An Inside the Franchise look at the Kansas City Royals
If the season started today…
C – David Davies – 60 con/60 pow
1B – Anthony Rizzo – 60 pow/60 eye
2B – Julio Soto – 60 con/60 pow
3B – Nander DeSedas – 60 con/70 def
SS – Gus Lopez – 70 con/60 def
LF – Bernie Blanchard – 55 con/70 eye
CF – Billy Rounds – 60 con/60 pow
RF – Alex Kirilloff – 60 con/55 pow
DH – Kody Clemens – 60 con/70 pow
I’m hopeful that Clemens will progress enough defensively during Spring Training that I can use him as the regular 1B, although if Rizzo stays in KC beyond ’22, I could just use Clemens at DH with backup 3B and 1B appearance sprinkled in.We’ll have to see how the rest of the AL Central looks, with Minnesota and Chicago adding big pieces this off season, but I feel like maybe 85 wins is a realistic goal for 2022.
SP – Felix Hernandez – 65/55/65 (Stuff/Movement/Control)
SP – Kris Bubic – 60/55/65
SP – Casey Mize – 65/55/65
SP – Chris Rivers – 60/60/55
SP – Jason Neal – 60/55/55RP – John Lee – 80/45/55
RP – Hank Lockwood – 70/60/55
RP – Luis Martinez – 65/55/60
RP – Masanobu Mochizuki – 60/60/60
RP – Kevin Aylward – 70/55/55
CL – Addison Reed – 75/65/55
David Davies – .254-16-58 in 103 games with KC – .730 OPS – 1.9 WAR
RHB – 27 years old – Signed as a minor league free agent 6/13/2018
Originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers with the 321st pick (11th round) in the 2016 draft, David Davies was released two years later. On June 13th, 2018 – after 3 days as a free agent – he was signed by Rhettzky’s Royals as a minor league depth piece. After opening the eyes of some scouts with 20 2B and 10 HR at AA NWA in 2019, Davies was given extra development time in the WDL. He hit .333 in 40 plate appearances there. In 2020 Davies hit .296 with 8 HR in 39 games at AA NWA, earning a promotion to AAA Omaha, where he hit 8 more HR to go along with a .283 average. That earned him a spot on the 2021 Royals, where he had a nice rookie season at the ripe age of 26. The plan for 2022 is for Davies to platoon with lefty Henry O’Day. Davies has good power but is below average defensively.
Henry O’Day – .179-0-8 in 29 games with KC – .499 OPS – -0.4 WAR
LHB – 27 years old – Signed as a free agent 7/14/2021
Hank O’Day was originally drafted with the 497th pick of the 2012 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays (17th Round). He worked his way through the Jays minor league system, eventually making his MLB debut at the age of 23, batting .273 with 2 HR in 31 games for the Blue Jays during the 2018 season. He was dealt to San Diego, where he started 171 games over the next two seasons. After the Padres chose not to offer arbitration, O’Day became a free agent and singed a minor league deal with the Dodgers on January 26th, 2021. He started at catcher of their AAA affiliate and was named to the PCL All-Star game but was released on July 10th. KC signed him 4 days later, and despite poor numbers in his 29 appearances with the club, offered him arbitration and brought him back to platoon with Davies. O’Day is a bit better defensively than Davies, and while he will not hit for power, he can find the gaps and hit for extra bases when he’s on.
20-year-old Francisco Alvarez is currently in the WDL and slated to catch for AAA Omaha in 2022. 60/50/55/60/45 potentials but he’s not there yet. 23-year-old Hagen Danner is also at Omaha and seems like an MLB prospect with 50/55/55/60/45 potentials and good defense. Switch-hitting veteran Blake Swihart is also available and slated to play at AAA Omaha, though he’s taken some talent hits and may not be there come spring.
Originally, I felt pretty content at catcher with Davies developing, O’Day backing up, and Alvarez and Danner as prospects for the future. But while writing this report, I feel quite unsatisfied with our catching situation this year. If we played in a more neutral field, I’d be okay. But Davies is not a good fit for Kauffman. So, you may see a trade or free agent pickup between now and opening day. Or perhaps O’Day become our home-game catcher and Davies starts on the road.
First Basemen Preview
Kody Clemens – .252-30-86 in 127 games with KC – .796 OPS – 2.0 WAR
RHB – 25 years old – Drafted with the 183rd pick (6th round) of the 2019 draft
One of the first “Chappy-drafted” players to make an impact – or even play at all – at the major league level, Clemens started at third base for a better part of his “rookie” season. While service time kept him from being eligible for Rookie of the Year, he might have won it had he qualified. With 50 range and 60 arm ratings, we never felt he’d be a long-term 3B option and wanted to move him to 1B this spring. Well, Nander De Sedas pushed Clemens to 1B mid-season last year, and Clemens went from no defensive rating to a 40 while learning on the job. We anticipate a 55-65 rating by the end of spring.
Clemens carries a big stick; his 30 HR last year were the 5th most by a Royal in the MLB-Pro era. He’s going to crush many more this season if things go well.
Anthony Rizzo – .250-25-77 in 148 games with Oakland – .770 OPS -2.4 WAR
LHB – 32 years old – Acquired in a trade with Oakland on 12/18/2021
In the surprise move of the offseason thus far, KC brings in a veteran first baseman with 4 career gold gloves. The Royals were shopping for a lefty to backup Clemens, as previous backup 1B Evan White was a righthanded hitter, but ended up bringing in someone who will demand more than a backup role. Rizzo will be an insurance policy in case Clemens does not develop in the field the way we think he will. It is expected that the two will also be used at DH quite a bit. So why did the Royals find Rizzo so appealing? Well, he gives us another batter who can go yard, a lefthanded option at 1B, and his discipline at the plate is above that of most of his teammates. KC finished dead last in the league in drawing walks; Rizzo should be able to get 60-70 free passes in 2022.
28-year-old Arnold Moser will be playing in AAA Omaha. He is a less talented version of Rizzo. Next up would be 23-year-old Jose Sanchez, but he’s not big-league material. He’s not really AAA material either, posting a .192 average in 64 games with Omaha in 2021. AAA outfielder Gunnar Nelson plays 1B decently and would probably get the call if injury issues arise. Of course, 1B holes can be plugged via free agency if needed. I hear Erik Hosmer is still waiting for a phone call.
Look for Clemens to play 1B all spring with Rizzo DH-ing and starting at first when Clemens is tired. After we see how they stand come opening day, One of those two will be our starting 1B while the other DH’s. Clemens will also see action backing up at 3B from time to time. I seem to care more about 1B defense than most others in this league, so I’m curious to see how much Clemens progresses. I’ll rest easy knowing a 4-time gold glover is there in case he falters.
Bernard Blanchard – .246-8-44 in 150 games with KC – .698 OPS – 2.8 WAR
LF 75/CF 55/RF 55 – LHB – 25 years old – Acquired in a trade with Colorado on 07/06/2019
Originally drafted by the Tampa Rays with the 389th pick (29th round) in the 2015 amateur draft, Bernie was treated like a hot potato before landing in Kansas City. He was dealt from the Tampa organization to the NYY in July of 2017, went from the Yanks to the White Sox 3 weeks later, from the White Sox to the Rockies in the spring of 2018, and finally from the Rockies to the Royals in the summer of 2019. Blanchard made his big-league debut while with the Rockies in 2019, going 1 for 10 with 2 walks in 12 plate appearances. That same year, he had a cup of coffee with the Royals in which he hit .231 with a HR in 23 games. In 2020, Bernie appeared in 44 games with the Royals, cementing himself in the lineup late in the season. He was our regular LF in 2021 and will be again in 2022.
Bernie should be an OBP machine with great speed and defense. He hit just .246 but posted an OBP of .350, 2nd best on the team behind batting champ Gus Lopez. He also finished 2nd to Lopez on the team in SB, stealing 35 bases on the season. While he did not win the Gold Glove in LF in 2021, it would have been justified if he had; as a left fielder, he had 13 assists and committed no errors in 1,095 innings. His 2.8 WAR was 2nd best among Royals batters, finishing (once again) behind Gus Lopez.
Alex Kirilloff – .341-3-16 in 39 games with KC – .951 OPS – 1.6 WAR
LF 55/CF 25/RF 50 – LHB – 24 years old – Drafted with the 53rd pick (2nd round) of the 2019 draft
We are going to have to get Kirilloff more playing time this year. A lefthanded line-drive hitter who makes contact and finds the gaps and projects to be good at taking walks is destined for success in Kauffman Stadium. Alex also is above average on the basepaths. The only problem is getting him into the lineup with a very crowded pool of outfield talent. We were planning on getting him lots of plate appearances in the DH spot, but then Rizzo was brought in. Alex is one of three players from my first draft projected to be on the roster this year (the others being Clemens (6th round) and John Lee (3rd round). You can never be too deep, because you never know how injuries will play out, but it will be intriguing to see what kind of number Kirilloff is capable of if he can get 500 plate appearances. He’s a keeper.
Billy Rounds – .257-18-60 in 131 games with KC – .720 OPS – 2.4 WAR
LF 25/CF 55/RF 30 – LHB – 24 years old – Acquired in a trade with LA Dodgers on 07/18/2019
In 2018 the Dodgers drafted Rounds with the 86th overall pick (3rd round), and in the summer of 2019 Rounds was traded along with pitchers Evan Smith and Jaime Gonzalez to the Royals for 1B Chris Fletcher. Rounds had a nice under-the-radar rookie campaign in 2021, finishing tied for 6th among AL rookies in HR with 18 (or is it tied for 5th because leader Kody Clemens did not actually qualify for the ROY?). Rounds should be our starting CF come opening day, and while he has low ratings at the corner outfield spots, that’s just due to lack of experience. He has the tools to shine in all three outfield spots. Rounds will hopefully be a .280/25/85 type of player this year with 20+ steals (was successful in 21 of 27 attempts as a rookie). He’s not a smart player, but he does anything you ask him to and leads others by example with his tremendous work ethic.
Julio Estever – .316-4-15 in 36 games with KC – .931 OPS – 0.8 WAR
1B 20/LF 35/RF 35 – RHB – 26 years old – Acquired in a trade with Colorado on 07/06/2019
Originally drafted in the 3rd round (78th overall) by the Giants in 2013, Estever has taken a bumpy path to get to KC. After several fruitless years in the Giants system was taken by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft in 2017. The following spring, he was cut by the Padres who returned him to the Giants, who then released him outright. The Brewers signed him to a minor league contract a week later, and in the middle of 2018 traded him to the Rockies in a 9-player deal. He saw his first big league action that season, going 3-for-8 with the Rockies. The following summer Estever was included in the deal that brough Gus Lopez from Colorado to Kansas City. In 2021, Estever spent most of the season on the Royals 26-man roster but was not used much.
He’s our only right-handed hitting outfielder and is a good contact hitter that won’t strike out a ton. He doesn’t draw many walks, but he has a knack for finding the gaps and is excellent on the base paths. This is where things get weird; although Julio is fleet-footed, he covers very little ground in the outfield. He has a below average glove as well. If anything is holding Estever back, it’s his clumsiness in the field. Still, as a pinch-hitter, pinch runner or DH he’s a good piece to carry, especially if we need a right-handed batter.
Adam Hasley – .303-3-29 in 42 games with KC – .816 OPS – 1.0 WAR
1B 25/LF 70/CF 45/RF 60 – LHB – 24 years old – Acquired in a trade with Seattle on 07/30/2021
Hasley provided quite a spark after we acquired him last year for veteran Ryan Braun. As of right now, it looks like he will be sticking with the big-league club and battling Kirilloff and Estever for the starting RF job. And since defense matters to me, he’s just battling Kirilloff. Hasley bring patience to the table; his he posted an OBP of .369, which would have put him 1st on the team had he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Unfortunately, he also strikes out a lot.
Hasley is one of two players (the other being 3B Nander De Sedas) who took a beating in the transition to OOTP 22. My scout saw him as a 65 contact actual and potential at the end of the 2021 season but dropped it to 55 actual and 60 potential after the transition. Hopefully he gets it back up, because he was really playing well for us in August and September.
I’d would be 100% comfortable starting 5 of my 6 AAA outfielders in a big-league game. 24-year-old Jeremy Kinney did start 37 games for the Royals in 2021. Gunnar Nelson (23) could start. Brian Cooper (22) could start. Dan Bryant (22) could start (and hit .320 in 53 games with Oakland in 2021). Bob Collins (currently batting .355 with 7 doubles in 10 WDL games) could start. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to 25-and-under outfielders. Garrett Mitchell (23) is the only one I wouldn’t want to play in the bigs yet. This will be his first season in AAA after hitting .263 in AA last season. And no, it’s no accident that all my AAA outfielders hit lefthanded.
Well, let’s see… We’ll roll out Blanchard in LF, Rounds in CF, and someone in RF and see if they continue to develop. If they don’t, it’s next-man-up, and there are plenty of options. Perhaps we wind up in a pennant race and decide to package a few for an upgrade. I’m very pleased with my outfield situation.
Kris Bubic – 9-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 27 games (all starts) with KC – 1.11 WHIP – 3.4 WAR
LHP – 24 years old – Acquired in a trade with Boston on 07/11/2019
Bubic was originally drafted by the Red Sox with the 97th overall pick (3rd round) in the 2019 amateur draft before coming to the Royals in the same trade that brough up top outfield prospect Bob Collins for 1B Jack MacNeill. He was June’s AL Rookie of the Month and finished 3rd in AL ROY voting behind Jenkins (SEA) and Faustini (OAK). It would be wise to taper expectations for Bubic this season, as he is still young, and he was better in the first half of the season than the second half. In May and June, he posted ERAs of 1.91 and 1.65, respectively. But in July his ERA was 4.50 and in September it was 5.02.
Bubic has one of the best changeups in the game, and we do expect him to be one of our better pitchers. He looks to be our #2 starter heading into the 2022 campaign.
Felix Hernandez – 9-6 with a 5.11 ERA in 31 games (including 17 starts) with KC – 1.52 WHIP, 0-6 WAR
RHP – 35 years old – Signed as a free agent 1/25/21 (4 years, $5.5 million per season)
Things did not go well for King Felix in 2021, his first year with the Royals. KC pictured Hernandez as their veteran ace, but when it came time to trim their 6-man rotation to 5 (after everyone had started 10 games), Felix was the odd man out and sent to the bullpen. He was nothing special out of the pen, but slightly better than he had been as a starter. In 17 starts, Felix was 8-6 with a 5.15 ERA. As a relief pitcher he posted a 1-0 record with 0 saves and a 4.91 ERA.
KC scouts were right about one thing though. King Felix was a great fit in Kauffman Stadium. Hernandez posted a 7-2 record with a 2.98 ERA at home, compared to an 8.32 ERA on the road. Ouch!
Despite the rough season, the Royals are content with Hernandez starting off 2022 as the staff ace.
Joe Kelly – 3-4 with 2 Saves and a 5.29 ERA in 45 games including 3 starts for Tampa and San Diego in 2021
RHP – 33 years old – Signed as a free agent 12/23/2021 (1 year, $1.5 million)
With Ron Tillman being traded away this offseason, the Royals sought an inexpensive pitcher who could work from either the pen or the rotation if needed and found veteran Joe Kelly. Kelly has appeared in over 200 MLB games and posted a 4.82 ERA along the way. Our scouts like Kelly and think he can hold down the 5th starter spot if needed. He puts a lot of movement on the ball and has a good fastball and slider. His change is effective, and he throws a curve that could use a little more work. He’ll need to have a good spring though, as there are several other Royals pitchers who have their eye on Ron Tillman’s vacant spot.
Casey Mize – 9-12 with a 5.65 ERA in 32 starts for KC – 1.40 WHIP – 1.1 WAR
RHP – 24 years old – Acquired in a trade with Toronto on 5/23/19
Based purely on our scouts’ evaluation of Mize, he should be among the 2nd tier of best pitchers in the AL. But alas, he is inconsistent and gets roughed up frequently. 2021 was an odd year in that his ERA ballooned from 4.89 in 2020 to 5.65, but his WHIP dropped from 1.41 to 1.40.
Mize has very good stuff and very good control, 4 good pitches, good stamina, doesn’t let runners get big leads, has a decent glove and covers 1B quickly. But for some reason, he just hasn’t performed to the level he is capable of yet. Hopefully 2022 – Mize’s 3rd big league season – will be the year he puts it all together.
Jason Neal – 10-8 with a 4.68 ERA in 30 starts for KC – 1.47 WHIP – 1.7 WAR
LHP – 27 years old – Acquired in a trade with Colorado 7/6/19
Jason regressed a little bit from his 3.75 ERA in his rookie season (2020) when he led the AL in innings pitched. Still, he managed to win more than he lost and stay healthy. For a young guy, he’s looked up to by many players. He’s one of our many captains.
Neal has 4 solid pitches and good stamina, along with good stuff, movement and control. He’s not great at anything besides holding runners, but he’s also not bad at anything. Neal should be a solid 3-4 spot pitcher for the Royals in 2022.
Chris Rivers – 8-8 with 2 saves and a 3.79 ERA in 38 games (including 20 starts) for KC – 1.26 WHIP – 2.6 WAR
RHP – 24 years old – Acquired in a trade with the Dodgers 6/10/2018
Rivers improved on his rookie season, winning 2 more games and dropping his ERA from 5.80 to 3.79. He was once again used both in the rotation and from the pen, posting a 4.10 ERA as a starter and 2.45 ERA as a reliever. A groundball pitcher who does everything well and nothing exceptionally, he has been working with teammate Kris Bubic on improving his changeup.
There are a wide range of possibilities for Rivers this year; I could see him in the top 3 in the rotation or being in the pen at season’s end. It all depends on how well he pitches.
Kevin Knaust and Evan Smith would be the top two options from AAA Omaha. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out Evan Smith making the 26-man roster just year. If we had to dip outside of those two players, we would probably make a trade or scrape the bottom of the free agent pool. There may be an outstanding offer to a current free agent, but if so it’s a MLC.
If the season started today, we’d be going with Felix Hernandez, Kris Bubic and Casey Mize as our top three, with Rivers, Neal and Kelly battling it out for the 4th and 5th spots. I do not plan on starting with a 6-man rotation the way I did last year. Whichever pitcher does not make the rotation will likely stay in the bigs but pitch from the pen. Our bullpen should be much improved talent-wise this year, but we lost a little stamina, so I like the idea of having an innings-eater around if the other arms are tired.