What can the Royals do to avoid the most losses in franchise history? (Hint: They have 3 choices…)

The Kansas City Royals ended the “first half” of the 2018 season much like they started: by getting the crap kicked out of them by Chicago White Sox (and I say first half because technically it is beyond “half” numerically, but games before the All-Star Break are officially considered the first half, regardless of the number; confusing I know, but I didn’t create this obviously flawed system). As we enter the All-Star break, the Royals are 27-68 through 95 games, which makes them officially the worst team in baseball going into the Mid-Summer Classic (the Baltimore Orioles surpassed them after a 1-0 win over the Texas Rangers on July 15th, which put their record at 28-69). To make matters worse, not only is this Royals team one of the worst in baseball currently, but they could be the worst Royals team in the 50-year history of the club. (What a great way to celebrate such an anniversary, right?)

The team that currently holds the worst record in Royals history is the 2005 Royals, who went through three managers (Tony Pena, Jr., Bob Schaefer, and Buddy Bell) en route to a 56-106 record. Much like the 2018 Royals, the 2005 squad had just experienced some surprising success a couple of seasons prior. In 2003, the Royals won 83 games, their first winning record in over a decade at the time. (They previously had a winning season in 1993, thanks to the pitching of Kevin Appier. Yes, I know, it sounds weird in retrospect.) Unfortunately, the Royals were unable to build on the “feel good” campaign, fell back to earth in 2004, and went 58-104, the worst mark in franchise history at the time until they topped that loss mark by two games a year later. The horrid two-year stretch had a huge ripple effect throughout the organization, as not only did managers and rosters change dramatically from 2004 through 2005, but the club also parted ways with general manager Allard Baird, and replaced him with current general manager and former Atlanta Braves exec Dayton Moore on the last day of May of 2006.

For many Royals fans, the ghosts of 2004 and 2005 seemed to be a distant memory after such a period of success from 2013-2017. In the five-year stretch, the Royals won 80 games or more each season, made the playoffs and World Series twice (2014 and 2015), and added the second World Series championship in the club’s history to their mantle in 2015 (in addition to their one in 1985 where they beat I-70 rival St. Louis). Yes, the Royals were a small market club. Yes, they didn’t have the payroll of the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, or Red Sox. But, it was widely thought that the Royals had set a foundation for various levels of success for years to come.

Oh, how misguided and incorrect Royals fans were.

The poisonous brew of players leaving the club in free agency (Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer), poor free agent signings (Ian Kennedy and Brandon Moss), and a lackluster farm system that had been gutted by mid-season trades (Sean Manaea going to Oakland in the Ben Zobrist Trade) and prospects failing to live up to expectations the past few seasons (Kyle Zimmer and Bubba Starling) has resulted in this season being the nightmare Royals fans were dreading at the conclusion of the 2017 campaign. Not only are the Royals the worst team in baseball now, but they are actually outpacing the 2005 club in losses at this point as well.

By the All-Star break in 2005, the Royals were 30-57 after 87 games (due to the season starting later than this year).

Yep, that’s right: the 2005 team was three wins better than the current Royals by this time of the season (and in 8 fewer games to boot). To make matters worse, for the Royals to tie that putrid 2005 squad, they have to to go 29-38 for the remainder of the season, which means they would have to win at least 43 percent of their remaining 67 games. To compare, in the first half, the Royals only won 28 percent of their 95 games.

To put it lightly, Kylie Jenner winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 would seem like an easier and more plausible task than the Royals tying or surpassing the 2005 Royals’ 56 wins. If the Royals duplicate their win percentage in the second half, they would only go 19-48, which would result in a record of 46-116. So, as you can see, the Royals would have to make up 10 games, just to even tie, which seems like an incredible feat, especially when one considers the trade deadline is July 31st. It is entirely possible there will be one to a few players on the current roster missing come August, hence making the team even weaker down the stretch.

So what should the Royals’ strategy be? What should Moore and manager Ned Yost due to avoid history and the moniker of “Worst Team in Royals History?” Here are a few “strategies” the Royals could take that might have an effect on their fortunes after the All-Star break.


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The Royals could keep playing veterans like Alcides Escobar, and hope they turn it around in the second half.

Strategy #1: Keep the Vets, Play to Win

It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Royals by the trade deadline are going to part ways with Mike Moustakas, and it seems highly likely that they will also part with Lucas Duda and/or Whit Merrifield to help give a contending team an offensive boost down the stretch. And it makes sense. The Royals are going nowhere, and they need to re-stock their farm system, which was ranked near the bottom in the Majors by nearly every publication of note. To trade some established stars for prospect depth at the deadline is a proven strategy that has worked for many clubs in years past (the Oakland A’s are masters of this approach).

But, teams these days value their prospects more than ever, and it is possible that the Royals may not get much in return for some of their current players. After all, Moustakas didn’t field much interest in free agency last off-season (hence him still being on the Royals), and while he’s having a solid season (19 home runs, 58 RBI, .250 average, and a .775 OPS), he has been overshadowed by Manny Machado when it comes to trade talks. Duda is a big bat, but he’s going through a down season at the plate and is a defensive liability, making him useless on a National League team. And while Merrifield offers position versatility and is a threat with the bat and on the basepaths, he won’t be a free agent until 2023, and he’ll be turning 30 next year, not an age where players of his skill set typically get better.

So with that being known, Moore may say “screw it” to all offers and just let it ride on the vets, and hope that they can stay healthy and turn around this season. The positive? Well, the Royals certainly would have a better chance to win with Merrifield and Moustakas and Duda in the lineup for the rest of the 2018 season as they have shown glimpses of success this year and in previous seasons. The negative? The veteran strategy would also employ vets such as Alcides Escobar, who has a negative-1.8 WAR, the worst mark on the team, as well as Kennedy and Jason Hammel in the rotation, who each have a 5.13 and 6.15 ERA, respectively.

Yost is a loyal, player-friendly manager, and if given the chance, he would trot Moustakas, Merrifield, Duda, and Escobar in the infield every day until the last game of the season, regardless of their performance. So the decision to employ or not employ this strategy would rest on Moore, who would need to trade at least one of these vets to take the lineup card out of Yost’s hands.


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Youngsters like Jorge Bonifacio (center) playing with veterans like Whit Merrifield (left) and Mike Moustakas could be a recipe for success.

Strategy #2: Play the youngsters, but in the right spots

We’re starting to see this strategy a bit in July, as Yost has started to depend on Adalberto Mondesi at SS rather than Escobar. (Though I do not get why he’s playing Escobar out of position in the outfield; he’s the worst hitter on the team…why is he continuing to play?) He’s also been giving Hunter Dozier, and Jorge Bonifacio at-bats as well, a sign that the organization wants to start seeing which “prospects” will have a future with the big league club, and which ones will be traded or triple-A fodder in the next couple of years.

But, going all out on the youngsters carries some risk. Some of the young players have responded, such as Mondesi, who has finished the first half with a .714 OPS. Some still leave a lot to be desired, like Dozier, who was touted as a strong-hitting, corner infielder, but is only hitting .211 with a .604 OPS and has negative-1.0 WAR, the second-worst mark on the team. So, it would be wise to balance out lineups with young guns and veterans on a day to day or series to series basis.

Want to start Mondesi, Dozier, and perhaps Cheslor Cuthbert, when he comes back from the DL (or perhaps Nicky Lopez, who may get called up from Omaha soon), in the infield? Well, make sure Merrifield is in the lineup to stabilize things. The same strategy applies to the outfield. Going with Bonifacio and Rosell Herrera? Then Gordo will be the left fielder to provide veteran mentorship to the lineup as well as in the field. The same works in the rotation, as Danny Duffy could be a veteran mentor for young starters like Brad Keller and Trevor Oaks (who should get called up again sometime in the second half).

The strategy carries a little more risk, since many of the young players on this roster are pretty unproven, and as stated before, they come from a system that isn’t highly regarded by any means. That being said, these lineups offer a little more upside than a “veteran only” strategy, and could also provide some hope for the future for Royals fans.


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The Royals could go all in on their prospects at the big league level, like Adalberto Mondesi at SS.

Strategy #3: Go all in on youth…regardless of the result

The Royals could do the equivalent of the “blow it up” NBA model. Moore and Yost could say “You know what? Screw the veterans! Who cares if they won us a title in 2015! Let’s rebuild now!” Escobar? Now a benchwarmer. Duda and Gordon? Spot starters. Hell, even give Salvador Perez a couple of days more off than usual so we can see what Cam Gallagher can do.

The strategy works in two ways:

  1. The young players get at-bats and experience, and if there’s anything that makes a younger player better at the Major League level, it’s more at-bats and experience. (It’s just common sense, but it’s amazing how some fans don’t understand this basic concept of “more experience = better development; less experience = less development.”)
  2. And if the young players suck, well, the Royals get a high first-round pick, and they know for sure who to build around for the future, and who not to sooner rather than later. When employing strategy #2, the problem is teams can get hung up on players longer than they want because the player is not getting enough at-bats to make a definitive decision. However, if you give 400-500 at-bats to a young player in a season, and he is clearly bad, well…it’s easier to cut ties because that is a pretty large sample size.

So there are some strong benefits to the “go young and let it ride” approach. Nonetheless, it’s a strategy that also carries a ton of risk (definitely the most of the three) and could alienate the fanbase more than the box office would like (i.e. it could kill ticket sales; the Royals still rank 11 out of 15 in the AL in attendance, which is a lot better than the 2005 squad). While the Royals need to rebuild and start looking to the future, the typical Royals fan wants to see faces he or she remembers from the 2015 team. So that means seeing Gordo, and Salvy, and Escobar for better or worse. Maybe they’re not the same players they were three seasons ago, but at least seeing their faces brings up good memories and nostalgia over copious amounts of Miller Lite in the bleacher seats.

And fans buying more Miller Lite is good for business at Kauffman stadium.


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Manager Ned Yost will have to make some interesting decisions to help turn around this club in the second half.

What strategy is the best for the Royals?

Personally, from an economic standpoint, number two is obviously the most logical. There are some players worth playing and keeping on this roster. Gordon deserves to play as long as he wants as a Royal (he’s earned it by helping them win a title and has been loyal to the organization through thick and thin), and Merrifield is a gritty player who provides a spark to this club and probably wouldn’t get what he’s worth on the trade market. But, there are a lot of veterans who need to go. As unexpectedly great as Moustakas has been this year, his value will never be higher, and the Royals need to get something in return to help stock their Royals system (after all, they received three prospects for Kelvin Herrera; I’m sure the Royals can get more for Moose). Escobar’s defense and timely hitting was appreciated in the 2014 and 2015 playoff runs, but his time as a serviceable MLB player is up and Mondesi deserves his shot. And while Duda brings a veteran bat to the lineup, I would rather see Dozier get a full shot at the position to see if he can be a big-league player, or if he’s simply a “four-A” prospect.

Overall, it’s likely the Royals will probably employ an overall #2 strategy as well. (I mean, really, how could you not? It’s the most practical strategy.) But the big question will be this: Will Moore and Yost’s strategy be closer to #1 or closer to #3? Will they still be loyal to the vets? Or will they ride their fortunes a little more on the young guns, with “low-key” hopes to secure the No. 1 pick if those youngsters don’t pan out?

I think Royals fans will have a good idea of their choice in strategy come August 1st.

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Can Danny Duffy Not Pitch at Kauffman? (A look at Duffy’s 1st Half)

In many ways, as a Royals fan, I feel like I have been hard on starting pitcher Danny Duffy this season. Maybe it was the shellacking he received on Opening Day against the White Sox that has stuck with me for these first few months of baseball. Or maybe it’s the fact that Duffy hasn’t turned into the “savior” ace that we hoped he would be ever since he was drafted in the third round by the Royals in 2007. (Tall, big, hard-throwing lefties can generate that kind of fervor; remember, the Natural?) For whatever reason, Duffy’s reputation as a Royals starting pitcher seems to be more synonymous with words such as “inconsistent” and “frustrating” rather than “successful” or “star”.

But we need to give Duffy some credit: he has been the Royals’ best pitcher this year in the first half. Period. No doubt about it.

Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy seem to be on their way out of Kansas City, as Hammel has been regulated to the bullpen, and Kennedy can’t seem to stay off the disabled list. (It will be interesting to see what the Royals do with Kennedy; while Hammel will be a free agent after this year, Kennedy still has two years and nearly $33 million owed to him left on his deal). Jake Junis, who looked like the Royals’ lone bright spot in the rotation at the start, has fallen off a cliff, as he has developed a propensity for giving up the long ball the last couple of months before he too found himself on the DL. And youngsters Erik Skoglund and Trevor Oaks didn’t offer too impressive outings either before they eventually made their way off the Royals’ active rosters (Skoglund to the 60-day DL and Oaks being optioned back to Omaha). For the most part in 2018, the Royals’ rotation has been a revolving door of mediocrity and lacklusterness.

(I could go into more starting pitchers, like Brad Keller and Nathan Karns, but what’s the point? A whole lot of “cups of coffee” and spot starts that won’t have much impact on the rotation going forward, so I figured not to waste the word count.)

Duffy, on the other hand, has been the closest to “dependable” of the Royals’ starting pitchers this year, even though the stats may not look like it at first.

For the year, Duffy’s peripheral numbers don’t look great. In 20 starts and a 113.2 IP thus far, he’s 5-8 with a 4.59 ERA, 4.98 FIP, a K-BB ratio of 1.94, a HR/FB rate of 12.7 percent, and a GB/FB rate of 0.77. For those who don’t know what those numbers mean, I can break it down into bullet points:

  • His FIP is higher than his ERA, meaning that he’s been worse or luckier than his ERA suggests, though not overwhelmingly so. His BABIP (.290) and strand rate (76.5 percent), are pretty league average, hence demonstrating not much of a difference between ERA and FIP.
  • The K-BB ratio is below league average, as typically average is 2. It usually means that he struggled with command, as Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ typically quantifies K-BB ratio as a sign of command.
  • He’s giving up the long ball a decent amount, though batter typically hit more fly balls off of him than groundballs (as evidenced by the GB/FB ratio being under 1). Granted, Duffy is the kind of pitcher who will induce more fly balls than ground balls due to his repertoire (fastball-heavy pitchers will do so; while sinker, less fastball-reliant pitchers will induce more groundballs, but have fewer strikeouts). But he is giving up the long ball more in comparison to last year, where his HR/FB rate was only 7.6 percent in 2017.

So, Duffy has been okay, serviceable, which is probably good enough considering the Royals’ starting pitching woes this year. But there has been an interesting pattern and trend to Duffy’s starts this year:

Duffy has been pretty good on the road, and horrendous at Kauffman Stadium.

On the road, Duffy has shown reasons why the Royals’ gave him a five-year $65-million extension in 2017. In 13 starts and 76.1 IP, Duffy has a 5-4 record, a 3.54 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and hitters only hitting .238 against him. His advanced numbers are even more impressive, as his K/9 is over 1 better on the road than at home (8.49 to 7.47 at home), his K-BB ratio is better (2.06 to 1.72), he is posting a better FIP (4.58 to 5.79) and he is inducing more groundballs (37.1 to 28.3 percent) and less hard hit balls as well (36.5 to 41.3 percent).

In Kauffman, Duffy has looked like a pitcher at a home run derby. In other stadiums, however, Duffy has been a lot more effective and consistent, worthy of a top spot in the rotation in a Major League rotation (though he isn’t a lockdown ace by any means; even his road numbers, such as the WHIP, could use some improvement).

I mean, Duffy has an ERA of 6.75, a WHIP of 1.63, a 0-4 record, and an HR/FB ratio of 1.93 in supposedly a “pitcher’s park” in Kauffman stadium. Should Duffy just not pitch anymore in Kansas City? Is he unable to handle the pressure of being the ace in front of the hometown fans?

While I think his starts at Kauffman are startling, it may be too early to make any conclusions. On the other hand, though, there are a couple of statistical trends that point to Duffy making an improvement, and that he can carry that development to not just his starts on the road for the rest of the year, but also in Kauffman Stadium as well.

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Duffy has a 0-4 record and 6.75 ERA in 7 starts at Kauffman this season.

Duffy hasn’t pitched a lot at home, and when he has, it’s been against REALLY GOOD competition

The sample size of Duffy’s starts at home is small. He’s only made 7 starts and pitched 37.1 IP in Kansas City. He has almost double of the number of starts (13) and innings (76.1) on the road, so his lackluster performance at Kauffman may just be a result of a small sample size. Also, if you take a look at who he’s pitched against, it hasn’t been the easiest of competition:

  • White Sox (2 starts, 1 loss, 1 no-decision, 10 ER, 10 IP)
  • Mariners (No-decision, 5.1 IP, 1 ER, 7 K’s)
  • Yankees (Loss, 4.0 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR)
  • Twins (No-decision, 6 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 1 ER)
  • Astros (Loss, 7 H, 6 ER, 3 BB)
  • Indians (Loss, 6 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB)

As you can see, that stretch of starts is brutal. The Astros are the defending champs and look to be in the running again. The Yankees have one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball. The Indians are atop of the AL Central, and the Mariners look to be a playoff favorite as well (though most likely in the Wild Card). The only bad teams he faced were the Twins (who are more mediocre than bad; and he actually didn’t pitch badly against them) and the White Sox, who have looked like a playoff team at Kauffman this year, and the worst team in baseball everywhere else.

So, in the second half, Duffy will not only get more starts at home but will also face some easier competition. And when that happens, it is likely that his splits at home will improve, and Royals fans will get to appreciate Duffy’s solid starts in person rather than just on television.

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July has been a good month, as he has a 2.84 ERA so far this month.

Duffy has been pitching well the past couple of months

In June and July, Duffy has started to find his groove, as he has begun to strike out more batters and walk less. In June, he increased his K/9 to 8.70 from 7.09 in May, and he decreased his walk rate slightly from 4.64 to 4.50. In July, those gains were even more pronounced, as his strikeout rate increased to 9.47 and his walk rate decreased to 3.32, which put his FIP at 2.98 for the month of July.

And not only are the K’s up and walks down, but he displayed better command overall, resulting in batters not making good contact against him in July. Hitters only made hard contact 27.3 percent of the time against him in July, down from 42.2 percent in June. His GB/FB was 0.77, down from 1.56 the previous month, and he had a K-BB ratio of 2.86, which was his best ratio overall in the first half.

Yes, a majority of Duffy’s July starts came on the road (2 out of 3), but it’s obvious that Duffy is turning it around as a starter, which should be encouraging for the Royals as they enter the second half of the season. It’s definitely plausible that if he can continue this strong approach, he’ll be successful in the second half, whether it’s home or away.

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Duffy has been a much better pitcher on the road this year. Can he turn it around at Kauffman in the second half?

What should the Royals expect from Duffy?

Duffy is far from perfect, and though comparatively, he’s strong for a Royals pitcher, he’s still pretty average in comparison to other pitchers in the league. He still struggles with runners on and in scoring positions, as his FIP in those situations are 5.39 and 6.40, respectively, and his K-BB ratio is 1.48 and 1.29 in those situations, respectively as well. If Duffy wants to really experience any lasting success (whether this year or beyond), he really has to learn to pitch better in the stretch.

At the same time, the trend for Duffy is a positive one, which should provide some glimmering hope for Royals fans in a season that has been pretty devoid of hope overall (other than the draft and signing prospects). The Royals are pretty all-in on Duffy as their “ace” going forward and Duffy will get the opportunities going forward (and with so much left on his deal, it’s pretty safe to say he’s going to be on the Royals for a good while as well). It’s been nice to see Duffy rebound after a rough start to the year, and at the very least, stay healthy, which is something he has struggled with over the past few seasons.

It’s been a good July for Duffy, and on the road overall, Duffy has been serviceable to somewhat masterful on occasion. As you will see in the video below, his win against Chicago last night was maybe his best of the year, sweet redemption for his awful opening day start against the White Sox.

Duffy is on the right track. Now it’s time for him in the second half to impress the Kauffman faithful, and not just Royals fans visiting opposing stadiums.

Is the Reds’ Billy Hamilton Finally Figuring It Out?

Only seven players in the Majors have over 20 stolen bases thus far as the first half of the Major League Season comes to a close (as of July 14th). Right in the mix is Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds, who is tied for the fourth-most stolen bases in Major League baseball with 22, along with the Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner and the Seattle Mariners’ Dee Gordon (who led the Majors last season in stolen bases with 60 with the Miami Marlins). Hamilton, who finished with 59 stolen bases, second-most in the Major Leagues, a year ago, trails only Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves (23), as well as the Washington Nationals’ Michael Taylor, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Starling Marte, who both have 24.

Despite him being in the mix as the league’s stolen base king in 2018, it has been an inconsistent year for the Reds’ speedy outfielder. Projected to take a step forward as a player this year (Yahoo! projected his overall ranking at 59 going into the season), Hamilton got off to a painful start. In his first 26 games and 100 plate appearances to begin the year in March and April, Hamilton hit only .172, with only four total extra-base hits, and he struck out a whopping 33 times. While there were some promising signs (he walked 13 times and he stole five bases in five attempts), it was safe to say that Hamilton, much like the Reds team as a whole, had failed to live up to expectations to start off 2018.

After a slow beginning to the year as a whole organization, the Reds fired manager Bryan Price after a 3-15 start to the year, and a 279-387 record overall (the Reds never had a winning record under Price since he took over in 2014). Furthermore, Reds GM Nick Krall promoted Jim Riggleman, who formerly managed the Washington Nationals. Under Riggleman, the Reds have turned it around, as they are 39-37 under him as of July 14th, and rate as one of the best offensive teams in baseball, as they rank 7th in the Majors in team WAR, a stark difference from their 42-52 record and 5th place standing currently in the NL Central (though to be frank, the Central may be the best division in the National League).

Hamilton has also turned it around after the managerial change, though it may not look like it at first when you see his .233 average and .636 OPS to go along with only three home runs, 19 RBI, and 51 runs scored. If you judge him over the past month though, there hasn’t been a more dynamic player in the Majors than Hamilton. In the last 30 days, Hamilton not only leads the league in stolen bases (17), but he is also hitting .337 with a .825 OPS to go along with a home run, 5 RBI and 20 runs scored in 83 AB. Furthermore, the 27-year-old outfielder has also made a habit of making spectacular plays like the one below against the Cardinals on July 13th.

So what has been the cause of Hamilton’s turnaround? And can he sustain this offensive onslaught in the second half? Or is he due to regress, and be the low average, low OPS fantasy option that has frustrated fantasy owners over the past few years?

Here are a couple of reasons for optimism:

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Riggleman batting Hamilton 9th

It’s very tempting for managers to look at a guy of Hamilton’s speed and think automatically “leadoff” hitter. So far this year, Hamilton never really took to the role, as he only hit .167 with a .546 OPS and BB/K ratio of 0.29 in 12 games and 41 plate appearances in the leadoff spot this year. Since Price was fired though, Riggleman made the decision to bat him 9th (meaning the pitcher would bat in front of him), a strategy fellow NL Central managers such as the Pirates’ Clint Hurdle and Cubs’ Joe Maddon have employed with their teams. The move has paid off somewhat, as Hamilton is batting .244 with a .651 OPS and a BB/K ratio of 0.42 in 72 games and 274 plate appearances in the bottom of the order. Getting to see a pitcher go through eight hitters beforehand, and being relieved of having to “jump start” the offense from the leadoff spot has seemed to have a positive effect on Hamilton, and Riggleman’s unorthodox strategy has paid off for the Reds’ offense (and Hamilton personally) thus far.

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Hamilton is developing his eye at the plate

Hamilton’s walk rate this year is 10.2 percent, which is 3.2 percent higher than last season and would be the highest walk rate of his career if the season ended today. Some might say “he’s more patient” at the plate, but that probably would be misleading. Hamilton’s swing percentage of 46.8 percent his highest percentage since his call-up in 2013 (where it was 50 percent), and his contact rate (77 percent) is lower while his swinging strike percentage (10.7 percent) is higher as well. That being said, he has swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (29.5 compared to 29.9 percent) compared to last year, and he is knowing what counts are his strong suit. He is batting .450 when swinging on the first pitch, and .350 when the count even, showing that he is taking advantage of opportunities when he is aggressive, and laying off when counts are not in his favor (as evidenced by the higher walk rate). It has resulted in an increase in strikeouts (25.7 percent), but it’s obvious that Hamilton has honed is hitting a bit as he has matured as a Major League player.

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He’s hitting the ball harder

The negative of Hamilton’s approach? The strikeouts. The positive? Walks and getting on base. Both we have talked about in the previous section. However, another positive byproduct of Hamilton’s refined approach at the plate is that he’s hitting the ball harder than ever before.

If you check out batted ball information via Fangraphs, his line drive percentage sits at 25.8 percent and his fly ball percentage sits at 34.8 percent, both major increases from the previous two years. Furthermore, his groundball percentage is at 39.4 percent, the lowest of his Major League career thus far. And though his medium hit percentage is down to 50 percent (from 59 percent in previous years), his hard-hit ball percentage is 23.8 percent, a career high and nearly a seven percent increase from last year, thus resulting in an HR/FB ratio of 4.3 percent, another career high.

Hamilton is not going to confuse people with Mike Trout anytime soon. But he is hitting the ball harder at the plate in 2018, and that should be promising enough for fantasy owners who are skeptical of his latest hot streak.

What’s the verdict on Hamilton?

A lot of fantasy owners have been patient on Hamilton, as evidenced by him being owned in 77 percent of Yahoo! leagues. However, it finally looks like Hamilton is starting to make owners’ patience a wise decision. He’s hitting the ball harder, he’s getting on base more, and more importantly, he’s stealing bases at his usual, high-end clip. And he’s been more judicious on the basepaths, as he is getting caught less, as his 84 percent success rate is an improvement from his 81 percent rate a season ago.

ZiPS projects Hamilton to steal 22 more stolen bases for the remainder of the year, but it’s plausible that Hamilton may touch the 50 or more mark by the end of this season as well, as long as he stays healthy. He has improved under Riggleman, and Riggleman’s openness to let him run wild on the basepaths, and bat him in the order in an unconventional way has done wonders for Hamilton in terms of bouncing back after a slow start. It’s hard to imagine Hamilton benefitting fantasy teams beyond stolen bases in a major way for the remainder of the year (and perhaps in the future as well). That being said, Hamilton’s speed and stolen base ability are so good and rare that it may not matter as long as fantasy owners have the right combination of power and high-average hitting elsewhere in their lineup to make up for Hamilton’s deficiencies.

Can the Royals’ youngsters spark this lackluster offense?

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Hunter Dozier (left) and Jorge Bonifacio are two Royals players who can help the offense in the second half.

June was a rough month for the Royals, and that’s putting it lightly. After a respectable May, where they went 13-15, the Royals nosedived the next month, going 5-21 and getting outscored 136-58 during the 26-game span. Yes, you read that right: the Royals only managed a measly 58 runs for the ENTIRE MONTH.

The putrid month warranted a piece from Fangraphs from Jeff Sullivan on July 3rd, who analyzed the Royals’ historically bad offensive month. Sullivan had this to say about the Royals’ lack of production over the last 30 days:

The Royals are in last, having managed a team wRC+ of 48. To be more precise, 47.6. The nearest team is the Tigers, with a wRC+ of 72. Over this span, the Royals are the only team to have batted under .200. They’re the only team with an OBP under .250, and they’re the only team with a slugging percentage under .300, and so they’re the only team with an OPS under .550. The Royals have been caught in an offensive tailspin, and the only thing that’s allowed them to avoid too much attention is the fact they were expected to be bad in the first place

I don’t think there’s much I can say that Sullivan has not said already about the Royals’ offense, so if you want to read about it more (because you’re a masochistic SOB), check out Sullivan’s piece, especially worthwhile thanks to the data graph he provides of team hitting wRC+ for all 30 teams (surprisingly, Cincinnati ranks third; goes to show how bad their pitching has been). That being said, as an optimistic Royals fan, I would like to think that Royals can’t possibly duplicate their horrid numbers for the rest of the year (though fingers crossed; this year has been bad enough). But let’s face it: the Royals are not going to turn it around in the second half without some change in the lineup.

With a 25-60 record as of July 4th, the Royals have already begun the rebuilding process thanks to some trades last month (Jon Jay to the Diamondbacks and Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals), resulting in some of the younger Royals’ younger players cracking the lineup. However, with the trade deadline looming on July 31st, it’s only a matter of time before some veterans are traded for assets (Mike Moustakas and Whit Merrifield are prime candidates), meaning the youth movement in the Kansas City will most likely be in full force by August.

So, which Royals younger players can have an impact on this club during these last few months? Which ones can help make the Royals’ offense respectable again?

Let’s take a look at youngsters on the Royals’ 40-man roster who are likely to make an impact, and which ones may leave some left to be desired during the second half of the Major League season.

Don’t expect all that much

Abraham Almonte, OF; Ramon Torres, 2B/SS; Bubba Starling, OF

Almonte is nearly 30 and hasn’t really done all that much at the Major League level, as he is posting an awful slash of .186/.264/.295 in 47 games and 145 plate appearances this year. Considering his age and his lackluster production at the Major League level, Almonte is most likely a “Four-A” player at best who’s probably too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the Majors.

Torres is a bit younger at 25 years old, and has the versatility to play second and short (much needed should the Royals bite the bullet and designate Alcides Escobar for assignment so Ned Yost can’t play him; I think Dayton Moore’s loyalty will get in the way of this happening), but in 42 career games and 108 plate appearances, Torres hasn’t provided much with the bat as evidenced by a career .229/.269/.265 slash and 43 wRC+. Even in Triple-A, Torres isn’t showing much promise in Omaha, with a slash of only .226/.281/.332 and a .613 OPS in 53 games and 208 AB this season in the PCL.

As for Starling, the former Gardner, Kansas high school sports star and bonus baby has failed to resemble a Major League player at any point in the Minors since he was drafted and received the largest draft signing bonus in team history in 2011 (it was $7.5 million). The best campaign he had was in 2015 in Double-A in Northwest Arkansas where in 366 plate appearances he hit 10 home runs and posted a slash of .254/.318/.426 and an OPS of .744 as a 22-year old. That being said, due to the combination of injury and ineffectiveness, Starling really hasn’t built on that campaign nearly three seasons ago. This past season in Omaha, in 303 plate appearances, he hit only .248 with a .685 OPS and only added 7 home runs and 21 RBI. While Starling will get a chance to get some playing time when the roster expands in September (hopefully he will be healthy by then), it is unlikely that former first-round pick will have much impact at the MLB level this season.

Not totally sure…but some upside

Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B; Adalberto Mondesi, 2B/SS; Rosell Herrera, 2B/OF

Cuthbert is a former top prospect who has yet to capitalize on his “prospect hype” at the big league level. His career slash is .252/.303/.378 with a .681 OPS. That’s fine for a middle fielder with good speed and a good glove, perhaps, but not for a corner infielder. His wRC+ this season before he went to the DL with injury this year is 62, barely an upgrade over the 59 he posted a season ago in 153 plate appearances and 58 games at the big league level (he struggled with injuries as well a season ago). I’m not totally giving up on Cuthbert. With Moustakas holding down third, it’s been hard for Cuthbert to get an extended chance when Moose was healthy. He actually did okay when Moose struggled with injuries in 2016, as Cuthbert hit 12 home runs, posted a .731 OPS and a wRC+ of 95 over 510 plate appearances. It’s not great by any means, but it shows that he can be an average hitter in the lineup (when healthy), something the Royals have been sorely missing this year. Should (or perhaps when) Moose gets traded, and when Cuthbert is healthy (he is raking so far on a rehab assignment in Omaha), it’s possible that he may be able to rebound at the plate with regular playing time.

I have already talked about Mondesi before on this blog, who oozes with potential, but still hasn’t realized it at the Major League Level. Mondesi is still young (he’s about to turn 23 in less than a month), but he’s already shown some progress in his Major League call-up this year, which is 42 plate appearances and 13 games. His strikeout rate is down (from 36.7 percent to 25.5 percent) and he is showing more power as well (his .143 ISO is a career high thus far). Granted, his numbers aren’t pretty by any means: 55 wRC+ (actually the highest mark as a Royal thus far) and .214/.233/.357 slash with a .590 OPS. But, he is a middle infielder, he is showing progress and he’s still over three years away from the “plateau” mark for prospects (age 26 is considered the point where prospects are what they are). With Escobar not being much better (37 wRC+), it may be worth it for Yost to see if Mondesi could handle an extended look at SS in the second half (or at least splitting duties with Escobar).

Herrera has always had a soft spot with me as a prospect, as I was a big fan of him when I was covering the Giants and prospects more closely in my Optioned to Fresno days. I wrote a couple of pieces for Seedlings 2 Stars (now called Call to the Pen), including a piece profiling the top Latin American prospects in the NL West back in 2012, which listed Herrera as a top SS prospect in the Rockies system. (It looks bad now, as I said I liked Herrera more than Trevor Story, who is now the Rockies starting SS; can’t win them all I guess). While Herrera hasn’t turned into the stud I foresaw him as during his NL West days, I felt the Royals getting Herrera off waivers was a low-risk, high-reward move. Herrera isn’t killing it at the MLB level, but he’s doing much better in his limited 15 game stint with the Royals than his 11 game-13 plate appearance stint with the Reds (who designated him for assignment). As a Royal, his slash is .271/.279/.407 and his wRC+ is 80 (much better than the -25 mark with the Reds). This is Herrera’s first year playing at the Major League level, so some growing pains are to be expected, but right now Herrera is a nice utility type player who could help the Royals down the stretch, especially if he gets his base-stealing together (he stole 36 bags in Double-A in 2016; he’s 1 for 3 this year with the Royals). His plate discipline still needs major work (only 1 walk in 72 plate appearances at the Major League level), but he could fill the Merrifield role nicely should Merrifield get dealt by the deadline. He’s mostly risk and upside, like Mondesi, but unlike Mondesi, he doesn’t have age on his side (he’s 25). However, he could provide some decent production from multiple positions if given an extended chance in the Big Leagues.

For sure worth giving a look to

Hunter Dozier, 1B/3B/OF; Jorge Bonifacio, OF; Jorge Soler, OF

Dozier, the Royals’ 2013 first round pick (and 8th pick overall) is finally getting an extended look thanks to injuries to other players (first to Lucas Duda and now to Soler) and the team currently in “rebuilding” mode. Dozier’s an interesting player because he played shortstop in college and really doesn’t have a “position” yet, but he’s a polished player who flashes a lot of tools and really has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. The KC Star also recognized that this may be a chance for Dozier to “prove himself” considering the circumstances of this season, as evidenced in this quote from writer Vahe Gregorian:

With the Royals losing routinely, with their more-established players being subject to trade as the franchise seeks to replenish its farm system, Dozier’s audition is one of the more compelling tales to follow this season.

Dozier has certainly got an extended chance, as evidenced by his 156 plate appearances and 43 games played thus far. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t look impressive, as he is only posting a .222/.282/.354 slash with a 73 wRC+ and four home runs and 11 RBI. That being said, Dozier has the size (6’4, 220) and the power potential (graded a 60 for raw power from scouts) to be successful, and he has proven at the minor league level that his power is for real (.238 ISO in Omaha last season). The big question for him will be plate discipline, as his strikeout rate is over 30 percent and hovered around 38 percent in Omaha a season ago. If he can lessen than K’s, up the walks, and turn some of his groundballs (41.2 percent) to line drives and fly balls, then it is possible that Dozier can live up to his first-round pick status as soon as this season at the MLB level.

Bonifacio is a polarizing outfielder in the Royals system. The younger brother of Emilio Bonifacio, and a top prospect in the Royals system just a couple of seasons ago (he rated as the 10th best prospect in the Royals system by Fangraphs as of 2016), Bonifacio looked like he was on his way to being something special, as evidenced by his stint with the big league club where he posted a slash of .255/.320/.432 with 17 home runs, 55 runs scored, an OPS of .752 and a wRC+ of 99 in 113 games and 422 plate appearances last season. In fact, it looked likely that Bonifacio would be a shoe-in for a starting outfield spot out of Spring Training, especially considering Soler’s troubles at the plate in 2017, and Lorenzo Cain leaving in free agency. However, in March during Spring Training, Major League Baseball suspended Bonifacio 80 games for testing positive for PEDs and either he became forgotten by fans or an object of vitriol for trying to “cheat” and “deflower” the game.

However, recently Bonifacio’s suspension finally came to an end, and his presence has been made known early on. While it’s only five games and 18 plate appearances, Bonifacio is posting a slash of .313/.389/.375. In his rehab assignment in Omaha, the Dominican outfielder hit .392 with a .442 wOBA and a 167 wRC+. Considering how lackluster the Royals’ bats have been this summer (especially in June), Bonifacio is a welcome surprise who may be the centerpiece of this Royals offense if/once Merrifield and Moustakas are traded. Granted, it’s a small sample size, and Bonifacio has a long way to go to endear himself to Royals fans after the suspension (if there’s one thing KC sports fans don’t like its players with controversy; though they get over it if the players produce; hence Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs), but Bonifacio getting to a hot start is a good sign for a player who’s looking to build upon a promising campaign in 2017.

Soler is an interesting player because he won’t be back for a while. As of June 15th, doctors said he’d probably be out for at least another six weeks due to a broken foot. At this point, the Royals most likely will only get a month and a half of Soler in the lineup at best. That being said, this is less about Soler’s production now, and more what he means to this Royals roster in the future. A former Cubs top prospect who came over in the Wade Davis trade, Soler shut up his critics somewhat early on in the year with a strong start to 2018 to make up for a disappointing Royals career leading up to this season. In 257 plate appearances, Soler was posting a slash of .265/.354/.466 with a wRC+ of 125 to go along with 9 home runs and 28 RBI. Considering his wRC+ was 32 a year ago, many Royals fans reconsidered the Cuban prospect whom they figured to be a bust at the conclusion of the 2017 season. The nice thing about Soler is he has two years left on his deal after this year, and he comes relatively cheap at $4.667 million per year. While it’s unlikely that Soler will have a major effect on the Royals in the W-L column in 2018, if he can come back from injury and finish the year strong, it could have a beneficial effect not only for him personally going into next year but also the Royals organization as a whole, as the club can depend on him being a starting OF in Kauffman for 2019 and 2020 at the very least.

At 26 years old, and only 307 MLB games under his belt, there is a lot of upside to Soler as an athletic, strong-hitting outfielder (though he does have some lapses on the fielding end). A solid finish on what has been his best MLB season so far would be a nice cap to a surprising and reaffirming season not just for the outfielder, but Royals fans overall who are looking for hope on the offensive end of things for the future. This year showed that Soler has potential to live up to his ballyhooed Cubs prospect hype in the near future in the KC blue and white.

As long as he stays healthy of course.

How did “The Roto Royal” come to be?

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly written about baseball. The last time I wrote about baseball was in 2012 when I ran the blog “Optioned to Fresno,” a blog on the San Francisco Giants farm system and prospects. That being said, I also wrote about the San Francisco Giants religiously on my first major blog, Remember ’51 and on Bleacher Report, during it’s early days when they relied on the free labor of starry-eyed journalism majors and journalism graduates who were looking for exposure.

Other than Euroleague Jam ( A European Basketball blog), my San Francisco Giants blogs were the most substantial writing projects I ever maintained. Plus, they were projects I poured immensely into, spending many summer days and nights not only watching the Giants on the tube but also writing about them on Blogger, which I’m not even sure exists anymore as a blogging platform. From 2009-2012, I knew the San Francisco Giants inside and out, from their major starts at the Major League level like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, and Pablo Sandoval to even the most anonymous players in the Arizona Rookie League who were in Scottsdale for Extended Spring Training. For that three-year period, I loved no team like the Giants and loved writing about professional baseball more than any other sport.

However, after a move to Kansas City, my following and love for Giants and baseball declined. Part of it was due to proximity and friend group. Not only was I far away from California, but in my move to Kansas City, I surrounded myself with people who didn’t care about baseball. Even when I lived and worked in South Dakota for two years, my main friend group consisted of baseball nerds. We all had our fan allegiances and various relationships with the sport of baseball: one was a Jesuit priest who loved the Milwaukee Brewers; another was a die-hard Rockies fan who played stratomatic on his computer; another was a Phillies Fan who ran his own fan section, creating fan groups that were puns on famous players (Jose Mesa’s “Tables” was his favorite). During our fantasy baseball draft, we held in the basement of the high school in the computer lab so we could simulate a draft “war room” like you would see from MLB teams during their respective Amateur Drafts.

Yes, we were fucking baseball nerds. But it satiated my passion and writing for baseball. Unfortunately, while I was able to keep my membership in my fantasy baseball league with the glorious invention of Yahoo! and the internet. However, when I moved to Kansas City, my baseball attention faded, which was surprising because one of the reasons that stoked me about moving to Kansas City was the fact that I would have regular access to Major League baseball through the Royals whether through live games, television or radio. I figured I would become more into baseball, and really get into the Royals, whom I always had a soft spot for as a youth. (I actually owned a KC Royals hat and played with the regularly in Dynasty mode in MVP Baseball 2004; This was perhaps due to their perennial underdog status; much like the Korean Royals Fan!) I figured tickets would be easy to get because they were mediocre, and I would suddenly get into the Royals like I did with the Giants from 2009-2012.

But lo and behold, that did not happen.

As I moved into Kansas City, I got more into basketball, and I began writing and watching more NBA and college hoops, and thus baseball writing went out the window. No more Giants. No more Royals. No more prospect write-ups. No more anxious, inning-by-inning live diaries of crucial playoff games. Despite my close proximity to Kauffman Stadium, I was unable to keep the momentum I developed while writing on the Giants during that three-year period.

It’s been about six years since I’ve written about baseball, but I’ve suddenly gotten the urge to do so again. There were a couple of reasons for this sudden itch.


First, I felt burned out when it came to writing about basketball. As much as I loved blogging on Euroleague and everything in between, I just felt like I couldn’t offer any different perspectives than what was already out there. Euroleague Adventures and Courtside Diaries do a great job covering the European scene, and as we all know, the NBA Blog scene is like no other out there. With the Ringer and NBA Twitter, it’s just hard to find a place as an aspiring blogger, especially when you come relatively late to the game, and don’t have an NBA team to follow nearby.

Second, I just found myself not having the time to write about basketball in a timely manner. As a high school teacher and basketball coach, there’s just not a time in my schedule to write consistently on basketball. By the time I can, the season is over, and the only things I can write on is either free agency, the NBA draft, summer league, and other stupid bullshit that has nothing to do with actual basketball on the floor. While I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on such topics, it didn’t feel right. I wanted to write about a sport in-season, and that was just never going to happen with basketball. So despite a 2-3 year process to really make my way as a basketball blogger, I found the approach futile, and I decided that while I still love the game, I needed to leave the basketball blogging to those who had more time and expertise to do so.

Another thing happened as I began to ponder what to write this late Spring and Summer: I really got into my fantasy baseball team. Since leaving for Kansas City, not only did my baseball writing suffer, but so did my participation in my fantasy league. When I first started playing in the league, I was competing for a fantasy title, making moves, pissing people off with lopsided trades with people who didn’t pay attention nor care about their fantasy team. Since moving to Kansas City, for the first four years, I was a non-participant, active in the draft and maybe the first few weeks before my team went the way of the dodo (as did my 20 bucks).

This year was an exception. I began paying attention to my team on my smartphone via the Yahoo Sports app. I began researching Fangraphs again. I began reading fantasy and general baseball blogs. I added like 8 teams to my MLB At-Bat app to follow. Now suddenly, I am back as a contender in my fantasy baseball league, not only making my 20 bucks worth it for once, but also rekindling my passion for baseball that had been dormant for almost four years.

And it swooned on me: I needed to write on baseball again.


This time, I wanted to focus on two things: 1.) Fantasy Baseball and 2.) the Kansas City Royals. And that’s where “The Roto Royal” came in.

I wanted to write about fantasy baseball from a fan perspective, from the viewpoint of someone who obsesses over their league and players, both on their roster and on the free agent list. We see fantasy football blogs, sites, etc. all the time. People love talking about fantasy football. But fantasy baseball? Not so much. In fact, most fantasy baseball people are just playing it as a side game until fantasy football starts. I don’t give a shit about fantasy football. I wanted to write about fantasy baseball solely, and I figured my perspective as a fan who is active in his league and also has an affinity for sabermetrics would help me in my posts here on this blog.

That being said, I didn’t want this blog to be solely about fantasy. I have done that before, and the results usually were futile. Without a specific team to focus on, my attention and focus would wane. My writing always did best when I focused on one specific niche. My best writing came from focusing on the Giants. So…what about focusing on the Royals? My local MLB team? And doing so not just from a fanboy perspective, but from a “fantasy baseball” fan perspective?

I thought about going back and doing a Giants one. But, to be honest, I probably follow the Royals more than I do the Giants these days. I blame my first year in KC when in 2013 they actually showed signs of being competitive and legitimate (which paved the way for World Series appearances the next two years). Yes, I didn’t follow baseball as passionately as I did during the 2009-2012 Giants run. However, when I did follow baseball, it was the Royals. Much like most of the KC Metro, I got caught up in Royals fever: watching playoff games late on a weeknight in Midtown bars;  feeling turmoil and at-odds during the 2014 Giants-Royals World Series (because I truly liked both teams);  at-ease when the Royals finally got their much deserved World Series title. I was there at the parade that flooded Union Station and Liberty Memorial (and canceled school/work for me that day), and I became a regular tailgater at Kauffman, enjoying Miller Lite, cornhole and LC’s BBQ before entering to watch nine innings of America’s pastime.

Maybe I didn’t grow up a Royals fan. But for the past few years, I probably followed, watched and knew more about the Royals than the Giants. Yes, the Giants were in my blood, but the Royals had suddenly taken over my fandom as I became more entrenched in Kansas City as a resident.

So, it made sense to combine these two passions: Royals baseball from a fantasy baseball fan’s perspective. This blog will try to hit those two things: most of the time it will be about the Royals, and profile the pros and cons of what has been a rough season. But, it will also be flexible enough to cover other fantasy baseball topics outside the Royals. After all, a successful fantasy team requires a fan to go beyond his or her favorite team.


The Roto Royal will be about analytics and stats. The Roto Royal will be about a fan trying to understand where he stands in the Royals fandom universe. The Roto Royal will be about trying to find the diamonds in the rough in the Royals organization that could emerge down the line and give fans hope. And the Roto Royal will try to give advice and perspective to fantasy baseball players who are looking for other perspectives and viewpoints on players.

But more importantly, the Roto Royal is about baseball. Baseball blogging.

I’m back at it after nearly five years. It feels good to be writing about baseball again, even if it is about the blue and white of Kansas City rather than black and orange of San Francisco.

(At least it’s not the blue and white of Los Angeles, right?)

Who is Seuly Matias? (And is he legit?)

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.

Should I give up on the Blue Jays’ Justin Smoak?

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.

However, after being claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays on waivers, Smoak suddenly found the power north of the border that had been dormant in Seattle. He hit 18 home runs in 328 plate appearances in his first season in Toronto, and in 2017, at age 30, Smoak had a career season and became an All-Star player, hitting 38 home runs, 90 RBI, and posting a slash of .270/.355/.529 with an OPS of .883. Suddenly, it appeared that Smoak had not only found a home in Toronto but also could be in the discussion as a top-tier first-basemen in fantasy leagues everywhere going into 2018.

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.

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  1. Matt Olson, Athletics (110 ranking; 80% owned)
  2. Derek Dietrich, Marlins (132 ranking; 46% owned)
  3. Ian Desmond, Rockies (167 ranking; 74% owned)
  4. Daniel Descalso, Diamondbacks (195 ranking; 30% owned)
  5. Yonder Alonso, Indians (200 ranking, 33% owned)
  6. Yuli Gurriel, Astros (245 ranking, 42% owned)
  7. Ryon Healy, Mariners (269 ranking, 43% owned)

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.