There hasn’t been much to cheer or be hopeful about this season for the Royals. They currently are trying to avoid the worst record in baseball, they can’t score runs for the life of them, and their farm system is currently in rebuilding mode (hence the Kelvin Herrera trade). Yes, the Royals are a small market franchise, and winning a World Series title three seasons ago should be enough to satiate the local fanbase for a least another few years. But in this day and age of “what have you done for me lately?” in sports, the Royals need to bring something to the table to help salvage not only this season somewhat, but also in the years to come as they go begin rebuilding their system both at the minor and major league level.
Seuly Matias may be that player that can get Royals fans (and potential fantasy owners) pumped again (or at least a little bit pumped).
Now, by no means is Matias the kind of blue-chip prospect that Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon or even Mike Moustakas was less than a decade ago. However, he is a heralded prospect who without a doubt is the crown jewel of the Royals system currently. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was ranked as the #75th Best Prospect going into 2018, and in Fangraphs’ updated Top 131 prospect list (as of June 11th), Matias ranks 88th overall (he’s the only prospect listed from Kansas City).
Matias has burst onto the national scene as of late for one reason: dingers. Matias, who currently plays for the Lexington Legends (the Royals’ Single-A affiliate), leads not only the South Atlantic League but the minor leagues overall, with 24 home runs through June 26th. In the video below (courtesy of Royals Review’s weekly post on the minor leagues), the Legends coaching staff is pretty impressed with Matias’ display of not just power, but hitting ability for his age (he’s only 19 years old).
Matias is playing his first full season outside of Rookie ball this year and is a long way away from breaking into the Major Leagues. That being said, while he can’t even buy a drink in a bar yet, he seems like he possesses the purest power out of anyone in the Royals system from top to bottom. Furthermore, at 6’3, 200 pounds, Matias has the frame and strength to be a solid power-hitting outfielder as he transitions through the Royals system over the next few seasons.
However, though the power may be “Trout-esque”, his other skills are far from that comparison. As you will see in the scouting video below from a series against the Rome Braves (Atlanta’s Sally affiliate), his plate discipline needs a lot of work. He is over-aggressive and he swings at a lot of pitches out of the zone, which either results in a lot of swings and misses or bad contact that results in easy outs. That poor plate approach is evident this year in his low batting average (.238 average) as well as high strikeout rate (37.1 percent) and low BB/K ratio (0.21). To make matters worse, these trends were also common during his tenure in the Rookie Leagues the past couple of seasons, as his strikeout rates hovered around the 30 percent mark at each level, and he has never hit higher than .250 in his short career thus far.
At his age, while these numbers are a bit alarming, they’re not damning. When it comes to evaluating prospects, it’s always important to see if a player has one Major League-level “skill” and Matias has that in his power as well as arm, which also was rated a 70 on a 20-80 scale, according to Fangraphs. To have two highly-rated skills from Matias is promising, and if he can become even a “mediocre” hitter for average that can hit annually in the .240 to .260 range, he could be a valuable producer for the Royals lineup in the future, especially if he can transition that 30-40 home run power to the Major League level. Of course, that’s always easier said than done. Plenty of prospects have displayed Matias’ skill set before in the minors (especially lower levels), only to flame out as they face better pitching up the Minor League ladder. So, it’ll be interesting to see if Matias’ approach will improve as he matures as a player.
For fantasy players looking to get a head start on future keepers, Matias may be a valuable pickup…but probably not for another two-three years, minimum. He’s still only 19 years old, and the Sally is still too low a level for potential fantasy owners to make a solid judgment and projection on his future ability at the Major League level. Furthermore, Matias’ home run power hasn’t exploded until this year so it may be prudent to see if he can produce something similar in either High-A or Double-A first.
Matias has a long ways to go. But for a Royals system that’s dearth of top-end prospects, and for fantasy owners who are looking for a breakout player who could provide them pop for years to come, Matias certainly is an enticing and exciting prospect.
But let’s take his success with a grain of salt. He’s still just a teenager in Single-A, and he has a long way to go before he makes it to the show.
Justin Smoak is the epitome of a late-blooming prospect. After mashing in 2009 in Double-A in the Texas Rangers system, and coming out highly heralded out of the University of South Carolina (he was drafted 11th overall by the Rangers), Smoak was identified as the next “big-bopping” first base prospect by most major publications and scouts. However, despite the acclaim nearly a decade earlier, Smoak wasn’t able to transition his “blue chip” prospect status into Major League production early on in his career.
The main piece for the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee trade in 2010, Smoak floundered spectacularly in the Pacific Northwest. In 1,943 plate appearances and five seasons with the Mariners, Smoak only hit 66 home runs and averaged a slash of .226/.308/.384 with a .692 OPS overall. The disappointing production, as well as the Mariners’ own team frustrations and change in management, led to Smoak being waived in 2014, a far fall from grace for a player many thought of as another Mark Teixeira or Chipper Jones when he was drafted in 2008.
Unfortunately, this season has been closer to what he’s done in Seattle (or his mediocre 2016 season in Toronto) than the magical 2017 campaign. He’s only hit 9 home runs so far in 299 plate appearances, and his .236/.361/.423 slash and .784 OPS would look good if he was a prolific base-stealing leadoff man, not a first baseman expected to be a major producer in the top half of the lineup. And lastly, after being ranked 90th in Yahoo!’s preseason rankings, Smoak currently ranks 309th overall in leagues, not a great place to be in mixed-leagues when it comes to the first-base position.
So, is Smoak worth keeping? Well, in order to do that, Smoak’s fantasy owners have to look at alternatives on the market, which is probably the only route to go now, since Smoak won’t fetch much of anything in a trade. Using my league as an example (we are a 12-team mixed), I will take a look at seven 1B-eligible candidates who may be worth replacing Smoak.
As you can see, all seven rank better than Smoak, so one may be tempted to grab any of the seven as a replacement and think you’re better off. However, if you look deeper at the numbers, some are more skeptical options in comparison to Smoak.
First off, the last three (Alonso, Gurriel, and Healy), despite better rankings than Smoak currently, are probably not likely to finish the year better than Smoak. Smoak’s OPS (.784 OPS) is better than all three (Alonso .776; Gurriel .760; Healy .768), mostly due to Smoak’s much better plate discipline and approach. Furthermore, while Alonso and Healy have more home runs currently, Alonso is going through a similar off-year slump like Smoak (Alonso had 28 home runs last year), and Healy’s plate approach and lack of walks (.292 OBP) makes him a risky pickup, especially if the power tails off in the second half. As for Gurriel, he hits for high average (.306), but his concerning lack of power (4 home runs) doesn’t make him valuable as a starting first-baseman (especially considering that’s the only position he qualifies for).
Desmond is a risky move who has some flexibility (he can also play outfield). He hits homers (15 this year; thanks to Coors), drives in runs (42 RBI) and can get steals (he has 7 so far this year), but a .213 average and .718 OPS is hard to stomach. A lot of his value as a pickup stems on his projected ability in the second half, as many projections expect him to bounce back average-wise come July (he hit .274 last year). So if you are going to go the Desmond route, you might want to make sure your lineup has a lot of high average hitters to protect your weekly average.
Dietrich and Descalso are interesting pickups if you want utility guys who can play multiple positions. Dietrich qualifies as a 2B, 3B, and OF in addition to 1B, and he is hitting .302 for the year with a .850 OPS and 11 home runs. Dietrich has been especially on a tear in June, as he is hitting .389 with a 1.107 OPS and 6 homers in the past 30 days. Descalso provides the same position versatility as the Marlins’ Dietrich, though he isn’t as productive as the Marlins utility man (Descalso is hitting only .266 with a .865 OPS and 6 home runs). However, most owners will have a better shot at picking up Descalso than Dietrich in most leagues, so he is a nice consolation prize for owners who can’t nab Dietrich, but want his combination of flexibility and production.
The biggest debate I’m sure owners may have will be choosing between Smoak or Olson. Olson in a lot of ways is a younger version of Smoak. He doesn’t hit for high average (he’s only hitting .246 and he hit only .259 last year) and he strikes out a lot (27.1 percent K rate). That being said, he has maintained the power for the most part from last year (17 homers this year; .224 ISO), though it’s not as pronounced as it was during his first extended playing stint at the Major League level last season (24 homers; .392 ISO in 101 fewer appearances).
You can do a whole lot worse than Olson if you are dead set on replacing Smoak. At the very least, Olson has some keeper value, as he is only 24 years old; they both have the same kind of skill set (low average, relatively high walk and strikeout rates); and his power seems legitimate (which it has to be in a pitcher-friendly ballpark like the Oakland Coliseum), which means that he may be able to maintain this first half production in the second half. I think Smoak and Olson will have similar second halves, and that’s why I don’t think Olson for Smoak is a no-brainer. But, I know owners may be less patient or feel the pressure to pick up in leagues after slow starts. Hence, if you’re in a position where you have to make a move on Smoak, Olson has been more proven in 2018, and maybe a bit safer based on his better first half.
Overall, Dietrich, Descalso, and Olson would be preferable pickups to replace Smoak. However, if neither of those three is available, you’re probably better off keeping the Smoak monster, as Alonso, Gurriel, Desmond, and Healy aren’t likely to be much better than Smoak (hell, they may be worse) in the second half of the season.
It’s definitely a tough decision. Smoak is replaceable, sure. But be discerning, and don’t automatically drop him. The plate approach is there. Now he just needs some of those hits (and dingers) to fall.
As someone who now resides in and calls Kansas City home, the Kelvin Herrera trade to the Washington Nationals has dominated the MLB blog-sphere as well as the local Kansas City media scene. And understandably so: the Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball, and Herrera was one of the last and more memorable holdovers from the 2015 World Series Champion team. (I mean, who can forget the “HDH” combo of Herrera, Davis, and Holland holding down the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, respectively?) And though he has battled inconsistency as HDH slowly grew apart since the Championship run, Herrera has been, for the most part, a bright spot, especially for a pitching staff that has been so god-awfully putrid (they rank last in MLB in ERA).
But let’s be honest here: the Royals needed to trade Herrera, and the deal was about as good as they probably could have gotten for him, even if it was way before the trade deadline (which is July 31st for those who don’t know this shit…like 90 percent of Americans until the day of…it’s kind of like voting in that way). Considering Herrera is going to be free agent, and the Royals’ history of trade-able players getting hurt before the deadline (cough…Luke Hochevar…cough), the Royals at least got something in return for Herrera to help them build a depleted farm system (they rank last by most major publications when it comes to Minor League systems).
Now, I know some people argue that the Royals got too little for Herrera. Yes, they got three players, but neither of the players in the deal come highly heralded, many arguing that they are journeyman players at best. That being said, they aren’t total scrubs by any measure as Kelvin Gutierrez and Blake Perkins were ranked in the Top 10 of the Nationals system according to Fangraphs going into this year, and Yohanse Morel is only 17 years old. It’s not a “Zach Greinke” package, sure, but then again Herrera isn’t a starting pitcher like Greinke, who had probably 10 times the value Herrera did when the former Royals ace was on the market. To think that a spotty closer will generate as much in return as a former Cy Young winner is absolutely preposterous.
And let’s judge how much impact Herrera will have on the Nationals. First off, Herrera most likely will go back to setup status, as the Nationals would be crazy to demote current closer Sean Doolittle, who has had a tremendous year. Doolittle not only has more saves than the former Royals closer (18 to 14), but the lefty dwarfs Herrera in K/9 (12.62 to 7.71), FIP (1.62 to 2.62), K/BB (14.33 to 11.00) and swinging strike percentage (19.1 to 14.4 percent). Yes, Herrera makes the Nationals bullpen much stronger. Yes, Herrera becomes a nice little stopgap should Doolittle run into trouble against a string of right-handed hitters. But Herrera isn’t taking Doolittle job’s anytime soon, and three prospects for a half-season of an over-qualified setup guy (but probably under-qualified closer) is more than good enough for this Royals team. If anybody should be pissed at all from this trade, it’s fantasy owners who have Herrera in leagues that don’t count holds as a scoring category (luckily, my leagues does…phew).
Rarely are their “winners” and “losers” realistically in a trade. Teams trade because they have a surplus of something, and they have a deficit in another area. The Nationals’ bullpen has been shaky outside of Doolittle and they are in a tight race with the Phillies and Braves in the NL East Division. The Royals are in last place in the AL Central, have no shot of being competitive this year, and need to rebuild a farm system that has either graduated most of their top prospects in the past or seen them fizzle out into oblivion (here’s looking at you, Kyle Zimmerman and Bubba Starling). Both the Nationals and Royals got exactly what they want.
So stop filling up the 810 phone lines Royals fans. Yes, I get it. Losing Herrera makes you nostalgic for once better days. But the Royals got decent prospects with decent upside and let a likable player go and be in a better situation for the remainder of the year until he becomes a free agent.
This trade simply was the “MLB Business Life” in a nutshell. Nothing shady or crazy about it, especially in this case. So let’s get over it, Kansas City, okay?
At 22–49, the Kansas City Royals have the second-worst record in all of baseball (only the Orioles are worse at 20–50; at least they have the excuse that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox). For Royals fans who followed this team pre-2013, it seems like it’s back to half-empty stadiums, bad jokes, and constant L’s both at Kauffman and away. As someone who recently moved to Kansas City, and got caught up in the “Royals Fever” post 2013, it’s interesting to see the difference between who the true baseball fans are, and the ones who just jumped on the bandwagon because those teams during that three to four-year stretch were competitive (already those fans in the latter category are only talking about how good Patrick Mahomes is looking in training camp).
As someone who enjoys baseball, plays fantasy baseball, and has a soft spot for the Royals as my favorite KC-based sports team (sorry Chiefs, can’t do your semi-racist mascots or chants), I figured it would be good to write a post about which Royals players you should pay attention to on this Royals team if you are an avid player of fantasy baseball or if you still plan on going to Royals games this summer (i.e. get drunk in the parking lot before remembering four innings of baseball and then blacking out and getting a 50 dollar Uber ride home). Some of them will be obvious (especially to the “three-year fans”), and some will be a little under-the-radar, but hopefully this analysis will help Royals as well as fantasy baseball fans get a little excited over what already has been a lost season (and perhaps one of many to come) here in Kansas City.
Whit Merrifield, 1B, 2B, OF; 2018 stats: .294 average, .795 OPS, 4 home runs, 23 RBI, 15 SB, 31 runs scored; 88% owned in Yahoo and ranked 126th.
The former minor-league journeyman was on the Crash Davis career track until he broke out after a call up in 2016, posting a .283/.323/.390 slash with two home runs, 29 RBI, and 8 stolen bases in 81 games as a super utility guy. Since 2016, while many of the other Royals batters have fluttered with inconsistency, Merrifield has been a pillar of steady production, as in 2017 he posted a .288/.324/.460 slash with 19 home runs, 80 runs scored, 78 RBI, and 34 stolen bases in double the amount of plate appearances (630 compared to 330 in 2016). And if that isn’t enough, Merrifield has been even better in 2018. Merrifield’s batting average is higher (.294) and he leads the team in stolen bases (15), on-base percentage (.371) and WAR (2.1). One could argue that not only has he usurped the role of most “beloved by female Royals fans 34 and under” (once held by the now departed Eric Hosmer; Alex Gordon still holds the 35 and over crowd), but he has also become the team’s most valuable offensive player during this somewhat dismal season.
Unless you’re in a really shallow league, it’s hard to imagine Merrifield being available, but he’s worth exploring for in trades simply because of his great slash value, and excellent stolen base production. He’s probably not going to duplicate the power numbers he displayed from a year ago (ZiPS projects him for seven more homers over the remainder of the year; good for 11 total), and his age makes him a shaky candidate as a keeper for next season (he’s 29 years old). That being said, Merrifield is not only a fun player to watch, but a productive one who can fill three positions on your roster, making him a perfect utility guy you can squeeze in if a starting player is a late-scratch or gets injured and hasn’t made it to the DL just yet.
Keep mashing Whit. The young ladies of KC as well as fantasy baseball owners are rooting for you.
Adalberto Mondesi, 2B; 2018 stats (Omaha): .250 average, .786 OPS, 5 home runs, 21 RBI, 10 SB, 19 runs scored; 1% owned in Yahoo and ranked 1044.
I was going to write initially on Jorge Soler, who has been one of the Royals most productive hitters this season(he leads the team with a weight runs created plus of 125) and was finally looking like the top prospect he was once hailed to be when he was in the Cubs system. But then Soler broke his damn foot, and even though he’s on the 10-Day DL, it’s plausible that he may be out for an extended period of time, and won’t be back until the end of the year at best.
So instead, I’m writing on one of Royals’ fans most polarizing young prospects: Adalberto Mondesi.
Mondesi came to the Royals system with a lot of expectations. Not only is he the son of Raul Mondesi, a baseball mainstay in the 90’s, but he also signed a $2 million bonus in 2011 as a 16-year-old, riding high on the early days of the “I’m evaluating this player solely on this cool, 2 minute YouTube mixtape I found” movement within fantasy baseball circles (it is also big in college basketball scouting circles as well). However, despite the hype, Mondesi’s tenure so far at the big-league level has been disappointing.
After starting the year in Double-A, and getting knocked for a 50-game suspension due to PEDs (which turned out to be cold medicine, apparently; thank God the school I work at doesn’t drug test for PEDs; I’d be our school’s Barry Bonds), Mondesi got an extended look in 2016. However, the youngster failed to produce results, as he hit .185 and put up an OPS of .512 in a 149 plate appearances, and provided little else beyond stolen base prowess (he stole 9 bases in 10 attempts). In 2017, he earned 60 plate appearances at the big-league level, and continued to do little with it, posting as slash of .170/.214/.245 with the Royals before spending most of the year back in Omaha.
Now, Mondesi gets his third extended chance at the big-league level, and already a lot of Royals fans are calling him a bust. For starters, I would tell Royals fans to cool their jets for a couple of reasons: first, he’s only 22-years old, which is still a baby in Major League years (you really can’t give up on anyone until age 26, which is the cut off between “prospect” and “veteran” in scouting circles). And second, he’s got one plus-skill: stealing bases. This year, he is 10 for 10 on stolen base attempts in Omaha and he stole 21 out of 24 bases a year ago in Omaha. Mondesi desperately provides speed on the basepaths this team needs outside of Merrifield, and it’s plausible to see him as a 25–40 SB per year guy in the near future.
However, what will make Mondesi worth keeping? Whether or not he can solve his massive strikeout issues at the big league level. In 2016, he struck out in 32.2 percent of his plate appearances. Last year, he struck out 36.7 percent of the time. And unfortunately, he doesn’t walk enough to justify such high numbers (his career BB/K ratio is 0.13; 0.50 is considered average). With his speed, Mondesi needs to take a page out of the Lou Brown “Put the Ball on the Damn Ground!” playbook like Willy “Mays” Hayes before him in Cleveland.
The Adalberto Mondesi of the 80’s
Let’s see if Mondesi can do that in his call up this summer. If he can replicate Wesley Snipes’ beloved fictional outfielder, he may be an interesting keeper in deep leagues for next year.
Jakob Junis, SP; 2018 stats: 4.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5 wins, 79 strikeouts; 43 percent owned in Yahoo and ranked 501st.
I am big believer in “team.” And yet, if you really had to point one reason why the Royals are on the cusp of being the worst team in baseball, it has to be due to the crappy pitching. Yes, the Royals pitching is bad, and REALLY BAD. Not only do they have the worst ERA in baseball (5.39), but they also have the worst FIP (Field Independent Pitching; 4.83) and WAR (0.7). (They have the second worst xFIP, expected field independent pitching, trailing only the White Sox, which goes to show how lousy the Central is.) By all metrics, both standard and advanced, this Royals pitching staff has been awful and a far cry from their playoff days, where they rode great pitching and base running to back to back World Series appearances (and an eventual championship).
The Royals starting staff has been a motley crew of mediocrity this year in more ways than one: Danny Duffy has proved that he not only is unable to handle being the team’s ace, but that he can’t even be a good pitcher without the mentoring of James Shields. Additionally, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel have been disappointing free agent pickups who have proved to baseball fans and analysts that they are overpaid and perhaps over-the-hill to boot. It’s almost as if this Royals’ rotation has been cursed since Yordano Ventura’s unfortunate passing.
However, the one pitcher on this starting staff worth following may be the 25-year-old Jakob Junis, a №4 starter who leads the team in wins with 5 (yes I know, wins is a shitty stat, but hey, he’s leading) as well as strikeouts (79). With a quick approach, and breaking-ball heavy repertoire (he throws his slider over 40 percent of the time in comparison to his fastball, which he only throws 31.2 percent of the time), Junis has been a decent surprise for a staff that has struggled the past couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, Junis has cooled in June after a strong start, as he is 0–3 in June and posted 10.13 ERA in his last two starts. This mostly is due to his propensity to give up the long-ball, as his HR/9 innings rate is the highest out of any Royals starter this year (1.90 per 9). His repertoire is probably the culprit, as batters have begun to sit on his slider, and his fastball isn’t powerful enough (it averages a little over 91 MPH) to make them pay for such a strategy. Junis has had trouble getting past the 5th and 6th innings once teams have already seen him once or twice at the plate. Either Junis has to get more creative with his pitches to be more effective, or perhaps Yost has to settle on him being a 5 inning guy (6 at best), and rely heavily on the pen the rest of the way.
However, Junis is an interesting pickup because he gets guys to swing out of the zone (he gets batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 32.3 percent of the time which is above average), and he has good control (his 3.95 K/BB walk ratio is better than other major starters such as Duffy, Hammel and Kennedy) with the potential for good command (as we saw earlier in the year). Junis isn’t going to set the world on fire, and he’s a streaky pitcher, as we have seen already during the first half of this season. That being said, Junis has the skill set to give fantasy teams solid innings, a good number of K’s, and he won’t kill your WHIP either (because he doesn’t walk too many batters).
Let’s hope he can turn it around, and have a July that’s a lot closer to what he did in April and May. At 25-years-old, he could give Royals a glimmer of hope for starting pitching in the future, and for fantasy team owners, he could be a surprise contributor to a teams starting pitching staff in the second half.
Originally published at medium.com on June 18, 2018.