Whit Merrifield has been a revelation since being called up in April. How different might the Kansas City Royals and their season look if he had made the 25-man roster to start the year?
Attempting to answer “what if” questions is a fool’s errand. But when the answer explains much about the Kansas City Royals and how their season has gotten to this point, the question is well worth asking.
You already know what the question is. And you probably have already made up your mind, as to what your answer is.
Either you’ll say, it doesn’t matter that Whit Merrifield didn’t make the roster, because the Kansas City Royals realized their mistake and promoted him on April 18. (If you didn’t know the exact date, don’t worry, I didn’t either.) The other group will likely defend the decision, citing his .262 batting average in spring training.
Should Have Been Starting Second Baseman
But I’m going to set the record straight. Merrifield should have been the Opening Day second baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Raul Mondesi should have been the Opening Day shortstop … for the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers.
Mondesi was not ready to be a starter in the majors. He just wasn’t. His .327 batting average in spring training masked his 14 strikeouts to 18 hits ratio. Mondesi will be a key Kansas City Royals contributor in the future, but he wasn’t ready this spring and should never have been put in that position.
Spring training performances are not exactly the best barometer for determining a player’s success in a given season. Here’s the list of players who hit over .300 in at least 25 plate appearances for the Kansas City Royals in spring training:
If Opening Day rosters were based solely on spring training performances, Eric Hosmer and his .172 batting average would have been in the minor leagues. Ditto for Mike Moustakas (.197) and Salvador Perez (.176).
What About Coming Off the Bench?
Even if you want to argue Mondesi earned his starting spot, Merrifield should still have been on the Opening Day roster. He could have replaced Christian Colon, who would need to have been designated for assignment, or Terrance Gore, whose main function was as a pinch-runner.
Colon wound up getting DFA’d in May anyway, so him being on the Opening Day roster just extended the inevitable. Fans will never forget Colon and his two massive postseason hits. However, Merrifield would have been a smarter option.
Gore made sense as an emergency fifth outfield, but Merrifield can obviously play out there, too. He also currently has 26 steals—good for eighth in the majors. It’s a skill Merrifield didn’t show during his 2016 call-up. He had just eight steals on 11 attempts over 81 games. In spring training, he stole six bases without getting caught. Plus he can hit, so advantage Merrifield.
Would It Have Made a Difference?
So let’s assume now that I’ve convinced you Merrifield should have been the second baseman from Day One or, at least, on the roster. The next question is would it have made any difference over the first five months of the season.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are set to enter September with a 65-67 record. Entering Thursday, there is a four-game gap between them and Minnesota for the second Wild Card spot. There are also five teams stuck in between.
When Merrifield was called up the Kansas City Royals were an even 6-6. (They have a losing record with him!!?? What makes you think he would have helped in those first 12 games??) Fair points, but hear me out.
Of the six losses, three came by deficits of one or two runs. In those three games, Mondesi was a collective 2 for 10 with an RBI, five strikeouts and three runners left on base. It could have been worse, he was 2 for 32 in all of the other games in which he played.
Merrifield, for what it’s worth, homered in his debut. Mondesi hit just one during his 42 at-bats with the Kansas City Royals this season. The power Merrifield has shown this season—along with the aforementioned uptick in base-stealing—has been the biggest surprise.
After Wednesday’s three-run homer against the Rays, he has 17 round-trippers in 115 games. That’s after hitting only two dingers while playing in exactly half of the team’s games in 2016. The power numbers have seen his RBI total rise from 29 last year to 62 this year.
They’ll Know Better Next Year
The rest of Merrifield’s stats, though, are fairly in line with what he showed last year. His batting average, on-base percentage and strikeout-to-walk rate are incredibly similar. The Kansas City Royals should have known what they had in Merrifield, even if his spring training numbers weren’t spectacular.
Even if you believe Merrifield would have flipped a few of those early losses into wins, the Kansas City Royals would likely still be chasing a playoff spot instead of holding one entering September.
Who knows, maybe, sending Merrifield down to the minor leagues was just the motivation he needed to turn into this player. Although, to hear Rex Hudler gush about “Whitley” and his offseason eating program while living with his parents, it sounds like this sort of production should have been expected regardless.
It’s safe to say, the Kansas City Royals will have already added Whit Merrifield’s name to the 2018 Opening Day roster. If they’re smart, they’ll have written it in permanent marker.