There’s been a lot of talk of the next wave of talent both recently and in the past. Baseball America wrote a few articles about lessons learned from rebuilds and from the 2015 Royals specifically. I looked at multiple opinions of other people and I try to put some thought process into what needs to be done for the Royals to get back to the top of the baseball world.
Pillars. Theo Epstein said a team needs four offensive pillars in the lineup every day and two pillars in his rotation when asked about rebuilding the Cubs shortly after he took over as GM. If you take this principle and apply it to the Royals, we have two pillars already in place. Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez. These two players aren’t just leaders on offense, they are leaders in the clubhouse and have been selected to be the veteran leaders on the team the Royals think will compete again. They are both very high character individuals. The Royals think their window to compete will begin in either 2020 or 2021 and both these players will have a key role in nurturing the young guys joining the team over the next three years.
I think we have the third offensive pillar in place as well, but only time will tell. Adalberto Mondesi. He has potential to be a player who steals 60 bases, hits 30 home runs, and is on base 40 percent of the time. That would be a pillar in any offense.
We don’t have the fourth pillar in place yet. There are a few potential guys already in the system that might be the guy. You can take a look at Nick Pratto, Khalil Lee, MJ Melendez, Seuly Matias, Kyle Isbel, Nicky Lopez, and others, but none are in the big leagues and we don’t know if they become what the Royals need.
It’s more likely the number 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft is the missing piece. The top three bats available could all become an offensive pillar and move quickly enough to join this wave of prospects. The Orioles will leave a player from the group of Adley Rutchsman, Bobby Witt, Jr., and Andrew Vaughn, leaving the Royals a choice between the remaining two. Of course, these are the top three bats currently and a lot will change between the present rankings and how these players are viewed at draft time which is four months away. If this player moves quickly, he will be joining the team just after the window opens in 2022.
I don’t believe we have any of the pillars from the pitching staff already in place. Danny Duffy is the closest and is coming into the spring healthy with a retooled off season regimen. Duffy and Ian Kennedy are your veteran leaders, but neither qualifies as a pillar in a rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, and Max Scherzer are those type of guys. James Shields was a pillar for the Royals. He was a leader in the clubhouse, in conditioning, the weight room, and off the field. He averaged 227.0 IP, a 3.18 ERA, and about 4.0 WAR a season in his two years with the Royals. He is given credit for single-handedly changing the culture of the pitching staff. A pillar doesn’t have to be one of the top tier aces in the game, but he has to be a team leader and really, really good.
The Royals have some really good young pitchers who have success in their short time in the majors. Jake Junis and Brad Keller are potential candidates but still have a lot to prove. There are some other guys like Jorge Lopez who looked electric at times last year as well but needs to become more consistent.
This could be one reason the Royals focused so heavily on highly talented pitchers last year in the draft. Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch have been placed into the category of top of the rotation potential. Yefri del Rosario, Carlos Hernandez, Yohansel Morel, and Janser Lara are also guys who could turn into something special. Keith Law said that Kyle Zimmer had three 60+ grade pitches when he was healthy. We may have both of those rotation pillars in the system already but we don’t know who they are yet.
It’s okay not to have those guys in place because you can acquire them as the contention window gets closer or opens up. The Royals can sign a free agent or trade from our prospect pool to find these guys. This transitions us into another lesson learned from the past.
Use the second wave to provide for the first. It’s okay to trade pieces in order to get a player or two you need. Look at the Royals deals for Cueto and Zobrist. Just before the trading deadline in 2015, the Royals traded Brandon Finnegan (2017 1st Round), Cody Reed (2013 2nd Round), and John Lamb (2008 5th Round) for short term rotational pillar Johnny Cueto. Two days later they moved Sean Manaea (2013 Supplemental 1st Round and Top 100 prospect) and Aaron Brooks (2011 9th Round) for offensive pillar Ben Zobrist.
The Royals attempted to do the same thing in 2017 in what many felt was a final attempt at a championship before the core left in free agency. The trade blew up in their faces and because of that many people play armchair quarterback saying it was a terrible deal and I told you so. But at the time, the team was in a playoff spot and needed to supplement players one more time. The Royals added controllable RHRP Brandon Maurer, controllable LHRP Ryan Buchter, and veteran RHSP Trevor Cahill. The cost was high because the Royals had to send Esteury Ruiz (18-years-old at the time), LHP Matt Strahm (hurt at the time), and RHP Travis Wood (contract dump and under performing) back to the Padres.
The second trade was AJ Puckett (2016 2nd Round) for OF Melky Cabrera. This wasn’t a huge deal, but we did send our highest pick of the 2016 draft depleting a used up system even more.
It’s more than likely that we will sign some international free agents, trade for some prospects, and draft some players next year or the year after who be moved to supplement the current wave of prospects we have in the system. And that is totally cool.
The Cubs did the same thing with Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres in an attempt to bring in pitching to help their lineup. And they also won the World Series.
The Astros traded for Brian McCann, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole using prospects. And they won the World Series.