John Lepore | November 1st, 2019
The Kansas City Royals finished the season 59-103. While they weren’t in the basement of the American League Central, they did have the fourth-worst record in the Major Leagues. This bodes well as they will have the fourth pick in the Amateur Draft come June of 2020. The Royals are going to need prospects like that to pan out if they hope to reach the pinnacle of the sport as they did just four years ago.
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What Went Right
When you have the American League HR leader, it all didn’t go horribly off the rails. Jorge Soler mashed 48 homers and truly came into his own after a lackluster beginning to his career (he hit 38 HRs in his previous 307 games played). He isn’t strictly a power guy either. He batted .265 with a .354 OBP, interestingly the same numbers as in 2018, albeit with a smaller sample size.
Hunter Dozier finally showed people why he was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft. He slashed .279/.348/.522 with 26 HRs. The KC third baseman looked like he was going to punch his ticket to a regular gig with the Royals in 2017. He suffered a strained oblique at the beginning of the year and then, after just 10 games, broke his hamate bone. It turned out to be a minor setback. This year, Dozier was a pleasant surprise for the Royals. Although he is already 28 years old, he should continue to improve for the next few years. Dozier doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2023 season.
What Went Wrong
While Soler and Dozier were bright spots in the lineup, they were the only source of power accounting for 45.7% of KC’s homers. While Whit Merrifield did his thing, Adalberto Mondesi‘s power all but disappeared, as some in the fantasy community expected. The Royals had the third-least amount of walks in the AL (456) and the second-worst OPS in the AL (.710). No one was getting on base, and no one was hitting the ball over the fence, except for the aforementioned Soler and Dozier. That isn’t a recipe for a healthy run-scoring environment even if they were second in SBs (117).
As with other teams who finish with this bad of a record, the pitching is usually at least part of the problem. The Royals were no different. They posted a 5.20 ERA which was third-worst in the AL. They also had more pitchers (4) who gave up 20+ HRs than they had hitters who hit 20+ (2). Their bullpen was unsettled all season with the exception of Ian Kennedy. They had 14 pitchers who made 10 or more relief appearances and also deployed 10 different starting pitchers this season. None of those starters averaged more than a K/9.
Impending Free Agents
Alex Gordon has a mutual $23 million option for 2020. The Royals are not going to exercise that and will instead pay Gordon a $4 million buyout. Another choice for the Royals would be to roll the $4 million into a new deal for their left fielder. Gordon remains fairly consistent and although his defense took a slight turn downward this year (negative dWAR for the first time since 2010), He had his highest OPS since 2015 at .741. He will be 36 in February and I could see the Royals giving him a 2/$12 deal with a team option for 2022.
Players to Watch For
Brady Singer – The big righty was a first-round pick in 2018. This season he started at Advanced-A with Wilmington. He dominated in 10 starts there going 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA and a 53/13 K/BB rate while allowing only one HR in 57.2 innings. He earned a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. After struggling in his first few starts, Singer settled in and had a 2.18 ERA and a 65/16 K/BB rate in his last 10. He features a fastball that sits around 92 mph and can touch 96. Singer also has a plus slider and a good changeup. He is an advanced pitcher when it comes to control and command, and although his strikeout totals may never lead the league, he can still easily be a K per inning pitcher. Singer also keeps the ball in the yard and mostly on the ground, a valued attribute these days in the HR-happy MLB. He turned 23 in August. With his advanced approach, ace upside, and clear path to the majors, Singer should be pitching for the big club by May.
Jackson Kowar – His path to the big leagues has mirrored Singer’s so far. He pitched with Singer at Florida University, was drafted in the first round in 2018, and made it to Double-A last season. While he throws harder than Singer, sitting around 94 and topping at 98, his command and secondary offerings aren’t quite as advanced. Kowar still managed a 3.51 ERA with a smooth 78/21 K/BB rate in 13 starts at Northwest Arkansas. He is also 23 years old and should be up with the Royals in May, continuing to pitch alongside fellow former Gator Brady Singer at the top of the Kansas City Royals’ rotation.
The Royals went all-in on pitching in the 2018 draft when they drafted Singer, Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch. In the 2020 draft, they may look to grab a top hitter with the fourth pick to go with the few good hitters they have in their system. The plan going forward for the Royals should be to sign a few bats to short term deals to go along with Soler, Merrifield, et al. If they can hit on a few of their young pitchers, and the bats like Khalil Lee and Nick Pratto can make it to the Show in the next year or two, the Royals could be a playoff contender as early as 2021.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images