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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Can the Pirates’ Polanco and Cardinals’ Ozuna turn around their fantasy (and team’s) fortunes in the 2nd Half?

The NL Central has certainly seen its share of shakeups this season. After 18 games and a 3-15 start, the Reds fired manager Bryan Price. Even though the club still sits in the cellar of the Central, they have been more competitive as they have posted a record of 40-38 under new manager Jim Riggleman (and Billy Hamilton has increased his fantasy value consequently as well).

The St. Louis Cardinals made a huge move near the end of the first half of the season, firing longtime manager Mike Matheny after a 47-46 start this season. Though the Cardinals were relatively successful in the regular season under Matheny (they never had a losing season and he finished with a winning percentage of .555 in six-and-a-half seasons), the lack of a World Series title, missing the postseason the last two seasons, and rumors that he had lost respect in the clubhouse ultimately led to his relief of duty mid-season.

And lastly, even though the Milwaukee Brewers sat atop the NL Central standings most of the first half, and the Pirates hovered near the bottom part, in the last series before the All-Star break, the Pirates swept the Brew Crew in a FIVE GAME series to knock Milwaukee out of first place, and 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs. Consequently, Brewers fans spent the All-Star break in panic mode, fearing deja vu. Last season, they went through a similar swoon in the second half of the year where they went from the top of the standings to out of the playoff picture during the late summer months. Don’t be surprised to see the Brewers an active player at the Trade Deadline in order to prevent the same kind of “burn out” from happening again in 2018. (Though considering the Josh Hader Twitter controversy during the All-Star game, falling out of the playoff race may be the least of Brewer fans’ problems.)

While the AL Central has been pretty much a snoozefest and a showcase of mediocrity (The Cleveland Indians have seemed to be in first place for like…forever), the NL Central has proven to generate its share of excitement, with more drama forecasted over the season’s second half. (I mean, who saw the Cardinals winning 18-5 against Jon Lester in Wrigley Field?)

As the home stretch of the season begins, there will be two outfielders to pay attention to not only for fantasy purposes but also in terms of how they impact the NL Central race in the second half: the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna. Let’s break each player down individually.


MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets

Gregory Polanco, OF, Yahoo! Rank: 113; 73% owned, 60% started in Yahoo! Leagues.

Stats: 49 runs scored, 16 home runs, 51 RBI, 5 SB, .235 average, .823 OPS

Gregory Polanco struggled with injuries a year ago, as he only played 108 games and had 411 plate appearances in 2017. Lingering hamstring issues resulted in deflated numbers across the board: .251 average, .695 OPS, 39 runs scored, 11 home runs, and 35 RBI. (To compare here’s the same line in 2016: .258 average, .786 OPS, 79 runs scored, 22 home runs, 86 RBI in 587 plate appearances). It was questionable which Polanco fantasy baseball and Pirates fans were going to see in 2018: the one that looked like a budding All-Star in 2016 or the one who looked injured and impatient at the plate in 2017.

So far, it’s been a bit of both for Polanco in the first half of the year.

Polanco is showcasing the power again, as his .249 ISO is the highest mark of his career thus far, resulting in 16 home runs before the All-Star break. He is also showing a more discerning eye at the plate as well, as his 12.9 BB percentage would also be a career high as well, and almost double his percentage from a year ago. Without a doubt, it seems like Polanco is fully strong and healthy, and his power numbers certainly demonstrate that and then some.

That being said, it hasn’t been all “sunshine and rainbows” for Polanco in 2018. Despite a tick in power numbers and walk percentages, he still is striking out at a decent clip, as his 23 percent strikeout rate is also a career high. This has resulted in him having a low average at .235, 16 points down from a year ago, and 20 points down from his breakout season of 2016. This may be a result of Polanco maturing as a hitter and becoming more selective: his swing percentage is down at 44 percent, nearly 5 percent down from a year ago. But, even though he is more selective, he hasn’t always made his swings count, as his contact rate is down around 77 percent from 82 percent a year ago, and his swinging strike percentage rose from 8.9 last year to 9.8 so far this year.

Polanco has also benefited from wild stretches of play this season, especially when it comes to power. He hit six home runs in the March and April months and five home runs so far in July, but only hit five combined in June and July. However, while he demonstrated more power in March/April and July, he only hit .195 and .229 (thus far), respectively. On the other hand, though his power numbers were down in the May and June months, he hit better for average, as evidenced by a .306 average in the month of June (his .232 average in May was far less impressive and that month was the stretch where he struggled the most).

The 26-year-old Dominican outfielder has been on a tear as of late, and his hot streak has gotten the Pirates back in the Wild Card mix, even if they remain a long shot (it’s hard to see them doing it considering their starting pitching). A big reason for hope is that the Pirates coaching staff has helped Polanco with his approach, having him step back further in the box before his hot streak so he could get the barrel of his bat around balls quicker. Pittsburgh Tribune writer Chris Adamski in his piece about Polanco highlighted this interesting bit which reveals Polanco’s adjustment in the box:

‘”(Manager Clint Hurdle) called me into the office and he said, ‘Hey you have got to move back from the plate because you have long arms,’ ” Polanco said. “So (Hurdle and the Pirates’ two hitting coaches told Polanco), ‘Just move back and give yourself some space because you are getting jammed, but when you’re back that’s when you hit the ball on the barrel.’…Polanco went from flirting with the Mendoza Line to becoming one of the National League’s best hitters over a span of almost a full month. His .447 on-base percentage and 1.104 OPS since June 10 each rank third among all NL players.”

It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment will continue to help Polanco in the late July, August and September months. He’s a notoriously streaky hitter and he has demonstrated that already in the first half with his vastly different months production-wise. Yes, the power is promising and probably legitimate, but non-existent speed on the basepaths (he only has 5 stolen bases; the days of him being a 20-base threat may be gone), and his declining contact rates should tamper fantasy owners’ and Pirates fans’ excitement for “El Coffee” just a little bit in the second half.


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Marcell Ozuna, OF, Yahoo! Rank: 385; 94% owned, 78% started in Yahoo! Leagues.

Stats: 38 runs scored, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 2 SB, .270 average, .695 OPS

St. Louis has not been kind to newly acquired outfielders coming to the “Arch” city as of late. After putting up a 128 wRC+ and .276/.393/.447 slash line in the Cubs’ World Series championship season in 2016, Dexter Fowler has declined sharply as a Cardinal, as evidenced by his 56 wRC+ this season.

Unfortunately, the same could be true of Marcell Ozuna, who came over from the Miami Marlins this offseason via trade.

Ozuna was an absolute beast with the Marlins a year ago, lost in the spotlight thanks to a crappy market and larger-than-life superstar in Giancarlo Stanton. Though Stanton garnered more attention (and the bigger contract from the New York Yankees this offseason), Ozuna absolutely tore the cover off the ball in his final season in Miami. In 679 plate appearances, Ozuna hit 37 home runs, drove in 124 RBI, scored 93 runs, hit .312 and posted an OPS of .924. Hence it made sense why Ozuna ranked in the Top-50 in Yahoo! leagues this off-season and considered a second-to-third round draft choice.

But much like Fowler, the performance hasn’t translated on the eastern side of Missouri. Ozuna is down all across the board, and his wRC+ sits at 90, nearly 52 points below his mark last season in South Beach. Though Busch Stadium profiles a bit as a pitcher’s park, so does Marlins Park, which makes Ozuna’s sudden decline concerning for Cardinals fans as well as his fantasy owners.

Now, there are a variety of factors in play that can explain Ozuna’s “down” season in St. Louis. For starters, Ozuna hasn’t always been a high-average hitter, as his batting average each year from 2013-2016 (before his breakout year) was .265, .269, .255, and .266. Not terrible by any stretch, but not the .300 plus mark he demonstrated in 2017. The key reason why it went up so much last year? Well, one could credit that to the BABIP monster, as his BABIP was .355 in 2017, his highest mark as a professional. While his BAIP had been in the .320-.330 range before in his career, the .355 mark probably was more an indicator of luck than skill, as 25-35 points higher than typical is just unsustainable. Currently, his BABIP is .312 which is close to league average and more akin to what he had showcased in the past, hence the dip in average.

On the other hand, the dip in power is a bit more concerning, as he hit 23 home runs in 2014 and 2016 prior to his 37 home run output last year. Having only 10 home runs thus far and an ISO of .115 (which would be a career low) is not typical for him and a serious regression for a hitter who was just starting to fully realize his power stroke a year ago. So…what gives with Ozuna’s lack of punch?

Too many groundballs, and not making his flyballs count.

Ozuna has always hit a lot of groundballs before, as he had a 1.41 GB/FB rate a year ago during his power surge. This year though, not only is he hitting even more groundballs, as evidenced by a 1.51 rate, but his fly balls don’t pack the same punch. Last season, he had an HR/FB of 23.4 percent. This year? That percent is 10.8 percent. That needs to improve if he wants to salvage something at the plate in the second half. On a positive note, Ozuna still hits the ball hard, as his hard-hit balls percentage is actually up at 46.5 percent (it was 39.1 percent a year ago). Thus, it may be a sign that he just needs more luck and see some of those balls to go out of the park rather than stay in the yard or worse, in the gloves of opposing outfielders.

Ozuna doesn’t exactly have the most patient eye (especially in contrast to Polanco), and that has never been more evident this year with his 0.29 BB/K ratio. And yet, other than BB/K ratio and the standard scoring categories, a lot looks the same statistically for Ozuna in comparison to previous years: his plate discipline numbers are close to his career average, and he has actually improved in contact rate and swinging strike percentage. Yes, Ozuna isn’t duplicating his 2017 numbers, but he still has the potential skill-wise to replicate what he did before from 2013-2016 if some breaks go his way in the second half.

Who knows what has been the true reason behind Ozuna’s underwhelming season in the Cardinals red. Overembellished expectations from Cardinals fans and fantasy owners? Not gelling with his new club? Pressing under former manager Matheny? The list could go on and on, really.

But, Ozuna isn’t as mediocre as what he’s showed in the first half. And if he can get back to his normal, average numbers, (especially in power and run production) then well…not only will his fantasy owners be happy, but the Cardinals faithful will also be too. (Not easy to do considering they’re the “best fans in baseball.”)

/vomiting after re-reading the last sentence I just wrote…

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.

Who Should I Give a Crap About on this Royals Team?

At 22–49, the Kansas City Royals have the second-worst record in all of baseball (only the Orioles are worse at 20–50; at least they have the excuse that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox). For Royals fans who followed this team pre-2013, it seems like it’s back to half-empty stadiums, bad jokes, and constant L’s both at Kauffman and away. As someone who recently moved to Kansas City, and got caught up in the “Royals Fever” post 2013, it’s interesting to see the difference between who the true baseball fans are, and the ones who just jumped on the bandwagon because those teams during that three to four-year stretch were competitive (already those fans in the latter category are only talking about how good Patrick Mahomes is looking in training camp).

As someone who enjoys baseball, plays fantasy baseball, and has a soft spot for the Royals as my favorite KC-based sports team (sorry Chiefs, can’t do your semi-racist mascots or chants), I figured it would be good to write a post about which Royals players you should pay attention to on this Royals team if you are an avid player of fantasy baseball or if you still plan on going to Royals games this summer (i.e. get drunk in the parking lot before remembering four innings of baseball and then blacking out and getting a 50 dollar Uber ride home). Some of them will be obvious (especially to the “three-year fans”), and some will be a little under-the-radar, but hopefully this analysis will help Royals as well as fantasy baseball fans get a little excited over what already has been a lost season (and perhaps one of many to come) here in Kansas City.

Merrifield has been the Royals’ best offensive player (and new “hunk” for female Royals fans).

Whit Merrifield, 1B, 2B, OF; 2018 stats: .294 average, .795 OPS, 4 home runs, 23 RBI, 15 SB, 31 runs scored; 88% owned in Yahoo and ranked 126th.

The former minor-league journeyman was on the Crash Davis career track until he broke out after a call up in 2016, posting a .283/.323/.390 slash with two home runs, 29 RBI, and 8 stolen bases in 81 games as a super utility guy. Since 2016, while many of the other Royals batters have fluttered with inconsistency, Merrifield has been a pillar of steady production, as in 2017 he posted a .288/.324/.460 slash with 19 home runs, 80 runs scored, 78 RBI, and 34 stolen bases in double the amount of plate appearances (630 compared to 330 in 2016). And if that isn’t enough, Merrifield has been even better in 2018. Merrifield’s batting average is higher (.294) and he leads the team in stolen bases (15), on-base percentage (.371) and WAR (2.1). One could argue that not only has he usurped the role of most “beloved by female Royals fans 34 and under” (once held by the now departed Eric Hosmer; Alex Gordon still holds the 35 and over crowd), but he has also become the team’s most valuable offensive player during this somewhat dismal season.

Unless you’re in a really shallow league, it’s hard to imagine Merrifield being available, but he’s worth exploring for in trades simply because of his great slash value, and excellent stolen base production. He’s probably not going to duplicate the power numbers he displayed from a year ago (ZiPS projects him for seven more homers over the remainder of the year; good for 11 total), and his age makes him a shaky candidate as a keeper for next season (he’s 29 years old). That being said, Merrifield is not only a fun player to watch, but a productive one who can fill three positions on your roster, making him a perfect utility guy you can squeeze in if a starting player is a late-scratch or gets injured and hasn’t made it to the DL just yet.

Keep mashing Whit. The young ladies of KC as well as fantasy baseball owners are rooting for you.

Despite Mondesi’ struggles at the plate, he has been good on the basepaths over his career.

Adalberto Mondesi, 2B; 2018 stats (Omaha): .250 average, .786 OPS, 5 home runs, 21 RBI, 10 SB, 19 runs scored; 1% owned in Yahoo and ranked 1044.

I was going to write initially on Jorge Soler, who has been one of the Royals most productive hitters this season(he leads the team with a weight runs created plus of 125) and was finally looking like the top prospect he was once hailed to be when he was in the Cubs system. But then Soler broke his damn foot, and even though he’s on the 10-Day DL, it’s plausible that he may be out for an extended period of time, and won’t be back until the end of the year at best.

So instead, I’m writing on one of Royals’ fans most polarizing young prospects: Adalberto Mondesi.

Mondesi came to the Royals system with a lot of expectations. Not only is he the son of Raul Mondesi, a baseball mainstay in the 90’s, but he also signed a $2 million bonus in 2011 as a 16-year-old, riding high on the early days of the “I’m evaluating this player solely on this cool, 2 minute YouTube mixtape I found” movement within fantasy baseball circles (it is also big in college basketball scouting circles as well). However, despite the hype, Mondesi’s tenure so far at the big-league level has been disappointing.

After starting the year in Double-A, and getting knocked for a 50-game suspension due to PEDs (which turned out to be cold medicine, apparently; thank God the school I work at doesn’t drug test for PEDs; I’d be our school’s Barry Bonds), Mondesi got an extended look in 2016. However, the youngster failed to produce results, as he hit .185 and put up an OPS of .512 in a 149 plate appearances, and provided little else beyond stolen base prowess (he stole 9 bases in 10 attempts). In 2017, he earned 60 plate appearances at the big-league level, and continued to do little with it, posting as slash of .170/.214/.245 with the Royals before spending most of the year back in Omaha.

Now, Mondesi gets his third extended chance at the big-league level, and already a lot of Royals fans are calling him a bust. For starters, I would tell Royals fans to cool their jets for a couple of reasons: first, he’s only 22-years old, which is still a baby in Major League years (you really can’t give up on anyone until age 26, which is the cut off between “prospect” and “veteran” in scouting circles). And second, he’s got one plus-skill: stealing bases. This year, he is 10 for 10 on stolen base attempts in Omaha and he stole 21 out of 24 bases a year ago in Omaha. Mondesi desperately provides speed on the basepaths this team needs outside of Merrifield, and it’s plausible to see him as a 25–40 SB per year guy in the near future.

However, what will make Mondesi worth keeping? Whether or not he can solve his massive strikeout issues at the big league level. In 2016, he struck out in 32.2 percent of his plate appearances. Last year, he struck out 36.7 percent of the time. And unfortunately, he doesn’t walk enough to justify such high numbers (his career BB/K ratio is 0.13; 0.50 is considered average). With his speed, Mondesi needs to take a page out of the Lou Brown “Put the Ball on the Damn Ground!” playbook like Willy “Mays” Hayes before him in Cleveland.

The Adalberto Mondesi of the 80’s

Let’s see if Mondesi can do that in his call up this summer. If he can replicate Wesley Snipes’ beloved fictional outfielder, he may be an interesting keeper in deep leagues for next year.

It’s been a lousy June, but Junis has been the Royals’ best starting pitcher this year.

Jakob Junis, SP; 2018 stats: 4.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5 wins, 79 strikeouts; 43 percent owned in Yahoo and ranked 501st.

I am big believer in “team.” And yet, if you really had to point one reason why the Royals are on the cusp of being the worst team in baseball, it has to be due to the crappy pitching. Yes, the Royals pitching is bad, and REALLY BAD. Not only do they have the worst ERA in baseball (5.39), but they also have the worst FIP (Field Independent Pitching; 4.83) and WAR (0.7). (They have the second worst xFIP, expected field independent pitching, trailing only the White Sox, which goes to show how lousy the Central is.) By all metrics, both standard and advanced, this Royals pitching staff has been awful and a far cry from their playoff days, where they rode great pitching and base running to back to back World Series appearances (and an eventual championship).

The Royals starting staff has been a motley crew of mediocrity this year in more ways than one: Danny Duffy has proved that he not only is unable to handle being the team’s ace, but that he can’t even be a good pitcher without the mentoring of James Shields. Additionally, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel have been disappointing free agent pickups who have proved to baseball fans and analysts that they are overpaid and perhaps over-the-hill to boot. It’s almost as if this Royals’ rotation has been cursed since Yordano Ventura’s unfortunate passing.

However, the one pitcher on this starting staff worth following may be the 25-year-old Jakob Junis, a №4 starter who leads the team in wins with 5 (yes I know, wins is a shitty stat, but hey, he’s leading) as well as strikeouts (79). With a quick approach, and breaking-ball heavy repertoire (he throws his slider over 40 percent of the time in comparison to his fastball, which he only throws 31.2 percent of the time), Junis has been a decent surprise for a staff that has struggled the past couple of seasons.

Unfortunately, Junis has cooled in June after a strong start, as he is 0–3 in June and posted 10.13 ERA in his last two starts. This mostly is due to his propensity to give up the long-ball, as his HR/9 innings rate is the highest out of any Royals starter this year (1.90 per 9). His repertoire is probably the culprit, as batters have begun to sit on his slider, and his fastball isn’t powerful enough (it averages a little over 91 MPH) to make them pay for such a strategy. Junis has had trouble getting past the 5th and 6th innings once teams have already seen him once or twice at the plate. Either Junis has to get more creative with his pitches to be more effective, or perhaps Yost has to settle on him being a 5 inning guy (6 at best), and rely heavily on the pen the rest of the way.

However, Junis is an interesting pickup because he gets guys to swing out of the zone (he gets batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 32.3 percent of the time which is above average), and he has good control (his 3.95 K/BB walk ratio is better than other major starters such as Duffy, Hammel and Kennedy) with the potential for good command (as we saw earlier in the year). Junis isn’t going to set the world on fire, and he’s a streaky pitcher, as we have seen already during the first half of this season. That being said, Junis has the skill set to give fantasy teams solid innings, a good number of K’s, and he won’t kill your WHIP either (because he doesn’t walk too many batters).

Let’s hope he can turn it around, and have a July that’s a lot closer to what he did in April and May. At 25-years-old, he could give Royals a glimmer of hope for starting pitching in the future, and for fantasy team owners, he could be a surprise contributor to a teams starting pitching staff in the second half.


Originally published at medium.com on June 18, 2018.