Aaron Hicks and being patient with the slow-developing prospect

Aaron Hicks of the New York Yankees is having an interesting season offensively. A former top prospect in the Minnesota Twins system, Hicks is ranked 122nd overall in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, as he has hit 17 home runs, scored 51 runs, driven in 47 RBI, and has an OPS of .851. The only blemish on Hicks’ resume is his .256 batting average, but when you take into consideration his sound plate discipline (he has a 13.6 percent walk rate and a 0.69 BB/K ratio), fantasy owners can live with the low average as long as they make it up in other areas on their team (similar to the Pirates’ Gregory Polanco, who is now mashing more than ever, but still has a low average).

What makes Hicks’ season so interesting is that he’s gone under the radar with not only fantasy owners (he’s only owned in 59 percent of leagues) but also in his own organization. After the 2015 season ended, the Twins, to make room for top prospect Byron Buxton, traded Hicks straight up for John Ryan Murphy, a catching prospect in the Yankees’ system. Hicks struggled initially in pinstripes in 2016, as he only hit .217 with a .617 OPS in 361 plate appearances and 121 games. Hicks’ underwhelming campaign in 2016 made room for Aaron Judge to come onto the scene in 2017, as Judge, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury all played 100 plus games in the outfield.

However, despite modest expectations going into 2017, Hicks played the best baseball of his career. Despite struggling with an oblique injury, Hicks hit 15 home runs, drove in 52 RBI, scored 54 runs, had 10 stolen bases, hit .266 and posted an OPS of .847. Unfortunately, he only finished 302nd overall in Yahoo! leagues, mostly due to the fact he only played 88 games and had 301 plate appearances overall in 2017.


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Despite the excellent season, it seemed like Hicks was going to struggle to find a role in 2018, once again. Ellsbury, Judge, and Gardner returned, as well as Clint Frazier, who was rated the 39th best prospect in baseball going into 2017 by Baseball America. And to make things tougher for Hicks, the Yankees also signed Giancarlo Stanton to a massive contract, and it was expected that Stanton would regularly patrol left, while Gardner and Judge, would patrol center, and right, respectively. Hicks seemed to be a fourth outfielder, perhaps an occasional DH player going into 2018.

However, Ellsbury got injured in Spring Training and hasn’t played since. Frazier has struggled with injuries as well, and now Judge has been put on the shelf for three weeks due to a wrist injury? As for Hicks? Well, he continues to mash, his season comparable to 2017 (his 123 wRC+ is only 4 points below his 2017 wRC+), but with more games under his belt (he’s going to pass the games played and plate appearances from all of 2017 in just a matter of days). While Judge and Stanton have stolen all the headlines for Yankees outfielders, Hicks may be the most underrated offensive star in pinstripes in 2018.

If there’s a lesson to be learned about Hicks, it’s the understanding of how some prospects take more time to develop. Hicks was a first-round pick of the Twins in 2008 and was rated as the top prospect in the Twins system in 2009 and 2010 by Baseball America. Hicks profiled very much like Buxton: good speed on the base paths along with good athleticism and a strong hit tool. However, things just never worked out in Minnesota, as he had a .225 average, .655 OPS, and 20 home runs in 247 games overall with the Twins over three seasons. Since coming to New York, Hicks has a .243 average, .759 OPS, and 39 home runs in 294 games.  Hicks’ home run stroke is what has developed the most, as Hicks’ HR/FB ratio has been 15.8 percent and 17.6 percent the past two seasons, respectively. The highest percentage Hicks posted in Minnesota was 11.1 percent, which came in 2015 (his last year in Minnesota).

Now, one can credit Hicks’ move to the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium as a probable reason for his breakout, and you would have a case if you just judged him from last season, as he hit 12 out of his 15 home runs at Yankee Stadium in 2017. But in 2018, Hicks has been just as effective on the road as he has been back in the Bronx, as he has 9 home runs at home this year, and 8 on the road, a much evener distribution. Furthermore, one could argue that he’s been a better hitter on the road than at home, as he has a higher average (.270 to .241) and OPS (.866 to .834) away from Yankee Stadium in 2018. So, while initially, some people could credit Hicks’ development as a hitter to the “House that Ruth Built” (i.e. the short left field porch), 2018 has shown that Hicks is a strong overall hitter and not just a product of a ballpark.


At 29 years old, development came slowly for Hicks, whom many Twins fans felt was a bust in Minnesota, as he never lived up to those top prospect expectations while in the Twins system. Eventually, it came to Twins management having to decide between Buxton and Hicks, and they made the decision to go all-in on Buxton (understandable, though that strategy has had mixed results). That being said, Hicks is a prime example that some prospects develop slowly. Yes, there are the Mike Trouts and Aaron Judges who come out gangbusters when they reach the MLB level, but a lot of prospects sometimes take a few seasons at the MLB level to develop and then find success. Charlie Blackmon, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and even to an extent Yankee teammate Didi Gregorius, took a few seasons before they currently found success as Major Leaguers. Consider Hicks another example of such a success story.

And not only is Hicks a success story for the Yankees, but it should also give hope to fans of teams who have prospects that haven’t necessarily hit their “stride” just yet. Some people have already given up on Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Billy Hamilton, to name a few. After all, they were top prospects expected to be perennial All-Stars, and all three listed above have experienced some serious lows this season (Buxton and Sano have seen time in Triple-A). But Sano is only 25, Buxton is 24, and Hamilton is 27. They still have time, and it’s plausible that 2019 may be the season they break out and finally show consistency, much like Hicks.

So, don’t give up on prospects, especially early on in their careers if they are struggling initially at the Major League level. It would be a shame for either a fantasy owner or even a Major League fanbase to miss out on a successful player because they gave up on the prospect too early. Look up north to Minneapolis, as Twins fans are probably kicking themselves in retrospect for parting with Hicks so early, especially considering Murphy is not even in their organization anymore.

 

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What did the Royals gain (and lose) in the Mike Moustakas trade?

The Royals were in the national news on Friday night, and it had nothing to do with their game against the Yankees (it was rained out; they have a doubleheader scheduled for today). Late last night, the Brewers and Royals pulled off a trade, with the Royals posting this on their Twitter:

The trade was expected by Royals fans ever since the season began, really. The Royals expected to sign elsewhere when he became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2017 season along with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. However, while Hosmer and Cain signed with the Padres and Brewers, respectively, the market for Moustakas never materialized, and he ended up re-signing with the Royals while in Spring Training for a one-year, $5.5 million deal.

Moose re-signing ended up being a blessing in disguise for both the Royals and Moose. Moose is having another solid year (20 home runs, 107 wRC+), proving that 2017 wasn’t a fluke, and the Royals got to not only keep a fan favorite a little bit longer but also got something in return for his departure. In the end, though it came as a surprise in March, Moose coming back to Kansas City was a win-win for everyone.

So, what did the Royals gain and lose in the deal overall? Let’s take a look.


What the Royals gained in the Moose trade.

The Royals received two prospects in OF Brett Phillips and RHP Jorge Lopez, a pretty good haul considering how close the Royals were to the deadline. To give some context, the Brewers have a pretty deep farm system, as Baseball America ranked them 6th overall in their talent rankings going into 2018


Phillips is the crown jewel of the deal, as he was the 7th rated prospect in the Brewers system and the 80th best prospect in baseball overall by Baseball America going into the 2018 season. Phillips, however, was unable to break into a crowded Brewers outfield (which sports Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich this year), as he has only appeared in 52 games and accumulated 122 plate appearances the past two years in Milwaukee. This year has also been a little slow for Phillips in Triple-A, as Phillips is only posting a slash of .240/.331/.411 with an OPS of .742 and 6 home runs in 299 plate appearances in Colorado Springs. That being said, he has demonstrated success in Colorado Springs before, as he hit 19 home runs and posted an OPS of .944 in 432 plate appearances in 2017.

Patrick Brennan of Royals Farm Report had a pretty good write up on Phillips, and had this to say about the prospect on Twitter:

The other player acquired in the deal is Jorge Lopez, a reliever who has appeared in 10 games this season and has accumulated 19.2 IP and a 2.75 ERA and 1.48 whip this season. Lopez was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011 out of Puerto Rico and originally broke into the Brewers system as a starter. However, he transitioned to the bullpen last year, and so far the results have been mixed. While he has been decent with the big league club, he still struggles with command, as evidenced by 1.15 K/BB ration, and his ERA and WHIP numbers look worse in Triple-A as it was 5.65 and 1.50 respectively in 28.2 IP with Colorado Springs in 2018.

Ironically, much like Goodwin, I wrote a piece featuring Lopez prior to the 2011 MLB Draft. Here’s what I said about Lopez in the post:

“John Sickels has Lopez projected to go at the 49th slot in his latest mock supplemental first round draft. Lopez is a high-ceiling arm, with a nice frame and good stuff according to reports. While Puerto Rican prospects usually don’t have a history of going high in the draft (Luis Atilano was the highest pick from Puerto Rico in the history of the draft, as he went No. 35 in 2003), Lopez seems to be an exception to the rule.

According to a report by Perfect Game USA, Lopez is getting comparisons to Javier Vazquez. He still has a lot of room to develop as a pitcher (he’s six-foot-four inches, and 175 pounds), but already he sports a fastball that goes in the low 90’s and a good spinning curve ball that has gotten good reports from scouts. An excellent athlete (Lopez played volleyball, basketball and ran track in addition to baseball), Lopez used to be a shortstop before he converted to the mound full time.”

The shine of Lopez as a prospect has certainly faded a bit the past couple of seasons, as he was unranked in the Brewers system, a far cry from his days where he rated as the 59th best prospect overall by Baseball America going into 2016. However, Lopez should bring some much-needed depth to the Royals bullpen in the immediate future. It’s definitely possible he could develop into a solid setup man or perhaps a closer in the near future should the Royals part ways with Wily Peralta (also a former Brewers top pitching prospect).


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What did the Royals lose in the deal?

Obviously, the Royals lost Moustakas, which while expected, is still a tough pill to swallow for Royals fans. Moose was one of the first big prospects drafted by Dayton Moore, and from the day he was drafted, it was understood that the Royals’ future success would depend on him. Thankfully, he panned out and became a key cog for the Royals’ success from 2013-2017 along with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer.

In 934 games and 3,735 plate appearances over eight seasons with the Royals, Moose hit 139 home runs and had a career OPS+ of 98. However, Moose really developed and hit his stride as a player in 2015, his first All-Star appearance. If you look at his numbers from 2015-2018, Moustakas hit 87 home runs and had an average OPS+ of 114.3 in the four-year span, and he did this despite missing most 2016 due to a knee injury (he only played in 27 games).

With Moustakas gone, the hole at third will most likely be filled by a rotating door of players, with Hunter Dozier and Rosell Herrera being the most logical options to fill in immediately.  This season, Dozier has an OPS+ of 61, and Herrera has an OPS+ of 77, both far cries from Moose’s 111 OPS+ as a Royal this year. It will be interesting to see how Ned Yost will manage the position and who will emerge as the more regular third baseman of the two. Dozier is a former first-round draft pick who has struggled with the bat since getting injured a year ago, and Herrera was a recent waiver wire pickup who used to be a top prospect in the Rockies system but has a tendency to be too free-swinging and lacks power. Both certainly have potential, but they both have a lot to do to make up for Moose’s production at the hot corner.

However, the biggest loss from the Moose trade definitely comes in the clubhouse, as Moose developed as a more vocal leader during the past four years. Royals MLB.com beat writer Jeff Flanagan shared this tweet today about Moose:

There was a lot of great things to remember about Moose: the diving catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 ALCS, the Moose antlers at games and crossing signs, the resting bitch face he seemed to employ 24/7. However, what made Moose great was that he showed that the Royals could draft good players, develop them, and see them win with the Royals, not some other club. The Royals have had a penchant for drafting and developing guys, only to see them win with their next club. Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, and Zach Greinke are just a few of the names who performed well with Royals initially, only to find more individual and team success with another club. Moose bucked that trend, and for a little bit, he showed that Dayton Moore wasn’t a complete jackass.

And Moose represented a lot of what Kansas City was about. He probably was the most relatable out of the Royals stars. He isn’t the happy go lucky guy like Salvy. He isn’t an incredible athlete like Cain. He isn’t a hunk like Hosmer. And he isn’t a local Midwest boy like Gordon. Moose is just…Moose, and I know I appreciated him for his no-nonsense, laid back personality.

And he was a Cali guy who embraced Kansas City, much like me. Maybe that’s another reason why I like him so much.

Anyways, Moose will be missed, both on and off the field. At least he will be back in the lineup with another former Royal in Cain. True Royals fans will appreciate seeing something familiar in October should the Brewers hold on and make the playoffs.

How to get through the rest of the Royals’ 2018 season…

“Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

My senior English teacher asked me that during a seminar-style class period where we had to discuss the topic of “relationships”. I went to an all-boys high school, and as expected, the seminar conversations were ripe with machismo and testosterone, especially initially. Despite that obvious roadblock though, my English teacher was able to navigate through our initial thoughts and tendencies and actually produce appropriate and worthwhile conversation amongst 20+ 18-year-old boys, ready to graduate and go to college. That 60-minute class could have easily turned into a “measuring” contest (i.e. who was the best at attracting the opposite sex) or a “venting” session (i.e. people bashing their exes). Instead, it turned into mature, thoughtful dialogue about relationships as a whole, why we seek them, and how we change or are shaped from relationships in our lives, even if they do not last for long. My conversations with my classmates from that particular day still ring in my memory, though I feel sheepish reveling the exact topics from my classmates that day, especially considering this is a Kansas City Royals and Fantasy Baseball blog.

But one bit I will share is the one above. I asked my English teacher, “I know why a relationship fails, and why we didn’t work. But I always go after the same kind of person. Why do I do that?”

And that’s when he dropped it on me: “Well…Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

I don’t think I had an answer then. I really don’t have an answer now. 13 years later since that class, I still wonder if I am actually a masochist when it comes to relationships, seeking ones that are doomed to fail out of some perverse subconscious enjoyment. I will say I am in a good relationship now, the best I’ve ever been, so maybe I’m not actually a masochist, but someone who needed more time to find the right person.

So what does this have to do with Royals baseball?

Well, I brought up that quote and that story because I got to thinking… is it possible that you have to be a bit masochistic to not only be a Kansas City Royals fan but a baseball fan in general?


Baseball is an odd game in comparison to other sports. There are no set time limits. The game from pitch to pitch moves slowly. The season runs a 162 games long, an insane amount of contests when you compare it to other major American sports. The game is mired in number, statistics, and analysis to the point where one almost has to have a love of math to enjoy the game nowadays. Opportunities vary for players on the field. In some games, the hits come in bunches, and a player is making play after play. In some games, he goes o-fer and doesn’t touch the baseball.

And opportunities for teams? It may be even worse. Only five teams from each division make the playoffs, only 33% (less than the nearly half per division as it is in the NBA), and two of those teams from each division have to play in a “one-game playoff” just to advance to the next round, where it is only a five-game series. In the NBA playoffs, each round consists of seven games, usually resulting in the best overall team winning each round (with some exceptions every now and then of course). But in baseball, there are only two seven-game series’: the Championship Series (Pennant) and the World Series. Often times, it’s not the best regular season team that wins the World Series…it’s just the best team in October. That can be infuriating for a fan who watched his team be successful over 162 games, only to see that success erased in as little as 1 to 3 games.

Some say that the baseball season is akin to “running a marathon, not a sprint”. I agree, but with some conditions: It is like running a marathon, but you have to carry cinder blocks on your shoulders while doing it.

And for the Royals and their fans this season, it’s been like running a marathon with cinder blocks that have 100-pound steel weights attached to them. In other words, this season has been an awful, painful, dragging slog to get through.

After a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees in game one of a four-game series, the Royals are 31-71, 40 games under .500. With the July 31st Trade Deadline less than a week away, Royals fans are preparing for certain players to be wearing another team’s uniform in a matter of days. And speaking of fans, the tension with the club is at an all-time high, especially after Fangraphs writer, Dan Szymborski went on a Twitter tirade bashing General Manager Dayton Moore for not capitalizing on the Royals’ success in 2014 and 2015, and allowing the team to fall back to where it was prior to his arrival (i.e. one of the worst clubs in baseball) to the detriment of Royals fans.

As you can see from above, one can understand where I’m coming from when I say that it may be “masochistic” to be a Kansas City Royals fan. And there are still 60 games left to go this year.

How the hell am I, or any Royals fan for that matter, going to get through it all?


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It would be easy and understandable to throw in the towel on the Royals this season. And for the most part, a lot of people already have. Why follow a team that’s going nowhere this season? Why not spend time, money, and attention on other sports teams, activities, hobbies? If the Royals cause this much frustration, why stick with it, like a bad relationship doomed for failure?

I’m not saying you have to be masochistic to enjoy the Royals. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a lot to still enjoy with the Royals, even during this season.

I just don’t want Royals fans to grow pessimistic and jaded.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into those categories as a Royals fan. It’s easy to bash on Moore and blame him for all the Royals problems. It’s easy to bash manager Ned Yost and his lineup and bullpen decisions. It’s easy to bash the players and talk about how much they suck, or that they should be jettisoned from the sport immediately. It’s easy to bash on baseball and say the game is dying and that nobody cares about it anymore, especially in comparison to basketball and football.

But while it’s easy to do those things (and get into the habit of Randy Marsh finger pointing), it’s important to try to avoid it as much as possible (I get it…venting is needed from time to time). Instead, it’s important to remember the joy of 2014 and 2015. The positivity. The playoff games. The excitement. Blue adorning the city everywhere you traveled within the KC Metro. Those were good times. Good times for baseball fans. Good times for the Royals and Kansas City, overall. The parade at Union Station still is one of my best memories as a sports fan, period.

It’s important to remember because it helps give fans hope that it can happen again.  Just look at the difference between 2014 and 2015. Once the Royals got to the playoffs a second time, it seemed to be destiny that they were going to win it all. The Royals and the fans knew what it took to win, and they weren’t going to let it slip away a second time, as they proved by beating the New York Mets in the World Series in 2015.

So it’s important to hold on to hope. It’s important to not tune out on the Royals for the rest of 2018. And here are five things to remember that will help you get through the remaining 60 games of what some may say is a “lost season”


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1. Remember…2015 was only three seasons ago

Some may look at that statement and say “And look how bad we are after winning the World Series three years ago!” I get that, but you have to keep things in context, especially in comparison with other MLB teams. The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948, good for the longest World Series draught currently. The Brewers, Padres, Nationals, and Mariners, have never won a World Series in their club’s history (49 years for Milwaukee, San Diego, and Washington; 41 for Seattle). The Royals, on the other hand, have two World Series titles: 1985 and 2015.

Yes, it sucks that the Royals are not competitive, and are in the process of rebuilding. It sucks that the Royals may not experience that playoff magic for at least a few more seasons. But compared to other clubs in baseball, at least we have those recent memories of success to comfort us in these down times.

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2. Remember the kids (in the farm system)

Much like a divorced couple or a relationship on the rocks, it’s important to remember the kids in all of this. Not your own kids (though if you have kids, certainly don’t neglect them), but the Royals prospects. There is a lot of talent coming up through the system who may be the next generation of Royals stars. Seuly Matias hit his Minor-League leading 28th and 29th home runs on Thursday night. Khalil Lee is starting to show promise in Northwest Arkansas. Recent first-round draft pick Brady Singer is the 67th rated prospect according to MLB.com. There are good things going on with Royals’ affiliates, which could mean good things on the horizon for the Royals organization as a whole in the next 2-3 years.

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3. Remember that there’s still some talent on the roster for the future.

Though he had a rough start Wednesday, Danny Duffy is finally turning it around as a starter this season in the Royals rotation. Whit Merrifield consistently proves to be one of the Royal’s strongest overall players, a great story considering he was overlooked for so long while toiling in the minors. Adalberto Mondesi is finally getting an opportunity to play every day, and he is finally developing into the infield mainstay many envisioned him to be when he first broke into the Majors as a 19-year-old. The roster has some players who can not only play this year, but could provide a nice foundation for the future for this Royals club as well. Yes, the farm system isn’t deep, and there are a lot of players on this roster that probably won’t be around when Spring Training hits next year. But the cupboard isn’t bare, and there are some players on this roster worth investing in as a fan for next season and beyond.

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4. Remember that even though there are struggles, the veterans aren’t mailing it in.

It would be easy to see Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and even to an extent Alcides Escobar, just throw in the towel on the season. After all, they were the main cogs during those 2014-2015 runs, and the roster around them is a far cry from those glory days. They could be out in the media, demanding trades, wanting to be on a winning team, hoping to snag one last ring in their prime. Instead, they have come to the ballpark and played hard as professionals. Even watching the game in person Wednesday, the veterans I listed above approached the game as if it were 2015, and they were in line for a playoff spot, not the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. That kind of professionalism and effort is not something we see all the time in baseball, and even Royals fans can attest to that. I mean, did you remember the 2005 Royals coming to the park every day like this squad here? And doing so even though all those veterans I listed above have gone through down seasons in 2018?

Yes, maybe they’re not doing well. Maybe a couple of them should’ve left a year or two ago. But they bring it each and every game, and that at the very least deserves some respect in the grand scheme of things.

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5. Remember…going to Kauffman Stadium is fun.

I talked about my experience at Kauffman Stadium in my last post. Going to a game at Kauffman is a great time. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a bunch of friends, tailgating a couple of hours before a game or going solo with a scorecard. There’s something about the stadium and the ballpark experience that make a day or night at the K special. It’s easy to forget that with all the losing going on. But don’t. Go to a game. Go to a game with friends. Go to a game by yourself. But just go. The specials are starting to happen in even greater frequency now, and tickets will only get cheaper as we head into August.

So don’t just settle for watching a game on television. Don’t settle for just listening to it on the radio on the way back to work as you’re stuck on I-35 traffic. Don’t just settle for following it on your MLB At-Bat app. Go to the K. Get a ticket. Sit in the cheap seats. Watch the Royals hit the field and hear the crack of the bat and the snap of the catcher’s mitt and the roars of the crowd.

A day at the ballpark in person captures you in ways that other mediums simply can’t.


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2018 will be a season that will either live in infamy (as the worst Royals team of all time) or will quickly be forgotten in Royals lore. I’m betting more on the latter. After all, nobody talks about the 2005 team (the current worst team in Royals history) with the exception of Royals fans comparing it to this year’s team. After 2018, people will only talk about the squad that season, future teams, or the 2015 team that won it all, and that will be a good thing. Think about Milwaukee. What years are they talking about other than the current season or the ones in the future? What years can they talk about when they had a parade in the heart of their city?

I’m not trying to sugar coat this Royals season or excuse this year’s poor performance by any means. It’s been a lousy year, plain and simple. There are players in this organization that need to go and management needs to make some changes in the organization (scouting, development or even the front office) if the club ever wants to be competitive again. 2018 has been a slap to the face of Royals fans this year. 2015 showed how all-in this city could be with the Royals and baseball. They deserved a better team than a bunch of band-aid free agent signings and short-sighted trades that ended up hindering the club for years to come.

But despite all that frustration…keep following the Royals. Keep going to Kauffman Stadium. Keep the faith in this club for the future. Don’t give up or ignore them for Chiefs football just yet.

Because that commitment will pay off. When the Royals turn it around…whenever that is…it will make the experience that much sweeter.

Maybe I’m not such a masochist after all…

‘A weekday afternoon game at Kauffman’ (Part 2 of the THT Fan Experience in Kansas City)

As a teacher on vacation in the Summer, I have the luxury of having days where I can afford to not do anything. Summer is a time where I can get appointments done, as well as start all kinds of projects before I begin work in August (this blog is one of those projects…though I expect to continue this blog even after I report back to school). Also, summer allows me to partake in events during the week that most normal, working people would find difficult to do, if not impossible.

The weekday afternoon MLB game is one of those events.

After writing my own analysis of The Hardball Time’s “Fan Experience Index” rating of Kansas City (which was 4.99 out of 10, good for 27th overall), I decided to make a trek over to Kauffman Stadium for a Wednesday afternoon game against the Detroit Tigers, the series (and homestand) finale. In order to really “analyze” the fan experience, I had to really judge the Kauffman Stadium experience in person and with the criteria THT used.

I had to travel and attend this game alone, almost like a semi-business trip rather than the typical “day at the K” I was used to and enjoyed in the past.

This wouldn’t be a time for drinking and playing cornhole or washers in the parking lot. This wasn’t a time to blast brews or down dollar dogs with buds in the Kauffman cheap seats while talking about where Mike Moustakas would be traded to by the Trade Deadline. This wasn’t a time to Snapchat every single picture at Kauffman. I really wanted to judge Kauffman seriously, fairly and truly see if it was better than the 4.99 rating and 27th ranking THT gave it.

And thus…in the corny Law & Order intro voice style…here is my story:


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Traveling to Kauffman Stadium

I live in Midtown Kansas City and left my house around 10:45, stopping by a CVS nearby to get some gum and seeds, knowing that I would need something to snack on, but didn’t want to spend near 15 dollars for two things I could get for 3 dollars at a convenience store. By the time I headed to the stadium on I-70 East, it was probably close to 11.

I understand that there aren’t a lot of “alternative” ways to get to Kauffman Stadium, but I found it pretty straightforward, and a lot easier than I last remembered. Of course, there were a lot of things to keep into consideration: it was a Wednesday afternoon game a time and day of the week where most people are working; and the Royals are in the bottom of the AL Central, meaning the demand is not there for tickets like it was from 2013-2017 (but no longer the worst team in baseball, woohoo). And, I was also getting there early, nearly two hours before first pitch.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I got to the ballpark in about 17 minutes, found parking easily relatively close to the stadium, and didn’t have to deal with any traffic issues. But believe me: I have been to other ballparks, and parking can be a pain in the ass even in the same situation. The Royals and the Truman Sports Complex do a pretty good job with their circumstances: big parking lots, multiple entrances, helpful, quick-moving attendants.

Nonetheless, I do wish that there were better mass transit or shuttle options to the park, especially from my area. I still think if the Royals want to improve attendance, especially for a day game like this, there needs to be some kind of transit or shuttle infrastructure in place that caters to younger fans who don’t want to hassle with parking and just want to catch an impromptu game at the ballpark. I get it. The tailgating culture is great. It’s nice to see fans with their tents up, grilling, playing cornhole, drinking brews, etc. But that’s something that fans can’t do regularly. I have friends who live in Seattle and San Francisco, and they just like going to the ballpark, no tailgate included. That’s how the Mariners and Giants make their money because younger fans will catch three-to-four games on a homestand because it’s easy to get to the park, not just one or two.

I think Kauffman is a great stadium, but they need more options to get to the park. If that can happen (and this is probably beyond them; this is really a city transportation issue), then I think we’ll see the stands fill up a little more (especially as more recent college grads are moving into the city), regardless of the team’s standing.


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Enjoying the pregame experience in Moose’s (most likely) last game as a Royal

My family was never much into tailgating. Maybe we’re West Coast like that. I remember one time we went to Candlestick Park and tailgated with one of those disposable grills. We grilled some Kirkland Polish Sausages and kinda just sat around in lawn chairs and didn’t say shit to one another. Then after we finished, my dad was like “All right, screw this, let’s get into the ballpark.”

I’ve always enjoyed getting to a ballpark early and just walking around and seeing everything about the ballpark. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kauffman Stadium or a Minor League park. There’s just something special about walking around, soaking in the Baseball Americana of a stadium. For as much crap as Kauffman gets for not being in the city (unlike most modern stadiums; Kauffman may be one of the last of its breed in the sense that it’s not in the heart of the city), the amenities Kauffman offers makes it an enjoyable experience before first pitch.

After parking, I walked over to Gate E, which is one of two gates open 1.5 hours before the first pitch. I passed by a Mike Moustakas banner on a light pole, and it made me think of this post on Twitter I saw before I left for the game this morning:

It made me sad to think it was Moustakas’ last game at the K, but I felt every Royals fan knew the writing was on the wall. I’m sure Ned Yost did as well, as he started Moustakas, even though the Tigers’ starting pitcher was a lefty.

Until about an hour before the game, only the outfield area of the stadium is open, which is fine because there are plenty of things to check out. Since it was a Wednesday, they had the “Music Showcase” where a band played in the outfield experience area before the game in a stage near some of the stands, as evidenced in this picture below:

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It probably wasn’t the greatest gig for the band. And though the area is nice and spacious, good for people to gather and listen, it is also near the “kids” area, which consists of a mini-baseball field, batting cages, a jungle gym, and even a miniature golf course. (Seriously…what other damn park has those things?) Considering the circumstances, I’m sure the band, whoever the hell they were, didn’t get the attention they were craving, but hey…a gig is a gig.

Speaking of the “kids” area, it’s obvious that the Royals, especially in the outfield experience, really are catering to a family environment. While they do have their areas for young adults, like the Craft and Draft section (which I will go into more detail in a bit), it’s obvious that the Royals are banking on the Johnson, Clay and Cass County families commuting to the game, and need attractions to distract their kids since a baseball game doesn’t have lasers and shit to entertain them. While I think these attractions are convenient for parents (I get it…not every five-year-old is going to be enthralled by nine innings of baseball), but it makes me wonder if these attractions are better or worse for baseball. I mean, this area made the Royals outfield experience seems less like a ballpark and more like a Dave and Buster’s. If baseball is really serious about keeping younger fans, I think the game of baseball itself has to be the focus, not frivolous distractions (yes, that’s the old man in me talking).

Outside the kids-heavy attractions, the fence by the fountains is adorned with a combination of bar patios and bronze monuments of legendary Royals. In the pictures below, statues of George Brett, manager Dick Howser, and Frank White are front and center, a nice relic to the days when the Royals were not just the hot ticket in the Midwest, but also a team worth following across the nation.

However, while I am critical of the “kids carnival” aspects of the pregame outfield experience at Kauffman, I do appreciate the Royals Hall of Fame, which I think is incredibly well done and put together. The one thing Kansas City has is great baseball history, as the Athletics once played in Kansas City before moving to Oakland (Northern California always stealing Kansas City teams), and the Monarchs were the “Yankees” of the Negro Leagues. The Negro League Museum on 18th and Vine is one of the finest baseball museums in the nation, period, and the Kansas City T-Bones, an Independent baseball team have a great stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, and draw great crowds (especially considering they share the metro with an MLB team).

Kansas City really is a great baseball city, but it often gets overlooked in comparison to more well-known baseball cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. I feel like the Royals Hall of Fame is an amazing testament to not just the Royals’ rich history, but Kansas City’s great baseball history overall, with all kinds of Kansas City baseball artifacts ranging from the Monarchs and Negro Leagues in Kansas City to the old Municipal Stadium that housed the A’s and Royals initially to the 70 and 80’s heydays with George Brett and Co. to their most recent playoff success in 2014 and 2015. Kauffman really did an amazing job with the Hall of Fame, and it probably is one of the best, if not best, attractions that Kauffman has to offer, especially for baseball fans who live in the Midwest and are traveling from Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma or South Dakota to watch the Boys in Blue.

‘Speaking of the Midwest, it is obvious that people in this part of the country love their local state universities. There were a few apparel stores open in the outfield experience, an in addition to the plethora of Royals caps on sale (from authentic fitted ones to adjustable golf-style hats), they also had Royals fitted hats that were in the colors of local colleges, including Kansas University, Kansas State, Mizzou, and Nebraska, as seen below:

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If anything these hats confirmed two things I learned while living here in the Midwest for almost 8 years:

1.) People in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska Midwest) really care about their college sports.

2.) Colleges in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska Midwest) really love to exploit their college for massive financial gain.


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Craft and Draft: Not for kids

About an hour before the game, the rest of the ballpark opened up, and I was able to mosey over to the other end of the stadium and stroll up to the Boulevard Craft and Draft, which is basically Kauffman’s answer to those who think Kauffman is just a “Kids Wonderland” in terms of attractions. The Craft and Draft basically is an embodiment of what every 20-something out of college these days demands out of their dining establishments: craft beers, artisan food, and nice mahogany furniture. Opened in 2015, this was the result of all those Millenial wishes:

I got to admit: the digs hold up pretty well. While I do enjoy the grungy aspects of the upper decks where it’s standard fare such as hot dogs, brats, and Miller Lite (I grew up on it with games at Candlestick and Oakland-Alameda Stadium as a kid), I’m always a fan of when ballparks focus on local products, as Kauffman does with Boulevard here. I mean, when you look at that tap selection (and they also have more behind the bar), and it makes you feel like you’re at the Boulevard Tap Room, not at Kauffman stadium for a baseball game.

The only drag about the Craft and Draft? It’s expensive as all hell. I got a Raspberry Jam Band (because…why not?) and it cost me 13.75 for a 12 oz. Almost 14 bucks! I know craft beer is more expensive, but holy shit…I see guys how blasted in this area all the time. How do they afford it?

(To answer this question, it’s because they have bank when it comes to disposable income…my girlfriend last night reminded me that not everyone has a teacher’s salary.)

 


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Lunch with a view

After finishing my “way too expensive and not satisfying enough” beer (I love Boulevard, but Jam Band is not high on the list of favorites for me), I bought a $1 scorecard and headed up to my seats in the upper decks, section 420 to be specific (yes, make your jokes now…either to the scorecard or the obvious weed reference). I wanted something to eat, but I decided to go to standard fare rather than do something fancy. After all, it’s a baseball game. If there’s one thing I think gets overblown, it’s all the fancy cuisine that they’re doing at baseball games. My mother talks about AT&T Park’s (the Giants) food all the time: the Crazy Crab Sandwiches, the Garlic Fries, the Ghiradelli ice cream. I am more like my dad in this end: a hot dog and a beer is good enough (though my dad doesn’t do the beer anymore; he became like Mormon or something after I left for college). I figured that there would be plenty of options in the upper decks, and I wanted time to prepare my scorecard before first pitch.

As expected for a Wednesday afternoon day game of a team 38 games under .500 going into Wednesday’s game, there were no lines in the concessions stands. I waltzed right up, bought Sheboygan brat combo (brat and pretzel bites) and a tall Miller Lite (had to get Jam-Band-taste out of my mouth). The total cost was $23.25 ($12.75 for the combo; $10.50 for the Miller Lite). I also ended up buying a big bottle of water from another stand for $7.25, so my total expense for lunch at the K was a clean $30.50. Yep, not exactly the McDonald’s Value Menu in the upper decks.

Despite the K’s poor reputation for food, I think the brat is one of the best things on sale at the K, and today didn’t disappoint. I also like the pretzel bites accompaniment, which was the first time I had eaten them at a ball game. Though it does come at a hefty price tag, if there are no other deals on tap (i.e. it’s not a dollar night), then I could make this a regular item for me at ballgames if I don’t eat LC’s BBQ before.

(Pardon the picture below. I had eaten a bite before I realized I needed to take a picture for the blog.)

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Just me, the Royals and my scorecard

It had been a while since I had scored a game at the ballpark. When I worked in South Dakota after Summer School ended, a buddy of mine and I would drive down to Denver for a weekend series, get a hotel, and not only watch all three Rockies games at Coors Field, but also keep a scorecard for all three games. It was nerdy shit I know, but for us, it was a heavenly experience because we both loved baseball, sabermetrics, and getting the hell out of the isolation of South Dakota whenever we had a chance. Thankfully, Coors Field was only a six-hour drive (when you’re in South Dakota, a six-hour drive is like a 2.5-hour drive anywhere else; you’re used to driving long distances).

However, I hadn’t scored a game since I left South Dakota and moved to Kansas City in 2013. Since I was by myself attending this game, I felt keeping a scorecard of what could be Moose’s last home game as a Royal would help me pass the time.

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Not only did it help me pass the time, but keeping a scorecard enhanced the baseball experience so much more. In fact, I think baseball is one of the few games where you can go to a game by yourself, and really enjoy it more solo due to the scorecard (much like Ramen is best-enjoyed solo at a restaurant). That’s not something you can do with football, basketball or hockey. Yes, those sports are more exciting, but it’s more exciting with friends, family, dates you’re trying to impress, or guys you feel comfortable slapping hands with. Those sports though decline considerably in enjoyability when you’re alone and don’t know anyone around you, or there are a bunch of empty seats in your section. Eventually, you get bored and are on your phone Twittering or Snapchatting midway through the contest.

That is not the case in baseball, as I remained off my phone except to take pictures for this post or double check a roster change (Kauffman, you have to step up your game when there’s pitching changes). You get to see which hitters are having a good game, and which ones aren’t immediately. If you keep track of pitch counts (like I do), you can see what counts pitchers are getting into, and that will explain whether or not they are having a good day or a bad one (Danny Duffy was not taking advantage of early pitcher counts, and he paid; Matthew Boyd, the Tigers pitcher, stayed ahead most of the day and that was a big reason why he kept the Royals off the board for most of the day). It’s also a great souvenir, a real-time artifact of the concentration, focus, and love you have for the game of baseball.

Some people may find it crazy, but going to a baseball game solo and scoring a game is a truly relaxing and enjoyable sporting experience. Because of this, I am thinking about making a habit of it, as I am toying with the idea of splurging on partial season tickets and scoring all those games if the prices go down for season tickets next season (wink…wink…Royals).


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Baseball is fun in the upper decks at Kauffman

Even though most of my focus during the game was on keeping score, it was fun to notice the little things in the upper decks. It’s amazing how even though there are a ton of empty seats around us in the section, people still make fusses over seating assignments (just find an open area; nobody is getting a foul ball here). I also was surprised by the diversity of the crowd, as there were fans of all ages and races in the upper deck section around me. There were families from Texas, a group of exchange students from Korea, a travel baseball team watching the Royals on a day off from one of their tournament games in the KC-area, students from summer programs run by Operation Breakthrough, and even a contingent of Dominican fans who went crazy every time Jorge Bonifacio came up to bat (“Papi Chulo” was their term of endearment for him; too bad he went 0-for-4). They even had a Dominican Republic flag they waved proudly during his at-bats, as seen in the photo below:

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If baseball in the lower decks is mostly families from the Kansas City suburbs, business people using the tickets given away at the office, or middle to upper-middle-class college kids on summer break using their parents’ season tickets, then the upper decks in an eclectic mix of folks much like Kansas City itself. It’s diverse, it’s different, and can be strange on occasion (there was a fair share of shirtless men; whether they should’ve been shirtless is a different story). But it’s comforting, especially for someone who identifies as a mixed-race baseball fan, where basketball and football are the more popular sports for people of my background (especially in my extended family, where it’s all about NBA basketball and the NFL). The Royals do have some diversity. They do have fans of different cultures who enjoy the equally diverse roster the Royals employ.

I just wish the Royals would promote this a bit more. If they put just half the effort into celebrating the fan cultural diversity as they did when it comes to celebrating the troops (not saying that they should celebrate them less…just want to give context because they really go full board into honoring service members at games), I think the Kauffman experience could even be more special for a wider range of fans in Kansas City, which is not only good for the city but good and strengthening for baseball overall.


So what do I think overall about the “fan experience at Kauffman”?

According to my last post, I rated the Royals in the 9 categories as follows:

  • Affordability: 7
  • Ownership: 3
  • Gameday Experience: TBD
  • Ballpark and broadcast accessibility: TBD
  • Broadcast: 7
  • Spring Training: 9
  • Laundry: 9
  • Social Media: 6
  • Mascot: 10
  • Aggregate rating: 7.29

I actually will lower the affordability to 6. Tickets are cheap, but here is how much I spent overall:

  • $17 on parking and tickets (thanks to $5 student night)
  • $44.25 for 2 beers, brat, water and pretzel bites.
  • $1 for a scorecard
  • $62.25 overall

And if I paid the original $11 for the seat (it’s normal price) it would be just a shade under $70. Maybe it’s just me, but over $60 for a game just seems like a lot, and I think The Hardball Times were pretty accurate in their original rating.

I also would rate the accessibility a three as well, as the lack of options makes getting to and out of the ballpark a pain in tough crowds. Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t too bad, so it was better than usual, but I felt that it should’ve been easier to get out of the ballpark considering the game was pretty much over by the seventh, and it was pretty sparsely attended, to begin with. It took me about 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot, which is almost as long as it took to get to the ballpark and park overall. And in terms of broadcast accessibility, while they do have a Spanish broadcaster, it’s not available on MLB At-Bat radio, and I can’t name off the top of my head what station is it on, which is not a good sign that the organization really reaches out to their Spanish-speaking audience. That’s another reason why I kept the 3 rating the same.

As for the ballpark experience, I would give it an 8, an improvement over the 7. It’s overly kid heavy, and if I had kids, maybe it would be a 9. And while the Boulevard Craft and Draft area impresses, it’s expensive, which sours it a bit for me, because aesthetically it’s really cool and I want to dig it more because I love Boulevard beer. Despite my disappointment with Boulevard’s establishment in the stadium, the Royals Hall of Fame is fantastic, and one of the best attractions I’ve seen in a ballpark I have visited personally. It is a great appreciation for the rich baseball history in Kansas City, one of the more underrated baseball cities in the nation.

With those updated ratings, the aggregate rating falls to 6.78, (unweighted because almost 4,000 words in, I’m too lazy to weight it). That rating is lower than Pittsburgh’s PNC Park but higher than Baltimore’s Camden Yards (which is surprising). Overall, I think that’s a fair rating for the Kauffman Stadium experience: it’s a beautiful park, a great place to watch a game, and has a lot of quirks going for it that I think go under the radar. But there needs to be an easier way to get to a game on a regular basis, and I think the organization still needs to do some work to address the changing diversity in their fanbase and Kansas City overall.

Going to a game at Kauffman is a wonderful experience. Going to a game solo and doing a scorecard in my mind is incredibly underrated, a practice that engages and relaxes simultaneously. And on a nice day in July? It just can’t be beaten. It’s nice to get home after a game, and still have an evening to relax rather than just hit the sack right away.

Kauffman isn’t perfect by any means. But Kansas City has a great stadium that offers a comparable experience to any other ballpark out there in Major League Baseball. I truly mean this as someone who has been to many. If you’re visiting Kansas City in the summer, and you enjoy baseball even a modicum, then you have to make your way out the K, or else you didn’t truly experience Kansas City in the summer.

And if you come alone…grab a scorecard for a buck.

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Who is Heath Fillmyer? And can he help this Royals rotation?

The dreams of an undefeated second half came to an abrupt end four games after the All-Star break (I know I’m kidding), as the Royals wasted a 3-0 lead in the seventh and 4-2 lead in the ninth to lose 5-4 to the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium Monday night. (This Reddit thread will let you know who fans feel is responsible for the loss.) However, there were a few bright spots in the loss: the Royals had 13 hits, a sign that their offense is coming around; Brian Goodwin, acquired in a trade with Washington over the weekend, was 2-for-2 in his Royals debut (albeit as a pinch hitter); and rookie Heath Fillmyer, making his second big league start, was superb, going 6 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts and only 3 hits and 1 ER allowed.

Fillmyer’s performance has been the second-most-talked-about story from yesterday’s loss (as Brandon Maurer and his 14.25 ERA, unfortunately, has usurped all the Royals fan comment headlines). And it’s easy to see why, especially when one checks out the highlights from his start.

There’s been no question that the Royals starting pitching has been an Achilles heel for the club this season. While Danny Duffy has started to turn a corner after a rough start, the Royals staff has struggled to not only stay healthy but also consistently effective as well this year. Ian Kennedy, Jakob Junis, Erik Skoglund, and Jason Hammel are all examples of starters who have flashed some solid starts but have either failed to string effective ones together or stay off the disabled list. So, to see Fillmyer, recently acquired this past Winter in a trade with the A’s, to demonstrate promise in only his second Major League start is definitely cause for excitement amongst Royals fans, especially as Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, and the Royals organization try to figure out who will be part of their rotation plans in the near future.


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Who is Fillmyer and what has he done so far as a pitcher?

As stated before, Fillmyer, who originally played shortstop in junior college his freshman year, came over in a deal this winter along Jesse Hahn from Oakland for Ryan Buchter, Brandon Moss, and $3.25 million in cash. The deal was a bit of a dump for the Royals, who wanted to shed Moss after a disappointing 2017 campaign in Kansas City. Hahn was expected to be the prize of the deal and would booster the Royals rotation, as Hahn experienced some success with the San Diego Padres and A’s rotations in the past.

Unfortunately, Hahn hasn’t done literally anything yet as a Royal, as he was shelved on the disabled list early in Spring Training due to UCL discomfort (he recently has just begun a rehab assignment in Surprise, Arizona, the Royals Training facility). Thus with Hahn not pitching until just recently, the spotlight from this trade has been squarely put on Fillmyer, the 18th rated prospect in the A’s system according to Baseball America going into 2018.

Royals Farm Report had a pretty good little scouting report on Fillmyer shortly after the trade, which can be found here. Here’s a couple of key bullet points that Patrick Brennan wrote up on Fillmyer in the piece:

“Fillmyer works with a pretty slow, straight-forward, over-the-top delivery. Doesn’t feature a lot of moving parts and it seems easy to repeat. The arm speed looks really good, allowing for a sneaky mid-90s fastball that holds some good sinking action. From what I’ve seen, he commands this pitch really well, having a good feel for both sides of the plate…

“I like the chances that he ends up as a 4/5 starter in the major leagues. If not, I think his sinker along with his plus-secondaries can probably play in the bullpen…

“The Royals landed themselves a pitcher that will already rank high among the other arms in the organization. As mentioned above, Fillmyer was ranked the #18 prospect in a deeper Oakland Athletics farm system, so if we had to pin an early ranking on him post-trade, he’d probably find himself in the 10-15 range.”

So far this year, the results have been a little mixed in Omaha. In 13 starts with the Storm Chasers this year, he posted a 5.75 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 0.67 HR/FB ratio, and a K/BB ratio of 1.68. Those really aren’t great numbers, especially for someone in Triple-A. That being said, one could contribute his inflated numbers to his first experience beyond Double-A (he’s 2.6 years younger than the average Triple-A player), and the hitter-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League. This is further evidenced in the high BABIP (.342) and abnormally low strand rate (62.5 percent). With more time, it may have been possible that Fillmyer’s numbers would’ve evened out a bit, especially considering the outings he’s showed before, as evidenced by his six-inning performance against Memphis earlier this year in the video below:

At the Major League level, some numbers look a lot nicer: six games total, two starts, 22.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 0.81 HR/FB ratio. However, the advanced numbers aren’t so generous: 4.50 FIP, 1.30 K/BB ratio, .246 BABIP. If Fillmyer could credit inflated numbers due to high BABIP and hitter-friendly conditions, then the inverse could be true of Fillmyer’s performance thus far in Kansas City. Of course, Fillmyer’s sample is so small that it’s really hard to make any credible judgment of him as a pitcher just yet. We’ll need 2-3 starts before we can really make a solid, practical analysis of Fillmyer’s performance and outlook as a pitcher at the Major League level.


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What can we say about Fillmyer going forward?

There’s a lot to like about Fillmyer’s performance last night. It wasn’t exactly the best lineup hitting behind him, or defense (the Royals had Hunter Dozier at 3rd instead of Mike Moustakas; Drew Butera behind the plate; and Salvador Perez playing first). And yet, Fillmyer didn’t need much help as he pretty much cruised until he allowed two runners on in the seventh (and then promptly witness the bullpen tear his win to shreds). In the Royals sweep over the Twins, we have seen Duffy, Junis, and Keller all pitch well this season at some point, so while their wins and strong performances were nice, they didn’t shock Royals fans at all (it’s just surprising that they all came at once). Fillmyer’s, on the other hand, came a bit unexpectedly, especially considering the Tigers had a more established starter going against him in Francisco Liriano.

Fillmyer’s next few starts will be interesting to track. In addition to Hahn, Skoglund has begun his own rehab, and Kennedy may come back to the rotation at some point when he recovers. But, as evidenced by tonight, Fillmyer deserves an extended shot in the rotation for the time being, even with those other options available in the near future. As we have seen before in Omaha, Fillmyer has been a bit up and down with his starts, and no question his BABIP will rise in future starts, which will undoubtedly damper the ERA a bit. The only question will be how much will it rise?

It’s hard to trust Fillmyer because he’s not really an “elite” prospect by any means (BA graded him a 45 with High Risk). The K numbers don’t wow you, and he gives up too many walks, based on his numbers in the minors and even with the Royals. But, he definitely showed some confidence and poise in Monday’s start, and his moxie to convince Yost to keep him in shows that the kid at the very least is a competitor (even though it didn’t work; he gave up a hit the next batter and Yost promptly too him out on the second visit). Maybe Fillmyer’s future will be in the bullpen eventually (I could see those K numbers improving in fewer innings), but for the remainder of this season, I would rather see the Royals take a chance on a young prospect than take another look at Kennedy or Hammel at this point in the season (and I think many Royals fans would agree with me on this).

Who did the Royals get in Brian Goodwin? (And why did they make this trade?)

The Kansas City Royals should be in “tank mode” (there’s t-shirts and everything). They sit in the bottom of the AL Central, and they are battling with the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in baseball overall. Already the Orioles are starting to lean in fully to the “tanking” strategy, as evidenced by them trading superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a gaggle of prospects. One would think the Royals would also be “all-in” on such a strategy, eager to follow the lead of the O’s in order to keep pace for the No. 1 draft pick in 2019.

However, it seems like the Royals, both on the field or in the front office won’t go down this season quietly.

Already the Royals are 3-0 in the second half thanks to a weekend series sweep of the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman. And if that wasn’t enough, general manager Dayton Moore made an aggressive move in the wake of Jeurys Familia being traded from the Mets to the Athletics:

The move by the Royals is an interesting play, as it somewhat contradicts the notion that the club is “tanking.” “Tanking” teams are giving up Major League players for Minor League prospects, not the other way around. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at who the Royals received in the trade, who they give up, and why they decided to trade for the 27-year-old outfielder.


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Who did the Royals receive?

Since Jorge Soler went down with a foot injury in June, the Royals outfield has lacked depth and effectiveness. While Alex Gordon has held down the left field position this season, and Jorge Bonifacio has added some stability after returning from suspension, it’s been a bit of a rotating door in center field. Abraham Almonte underwhelmed and eventually was released by the club. Rosell Herrera has flashed some promise from time to time, but it’s clear he’s not a long-term solution. Paulo Orlando is a far cry from what he was a few seasons ago, and Alcides Escobar may offer some athleticism and defense at the position but doesn’t hit well enough to justify him moving into the outfield.

Goodwin, on the other hand, is a pure outfielder who comes in with a lot of accolades over his Minor League career, though his star has faded a bit over the past couple of years. Goodwin is a former first-round pick who was drafted by the Washington Nationals 34th overall in 2011 (the same draft year as Bubba Starling). Immediately, Goodwin was praised for a strong tools set, which included plus-speed, a solid ability to make contact, and a mature batting eye for his age. Going into 2013, Baseball America ranked him as the 70th best prospect overall, and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him as the 52nd best prospect overall.

Before, when I was writing on prospects at my Giants-centered Minor League site, Optioned to Fresno, I covered Goodwin leading into the draft. Here’s a snippet on Goodwin from that post written in 2011, where I quote a scouting report on Goodwin:

“He does a lot of little things well, and has four legitimate tools, lacking power as the only tool to make him the always coveted five-tool talent. And despite his lack of power, Goodwin will surprise you with his pop from time to time. Most of his power goes to the gaps, and his 6.5 speed allows him to leg out plenty of extra base hits. His bat is made for contact, as he excels at putting the ball in play and going with pitches to drive the ball up the middle and the other way. He is extremely fast out of the box, and gets down the line to first base as a left-handed hitter as well as anyone, allowing him to be a threat on infield grounders and bunt plays.”

Despite the praise and high expectations, things never went as planned for Goodwin in Washington. First, he was unable to find many opportunities in a crowded outfield that included Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, and Michael Taylor. Despite playing professional ball for seven seasons, Goodwin has only 144 games and 401 total plate appearances at the Major League level. With Soto and Eaton entrenched in the long term, and the Nationals most likely making a play for Harper this off-season, it just seemed like Goodwin was bound to be the odd man out in D.C.

Furthermore, while the Nationals’ outfield depth didn’t help, the 27-year-old outfielder didn’t do much to really sway management’s expectations on the field. In the minors, Goodwin has a career .253/.343/.399 slash with a .742 OPS and 53 home runs in 2,399 plate appearances in 565 total games. While those numbers aren’t bad by any means, they don’t “wow” or demonstrate that the Nationals were missing out on a lot. That being said, in Goodwin’s most extended stint in the majors in 2017, he actually impressed, and show glimpses of what he could do with regular playing time.

Filling in for an injured Adam Eaton, Goodwin hit 13 home runs and posted an OPS of .811 in 278 plate appearances in 74 games in 2017. While the average wasn’t great (.251), he made up for it with impressive power, as evidenced by a .498 slugging and .247 ISO last season. It’s easy to see why he was such a heralded prospect in the past when you check out his highlights from 2016 and 2017 in the video below:

Unfortunately, despite the promising extended look last year, Goodwin didn’t get much consistent playing time this year, as he filled in mostly as a pinch hitter with the big league club. He only has appeared in 48 games and has only 79 plate appearances, not much of a sample. And in that small sample, he only hit .200 with a .674 OPS and three home runs.

Goodwin will get a lot of starts and at-bats in the center field position this year, as he will be an upgrade over more free-swinging options such as Herrera, Orlando or even Escobar. The former supplemental-round pick demonstrates a patient approach, as evidenced by a 12.7 percent walk rate this year, and a 36.3 percent swing rate (it was 41 percent last year). To be more effective, he will need to improve his strikeout numbers, as he is striking out in 32.7 percent of his at-bat this year and posted a 24.8 percent K rate a season ago. That being said, considering this club’s problems with free-swinging out of the strike zone, Goodwin’s approach (he has only swung at 22.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this year) may be a nice change of pace for this Royals lineup.

Another question will be how Goodwin adapts in the outfield along with Bonifacio and Gordon, who both have their issues defensively. In the outfield, Goodwin was rated as 5.4 runs below average defensively last season in his extended stint, and the fans scouting report from last year wasn’t too glowing either. While Goodwin will have his shot for playing time in the second half, his defense may be the difference in terms of him getting regular playing time, or simply being a fourth outfielder in Kansas City.


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Who did the Royals lose?

The Royals traded relief pitcher Jacob Condra-Bogan, a 32nd round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft who came from Georgia Southern (He was drafted originally by the Toronto Blue Jays). By no means is Condra-Bogan an elite prospect, as he is currently 23-years-old and playing in Lexington (where he is 1.1 years older than the average prospect). But, Condra-Bogan has demonstrated good command in his first full big league season, as evidenced by a 2.08 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 39 strikeouts in 26 innings with the Legends.

Condra-Bogan has an interesting backstory, as Maria Torres of the Kansas City star profiled him on June 1st. It’s definitely worth reading if you want to get to know more about the 23-year-old, who bounced around the foster care system growing up. However, while Condra-Bogan definitely is a feel-good player worth rooting for, he didn’t have much of a prospect ceiling as an older, relief-only arm. So it’s not a huge loss overall for the Royals farm system. Nonetheless, Condra-Bogan has his share of fans, as evidenced by the Tweet below:

 


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Why did the Royals make this trade?

I found this Tweet pretty interesting from Down Under Fan (@RoyalDUF), who would have preferred the Royals go with some internal options in Omaha rather than acquiring the Nationals castoff.

In many ways, I empathize with RoyalDUF. The Royals plan ideally should be to rebuild the system by acquiring prospects and finding which players in the system currently are worth keeping and which ones aren’t. That’s not going to happen if players are still playing in Omaha or Northwest Arkansas. Maybe Schwindel or O’Hearn are Four-A players, but the Royals won’t know that unless they get at-bats against MLB players. Acquiring Goodwin definitely impedes that process from happening.

That being said, Goodwin is a low-risk acquisition who has potential to develop with regular playing time in the outfield. After all, he was a former first-round pick, was a highly rated prospect at one point, and has demonstrated that he can produce at the Major League level, as he did last season in Washington. While Condra-Bogan was a nice arm in the system, he was an older prospect in Single-A whose upside was a middle innings relief arm, maybe a setup guy at best. The Royals didn’t have to give up much for Goodwin, so that’s a win for Moore and the Royals organization.

It will be interesting to see too if this is the first of many moves for Moore as we approach the trade deadline. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Mike Moustakas is gone, and it also seems to be plausible that Whit Merrifield and/or Lucas Duda may be dealt as well (especially Duda, who’s been on a tear in the last couple of games). Thus, the Goodwin trade may be a sign of Moore being proactive, as Goodwin could provide the Royals with some insurance in the lineup once the roster becomes thinner and younger perhaps in the next few weeks.

‘Will they ever be Royal?’ (July 21st): Matias wows at Futures; Lee homers; and Starling injured (again)

I hope to post a weekly series called “Will they ever be Royal?” from here on out. The series name is a play on the famous Lorde song that got considerable play in Kansas City during the 2013 season, when they suddenly got competitive again, and set in motion their 2014 and 2015 World Series runs. Basically, these are quick bits on some important stories going on in the Royals system, especially concerning prospects.

These posts won’t be as long as my usual posts, and a lot of them will refer you to links where you can read more about the points I bring up. There are a lot of great sites that provide more in-depth prospects coverage, with “Royals Farm Report” being a prime one (follow their blog and them on Twitter; the writers really run the best Royals prospects site out there), so I want to defer to others when it is necessary. That being said, I will highlight key stories going on in the farm system which I think hardcore Royals fans should know about it. (Non-Hardcore fans probably have stopped caring about the Royals a month ago and are glued to Chiefs coverage.)

So here are some bits on what’s going on in the Royals farm system.


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Seuly Matias turns heads at Futures game

No Royals prospect has been more polarizing than 19-year-old outfielder Seuly Matias, who currently has 27 home runs with the Lexington Legends (he just hit his 27th yesterday), which leads not only the South Atlantic League but the Minors overall (I have written about Matias before on the Roto Royal). Matias has a smooth big swing with oodles of power, but prospect experts have been mixed on his projection. Baseball Prospectus lists him as the top Royals prospect in the system and ranked him 75th overall in their pre-season Top 100. Baseball America ranked him as the 3rd best prospect in the Royals system (behind 1B Nick Pratto and OF Khalil Lee) and graded him a 60 EXTREME (meaning that his future is highly questionable; he could be a superstar or bust). At such a young age, and with such big strikeout numbers (he’s striking out in 36.8 percent of his plate appearances with Lexington this year), it really is difficult to see how Matias will project.

However, Matias showed well in the Futures Game last Sunday, with his prime achievement being a majestic oppo-field home run off of Justus Sheffield, one of the top pitching prospects in the Royals system.

Take a look at the home run, via Twitter:

And if that wasn’t enough, this is what former Red Sox DH and World team manager David Ortiz said about Matias after his 2-for-3 performance in the Futures Game:

That’s some strong praise indeed. Matias has gone under the radar a bit this season because the Royals system is not highly ranked, and he still is a few years away from really having an impact at the Major League level. However, after a great All-Star weekend, the magnifying glass is on the young Dominican outfielder. It will be interesting to see how the kid will not only handle the increase of attention from Royals fans and the media but also opposing pitchers in the second half of the Minor League season.


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Khalil Lee hits first home run in Double-A

The No. 2 prospect in the Royals system according to Baseball America, and the No. 4 prospect according to Fangraphs, Khalil Lee is an outfield prospect who has a big arm, and relies on his speed. According to Fangraphs, his arm rated as a 60 on the 20-80 scale, and his speed currently rated as a 55. Lee has demonstrated a knack to be aggressive on the basepaths, as he stole 20 bases last season in Lexington and has 16 so far between Wilmington (A+) and Northwest Arkansas (AA). Unfortunately, while Lee has the speed, he still has to develop his instinct on the bases as he was caught 18 times in Lexington last season. That being said, he has been much more proficient in 2018, as he has only been caught three total times this year, a significant improvement in success rate from a year ago.

Alex Duvall wrote a great piece on Lee for The Royals Farm Report four days ago, and had this to say about Lee:

Khalil Lee’s elite on-base abilities combined with his speed separate him from plenty of folks at similar levels. He walks like a power hitter and runs like a leadoff hitter. Pretty good combination for a leadoff hitter. Lee has been leading off a lot for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a position I’d like to see him stay in long-term. He is going to be so much fun to watch when he gets to Kansas City.

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Lee since being called up to Northwest Arkansas just three days after his 20th birthday. After posting a .270 average and .808 OPS to go along with four home runs and 14 stolen bases in 301 plate appearances in the Carolina League with Wilmington, Lee is only posting a .224 average and .638 OPS to go along with 1 home run and 2 stolen bases in 80 plate appearances in the Texas League.

However, on July 18th on the road against Springfield, Lee launched his first Double-A home run, which proved to be an absolute bomb as evidenced below:

Much like Matias, opinions differ on Lee’s projections going forward, as he is a strong athlete, but still has to work on a lot of aspects of his game, especially when it comes to making contact. He had a 32.1 percent strikeout rate in Lexington last year, and though his rate has declined, it still has been pretty high as evidenced by 24.9 percent and 23.8 percent K rates in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, respectively. However, Patrick Brennan, founder of Royals Farm Report, posted this on Twitter in reference to a 2080 Baseball article that ranked the Top 125 Prospects of the Midseason.

Lee is making good progress in the Royals system, as he is 2.4 years younger than the average player in Double-A. So there isn’t tremendous pressure on him to “produce” right away (development is the main focus for him now). Thus, it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop not just this season in Northwest Arkansas, but this Fall and beyond.


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Bubba Starling out at least six weeks

Things haven’t turned out as expected for Bubba Starling, the 5th overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft. Despite signing one of the largest signing bonuses in Royals history at the time, the local Gardner, Kansas high school three-sport star has failed to live up to the considerable hype he received when he decided to pursue professional baseball instead of football at Nebraska. Originally ranked as the 24th best prospect in baseball going into 2012 by Baseball America, Starling has only posted a .235 average and .693 OPS in 617 games and 2,483 career plate appearances over seven seasons. Though he certainly has the size at six-feet, four inches, and 215 pounds, the tools never really developed for Starling over the course of his Minor League career.

However, despite his lackluster performance, Starling still is on the Royals’ 40-man roster (as of July 21st) and there was hope that with the Royals tanking and going nowhere, Starling would debut this year with the big league club at some point. However, Rustin Dodd of the Athletic posted this on Twitter on July 19th:

Apparently, Starling suffered the injury while falling out of bed, an injury that will rank up there with Clint Barmes falling down the stairs while carrying deer meat. The setback is just another one of many for Starling this year, as he has only played in 11 games in Omaha this season due to various injuries. With him being shelved for another six weeks, it seems less and less likely that we’ll see Starling up with the Royals club this season…or perhaps ever at all.

Starling will turn 26 in August, and it seems certain that he just doesn’t have the skills or ability to be a Major League player (Age 26 is the prospect peak, meaning they are what they are as a player at this age). I’m sure Starling is a great person, and maybe he could return to football and have a Brandon Weeden-esque quarterback career or something. But after this latest setback, and with the Royals most likely going to add more pieces to their system by the trade deadline, it may be best for both sides if Starling finally steps away from baseball once and for all.