Kansas City Royals – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-05T23:25:42Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Amateur Draft Notes: Torkelson, Wilcox, Mock Drafts]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198146 2020-05-31T02:43:16Z 2020-05-31T02:43:16Z The first round of the 2020 amateur draft begins on June 10, and the growing feeling is that the Tigers will take Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick.  Torkelson comes into the draft on the heels of an outstanding college career, which Baseball America’s Teddy Cahill notes could have reached historic proportions had Torkelson’s 2020 campaign not been cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The young slugger had a shot at breaking the NCAA record for walks in a season, and Torkelson sat just two home runs away from setting a new Arizona State school record for career homers (a record held by longtime Braves third baseman Bob Horner).  Though Torkelson will miss out on these individual accomplishments and a shot at being part of a potential national championship contender, his Arizona State tenure has already been the stuff of legend, especially considering that Torkelson came to the program on a relatively low profile after not being drafted by a Major League team when coming out of high school.

Some more on the draft…

  • The NCAA’s decision to give an extra year of eligibility to spring sports will give at least some players extra signing leverage in this abbreviated five-round draft.  As The Athletic’s David O’Brien (subscription required) writes, right-hander Cole Wilcox has the option of returning to the University of Georgia for a do-over of his sophomore year if doesn’t receive a signing bonus to his liking, which “some in the industry believe” is a “top-half-of-first-round” asking price.  (So, in the neighborhood of $4MM, based on the recommended slot prices.)  It isn’t out of the question that the hard-throwing Wilcox is selected within the top 15 anyway based on his strong track record at Georgia, though many prognosticators have the righty in the bottom half of the first round.
  • Speaking of prognostication, let’s give into some mock draft action!  The latest projections are up from The Athletic’s Keith Law (subscription required), Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, and MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, and all have identical top threes: Torkelson to the Tigers, Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin to the Orioles with the second overall pick, and Texas A&M southpaw Asa Lacy to the Marlins third overall.  Assuming Detroit does take Torkelson, the O’s are favored to select Martin or at least another position player — Collazo and Callis note that Baltimore could opt to take New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales, while Law has heard “rumblings” that Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad could be the pick if the Orioles wanted to spread around their draft pool money.
  • All three mock drafts are well worth a read, as Law, Collazo, and Callis share some reports and rumors about which prospects could be on various teams’ radars, and what particular teams may or may not be targeting on their draft boards.  For instance, the Royals (who pick fourth overall) seem to be leaning towards picking a position player this after focusing on adding pitchers in recent drafts, which could lead them to Gonzales or Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen.  Callis has K.C. taking Gonzales while Collazo and Law have the Royals taking Veen, with Law adding that he has “heard they’re cool on Gonzales.”  Then again, a pitcher might not be out of the question either for Kansas City, as Collazo writes “lately, we’ve also heard Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer linked to this pick.”  As for Wilcox’s placement, Callis projects the Mets (19th overall), Law projects the Nationals (22nd), and Collazo projects the Yankees (28th).
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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Teams’ Plans For Minor League Pay]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198078 2020-05-29T20:35:45Z 2020-05-29T20:14:47Z 3:14pm: The Astros will also pay their minor leaguers through August, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The Red Sox will do the same, Julian McWilliams and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe write. The Reds will pay theirs through Sept. 7, the end of the scheduled minor league season, per C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic.

2:16pm: As teams throughout the league make sweeping releases at the minor league level, neither the Twins nor the Royals plan on cutting any players, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). The Twins and Royals will also commit to paying all of their minor league player the current $400 weekly stipend through Aug. 31 — the would-be end of the minor league season — while providing full benefits. The Twins are also committing to front-office and baseball ops staff through at least the end of June, Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com tweets.

To this point, no other clubs in the league have made such a commitment. The Marlins, Padres and Mariners all agreed to pay their minor leaguers through season’s end, although none of that bunch is known to be entirely avoiding minor league releases. Seattle, in fact, reportedly cut 50 minor league players this week already. The volume of players being released around the league is jarring — the D-backs cut a reported 64 players — although it should be noted that many of the releases would’ve come at the end of Spring Training under normal circumstances anyhow.

That doesn’t detract from the gesture made by the Twins or Royals, of course. It’s a stark contrast to an organization such as the Athletics, who informed minor league players earlier this week that they’ll no longer be paid after May 31. As MLB.com’s Jim Callis observes (on Twitter), the decision made by the Twins and Royals could quite likely prove beneficial in recruiting undrafted players who are selecting among teams while capped at a $20K signing bonus this summer.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A 4-Year-Old Trade That Could Have Long-Term Effects]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197792 2020-05-31T18:42:36Z 2020-05-25T21:20:07Z For the most part, if one team trades you to another for cash considerations, odds are you aren’t going to amount to much in Major League Baseball. But it was four years ago today that the two Missouri-based franchises – the Royals and Cardinals – came together on a cash/player trade that made an impact in the ensuing couple years and could continue to have a long-term effect. On May 25, 2016, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Jose Martinez, whom the Royals had recently designated for assignment to clear roster space for a guy named Whit Merrifield, for money.

Jose Martinez

Back when the trade occurred, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd wrote of Martinez: “He’s a ten-year minor-league veteran who has yet to crack the majors. In parts of two seasons at Triple-A, Martinez owns a productive .359/.431/.525 batting line over 556 plate appearances. He hasn’t quite maintained the pace he set last year at Omaha, but will nevertheless provide the Cards some outfield depth in the upper levels of their system.”

Indeed, Martinez didn’t look as if he’d make a mark in the majors when the Cardinals got him. After all, along with the Royals, the White Sox and Braves gave up on Martinez earlier in his career. But following a couple months in the Cardinals’ system, the club recalled him Sept. 6, 2016, for his long-awaited major league debut. Martinez has defied the odds and gone on to a pretty successful offensive career since then.

In 2017, his first extensive action in the bigs, Martinez batted a hearty .309/.379/.518 (136 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 307 plate appearances. The good times continued the next season in an even larger role, as Martinez hit .305/.364/.457 (127 wRC+) and put up 17 HRs over 590 trips to the plate. As solid as Martinez was as a hitter then, though, defensive questions have consistently dogged him. He posted minus-13 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-5.3 Ultimate Zone Rating as a corner outfielder from 2017-18, preventing him from maxing out his value as a hitter. By fWAR, Martinez was roughly an average contributor during that span, though he was passable as a first baseman in 675 innings in ’18 (minus-1 DRS, minus-3.2 UZR).

If you struggle as a defender, you have to hit in order to be of much use to your team, but Martinez even had difficulty doing that last year. On the heels of two impressive seasons in a row, he stumbled to a low-power line of .269/.340/.410 (101 wRC+) and managed just 10 homers in 373 PA. Between that and more subpar outfield defense (minus-10 DRS, minus-4.6 UZR), Martinez was close to a replacement-level player.

Despite his underwhelming output in 2019, as someone whom they gave up almost nothing to acquire, Martinez provided St. Louis more value than it could have realistically expected when it landed him. However, the Cardinals bid goodbye to Martinez last offseason, sending him, outfielder Randy Arozarena and a Competitive Balance Round A draft pick to the Rays in a deal that netted the Redbirds left-hander Matthew Liberatore, Tampa Bay’s Competitive Balance Round B selection and catcher Edgardo Rodriguez.

In the 31-year-old Martinez, the Rays got a player who, as mentioned, has typically fared well at the plate. Plus Martinez is under affordable control for the next three seasons, which is important for a low-budget club. It remains to be seen whether any of the younger talent in the swap will pan out, but it seems Liberatore stands the best chance. The 20-year-old currently ranks as the game’s 42nd-best prospect at Baseball America, which contends that he has “mid-rotation or better” upside.

Unlike the original Martinez trade, which was a win for St. Louis, we don’t yet know how the Cardinals-Rays one will go. Regardless, the Royals-Cards trade from four seasons ago is another sign that deals which may look insignificant at the time are capable of affecting teams for years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Have The Royals Found Another Rule 5 Gem?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197707 2020-05-24T00:30:01Z 2020-05-24T00:30:01Z After selecting Joakim Soria out of the Padres’ farm system in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, it could be argued that the Royals are still in the “playing with house money” honeymoon phase of the Rule 5 process.  After all, even landing a Rule 5 player who can stick on a Major League roster for an entire season is a success, never mind landing a two-time All-Star like Soria through his 2007-11 heyday as Kansas City’s closer.

Eleven years after drafting Soria, it seems like the Royals again struck gold via the Rule 5 process.  While Brad Keller has yet to reach All-Star levels, the right-hander has already enjoyed enough success over his first two MLB seasons that he looks like a solid building block for a young K.C. team.

Keller was an eighth-round pick for the Diamondbacks in the 2013 draft, and through five pro seasons had compiled some decent but unspectacular numbers in the Arizona farm system.  Over 130 1/3 innings for Double-A Jackson in 2017, Keller posted a 4.68 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 1.95 K/BB rate, which wasn’t quite good enough for him to make the grade amidst something of a 40-man roster crunch for the D’Backs.

Coming off a 93-win season and a NLDS appearance in 2017, the Diamondbacks were focused on using much of their available 40-man spaces on players who could potentially provide immediate help in 2018, as GM Mike Hazen explained to the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro two years ago.  “Our scouts liked [Keller]. We liked him,” Hazen said.  “We made the conscious decision not to add him because of where he was in proximity to the Major League team, where we were in the cycle, what we wanted to use our 40-man spots for, we wanted to be aggressive in the offseason in claiming guys…that were closer to the big leagues in our mind.

So, the D’Backs left Keller unprotected in December 2017 draft, and it didn’t take long for another team to pounce on the right-hander.  However, that other team wasn’t actually the Royals, whose spot in the Rule 5 draft order didn’t fall until the #18 spot that year.  Instead it was the Reds who took Keller with the fifth pick, and then promptly dealt him to Kansas City for cash considerations.  (The Royals swung a similar move just one pick later, acquiring sixth pick Burch Smith for cash from the Mets after New York selected Smith out of Tampa Bay’s farm system.)

Smith also ended up spending the entire 2018 season on the K.C. roster, though he was cut loose after posting a 6.92 ERA over 78 innings.  Keller, on the other hand, was much more of an immediate success.  After posting a 2.01 ERA over his first 22 1/3 frames of work out of Kansas City’s bullpen in 2018, Keller was promoted to the rotation and continued to succeed.  The righty had a 3.28 ERA over his 20 starts, striking out 83 batters (against 43 walks) over 118 innings.

Keller’s sophomore year wasn’t quite as impressive, though he still managed a quite respectable 4.19 ERA, 1.74 K/BB, and 6.6 K/9 over 165 1/3 frames, all as a member of the Royals rotation.  It could be argued that Keller was perhaps fortunate to manage that 4.19 mark, as some ERA predictors (4.94 xFIP, 5.23 SIERA) were significantly higher, and batters made much more solid contract off him in 2019 than in 2018.  The Statcast metrics also took a dim view of Keller’s 2019 performance, with a whole lot of blue — as in, below-average — numbers for Keller in comparison to other pitchers in exit velocity, xwOBA, strikeout percentage, and several other categories.

That said, advanced metrics don’t tend to favor low-strikeout hurlers like Keller who specialize in keeping the ball on the ground.  Among pitchers with at least 300 innings tossed over the last two seasons, Keller has the lowest (8.4%) home run rate in baseball, and the second-highest (52%) grounder rate.  These outstanding numbers are particularly valuable in this era of the lively ball, and Keller could further benefit from some improved defense behind him, should Maikel Franco provide any sort of upgrade at third base.

All told, 4.8 fWAR over two seasons already represents a very nice return on the Royals’ initial minor cash outlay to Cincinnati.  Keller doesn’t turn 25 until July, and he doesn’t reach arbitration eligibility until this coming offseason, putting him under the Royals’ control through the 2023 campaign.  Under normal circumstances, Keller could be a player the Royals might have already locked up to a contract extension, and while all extension talks are halted under the current transactions freeze, it wouldn’t be a surprise if K.C. began some talks with Keller’s representatives once regular business gets back underway.

While truly major Rule 5 Draft success stories are relatively few and far between these days, a team only needs to hit on one pick to make the enterprise worthwhile.  Finding a big league talent for virtually nothing is a win for any team, and if that talent is a mid-20’s starting pitcher who looks like he can hang in at least the middle of a big league rotation, the Royals got a valuable boost to their latest rebuilding effort.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Zack Greinke’s Great Hot Stove Adventure]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197496 2020-05-20T15:02:13Z 2020-05-20T15:02:13Z Every player that reaches the majors has a hot-stove tale to tell. They’re drafted or signed into the pro ranks to start out. Quite a few are traded or move via free agency even before reaching the bigs. You have to be selected or signed onto a 40-man roster before you can put on a uniform in a MLB contest. And then there’s the inevitable moment when it all goes away … whether through retirement at the end of a lengthy career or, in many cases, a trip into DFA limbo.

All of these stories are etched on the pages of MLBTR. Some are more interesting than others. A few of these transactional career arcs touch upon many major elements of the hot stove league — the front office game that shapes the underlying sport that we watch on TV.

The transactional saga of Zack Greinke, the venerable right-hander whose latest stop is the Houston Astros, is certainly among the most notable in recent memory …

Professional Entry

  • The Royals took Greinke, an unusually polished high-school hurler, with the sixth overall pick of 2002 draft.

Prospect Status

  • Greinke quickly emerged as one of the game’s top prospects.
  • Baseball America rated Greinke 54th overall ahead of the 2003 season and 14th overall in advance of 2004.

Early Career

  • At just 20 years of age, Greinke turned in in 24 starts of 3.97 ERA ball in his debut season of 2004. But he struggled badly in his sophomore season.
  • Greinke battled mental health issues and was ultimately diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder. At the time, his outlook as a professional baseball player was of secondary concern. SI.com’s John Donovan wrote: “Greinke’s tortured story is, on the one end, a sad one, but on this side there is hope that it may yet turn out well.”

Extension

  • Greinke reemerged in 2007, then turned in a breakout 2008 season.
  • The Royals signed Greinke to a four-year, $38MM extension in advance of the 2009 season, adding two years of team control. He won the American League Cy Young Award in the ensuing campaign.

2010 Blockbuster

  • The Royals decided to entertain trade offers on Greinke, by then regarded as one of the game’s best pitchers, in the 2010-11 offseason. Greinke later indicated his desire to be traded.
  • A monumental set of Winter Meetings trade talks ensued. Royals Review has exhaustively documented the contemporaneous rumor mill. Greinke reportedly indicated he would exercise his no-trade rights to block a deal to the Nationals.
  • The Brewers eventually acquired Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM from the Royals for Lorenzo CainAlcides EscobarJeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Royals with a 3.82 ERA in 1,108 innings over seven seasons.

2012 Trade Deadline Swap

  • Greinke continued to perform well in Milwaukee, but the Brewers stumbled.
  • In July of 2012, the Angeles acquired Greinke for Jean SeguraAriel Pena and John Hellweg.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Brewers with a 3.67 ERA in 294 2/3 innings over two seasons.

2012-13 Free Agency

  • Greinke entered the market as the top player available and drew interest from numerous big-market teams.
  • During the Winter Meetings, the Dodgers signed Greinke to a six-year, $147MM contract.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Angels with a 3.53 ERA in 89 1/3 innings over one season.

2015-16 Free Agency

  • Greinke opted out of his contract after a 2015 season in which he led the National League with a 1.66 ERA.
  • Expectations were that he would re-sign with the Dodgers, but the Diamondbacks suddenly entered the market with a massive offer.
  • The Diamondbacks signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5MM contract, setting a new record for average annual value ($34.42MM).
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Dodgers with a 2.30 ERA in 602 2/3 innings over three seasons.

2019 Trade Deadline Swap

  • After a rough initial season in Arizona, Greinke continued to produce excellent results even as he entered his mid-thirties.
  • In a last-minute agreement consummated just before the trade deadline, the Astros acquired Greinke for Corbin MartinJ.B. BukauskasSeth Beer, and Joshua Rojas.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Diamondbacks with a 3.40 ERA in 714 2/3 innings over four seasons.

Future

  • Greinke’s contract runs through 2021. The Astros took on $53MM of the remaining salary obligations.
  • With the Astros, Greinke has a 3.02 ERA in 62 2/3 innings over one season.
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Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Royals Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197366 2020-05-19T16:25:55Z 2020-05-19T15:22:37Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR.  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

So far, we’ve done the TigersIndiansWhite SoxRaysYankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  The Royals are next.

We’ll start by removing free agents Ian KennedyAlex Gordon, and Trevor Rosenthal.

I’ll lock down six players: Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Brad Keller, and Salvador Perez.  While there’s a case for leaving Perez unprotected, I don’t think the Royals would do that.  Here’s the initial protected group:

Jorge Soler
Whit Merrifield
Adalberto Mondesi
Hunter Dozier
Brad Keller
Salvador Perez

That leaves nine spots for the following 25 players:

Chance Adams
Scott Barlow
Danny Duffy
Maikel Franco
Jesse Hahn
Tim Hill
Cam Gallagher
Kelvin Gutierrez
Jakob Junis
Jorge Lopez
Nicky Lopez
Richard Lovelady
Ryan McBroom
Kevin McCarthy
Mike Montgomery
Jake Newberry
Ryan O’Hearn
Brett Phillips
Randy Rosario
Glenn Sparkman
Gabe Speier
Bubba Starling
Josh Staumont
Meibrys Viloria
Kyle Zimmer

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly nine players you think the Royals should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft. Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Royals Have Reduced Future Payroll Commitments To Under $40MM]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197221 2020-05-16T03:21:09Z 2020-05-16T03:21:09Z 2020 salary terms are set to be hammered out in the coming days. But what about what’s owed to players beyond that point? The near-term economic picture remains questionable at best. That’ll make teams all the more cautious with guaranteed future salaries.

Every organization has some amount of future cash committed to players, all of it done before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. There are several different ways to look at salaries; for instance, for purposes of calculating the luxury tax, the average annual value is the touchstone, with up-front bonuses spread over the life of the deal. For this exercise, we’ll focus on actual cash outlays that still have yet to be paid.

We’ll run through every team, with a big assist from the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database. Next up is the Royals:

(click to expand/view detail list)

Royals Total Future Cash Obligation: $38.75MM

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Alex Gordon Hopes To Play “A Few More Years”]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196986 2020-05-12T20:05:34Z 2020-05-12T20:05:34Z Royals icon Alex Gordon was at least pondering retirement within the past year, but the 36-year-old now tells Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star that he’d like to play “at least a few more years.” Like many other veterans who’ve had additional time to reflect thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown, Gordon wants to go out on his own terms rather than letting the health crisis dictate when he hangs it up. “I’ll tell you I definitely don’t want to end like this,” says Gordon.

Gordon also notes that he sees similarities between the current Royals and the group that blossomed into Kansas City’s World Series clubs from 2014-15. The seven-time Gold Glover spoke fondly of how “special” it is to be a part of a group that grows together through a rebuild and comes out the other side as a postseason contender. Gordon “definitely” wants to see at least one more postseason run in his career, he adds.

There’s no talk of playing anywhere else in Gordon’s interview with Worthy, which K.C. fans in particular will want to read in full. Gordon said almost one year ago to the day that he plans to finish his career in Kansas City and retire as a Royal. “I’ve established my family here with my kids,” he said at the time. “This is home.”

If Gordon’s postseason aspirations are to come true, he’ll likely need another couple of years at least. The Royals have an increasing number of intriguing bats in the lineup, with Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler all blossoming in recent years. (Soler will be a free agent after 2021, though the club hopes to extend the slugger.) The pitching side of things is a bit further behind, but the Royals have several quality young arms bubbling up toward MLB readiness. Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic all could’ve conceivably debuted in the big leagues this year, although that timeline is a bit less certain given the circumstances. All four appeared on various top-100 prospect lists prior to the 2020 season.

Gordon himself remains a reasonably productive player, having batted .266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs, 31 doubles and a triple in 2020 to go along with above-average glovework. Defensive metrics weren’t as bullish on him in 2019 as they were in an excellent defensive 2018 campaign, but Gordon has never rated below average in either Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating since moving from third base to left field a decade ago. And while those offensive numbers are just shy of league average, Gordon was mostly solid in ’19 outside of a disastrous month of August (.167/.238/.219). Setting aside that brutal month, he kept his OPS above the .800 mark. We of course can’t simply ignore that woeful August showing, but it’s only fair to point out that he was a largely solid at the plate otherwise.

Gordon is on a one-year, $4MM deal with the Royals, so this winter, he’ll need to once again negotiate a new contract with the only club he’s ever known. But general manager Dayton Moore has made perfectly clear how important Gordon is to the team and clubhouse, and his teammates have offered similar sentiments. Merrifield, for instance, gushed to Worthy about how vital Gordon has been in his own career and what his leadership means to the Kansas City roster.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[On The Royals’ Pair Of Potential Stars]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196637 2020-05-06T15:05:01Z 2020-05-06T14:02:02Z The Royals are trying to pull off a tough feat: a quick, low-pain rebound in place of a lengthy slog of a rebuild. That’s a tall task for any organization, but especially for a small-market franchise that pushed a lot of chips onto the table as part of a successful effort to maximize a recent window of contention.

As you might expect, the development of existing players is critical to this effort — as much or more than prospects, the younger big leaguers who’ll be relied upon to produce in the next few seasons. It’s absolutely critical for the K.C. organization to find some big-time production from players who aren’t commanding big salaries. Otherwise, deciding to hang onto Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez, and other veterans could really sting in the long run.

The Royals have a pair of pre-arbitration players whose up-and-down careers to this point suggest equal parts upside and uncertainty. At times, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and corner outfielder/infielder Hunter Dozier have performed like stars. But can they do so sustainably?

There’s plenty at stake for all parties. Both Mondesi and Dozier enter the 2020 season with two full years of MLB service, but not enough to reach Super Two status. Accordingly, they’ll be playing for their first big payday — as first-time arbitration-eligible players — whenever this campaign gets underway.

These two players have notable lineages and abundant physical ability. Mondesi’s dad had a long and excellent MLB career. Dozier was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Their careers have certainly seen some peaks and valleys from those starting points. Mondesi shot up onto top-prospect rankings and burst onto the MLB scene with his first extended action in 2018, when he showed a rare blend of power (14 home runs in 291 plate appearances) and speed (32 stolen bases). But he took a step back at the plate last year — he posted an 82 wRC+ and Statcast credited him with a putrid .282 xwOBA — and ended up being shelved late in the season with shoulder surgery that he’s still fully recovering from.

Dozier’s dip came earlier in his professional career, as he struggled to convert promise into production in the minors. Health issues also intervened. By the end of the 2018 campaign, Dozier seemed likely to be a bust. He had reached but struggled at the MLB level and wasn’t hitting much in the upper minors. And then came 2019 … when Dozier suddenly broke out at the game’s highest level. He launched 26 long balls and posted a .279/.348/.522 slash line over 586 plate appearances, producing 85th percentile exit velocity and 80th percentile sprint speed. While Statcast still saw some good fortune in the batted-ball outcomes (.337 xwOBA vs. .360 wOBA), that hardly took the sheen off of a breakthrough campaign.

I’m not going to tell you I know what to expect from this duo. Each has struggled with swings and misses at some points, but also shown an ability to produce despite occasionally hefty strikeout rates. Their respective power potential has likewise alternately shown up and fallen off.

The upside here is tremendous. At his best, in 2018, a 22-year-old, switch-hitting Mondesi produced 2.5 rWAR and 2.8 fWAR in less than a half-season. He could be a true superstar if he can return to that level of output over a full campaign. Dozier was a 3.2 rWAR/3.0 fWAR performer in 139 games last year. That also reflects poor baserunning numbers and defensive grades at third base. Dozier graded better in right field, where he’ll appear primarily in 2020. Perhaps there’s still more upside in that regard.

There’s a load of overall uncertainty in Kansas City, but also some intriguing talent. The team’s other obvious boom-or-bust players — Maikel Franco, Jorge Soler, Danny Duffy — are set for free agency after 2021. Then there’s a host of younger players and prospects that have yet to put down much or any track record in the majors. Mondesi and Dozier occupy a middle ground of experience and contractual control that makes the 2020 season particularly pivotal for them and the team. If these two can settle in as steady stars, the Royals could be looking at three more campaigns apiece of cost-controlled quality to build around.

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TC Zencka <![CDATA[Merrifield Or Kingery?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196425 2020-05-02T17:50:02Z 2020-05-02T16:40:05Z Scott Kingery and Whit Merrifield aren’t exactly at the same place in their careers.

Merrifield, 31, led his team in bWAR last season and is considered by many as the best player on their rebuilding club. He’s a late-bloomer, but on the wrong side of thirty nonetheless, with 3.5 seasons under his belt as an above-average player. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently wrote this of Merrifield: “The 31-year-old is one of the better all-around veteran assets in the game, considering his ability to play multiple positions, his inexpensive contract that could extend through the 2023 season, and his three consecutive seasons of strong production.” He boasts a career batting line of .296/.344/.445, good for 109 wRC+.

Kingery, 26, disappointed in a major way in his first shot at the big leagues, but he rebounded last year with an honest effort as a multi-positional asset for the contending Phillies. In just his age-25 season, Kingery posted a line of .258/.315/.474 across 500 plate appearances while socking 19 long balls. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently wrote this: “Kingery had some ups and downs in his second season in the bigs, but ultimately made huge strides and turned in a league-average offensive season.” To this point, Kingery’s career line stands at just .242/.291/.407 – but the former 2nd round pick produced a 101 wRC+ last season. At a similar age, Merrifield was splitting his time between Double and Triple A.

Financially-speaking, both are signed to long-term deals. Because Merrifield debuted on the older side, he signed a very team-friendly deal through potentially his age-34 season. He’ll make $5MM in 2020, $6.75MM in 2021, just $2.75MM in 2022, and the Royals hold a team option for $10.5MM in 2023. Many thought Merrifield would be traded to a contending team this winter, but the Royals love him, and given his contract, there’s no particular rush to move him. By not moving him, they’re missing out on the opportunity to add young talent to the organization, but Merrifield is producing now, and his story is one that might give many Kansas City farmhands hope.

Kingery is signed even longer. The Phillies will pay him $1.75MM in 2020 (in theory), $4.25MM in 2021, $6.25MM in 2022, and $8.25MM in 2023. Philadelphia also holds three team options: $13MM in 2024, $14MM in 2025, and $15MM in 2026.

Kingery’s deal brings a lot more upside, with Merrifield likely brings more near-term value. Given the current standings of the Phillies and Royals, an argument could be made that a straight-up swap of the two multi-positional right-handers makes a lot of sense. Kingery has yet to prove that he can produce a season like Merrfield’s 5.2 bWAR effort in 2018, but he’s also five years younger and signed for a longer period. Their deals, meanwhile, converge in 2023, where a 34-year-old Merrifield would be making more on a one-year deal than the 29-year-old Kingery, who at that point will have three relatively reasonable team options remaining.

Both players boast well-rounded games, with Kingery bringing a bit more pop potential, while Merrifield has superior bat skills. Kingery has swiped 25 bases while only being caught 7 times over his two seasons, while Merrifield led the AL in stolen bases in both 2017 and 2018. Last year, Merrifield’s volume and efficiency fell off a bit as he swiped just 20 bases in 30 chances. Both players have capably moved around the diamond, both infield and outfield. The gap between Merrifield’s 110 wRC+ last season and Kingery’s 101 wRC+ isn’t as great as the perceived talent gap between the two players. If nothing else, assume some age-related regression for Merrifield, while Kingery develops further as he grows into his prime, and don’t these two inch just a little closer?

Merrifield is the quick-trigger choice, but given a comprehensive look at both players, an argument can be made that Kingery is the better asset. All in, which would you prefer to have on your team: Merrifield’s proven qualities or Kingery’s rising upside? Put another way, who has the better asset: the Royals or Phillies?

(Link for app users)

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Offseason In Review: Kansas City Royals]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195466 2020-04-28T14:13:44Z 2020-04-28T14:13:44Z It was a pretty quiet offseason in Kansas City, though the Royals brought two franchise icons back into the fold and took a flier on a potential post-hype breakout candidate for third base.

Major League Signings

  • Alex Gordon, OF: One year, $4MM
  • Maikel Franco, 3B: One year, $2.95MM
  • Jesse Hahn, RHP: One year, $600K (Hahn was re-signed after originally being non-tendered)
  • Total spend: $7.55MM

Trades And Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

The Royals began their offseason by making the expected hire of Mike Matheny as the team’s new manager.  It was widely assumed that Matheny (brought into the organization the previous winter as a special advisor) would succeed Ned Yost in the dugout, and the former Cardinals skipper will now take over Missouri’s other MLB club after a somewhat turbulent ending to his tenure in St. Louis.

Whit Merrifield drew trade interest from the Padres and Cubs over the course of the winter, and it’s safe to assume that the Royals fielded calls from at least a few other teams given Merrifield’s overall value.  The 31-year-old is one of the better all-around veteran assets in the game, considering his ability to play multiple positions, his inexpensive contract that could extend through the 2023 season, and his three consecutive seasons of strong production.

And yet, Merrifield is still wearing the K.C. blue heading into whatever becomes of the 2020 season.  The same is true of left-hander Tim Hill, who drew interest from the Athletics, Yankees, and other clubs in the wake of two impressive years of work in the Royals’ bullpen.  There wasn’t as much buzz about Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy (set to be the club’s highest-paid players in 2020), yet the two hurlers are also still in the fold, as the Royals didn’t pursue any salary-dump types of moves.

In short, it was a pretty stand-pat type of offseason for GM Dayton Moore, as the Royals didn’t make any truly significant steps towards either trying to build a contender or in further rebuilding.  Despite losing 207 games over the 2018-19 seasons, Kansas City has resisted undergoing a full overhaul, and upper management seems to believe that the Royals’ core group of talent isn’t too far away from bringing the club back into the postseason hunt.

Speaking of upper management, the winter saw a change at the very top of the organization, as the franchise was sold to Kansas City businessman John Sherman.  Formerly a minority owner of the Indians since 2016, Sherman’s direction for the Royals has yet to be determined, though much of the fanbase naturally hopes that Sherman will be more willing to spend on payroll.  Unfortunately, it may yet be months or even years before we get an answer to that question, given how the COVID-19 shutdown and the threat of a canceled 2020 season equals a massive revenue loss for every MLB team.

Even before the league hit the pause button, there wasn’t much in the way of splashy roster moves, as Moore pursued low-cost upgrades.  The most notable new face in the mix is Maikel Franco, the former top Phillies prospect who was non-tendered in December (Philadelphia decided against paying Franco a projected $6.7MM arbitration salary).  The Royals ended up signing Franco for a one-year, $2.95MM deal, choosing Franco over another infield option in former Brewer Travis Shaw.

Franco has shown only flashes of potential at the Major League level, hitting .249/.302/.431 with 102 home runs over 2539 career plate appearances with the Phillies.  The Royals already believe they have found some correctable flaws in Franco’s swing, however, making him an intriguing low-risk option for Kansas City at that price tag.  Franco is also just 27 years old and controllable through 2021 via arbitration.

In an absolute best-case scenario, K.C. hopes Franco can deliver anything close to the big breakout Jorge Soler just enjoyed in his own age-27 season, as Soler led the American League with 48 homers in 2019.  That performance instantly turned Soler into a potential franchise cornerstone, putting him along with Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, and Hunter Dozier as what the Royals hope will be the building blocks of their next winning team. Soler is a free agent after 2021. A long-term deal seems a possibility, though the sides didn’t tie one up before the season was paused.

Franco’s installation at third base set off a chain reaction within the Royals’ everyday lineup.  Dozier saw the majority of action at the hot corner last season, though he will now be penciled in as the regular right fielder, with Merrifield moving to center.  First base will be manned by the “soft platoon” of Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom, while Nicky Lopez will take over the starting second base job now that Merrifield is slated for outfield duty.

The Royals also have in-game flexibility thanks to Merrifield and Dozier’s positional versatility, and the open question about who would serve the utility infield role may not be as pressing as it was early in Spring Training since expanded rosters will almost surely be part of any 2020 season.  Humberto Arteaga, Kelvin Gutierrez, Erick Mejia, and new signing Matt Reynolds could all see some bench time as part of a larger roster.  Likewise, the decision of which of Bubba Starling or Brett Phillips would win the backup outfield job is now probably a moot point, since the Royals will have roster space for both out-of-options players.

Speaking of the K.C. outfield, longtime Royals fixture Alex Gordon decided to return for a 14th Major League season, signing a one-year, $4MM pact.  Gordon had a bit of a resurgence at the plate in 2019 — his 96 OPS+ and wRC+ were his highest since 2015 — and he still offers a very solid left field glove and a highly-respected veteran voice in the clubhouse.  After flirting with retirement, it isn’t yet known if Gordon intends 2020 to be his last season, which creates the unfortunate possibility that we may have already seen his last game if the 2020 season never gets underway.  (Or, if all of MLB’s games this season are played in Arizona and/or Florida, Gordon might not get another chance to play in front of the Kansas City fans.)

Gordon, Duffy, and Salvador Perez (who’s returning from Tommy John surgery) are the only remaining members of the Royals’ 2015 World Series-winning team, though there seems to be a chance Greg Holland could rejoin them.  Holland signed a minors contract with the Royals, and the league shutdown and subsequent transactions freeze has left the right-hander in something of a limbo state.  Kansas City did select the contract of another minor league bullpen signing in Trevor Rosenthal prior to the freeze, which could hint that the Royals have already made their choice between the two veteran relievers.

Looking to rebound after a pair of rough seasons, Holland hasn’t been a truly dominant relief arm since prior to his 2015 Tommy John surgery, when he was the closer of Kansas City’s old “Law Firm” bullpen trio that also consisted of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.  If the Royals decide they better call Holl to the big league roster, it would only add another $1.25MM to the payroll, and Holland has still been able to amass a lot of strikeouts even while struggling to limit walks and home runs.

Holland is hoping to join Rosenthal and Rule 5 pick Stephen Woods Jr. as new faces in the K.C. bullpen, with minors signing Braden Shipley and the re-signed Jesse Hahn also competing for jobs.  Hahn has mostly worked as a starter at the big league level, but his six appearances last season after returning from Tommy John surgery came as a relief pitcher.

Newly-acquired Chance Adams also mostly pitched as a starter during his heyday as a top-100 prospect, though the former Yankee seemingly hit a wall over the last two seasons at both the Triple-A level and in 33 big league innings with New York.  Adams looked good (1.69 ERA, six strikeouts, no walks) over 5 1/3 Spring Training frames, making him a possibility to eventually see work in the Royals’ bullpen, or perhaps even get another look as a starter.

While Duffy, Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, and Mike Montgomery had the first four spots in Kansas City’s rotation spoken for, the fifth starter competition seemed wide open before spring camp ended.  The most interesting candidate was top prospect Brady Singer, even if the odds were on the former 18th overall pick beginning the season in the minors considering Singer has yet to pitch past the Double-A level.  Since there now might not be a minor league season in 2020, however, the Royals could opt to give Singer and several other arms who were on the borderline of winning jobs some playing time on an expanded roster.

2020 Season Outlook

The Royals were hoping to see breakouts or further progress from several players (including Mondesi, Lopez, O’Hearn, McBroom, Franco, and Junis) in order to see where they really stood in the rebuild process, and whether or not the club could start to make a concerted effort to compete as early as 2021.  Even with a new owner, it’s probably unlikely that K.C. would ever become a truly big spender, though a good chunk of money will come off the books once Kennedy’s contract is up after the season.

The specter of a shortened MLB season and potentially an entirely-canceled minor league season will now cost the Royals some crucial development time for their young players, and the transactions freeze may have also erased the possibility of the club working out a contract extension or two prior to Opening Day.  Extension talks could resume once the freeze is lifted, of course, though the nature of such negotiations could be entirely different given the state of a post-shutdown baseball world.

As to what the Royals did accomplish over the winter, it wasn’t a long list of moves by any means, and K.C. is likely to be battling the Tigers for fourth place in the AL Central even in the anything-can-happen realm of an abbreviated season.  A new owner and a new manager are indicative that a new era has indeed begun in Kansas City, even if the club is still figuring out what roster pieces can be carried forward into this next phase.

How would you grade the Royals’ offseason moves?  (Link for app users)

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Bubba Starling Eager To Win Roster Spot ]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196107 2020-04-28T05:23:11Z 2020-04-28T05:23:11Z
  • Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star details how Royals outfielder Bubba Starling is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As you’d expect, Starling is hoping to return to the field as soon as possible. The out-of-options 27-year-old had been competing to earn a roster spot before spring training shut down. Starling’s a former No. 5 overall draft pick in 2011 who had a run as an outstanding MLB prospect, but his career hasn’t gone according to plan thus far. He debuted in the majors last year and batted just .215/.255/.317 over 197 plate appearances. Starling also hasn’t been very productive in Triple-A ball, where he has hit .255/.305/.376 in 805 attempts, but he could still make a rebuilding KC team that’s in position to give chances to unproven players.
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    Anthony Franco <![CDATA[How The Royals Acquired The AL Home Run Champ]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196012 2020-04-26T15:21:47Z 2020-04-26T15:11:53Z Two of last season’s top three home run hitters were originally acquired in trade. NL champ Pete Alonso was drafted and developed by the Mets, but NL runner up Eugenio Suárez and AL leader Jorge Soler were plucked from other organizations early in their MLB careers. MLBTR’s Connor Byrne just looked back at the Reds’ brilliant acquisition of Suárez. It only seems fair to give the Soler trade its due.

    Soler was a known commodity long before he signed a pro contract. His name appeared on MLBTR pages more than thirty times before he finally agreed with the Cubs as a twenty-year old international amateur in 2012. He immediately found himself on top prospect lists and quickly tore through the minors, making his MLB debut a little over two years after signing.

    Despite an exceptional debut, Soler never quite established himself amidst a crowded outfield mix on the North Side. In 765 cumulative plate appearances from 2014-16, he hit .258/.328/.434 (106 wRC+) with 27 home runs. It was passable production, but not enough to consistently crack a lineup with Dexter FowlerJason Heyward, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber on hand, to say nothing of infielders like Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist capable of manning the grass. Even with Fowler departing as a free agent, the Cubs’ outfield looked like an area of surplus. (It hasn’t really borne out that way, but it looked like a strong group at the time). That made Soler a reasonable trade candidate for a team looking to defend a World Series title.

    That offseason, the Cubs and Royals indeed lined up on a deal. With their own competitive window soon to close, K.C. acquired the 24-year-old slugger for contract-year reliever Wade Davis. It was perfectly understandable from the Chicago organization’s perspective. Aroldis Chapman was to sign elsewhere just a day later. The bullpen looked like the relative weak spot on a win-now club. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out at the time of the deal, Davis had some red flags (injuries and a slight velocity loss), but he was fresh off an utterly dominant three-year run in Kansas City.

    Indeed, the Cubs mostly got what they bargained for from Davis. He did regress a bit in 2017, as Steve suggested he might. But Davis was still quite good in Chicago, working to a 2.30 ERA/3.38 FIP in 58.2 innings. The Cubs lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS, but that was the fault of their offense, not Davis. The right-hander has fallen apart since signing with the Rockies after that 2017 season, but the immediate returns on the deal were positive for the Cubs. That wasn’t the case for the Royals.

    Soler spent the first month of that season on the injured list with a strained oblique. When he returned in May, he was dreadful, hitting .164/.292/.273 and earning a demotion to Triple-A. Soler did hit well in the minors, but 2017 was undoubtedly a disappointment. He seemed to reestablish himself in 2018, hitting well until suffering a season-ending toe fracture in June. Everything clicked in 2019, though.

    Most importantly, Soler stayed healthy last season, playing in all 162 games. He increased his hard contact rate to a career-high 46.7% and dropped his infield fly ball rate to a career-low 8.8%. He made the most contact of his career and continued to draw walks at a hefty clip (10.8%). All told, Soler’s .265/.354/.569 slash (136 wRC+) placed him in the top 20 qualified hitters leaguewide. Even at pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, Soler paced the Junior Circuit in home runs with 48. Statcast data supported the breakout, as Soler finished in the 95th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard contact rate and expected weighted on-base average. Even as a mediocre defensive outfielder who’s best suited for DH work, that’s plenty productive. Soler was worth nearly four wins above replacement last season, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.

    The Royals are no doubt thrilled with the acquisition of Soler at this point. He’s finally emerged as the middle-of-the-order force many expected. Steve Adams explored the possibility of the sides lining up on an extension in September. Controlled through 2021, Soler could alternatively be a key trade chip for the rebuilding club if the sides can’t reach a long-term agreement.

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[The Royals’ Outfield Of Infielders]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195575 2020-04-21T12:41:28Z 2020-04-21T12:41:28Z Alex Gordon’s story is familiar to most baseball fans. The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2005 was soon ranked the game’s No. 2 overall prospect by Baseball America. With a lefty-swinging third baseman being touted as the next face of the franchise, George Brett parallels were (unfairly) drawn. The hype was substantial, and when Gordon arrived on the scene, he struggled to live up to those lofty expectations.

    Gordon was worth 4.8 WAR through his first two big league seasons, per both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. His next two seasons were miserable — shortened by torn cartilage in his hip (2009) and a fractured thumb (2010). By the time he’d made it through four MLB campaigns, Gordon owned a career .244/.328/.405 (93 wRC+). Defensively, his work at third base wasn’t well regarded (-9 Defensive Runs Saved, -4.0 Ultimate Zone Rating). He began ceding playing time to Alberto Callaspo at third base and was moved to left field during the 2010 season.

    The Royals remained patient, however, and Gordon rewarded that faith was a massive breakout in 2011. Suddenly Gordon looked like the franchise cornerstone everyone had hoped. He hit .303/.376/.502 (140 wRC+) and, perhaps even more surprisingly, graded out as one of the best defensive left fielders in recent history (+20 DRS, +12.2 UZR). Almost overnight, Gordon was a six-WAR player. He settled in as an OBP machine with elite defense, solid baserunning and some pop in his bat, and Gordon’s production was a significant factor in Kansas City’s consecutive World Series appearances in 2014-15.

    We’re coming up on a decade of Gordon in left field. He’s seen Jarrod Dyson, Alex Rios, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki and numerous others cycle through the other outfield slots, but Gordon has remained the constant. And now, as the organization works to emerge from its rebuild in the next couple of seasons, the third-baseman-turned-star-left-fielder is joined in the outfield by … another pair of infielders.

    Hunter Dozier never carried the same hype as Gordon, although his No. 8 overall selection in 2013 was only six spots behind Gordon’s draft slot. Dozier was a surprise pick there — ultimately a cost-saving selection designed to offer a larger bonus to Sean Manaea a ways later. That’s not to say Dozier wasn’t a well-regarded draft prospect — he was widely expected to be a day one pick — but top 10 overall was still a surprise.

    Dozier struggled through much of his time in the low minors before surprising with a huge .296/.366/.533 showing between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. He parlayed that into his first promotion to the big leagues but appeared in only eight games. An oblique tear and wrist surgery wiped out most of his 2017 season, and when Dozier finally got a big league look in 2018, he hit .229/.278/.395 in 388 plate appearances. His 28.1 percent strikeout rate was among the highest in the league, his 6.2 percent walk rate was low, and his glovework was poorly rated. FanGraphs pegged him at -0.8 WAR; Baseball Reference placed a ghastly -1.7 on his overall efforts.

    Still, Dozier felt that he finished out the ’18 season well after missing ’17, telling Lynn Worthy of the K.C. Star in the offseason that he “found” himself again late in the year. That comment might’ve been met with eye-rolls from some fans at the time, but no one’s questioning him now.

    In 2019, Dozier cut his strikeout rate by three percentage points, upped his walk rate by the same number and saw upticks in hard-hit rate, exit velocity and launch angle. He swung less often, chased pitches out of the zone at a 30.1 percent clip (compared to 2018’s 35.5 percent) and improved his contact rate. In essence, Dozier stopped chasing so many bad pitches and saw his contact quality improve along with his walk rate. That’s a good recipe for any hitter.

    The results speak for themselves. In 586 plate appearances, Dozier broke out with a .279/.348/.522 slash. His 26 home runs topped any of his minor league season totals, and Dozier kicked in another 29 doubles and a whopping 10 triples. That last number is surprising, especially for a player who only swiped two bases, but Dozier actually ranks in the 80th percentile among MLB hitters in terms of average sprint speed.

    Defense still seemed to be problematic, though. Despite making strides, his work at third was rated below average, and the Royals eventually began giving Dozier some looks in right field. That sprint speed would certainly play well in the outfield, and scouting reports have long since touted his arm strength. MLB.com regularly put a 55 on his arm, while FanGraphs had a 60 on his arm in his final season of prospect eligibility. If Dozier can get comfortable with his outfield reads and keep hitting, there’s little reason to think he can’t be a solid Major League right fielder. And with Maikel Franco signed over the winter to step in at third base, it seems that right field is indeed Dozier’s most obvious path to at-bats.

    Manning center field between Gordon and Dozier will be now-former second baseman Whit Merrifield. The two-time stolen base champ and the hits leader in the American League in both 2018 and 2019, Merrifield broke into the big leagues as a 27-year-old second baseman who was never considered a high-end prospect. The former ninth-round pick was considered more of a potential utility option, but he showed his aptitude for hitting almost immediately.

    Merrifield’s speed and bat-to-ball skills were on display almost immediately in the Majors, and by the midway point of the 2017 season it was clear that he was far more than a utility option — lack of fanfare surrounding his arrival in the Majors or not. In his three full MLB seasons, Merrifield has hit .298/.348/.454 with 47 home runs, 116 doubles, 19 triples and 99 stolen bases. And despite having more than 3000 innings of quality glovework at second base under his belt, Merrifield appears to be the Royals’ first answer for the their current center field void.

    That’s more a testament to Merrifield’s versatility than anything else. His ability to slide into center field will allow the club a longer look at Nicky Lopez at second base, although Merrifield will surely still see some reps at second base at various points whenever play resumes.

    If that experiment doesn’t work, though, it seems likelier that it’ll be due to struggles of Lopez at second base than because of Merrifield’s work in center. Merrifield has already given the Royals more than 1100 innings of roughly average defense across all three outfield spots. Similarly, if Franco proves unable to tap into the potential he once showed, Dozier could either move back to the hot corner or the organization could take a look at Kelvin Gutierrez in a full-time role at third base.

    That Dozier and Merrifield could line up in the outfield on a fairly regular basis certainly doesn’t bode well for out-of-options outfielders Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling. Both may have been in line to make the MLB roster out of camp because of that lack of options, but neither has produced in the Majors. Most are aware of Phillips’ highlight-reel arm and penchant for eye-popping assists, but his strikeout levels have been alarming. Starling, a former top 10 pick himself, has yet to deliver on the raw ability that led to that draft status. Both will get some looks in the outfield, and on those days, Dozier and Merrifield can slot back into the infield as needed.

    At various points in recent years, the Royals likely envisioned both Dozier and Merrifield holding down key spots in the lineup, but slotting in alongside Gordon in the outfield probably wasn’t the way they had things scripted. The team’s willingness to move players around has panned out in the past, though, and their ability to do so with Merrifield and Dozier could allow them to get a look at several young options around the field.

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Prospect Faceoff: 2 Future AL Central Stars?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195079 2020-04-14T00:51:44Z 2020-04-14T00:51:44Z The Twins’ Royce Lewis and the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. are among the jewels of their respective clubs’ farm systems, and if we’re to believe prospect gurus, there isn’t much separation between the two. Both players are regarded as top 30 prospects, MLB.com ranking Lewis ninth, FanGraphs placing him 13th and Baseball America putting him in the No. 26 spot. Witt checks in at Nos. 10, 23 and 24 on those lists.

    Lewis, now 20 years old, entered the professional ranks as the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. At $6.725MM, Lewis received what was then the largest bonus ever given to a player drafted out of high school. Lewis came roaring out of the gates at the lower levels that year and the next season, though his production has dropped of late. He made his debut in Double-A ball last season and batted .231/.291/.358 (88 wRC+) with just two home runs in 148 plate appearances, though it’s worth noting that he was much younger than the typical player at that level. And Lewis, to his credit, did absolutely thrive dominate during the autumn in the Arizona Fall League, where he earned Most Valuable Player honors. There are some concerns about his “cacophonous” swing, as FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen explained in February, but he added that “the star-level talent will eventually shine through.”

    Just where Lewis will line up in the majors remains to be seen. He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions (including center field), and the Twins seem to have found a long-term answer at short in Jorge Polanco. Likewise, the Royals are in nice shape at short with Adalberto Mondesi, so it’s up in the air where Witt will fit if he does arrive in Kansas City someday. They and the Twins can worry about how best to align their defenses at a later date, though.

    [RELATED: When Will The Royals Contend Again?]

    Witt, the son of former MLB hurler Bobby Witt, joined the Royals as the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. He, like Lewis, got to the majors after a tremendous performance as a high school shortstop, and wound up signing for an almost $7.8MM bonus. But Witt endured his struggles during his initial taste of pro ball last summer, hitting .262/.317/.354 (85 wRC+) with only one homer in 180 PA in rookie ball. Nevertheless, Longenhagen compared Witt to Rockies star Trevor Story just a couple weeks ago, writing, “There are going to be some strikeouts but Witt is a big, athletic specimen who is very likely to not only stay at shortstop but be quite good there.”

    Whichever positions these two play, we’ll be looking at a couple AL Central standouts if they develop according to plan in the coming years. Which prospect would you choose?

    (Poll link for app users)

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