I know it’s been a rough year overall, but I honestly think there is more good than bad that we can take away from the Royals 2022 season and I’m cautiously optimistic about the direction of the organization. We’ll get into more season “review” in the actual offseason, but while we still have a month of ball left I wanted to talk about some positives I’ve taken away from this season so we can keep an eye on them before October.
#1: The young offensive core has cemented themselves as legitimate pieces of the future
The single most important thing that we can take away from the 2022 season is that the Royals very clearly have a young offensive nucleus that they can build around moving forward. Very quickly:
– MJ Melendez is an every day player rotating between LF/RF, C, and DH
– Bobby Witt Jr. is a budding super star
– Vinnie Pasquantino is an every day player rotating between 1B and DH
– Nick Pratto toes the line of an every day player, probably needs to sit against top-tier lefties, but his defense gives him a chance to play every day
– Michael Massey also toes the line of an every day player, also probably needs to sit against top-tier lefties, defense DEFINITELY on the side of playing every day
– Edward Olivares had a 126 wRC+ before injuring his quad and at worst looks like a definite threat against LHP and should have a platoon role moving forward
– Kyle Isbel has been one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball this season and does enough offensively to be the other half of a platoon with Olivares or Nate Eaton
– Nate Eaton has been an unbelievable defender in the outfield and also does plenty offensively to be the smaller side of a platoon and excellent defensive replacement/pinch runner late in games
– Drew Waters has been good defensively, runs well, and has done enough offensively in limited big league action to make you think he could play every day in CF, switch hitting should limit his platoon splits
– Nicky Lopez, despite losing most of his offensive value, has once again been an elite defender at SS and should have a utility role on this team moving forward
That’s 10 hitters that you can easily build around and I didn’t even mention Salvador Perez (much less Maikel Garcia, Tyler Gentry, Nick Loftin, etc…). If I were JJ Piccolo I’d probably be hunting one more big bat this offseason, but with Tyler Gentry tearing up AA and the pitching struggling, they may not even need to worry about it too much. This is a fantastic development and a dozen golden feathers in the cap of Alec Zumwalt, Drew Saylor and company.
#2: The young core of prospects in Columbia (A-) has shown flashes of outstanding potential
The Royals have a lot of money invested in their Low-A affiliate and it’s starting to bloom flowers down the stretch. Gavin Cross has completely dismantled professional pitching thus far. Carter Jensen has shown legitimately elite traits at the plate that should make Royals fans very excited for his future. Cayden Wallace and Javier Vaz have both been very good transitioning from college to professional baseball. Lizandro Rodriguez has come up and given the Fireflies a boost both offensively and defensively, firmly planting himself on prospect radars. The young pitching has shown flashes as Ben Kudrna has been good all year and Frank Mozzicato has been tremendous over his last eight starts or so. There’s still a long way to go for this group overall, but the flashes of potential they’ve shown should have fans excited for the potential of this next wave of Royals prospects.
#3: This team’s record isn’t pretty, but they’re 38-44 since June 8th…
That’s not good, but it’s not nothing either. 38-44 is a .463 winning percentage which would make the Royals 75-87 over a full 162 and…well…not the worst team in the AL. Look I know it’s not great but as bad as their pitching staff has been, and as inexperienced as this offense is, I think we can all agree we’d have taken 75-87 at the beginning of the season. Iron out a few kinks, find some reinforcement this offseason, and I think expectations can reasonably be for a .500 team at worst in 2023 with an outside shot at the playoffs if they catch a few big breaks.
#4: The Royals appear to have made a couple of really good trades
The Royals system currently lacks much impact talent at the very top of the system, but I love the depth they have created in the middle of the organization. The Drew Waters trade looks like a freaking no-brainer at the moment and we don’t even know what Andrew Hoffmann will bring to the table just yet. I also think it’s fair to look at the Andrew Benintendi trade through this lens now:
- Royals get:
- Beck Way (23 YO, 3.60 ERA in High-A)
- Chandler Champlain (23, 4.17 FIP in High-A)
- TJ Sikkema (24…is healthy and at AA…)
- Royals trade:
- Khalil Lee (24 YO, 32.7% K%, 95 wRC+ in AAA)
- Franchy Cordero (28, 93 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR for Boston)
- Grant Gambrell (24, has not pitched this year)
- Luis De La Rosa (20, 4.50 ERA in Low-A)
It’s early, but I’d take the Royals side of these moves every day of the week at the moment. I’m a big fan of Beck Way and I think TJ Sikkema has a big league future. Champlain has a phenomenal approach on the mound and a wicked curveball and I think he could be a good reliever.
I also think the Royals did well trading Whit Merrifield. I was never his biggest fan and I think the Royals are better without him long term. Plus, they got Max Castillo who has made two pretty good big league starts for KC and I really think he can start for the team in 2023. That by itself is a pretty good haul for a year and a half of Merrifield. We’ll see what becomes of Samad Taylor, but that would just be icing on the cake.
I know the Brandon Maurer trade will scar Royals fans forever, but this front office has genuinely done a great job on the trade market. I would say their biggest negative on that front is that they don’t trade enough! That’s a separate conversation, but I’m usually a big fan of what they’re doing on the trade market (outside of that Emmanuel Rivera trade…which is kind of weird). They did a great job of adding legitimate pitching depth to their system through trades this summer.
#5: Most of their prized pitching assets have been healthy all year
This item specifically is very relative, because no organization is able to keep all of their pitchers healthy all season, but the Royals have had a fair bit of luck this year when it comes to the health of their best pitching prospects. Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernandez, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan, Anthony Veneziano, Frank Mozzicato, Ben Hernandez, Ben Kudrna, Shane Panzini…have all pitched for most of the season without missing significant chunks of time to the IL. I mentioned in February (or March…) that success for some of these guys was just staying healthy. I would’ve liked to have seen a *little* better performances from some of them, but beggars can’t be choosers. I still think there’s a lot of untapped potential in some of these arms so the fact that most of them have had full seasons is an overwhelming net positive in my eyes.