The 2021 season hasn’t gone as the Royals hoped, but general manager Dayton Moore made clear in a recent appearance on 610 AM’s Fescoe in the Morning Show that he still considers his club to be in a win-now mindset and will aim to put together a contending roster for the 2022 season (full audio link to the 18-minute interview).
Moore acknowledged being “extremely disappointed” with the team’s record this season, particularly given that the front office “all felt [the roster] would compete.” That said, Moore didn’t sound like an executive who was gearing up to make sweeping changes in the offseason. While the Royals will certainly look to add in various places — Moore listed the bullpen, in particular — the organization also expects a great deal of improvement from within.
“When I look at our team, there’s not a ton that you’re going to need to do, at least on paper,” said Moore. “…We expect some of our young starters to continue to evolve and get better. We’re going to hopefully be able to transition a position player or two into this lineup next year. We’re going to get a little bit younger, we’re going to have a little more speed on this team. … We’re going to be disciplined with what we do, but we’re going to rely on young players that are going to come up and be better.”
The Royals have an enviable crop of young starting pitching, as Moore referenced. Each of Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic has been ranked as a top-100 prospect at some point in recent years, and all four have gotten their feet wet in the big leagues already. Kansas City also has last summer’s No. 4 overall draft pick, lefty Asa Lacy, working his way through the system. Command has been an issue for Lacy thus far in Class-A Advanced, but he’s also fanned a third of his opponents through 52 frames. Twenty-one-year-old Angel Zerpa breezed through Class-A Advanced, meanwhile, before running into some early struggles in his first Double-A action.
Of course, the mention of “transitioning a position player or two” into the lineup seems like a clear reference to uber-prospect Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 2 overall pick from the 2019 draft who has emerged as one of baseball’s brightest prospects. But Moore is also surely referencing another former first-round pick, first baseman Nick Pratto.
Both Witt and Pratto have laid waste to Double-A and Triple-A pitching alike in 2021. Witt, 21, posted a .295/.369/.570 slash with 16 homers and 14 steals in 61 Double-A games before jumping to Triple-A and hitting .283/.328/.550 through his first 13 games. Pratto delivered similar dominance at the plate in Double-A (.271/.404/.570 in 61 games) before jumping to Triple-A at the same time. Like Witt, he hasn’t missed a beat in Omaha, raking at a .271/.379/.646 clip so far.
It’s always possible that the Royals will call on one or both promising youngsters by season’s end, although Moore spoke of exercising patience with each prospect after the scratched 2020 season and an abbreviated run through the minors so far in ’21. Asked specifically about the duo, Moore simply suggested that both need to “keep doing what they’re doing” and accrue more experience in the top minor league level of the system. That said, Moore also suggested that once players are promoted to Triple-A, “they really have an opportunity to force your hand.”
Perhaps most interestingly g of all from Moore, however, was his surprisingly candid assessment of oft-injured shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. While Moore emphasized that the club feels Mondesi is still a part of its future, he also acknowledged that Mondesi may not be the everyday cornerstone the team once envisioned.
“No, you can’t,” Moore candidly replied when asked if the team could count on Mondesi as an everyday player. “We love Mondy to death. … I think when we put this team together, we look at it like, ’Holy cow, if Mondy’s healthy, and he’s a part of the team, it’s going to be really exciting and really impactful in a lot of different ways: defensively, offensively, speed-wise.’ There’s a lot he can do.
“But I think we’re learning that we’re going to have to manage his workload. He may not be a guy that plays more than 100 games a year, best-case scenario. Hopefully he exceeds that expectation, but as somebody who’s responsible for putting together a 26-man roster, we’ve got to look at ways to supplement and perhaps be more balanced, if he’s not a part of it. If he is, that’s great. We’re certainly not going to release him. We’re going to continue to stay with him, obviously. But we’ve got to make sure we put that roster together in ways that protect us. … We can’t, obviously, count on him as an everyday player.”
It’s rare to see a GM speak with such candor about someone who’s long been viewed as a key player. Of course, those comments aren’t any sort of indication that the team plans to move on from Mondesi, nor should we necessarily expect Kansas City to spend significantly on a middle-infield upgrade over the winter. The Royals also have a shortstop-capable infielder in Nicky Lopez, and the aforementioned Witt Jr. has played all of his professional games so far at shortstop, save for eight appearances at the hot corner in 2021. Perhaps the Royals will deem it worthwhile to add a solid utilityman who can deepen the bench and help cover some games at the shortstop position as needed. Based on Moore’s comments, that very role could eventually be one in which Mondesi finds himself — an oft-used but also oft-rested player who can fill in at multiple spots around the diamond.
Mondesi aside, the broader takeaway from Moore’s comments are that while the 2021 season hasn’t gone as hoped, the club remains committed to putting a winner on the field as soon as 2022. That likely points to another offseason of some modest additions in free agency and via trade, as the Royals continue to wait on the emergence of their next core group.