I’m mostly over the 2015 World Series. The majority of the Champion 2015 Royals team is no longer together, and it’s hard to stay mad at such a small market team that has endured so much losing over the last thirty years. If nothing else, it was fun to see Dayton Moore’s 2014 and 2015 squads buck the projection systems and outperform them in both playoff runs. Built on speed, athleticism, defense, and -if you can still believe it- prioritizing putting the ball in play, Dayton Moore’s Royals zigged while everyone else zagged. And it paid off. But coming into 2018, after losing Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer to free agency, the Royals seem ready to build for a new era. Will it resemble the recent Championship caliber clubs? Let’s take a look.
Kansas City Royals – Organizational Rank 28 out of 30
With a quick look through the Major League roster, the Kansas City Royals may not be all that bad. But that is not to say that there is a ton of long-term assets here either. The Royals did a nice job piecing together the 2018 lineup with one year deals for Lucas Duda, Jon Jay, Alcides Escobar, and Mike Moustakas. All of them are already at or near 30 years of age and do not figure to be a part of the next playoff caliber Royals core. Salvador Perez slugged a career high 27 home runs and produced his typical 2.5 WAR from behind the dish. However with a lot of catching mileage on his 27 year old body, Perez threw out only a career low 27% of basestealers in 2017. The question is, do the Royals move Perez, one of the last popular holdovers from the Championship club, while he still has value over the next year or so? Or do they go the Hosmer/Cain route and simply recoup compensatory draft picks?
Whit Merrifield provided a power-speed breakout combo from the keystone, but at age 29, how do the Royals view him? He is certainly an asset, but do they hold onto him during his next few most desirable (pre-FA) years, just to show the fan base that they are not “tanking”? Or do they try to flip the late-bloomer for more long-term value? These should be fascinating questions, and they need to be answered for some pitching talent on the MLB roster as well. Kelvim Herrera is likely to fetch a nice prospect or two at this summer’s deadline, but mostly if he doesn’t back up last year’s mediocre performance with more of the same. Danny Duffy has blossomed into a nice #3 starter, but has struggled with injuries for most of his career. Would the Royals move him to a contender if he sparkles in the first half? The haul would go a long way towards what most view as a necessary rebuild. What if Ian Kennedy and Alex Gordon age well as they play down their currently underwater contracts? If either bounces back, do the Royals manage to recoup some value via trade to a contender? Finally, the one MLB asset that could conceivably become a building block for the future is OF Jorge Soler. The former Cubs top prospect, obtained last winter for Wade Davis, is entering his age 26 season and has reportedly retooled his swing after an extremely disappointing, injury-plagued 2017. Soler will look to receive everyday at-bats and has looked good at the plate this spring. His offensive ceiling still remains tantalizingly large.
Minor League Talent
While the Major League roster is surrounded with short-term mediocrity and long-term uncertainty, the Royals minor league talent is currently a mixed bag as well. The Royals farm system is currently a lot like the Mets, waiting on some top-round draft talent to overcome injury or inconsistency. While the ship has basically left the port for 1st round bust Bubba Starling, the Royals are still hoping they can recoup some value out of top draft arms Kyle Zimmer, Josh Staumont, and Foster Griffin. The time would appear to be now for corner infield prospect Hunter Dozier, but most of the top offensive talent in the Royals system are teenagers who haven’t sniffed the upper minors yet. 2017 first rounder Nick Pratto could be a Nick Johnson type firstbaseman, but he underwhelmed in his professional debut. Khalil Lee, the former third rounder outfield prospect who boasts impressive speed and power tools, put himself on the prospect map with some excellent production in low-A ball last year. International signee OF Seuly Matias is another toolsy teenager who has excited evaluators with his 60-grade arm and power. Some prospect evaluators who saw 2016 5th round pick Nicky Lopez in the AFL last fall saw impressive polish and feel for the game, and think he could be an everyday regular on the middle infield. Finally, 2017 2nd round pick MJ Melendez has some buzz as being the next Royals everyday catcher, with both an impressive hit tool and defense behind the dish for an 18 year old.
The 2018 Royals find themselves destined for a third place finish in the AL Central. With a non-elite farm system, and most of their Major League assets set to leave after 2018, the Royals will probably have to wave good-bye to competitiveness for the near future. A commitment to a thorough rebuild would be most advantageous for the creation of the next Royal playoff-contending team, but questions persists about the front-office and ownership’s commitment towards doing so with full fervor. This places them in 28th place of the 30 MLB organizations, with hopefully some clear direction and vision to come from the front office soon.