an incredible .344 OPS. The injury moved Witt to his natural SS position, and opened the door for Emmanuel Rivera to take over at 3B, allowing the team to put someone at both positions who could make contact with the baseball on occasion.

At 16-33, 12.5 out of the ALC and almost 10 out of the Wild Card, the Royals are playing for experience early this year, and likely will be looking to move any of their underperforming but tradeable assets next month, though they don't really have many of those, either.

In brighter news, MJ Melendez has been competent with Cam Gallagher out, and makes for a solid C/DH complement for Sal Perez. Vinnie Pasquantino appears ready to take over at 1B whenever the Royals decide they want him to, with nearly a 1:1 BB/K rate and 15 home runs in AAA. Nick Pratto clearly has ML level power, but a 31.7% K rate is concerning to say the least. Maikel Garcia is putting up solid numbers in AA as a 22 year old SS.

The pitching side is not as pretty, but 2021 draft pick (43 overall) Ben Kurdna made his professional debut this week in A ball, and has looks solid over two appearance, so let's all get our hopes up.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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During the Guardians series some crazy stat about the 1st inning was mentioned. I don't recall which it was, but the Royals were 0-18 either when allowing a run in the 1st or trailing at the end of the 1st.
 

LogansDad

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The Royals stink. Only the Tigers and the AAA's have a worse run differential in the AL.

But, they shipped out Carlos Santana yesterday for a couple of pitchers who they will probably break. And they finally called up Vinnie Pasquantino, who walks more than he strikes out and has a .948 OPS in Omaha this year. I doubt he right's the ship, but he's an exciting player to keep an eye on.
 

Max Power

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The Royals stink. Only the Tigers and the AAA's have a worse run differential in the AL.

But, they shipped out Carlos Santana yesterday for a couple of pitchers who they will probably break. And they finally called up Vinnie Pasquantino, who walks more than he strikes out and has a .948 OPS in Omaha this year. I doubt he right's the ship, but he's an exciting player to keep an eye on.
Getting anything for Carlos Santana, who has put up a .350 SLG since the start of 2020, is something of an accomplishment.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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It can't be very often that a position player in the starting lineup ends up on the mound and records more outs than the starting pitcher.
 

Trlicek's Whip

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This beggars belief:

View: https://twitter.com/anne__rogers/status/1547328208374308864

Text of tweet: The Royals will be w/o 10 players in Toronto, where a COVID-19 vaccination is required to enter:
2B Whit Merrifield
1B Hunter Dozier
OF Michael A. Taylor
OF Andrew Benintendi
OF Kyle Isbel
C Cam Gallagher
C MJ Melendez
RHP Brad Keller
RHP Brady Singer
RHP Dylan Coleman

Of the 10, Whit Merrifield is on the injured list (toe injury) but this means he's not traveling with the team, which he would have if vaxxed.