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Weekend in Review: Draft Talk, a Non-Sweep and the Week Ahead
Games were played. The Royals actually won one of them, so that's an improvement.
When the team you follow if 5-17, the only victories you can celebrate most days are moral victories. After seeing the pitching staff get lit up for basically the entire homestand that saw them win exactly zero games, the Royals faced a league average offense with two legitimate superstars and gave up 14 runs in three games. No, that’s not great, but they were competitive, and that’s more than we could generally say from that terrible homestand. The fact that it’s come to this just four weeks into the season is a massive problem that nobody is underestimating, but I think just watching games that were actually in doubt after the fourth inning was at least a somewhat welcome sight. And there’s something weirdly comforting by knowing both losses were mostly because of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, two of the best in the game.
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This season was never about wins and losses, and no matter how much you hate that idea, it’s the reality. This season is about progress for the young players. So far, it’s been a mixed bag. We’ve seen some hitters look solid, some look legitimately good and others look like they might not be worth anything. Though time will tell on that. I jokingly said that the Royals could find success this weekend without winning a single game if they figure out what they have and subsequently don’t have. I wish they weren’t taking me so seriously, but they absolutely need to stay the course.
And I’ll say this again because I think there are some who think I haven’t been hard enough on them. If they are doing everything they can to learn everything they can in 2023, I can accept that. But if they spend their offseason going after the Ryan Yarbroughs and Jordan Lyles of the world again, I will be relentless against them. We’ll see how that goes. For now, other than some reshuffling that is necessary (moving on from Dozier, giving Massey time to get right in AA, etc.), there isn’t much they can do.
Some 2023 Draft Talk
With the NFL Draft set to hit Kansas City on Thursday and the current Royals season making us think about the draft, I wanted to take another look at the upcoming draft where the Royals will pick eighth in the first round and then will pick fifth in all subsequent rounds (plus they have the 66th overall pick in the middle of competitive balance round B). I think I’ve written about this before, but I wanted to revisit a little bit about some options for the Royals with their early-round picks.
The name I see connected with the Royals quite a bit is Jacob Wilson, the shortstop from Grand Canyon University. Heading into yesterday, Wilson was hitting .430/.480/.656, which you might realize is pretty darn good. You might remember Wilson’s dad, Jack. Or maybe you don’t. But he played 12 years in the big leagues and was both an All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner in a very out-of-character 2004 season for the Pirates. He’s the type of player who I would likely talk myself into liking a lot, but I’d like to see more upside out of the eighth overall pick. The hit tool is legit with just five strikeouts in 148 plate appearances coming into yesterday, but I just don’t personally see a ton of power potential even though he shows some in batting practice.
I’m a big advocate of drafting hitters early, like so many others. The problem is that with the spot the Royals are picking, there are quite a few position players who I wouldn’t be a fan of taking. Take Enrique Bradfield Jr. for example. He is very talented without a doubt and he’s a big league defender in center who figures to be able to hit for a good enough average. The problem is that I just don’t personally see near enough to tell me that he’s sure to not have the bat knocked out of his hands in the big leagues.
The concerns, for me, are similar with Jacob Gonzalez, a shortstop out of Mississippi. I think there’s power in his bat that we’ve seen a little bit in his college career, but I’m not sure he stays at shortstop and then you’ve got yourself in another position like they’re in with Nick Loftin where he’s a bit of a tweener. There are some scouting reports that think he’ll hit anywhere and maybe I’m way off, but I don’t know, I just find myself thinking they should be looking for someone with at least a little more position certainty at this pick.
It would be amazing for the Royals if Max Clark fell to them, but among hitters, I kind of don’t know that I love any of the likely options. Maybe Brayden Taylor gets some helium over the next few weeks and he’s the guy out of TCU or maybe it’s Brock Wilken from Wake Forest, who has hit for some crazy power this season.
But if they go pitching, don’t be too surprised to hear Hurston Waldrep’s name called or maybe Rhett Lowder. Both are college pitchers. While Lowder has the numbers this season, Waldrep has the stuff, including a split-change that is something we just don’t see much of in the Royals system. If they believe in their development system, Waldrep might be the guy. They could also do what they’ve done in the past and try to save a little money in this spot, given that they may not love the options to try to pay a little more in the second round for talent. In that case, maybe they look at Charlee Soto, a high school arm with big upside or Travis Sykora, who has some similarities.
Friday - Angels 2, Royals 0
What did you think was going to happen? The Angels sent Ohtani to the mound on three days rest because he only threw two innings before rain chased him in his previous start, so the Royals faced him at least a day early and probably two. And it went about as expected. He struck out the side in the first on 12 pitches and while I think he actually didn’t look quite as dominant as I’ve seen him this year, he was especially nasty.
I know it’s easy to rag on the Royals offense, but at least for one night, it was about the opposing pitcher. I saw a lot of people responding on Twitter with a lot of “yeah, it’s the Royals,” but the truth is Ohtani might be in the midst of a historic season on the mound. He’s now given up two runs on eight hits in 28 innings. Just to put that in perspective, Saturday night’s starter, Zack Greinke, won the AL Cy Young in 2009 with a positively dominant year. He allowed eight or more hits in nine full games. Ohtani has allowed eight hits total in five starts.
No, this was about him and not a struggling Royals offense. He also struck out 11 more batters, which gave him 38 on the year. The man is incredible and I truly think is in the conversation for the best player to ever play the game. It’s a joke how badly he’s being wasted in Anaheim along with Trout, but I imagine we’ll see him sign with someone who gives him a chance to actually compete on the biggest stage next season for a contract that is just unruly.
The Royals pitching actually held up pretty well even though they went unorthodox. They went with the opener and it was Taylor Clarke, who had been struggling this season, but he threw two perfect innings that included a strikeout of Ohtani. He turned things over to Ryan Yarbrough, who had worked as the bulk guy in Tampa quite a bit in his career and he got off to a rough start with a one-out hit batter and then gave up a home run to recent callup Chad Wallach, but he settled in and gave the Royals four innings to get them to the seventh where they got a scoreless inning from Amir Garrett and another scoreless inning from Josh Staumont.
Neither of the final two innings were drama-free, but the pitching gave the offense a chance to come back and they simply couldn’t against two Angels relievers. The ninth was a bit frustrating with a Matt Duffy pinch hit appearance that resulted in a hard-hit ball for an out. Then Bobby Witt Jr. hit an absolute missile, but on the ground, so it was just a 113.8 MPH sinker. MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino couldn’t do anything against Jose Quijada, both striking out and the Royals were shut out again. Woof.
Saturday - Royals 11, Angels 8
This one was unexpected. I was once told by a former Royals player that facing an elite starter is just the elixir needed to get out of an offensive funk. I’m still not sure I believe it, but the Royals were shut down by Ohtani on Friday and then came out against Tyler Anderson and looked so much better. But boy this was a wild one.
Maybe this is just an annual sort of game for these two teams as you might recall their 12-11 game against them last season that ended with the same result of a Royals win, but there were some very real redemption stories in this one.
Dozier went 3 for 5 with a run scored and three RBI, including a big hit in the bottom of the ninth inning to take it from a 9-8 game to an 11-8 game. That gave another upcoming redemption story a bigger lead to give him the perfect opportunity to get right. Dozier, of course, did get thrown out on the bases after the big hit and did miss out on an RBI chance earlier in the game.
It has been a rough go of a season for Barlow. When your closer is 0-2 before the first month is over, that’s not ideal. He’d given up runs in three of seven appearances coming into Saturday and had given up at least one base runner in six of seven games. So the three-run lead was helpful but he was tasked with facing Taylor Ward, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. The Angels are a bit top-heavy, but that’s the top part. He struck out Ward on three pitches, Trout on six and Ohtani on a weak grounder back to the mound on his third pitch to him. His velocity was up and his location was so much better. I had my worries that Barlow might be toast, and he still might be, but Saturday looked like vintage Barlow.
The season was brutal for Melendez to start off. He came into the game with a .149/.256/.254 line. We know he’s hit the ball hard, but he also hasn’t hit the ball enough and when he did, he didn’t get the hits the numbers indicated he should have. Going 2 for 4 with a couple of RBI (including a HBP to drive in a run in the ninth) was so nice to see. We saw he homered yesterday too before having to leave with lower back soreness, so we’ll see how he’s feeling today. But, including yesterday’s action, Melendez has struck out in 25 percent of plate appearances in his last eight games, which is a bit high, but much better than the 39.6 percent rate we saw in the first 12 games. Hopefully the back just tightened up and he can get back in there quickly because he looks like he’s getting it going.
Offense with RISP
The Royals were 5 for 45 with runners in scoring position in their seven-game losing streak. They went 7 for 14 in this one. Those seven hits represented 20.6 percent of their hits with runners in scoring position through the end of the game. They weren’t all rockets, but some of them, including the single by Edward Olivares with a man on third and one out, were among their biggest hits of the season.
Of course, this one was just crazy. Greinke ended up giving up four runs on seven hits in five innings after throwing two perfect innings to start. He gave up a couple of home runs. Carlos Hernandez gave up two runs on three hits with a homer allowed, though he had a bizarre inning. After giving up a home run on his second pitch, he appeared to get Zach Neto to pop up to end the inning with the Royals up 6-5. The broadcast went to commercial and all was good.
Then the game comes back and Neto is blooping a single to right field to score the tying run. We got no explanation for awhile, but only found out that it was a pretty weak balk call that Phil Cuzzi apparently whispered into his shirt. After another dominant Aroldis Chapman inning, Jose Cuas came in for the eighth with the game tied and gave up a two-run homer to Matt Thaiss and it looked like the Royals were cooked.
But Jose Quijada didn’t have it for the Angels. He hit Nicky Lopez to lead off the inning. Then he gave up a home run to Kyle Isbel that ended up not being a home run. It was overturned and Isbel was awarded third as that’s where they determined he’d have gotten after a throwing error. So it’s 8-7 and pretty much every Royals fan is thinking they’re not going to score that run, especially when Witt grounded out and stranded him. But Olivares blooped a single to tie it. Then things got REALLY crazy after a Vinnie Pasquantino fly out.
Salvador Perez walked, which is weird enough. Then Matt Duffy walked. Then Melendez got hit. And then Dozier hit a two-run single to give the Royals some pretty important insurance. As I mentioned, Barlow was great and the Royals had their first win in a week and a half.
Sunday - Angels 4, Royals 3
The Royals came out in this game swinging. Witt went after the first pitch and I thought he got it, but, alas, he didn’t. Then Melendez did get one.
Jordan Lyles, who came into the game allowing a .368/.455/.684 line in the first inning, walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a loud double to Mike Trout that got the runner to third. A sacrifice fly to Shohei Ohtani eliminated the early lead in 13 pitches. The pitch Ohtani hit for a sacrifice fly was a mistake and Lyles was pretty lucky to not give up three runs with that one swing. But he didn't. And like his last start, he settled in. He got the Angels 1-2-3 in the second, worked around a one-out error in the third, got them 1-2-3 in the fourth and then got them 1-2-3 in the fifth.
In the top of the sixth, Pasquantino gave the Royals a 2-1 lead that you had a feeling wouldn’t hold up, but still, he gave them a lead.
But in the bottom half, the Angels went to work immediately. Lyles tried to start Taylor Ward off with a sweeper and it just sort of hung up there in the middle of the plate. I don’t even hate the pitch he made to Trout, but Trout is who he is and he hit the second consecutive home run to give the Angels the lead. And then he got caught hanging a curve to Ohtani, who launched the third straight for the Angels to give them a 4-2 lead. In the end, Lyles just couldn’t get the top of the lineup out for a third time and it put the Royals in a hole.
To the Royals credit, they once again did not give up. Witt took full advantage of the home run line in right-center field to hit one of his own.
I think it’s important to highlight what Josh Taylor did. He gave up a double to Trout to lead off the bottom of the eighth and then gave up an infield single to Ohtani to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Taylor proceeded to strike out Hunter Renfroe. Then he struck out Luis Rengifo. And then he got Gio Urshela to ground out to third base. He gave the Royals a chance to come back in the ninth for a second straight day. They obviously didn’t, but that doesn’t mean Taylor doesn’t deserve credit.
The Week Ahead
Boy it’s easy to not care about what’s next when what’s behind us has been so bad, but I’m here, so let’s do this. They head to Arizona next to face the Diamondbacks, who were in first place in the NL West and are still technically in first place, but they’ve lost four of five and are now tied with the Dodgers and just half a game ahead of the Padres. I figured that would happen, but assumed it would take maybe a bit longer. I love what the Diamondbacks are doing with a bunch of young talent, but I think they’re just not quite there yet. Their young outfield is fun, but only Corbin Carroll is hitting to start the year. They have Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and some fun young starters and DFAing Madison Bumgarner is probably addition by subtraction.
The Royals will face three of their young guys, seeing Tommy Henry to start the series tonight, Ryne Nelson tomorrow and the great Gallen, who has been fantastic to start 2023. Henry was a second-round pick in 2019 and hasn’t exactly lit up AAA so far this year, though he did well there last year and the peripherals are okay. He also didn’t light up the big leagues in nine starts last year. Lefties absolutely destroyed him even though he’s a lefty with a 1.050 OPS, so you really hope they have Melendez available to add another lefty to the mix. He’s sort of your classic crafty lefty with a fastball that occasionally will hit 93 or 94, but generally stays in the low-90s, a curve, a slider and a changeup. While the repertoire is different, they did just hit a soft-tossing lefty in Anderson in this past series.
Nelson can be beaten too and the Royals will counter with Brad Keller and Brady Singer, both of whom are looking for bounceback outings while Keller will be facing his original team for the first time. The Royals will finish the series with either a Yarbrough start or an opener with Yarbrough in bulk, but that’s against Gallen, so good luck there. What are the odds you’d get Ohtani and Gallen the first two times you try that? Not great, but I guess if you’re not going to win anyway… And then they’ll travel to Minnesota for four with the hope of revenge for the season-opening series. The Twins will throw all three the Royals saw to start the year - Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan, but they’ll open the series with Tyler Mahle. The Royals will counter with their opening three plus Singer at the end. We don’t get the luxury of a day off from these guys this week, so buckle up.