Welcome back. In case you missed our original rankings series, here are the links to all of our writeups for our preseason Royals top-50 prospects list:
We listed the primary position that each player usually plays during the writeups, but I wanted to go back and kind of do an organizational depth chart if you will for how the Royals system looks at each position. For this exercise I’ll include everyone in the system I think can play each position at the big league level, including players that made our preseason rankings, players who did not, and players who have already graduated. This isn’t an exact science but I’m sure you’ve come to expect that from us by now. Here’s the writeups we’ve done so far:
Here’s a list of everyone I think could play in the corner outfield in the big leagues, ranked in order of their ability to do it on Opening Day in 2022.
#1: Andrew Benintendi
I have no idea what the long-term future of Benintendi looks like, but he’s presently the best option that the Royals have in LF. Benintendi missed nearly 30 games in 2021 and struggled for large portions of the season, but he was still worth 2.1 fWAR with an above average bat overall and a Gold Glove Award to show for his defensive efforts in LF. Like I said, I have zero idea how long Benintendi will stick around in Kansas City, but he’s the Royals best chance at both winning now and getting something back at the trade deadline in 2022.
#2: Kyle Isbel
The drop off from Benintendi to the next best option for Kansas City in 2022 is sort of steep. Benintendi may not be an All-Star or anything, but you can reasonably expect above average production from him based on his track record. With Isbel, I don’t think it’s fair to assume anything as it relates to how he’ll perform in 2022. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a good defender in RF, I’m pretty sure he’ll run the bases well, but that’s all I’ve got for you in terms of “pretty sures.” Isbel looked way overmatched when he was thrown into action on Opening Day, and he struggled for a bit when he was demoted to AAA Omaha as well. He made some adjustments in the minors that produced some big time results, and then came back to Kansas City at the end of the year and was really good in ~50 PA. I gave Isbel the nod over Dozier here because I think he’ll be a really good defender at worst, but it’s fair to question whether the real Kyle Isbel has stood up just yet. Still, he ought to be the Opening Day right fielder for the Royals if they’re looking toward the future.
#3: Hunter Dozier
As much as I am a believer in a Hunter Dozier rebound this season, he’s pretty rough in RF and I’m not sure where the Royals would be best off playing him. 1B? DH? He’s going to play plenty in RF, especially if they keep benching Isbel against tougher LHP, but at this point I’m not sure how eager I would be to bench Isbel so that Dozier could play RF. Dozier signed an extension before last season, so he’s going to play, it’s just kind of a matter of where at this point.
#4: Edward Olivares
I’m somewhere between “Olivares’ 2021 was a fluke” and “there’s enough there to warrant a big league look at some point.” Wherever you fall on the Olivares bandwagon, I don’t think there’s anyone that would argue he isn’t capable of being a big league bench bat. Olivares destroyed AAA pitching last summer and is athletic enough to be a viable defender in the corner outfield at the big league level. He may not be a Gold Glove candidate at any point, but I don’t think he’s bad enough to warrant not getting a look at all. A platoon of Isbel/Olivares in RF wouldn’t be the worst option that Mike Matheny has this year.
#5: Whit Merrifield
I wouldn’t move Merrifield to the outfield anymore unless it was absolutely necessary. Let him play second base, have some consistency at the position, save his legs, and let him focus on getting his bat back to the level we saw from 2017-2020. We’ve obviously seen Merrifield handle himself in the outfield before, and he’s more than capable of sliding out there in a pinch, I’m just done with that experiment, personally.
#6: JaCoby Jones
Jones isn’t much of a hitter, but he’s a good athlete that can go get it a little bit in the outfield. The Royals aren’t super deep in the outfield (obviously) as we enter in 2022 and Jones was signed as a MiLB free agent to give the Royals depth in the minors.
#7: Nick Pratto/MJ Melendez
I’m throwing them both into this spot because they’re going to have to get big league at bats at some point and they both have competition at their natural positions. Pratto actually played three games in RF while he was in Omaha, and I think Melendez is athletic enough to handle LF if they wanted to move him out there some when and if Benintendi leaves. Both of these guys can hit, we know that, now we just have to figure out how to get them into the same lineup as Salvador Perez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Kyle Isbel, and Hunter Dozier every day.
#9: Dairon Blanco
Blanco is a great athlete with decent offensive potential. He can really go get it in the outfield despite making some bad reads at times. He’s got the athleticism to handle CF at The K, but I think he’s probably best suited in the corners. I’m not entirely sure he’ll ever get a shot in the big leagues, but he’s not far away either.
#10: Brewer Hicklen
I’d personally probably just leave Hicklen in the minor leagues for at least one more year, but I think he could provide you with ++ defense in the corner outfield as early as Opening Day so I added him to this list. He’s realistically probably three or four spots higher on the Royals list, but I’d just assume giving him one more year to develop would be best for his long-term development.