The trade deadline renewed my instinct to cast my mind into the future and imagine a Royals team that doesn’t play Alcides Escobar on a regular basis. Since the Royals have spent the last few months restocking a depleted farm system and positioning themselves for a top draft pick in 2019, it makes sense to start wondering what the team will look like once all these prospects are ready for major league action.
So, I decided to construct a projected roster and lineup for the 2023 Royals. Why so far into the future? Because as I undertook this process, I started to understand that it’s still going to be a while before the players we’re currently dreaming on (Seuly Matias, M.J Melendez, Khalil Lee, Kyle Isbel, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch) make it to the majors. It probably won’t be smooth sailing straight through.
Take Melendez as an example. He’ll probably spend all of this season in Lexington. Next season will be 2019, and he’ll be a 20-year-old in Wilmington. By 2022, he’ll still only be 23. Is it possible he makes it to the majors at 23? Sure. But the Royals are notoriously conservative with player development so I chose a year when I thought the 19-year-olds currently at Lexington (Melendez, Matias, and Nick Pratto) might reasonably have a shot at being in the majors. I think there’s a chance the Royals are non-embarrassing before 2023, but I think the next wave won’t truly crash until then.
Of course, they won’t all make it, and the team will trade different prospects to get pieces that fit needs and so on. Perceptions of players and a projected future change with time, as seen by Alex Duvall’s projected lineup from last year. So, even though this roster and lineup may look like a joke in six months, it’s fun to consider what the next good Royals team might look like. Then, you can yell at me and tell me I’m wrong and stupid and incapable of rational thought (just make sure you do it on Twitter where that sort of thing belongs).
Here is my projected 25-man roster and lineup. Explanations come after.
2023 Kansas City Royals (Beside each player is his age on opening day 2023)
Starting Position Players
C M.J. Melendez (24)
1B Nick Pratto (24)
2B Nicky Lopez (28)
3B Gabriel Cancel (26)
SS Adalberto Mondesi (27)
LF Khalil Lee (25)
CF Kyle Isbel (26)
RF Seuly Matias (24)
DH Jorge Bonifacio (29)
D.J. Burt (27)
Brett Phillips (28)
Meibrys Viloria (26)
Rosell Herrera (30)
Brady Singer (26)
Brad Keller (27)
Jackson Kowar (26)
Daniel Lynch (26)
Carlos Hernandez (26)
Richard Lovelady (27)
Josh Staumont (29)
Jake Newberry (28)
Jake Junis (30)
Glenn Sparkman (30)
Heath Fillmyer (28)
Austin Cox (26)
1. Lopez 2B
2. Mondesi SS
3. Lee LF
4. Matias RF
5. Melendez C
6. Isbel CF
7. Bonifacio DH
8. Pratto 1B
Players who just missed the cut
First, let’s look at the players who just missed the cut. Most of them are outfielders because if you haven’t noticed, the Royals have an abundance of good outfield prospects. Too many, in fact. I love the on-base and defensive abilities of Perkins and Gigliotti, but there just wasn’t room. I considered Tillo as a lefty out of the pen, but my guess is they’ll let him work as a starter as long as possible before they try him as a lefty specialist or swing man. I expect him to make his major league debut pretty late in his career as a back-end starter. Elier Hernandez is lighting up the Pacific Coast League right now, but in the face of talents like Lee, Matias, Isbel, and Phillips, he didn’t make the cut either. If he ever finds his power, though, that calculous may change.
Now, about the players who did make the cut. The one who will probably cause the most controversy is Pratto. He’s had a bad season in Lexington, and most commentators are justifiably moving him down organizational rankings. I get that. But I tend to be a little less reactionary in situations like his. He’s a high school draftee, and having watched a lot of him this season, I think most of his struggles can be explained by his search for power. The swing. The makeup. The defense. The base running. Those are still there, and lately he’s starting to revert back to his patient ways at the plate, which is good. I think patience on the part of commentators is a good approach, as well.
But the biggest reason I put Pratto there is that the Royals don’t have any other good first base options in their system. They could make a bad decision like resigning Salvador Perez and transitioning him to first base, but I’d rather not consider that. Instead, I’ll just hope Pratto starts hitting sometime soon. If not, they’ll probably have to find another answer at first. They could trade for a first baseman, of course. Fringe first base prospects are also an option, guys like Samir Duenez. One wild scenario that would help them get some of their many talented outfielders in the lineup would be transitioning an outfielder like Bonifacio or Matias to first base. I’m not sure if either of them can even field a ground ball, but it may be worth looking into.
Other than the Pratto-first base thing, the other decision that may ruffle some feathers is the makeup of the bench. Viloria is a no-brainer. He’s a great defensive catcher, but he’ll probably never hit enough to be a major league starter. It’s simple; plus, Sebastian Rivero is younger, and teams are more inclined to stick with sure-gloved, older backups than asking an actual prospect to ride pine.
Putting Phillips on the bench, instead of starting him, was a tougher decision. Someone had to be the fourth outfielder, and when the dust settled, it was Phillips, who I’m really excited about as a player. Phillips has a high ceiling, but it’s not as high as Lee’s or Matias’. He might have a higher ceiling than Isbel, but I think the likelihood of him reaching it is less than the likelihood of Isbel reaching his. I’m very bullish on Isbel so if you prefer Phillips, just flip-flop them in your mind.
I’m also more bullish on Herrera than most, but he makes perfect sense as a bench player for the Royals. He plays all over the field including all the outfield positions, second, and third base. I assume he can play short in a pinch, as well. He runs well; he’s a switch hitter, and I think he’ll hit enough. If he had more plate discipline, he’d be Whit Merrifield. As is, he’s a solid utility player.
Burt makes the cut thanks to his athleticism. The Royals are essentially grooming him to be a utility infielder right now. Plus, he has good on-base skills and is very competent as a base stealer (26-6 so far this season). The Royals could definitely utilize him as a pinch runner late in games.
Starting pitching is even harder to project than the position players because of how little the system had until a month ago. Really, we’re all just dreaming Singer, Kowar, and Lynch become what we hope they can be.
Amazingly, the Rule Five guy was the easiest to slot into the rotation at this point. It looks like Keller will be a consistent presence moving forward. Keller’s ability to get ground balls and his lack of complete reliance on the strikeout make it likely that he’ll stick as a starter in some capacity. The fact that a Rule Five guy is probably the team’s best starter right now is nuts. He’s also only 23, which makes this even crazier.
I went back and fourth on whether to make Carlos Hernandez or Junis the fifth starter. I think Junis is better than he’s pitched this season, but Hernandez has great upside. Some think Hernandez’s ultimate fate is as a reliever since he doesn’t have much of a third pitch and relies on his fastball a lot. I decided to go with my hopes and dreams, though, and put Hernandez in the rotation. I think Junis, with his wipeout slider would make a solid reliever where his fastball can play up in short stints.
As far as the lineup goes, I’m of the thinking that lineup construction doesn’t have that large of an impact. That said, I want mine to be as good as possible. I tried to keep in mind the current manager’s inclination to alternate righties and lefties when he sets the lineup. I don’t hate that strategy, but I’m not willing to sacrifice on-base ability for it. My toughest decision was choosing who to hit second. I ocellated between Mondesi and Isbel. Ultimately, I decided to go with Mondesi by operating under the assumption that his on-base abilities will advance at least a little by then. Plus, putting Isbel second gives the lineup three lefties in a row at the top; lefty specialists may have a field day with that in late innings.
That’s my projected team. I’m sure it has flaws, but thats how I hope things look in 2023 in a world where teams don’t make trades or sign free agents and only rely on the players they developed. I think this team will score a lot of runs, field the ball well, and be average on the mound. Pitching still seems like the weakest aspect of the future Royals.
But I gotta say, this future looks a whole lot better than the future of a few months ago.
Photo Credit: Baseball America