The Royals announced Wednesday that first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino will require surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He’s expected to miss the remainder of the 2023 season. “It’s tough,” Pasquantino told the Royals’ beat after the announcement (Twitter link via Anne Rogers of MLB.com). “But this is something where we can just go ahead and attack this now and be better come 2024.”
It’s an awful development for an already last-place Royals club that has won the fewest games in baseball (18) and has the sport’s second-worst run differential (-104). The 25-year-old Pasquantino has proven to be an 11th-round steal in the 2019 draft, mashing his way to top prospect status before making his MLB debut in 2022. Dating back to last year, he’s played in 133 games and tallied 558 plate appearances for the Royals, batting .272/.355/.444 with 19 homers and 27 doubles.
Through the season’s first two months, Pasquantino boasted a .267/.343/.471 slash, but when the calendar flipped to June his bat evaporated. The lefty had just one hit in 23 June plate appearances. Given that there wasn’t one specific play on which the injury is known to have occurred, it’s certainly possible that it was impacting him throughout that cold streak before he ultimately landed on the injured list.
With Pasquantino on the injured list, fellow homegrown first baseman Nick Pratto will likely be given the everyday reins at first base. Kansas City had already been getting Pratto’s promising bat in the lineup as often as possible, giving him DH and corner outfield work to maximize his exposure to big league pitching. The results have been good, with the former No. 14 overall draft pick batting .281/.367/.425 in 169 plate appearances. Pratto, however, is also punching out at an untenable 34.3% rate and currently boasts a sky-high .430 BABIP. There’s likely some regression in store, particularly if he can’t cut back on that alarming strikeout rate.
Pasquantino has been one of the Royals’ only good hitters so far in 2023. He, Pratto, Salvador Perez, utilityman Matt Duffy and outfielder Edward Olivares are the only Kansas City hitters with even average offensive output, by measure of wRC+. The Royals currently sit 26th in MLB in team batting average (.230), 26th in slugging percentage (.378), 28th in runs scored (251) and 30th in on-base percentage (.293). Subtracting Pasquantino from an already inept offense is a gut punch. The Royals likely didn’t have any delusions about their standing at the trade deadline, but losing their promising young first baseman for the season only further solidifies them as a surefire seller.
Pasquantino will eventually be placed on the 60-day injured list whenever the Royals need to open a spot on the 40-man roster. He’ll continue to accrue Major League pay and service time while rehabbing, and he’ll finish out the 2023 season with exactly two years of MLB service time. That’ll keep him on track for arbitration eligibility following the 2024 season and free agency following 2027 season. An extension or a future optional assignment to the minors could change that outlook, of course.