KC Royals Rookies: Who Makes an Impact in 2017?
The KC Royals have a number of young players on the verge of becoming a factor at the major-league level. Who makes the jump from prospect to big league contributor?
In 2016, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Matt Strahm all played important roles for the Royals in their rookie campaigns.
Who, if anyone, is ready to make a similar jump in 2017?
Matt Strahm, 25, LHP
OK, we’re not really going out on a limb here. Strahm, who spent two years at Neosho County Community College in southeast Kansas – go Jayhawk Conference! – was a revelation out of the bullpen for the Royals last year, posting a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings of relief. The lanky lefty struck out 30 against just 11 walks in his first big league action.
Strahm, the Royals No. 2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, is still a rookie as he hasn’t pitched 50 innings in the majors yet. Kansas City will be asking even more out of him this season as he’s expected to compete for a spot in the Royals’ rotation this spring. A 21st-round draft pick, Strahm has excelled at every stop in the minors since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Splitting time between A and High-A ball in 2015 he had a 2.59 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 94 innings. The North Dakota native followed that up by recording a 3.43 ERA in 102.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last season, fanning 107 during that stretch before getting the call-up to Kansas City.
Strahm’s likely in Kansas City for good, whether he wins a spot in the rotation or not. If Chris Young were to rebound from his disastrous 2016 and somehow claim the Royals’ fifth starter position, Strahm would likely work out of the pen again in 2017.
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Hunter Dozier, 25, 3B/OF
Another youngster who made his Major League debut last season, Dozier looks to battle for a spot in what for now looks like a crowed Royals outfield or even as the team’s regular designated hitter.
The eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft – six selections after Kris Byrant – Dozier has had an up-and-down beginning to his professional career. He got off to a fast start, posting a .308 BA/.397 OBP/.892 in 2013, his first year as a pro, in rookie and A ball. He proceed to tear up High-A pitching in 2014 and was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas midway through the season. Dozier struggled massively in Double A that season, hitting .209 with 70 strikeouts in 64 games for the Naturals.
The following year was actually worse for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound slugger, who enters 2017 as the Royals’ No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America. He managed just a .213 BA/ .281 OBP/ .631 OPS in 129 games for Northwest Arkansas.
But Dozier bounced back last season, hitting .296 with 23 homers and 44 doubles in 129 games between Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. (He managed four hits in 19 at-bats for the Royals in a brief cup of coffee with the big league club at the end of the year.)
Right now it’s hard to see where he could get regular at-bats for the Royals, but a trade of Jarrod Dyson or Lorenzo Cain could open things up for him.
Josh Staumont, 22, RHP
The Royals’ consensus top prospect, Staumont consistently hits 100 mph with his fastball and left scouts drooling after he fanned 73 batters in 50.1 innings for Northwest Arkansas last summer. He’s still finding his control, though, as his stint in Double A came on the heels’ of a 2-10 campaign at High-A Wilmington where he posted a 5.05 ERA over 73 innings. Staumont struck out 94 batters in High A this season but walked 67.
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But his control is improving. Recently, in the Arizona Fall League, Staumont recorded 30 strikeouts against 16 walks in 24 innings.
He’s not likely to break camp with the Royals, but could be a candidate to get called up mid-season either as bullpen help or even as a shot in the arm for the back end of the rotation.