Royals: The decline of Kansas City’s Jorge Bonifacio

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Jorge Bonifacio #38 of the Kansas City Royals hits a double in the second inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 20, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Jorge Bonifacio #38 of the Kansas City Royals hits a double in the second inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 20, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Royals designated a once-promising outfielder for assignment this week. His decline places his future squarely in doubt.

Jorge Bonifacio, once a bright spot in the future of the Kansas City Royals, faces a winter of uncertainty. A member of the club’s 40-man roster until the Royals designated him for assignment at the November 20 deadline to set their 40-man for Rule 5 draft purposes, Bonifacio finds himself stranded in 10-day DFA limbo. Whether he plays anywhere in 2020 is anyone’s guess.

Bonifacio will turn 27 in April but is already a veteran of 10 professional seasons. Signed as a 16-year old international free agent in December 2009, he debuted with the Royals’ affiliate in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, was named the organization’s DSL player of the year and made the All-Star team. He followed in 2011 with a full Rookie League season at Burlington and earned another Player of the Year award, hitting .284 with 7 home runs and 30 RBI’s in 62 games.

His star rising, Bonifacio won another Player of the Year award at Class A Kane County in 2012. He hit .282 with 10 homers and 61 RBI’s in 105 games and his progress provided part of the Royals’ defense to widespread criticism for shipping budding star Wil Myers to Tampa Bay in the trade that landed James Shields and Wade Davis. Undaunted by the critics, Bonifacio slashed .298/.372/.429 in 88 games the next season. His star rose again.

Then came 2014 and 2015. While the Royals celebrated their first trip to the World Series in 30 seasons and then a Series title, Bonifacio stumbled through two AA seasons with mixed results: he hit .230 in 132 games in 2014, then .240, albeit with 17 home runs, in 2015.

The Royals promoted Bonifacio to AAA Omaha in 2016 and he responded with his best all-around minor league season, clubbing 19 homers, driving in 86, slashing and slashing .277/.351/.461. A fast 2017 start earned him an April promotion to KC, where he served notice that the club hadn’t misplaced its confidence in him when they traded Wil Myers. In 113 games, he hit 17 homers, had 15 doubles and 40 RBI’s, and hit.255.

Bonifacio, it seemed, was set with the Royals for 2018, and they with him. But an 80-game PED-related suspension handed down during Spring Training wiped out half his season and arguably turned the rest of the campaign to rubble.  Although he returned to play 69 games, he was not the Bonifacio of 2017–his average slipped 30 points to .225 and he managed only four home runs.

Hoping to reclaim a regular spot in the Royals’ uncertain 2019 outfield, Bonifacio instead found himself at Omaha and received only a brief trip to Kansas City in June. He hit well, collecting 7 hits in 20 at-bats, but was sent back to Omaha and finished the season there with 20 home runs but an unsightly .222 average.

The precise impact of Bonifacio’s suspension is difficult to determine–he hit a career-high 20 homers at Omaha a season after the suspension and his 62 RBI’s were his third-highest in 11 pro seasons. But he hit only .225 for the Royals after returning from suspension, and only .222 in the minors the season after. What is certain is that missing 80 games in 2018–the season after he appeared established in the KC outfield–did nothing to advance his career.

That Bonifacio lost his spot on the Royals’ 40-man roster is not shocking. His performance had declined and the club clearly moved others, particularly Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips, and possibly Erick Mejia, ahead of him in their hunt to solidify and stabilize the outfield. Although Bonifacio has proven power, he has yet to demonstrate the big league ability to hit for average and is only average defensively.

DFA’d on November 20, Bonifacio’s wait now begins. He is a man without a team–the Royals have 10 days from his designation date to trade him, release him, or place him on irrevocable waivers, choices which do not involve immediately retaining him. Bonifacio’s recent performance and his shortcomings make return trade value questionable and other teams may shy away from a trade or a waiver claim considering that performance and his PED involvement.

Of course, the Royals could re-sign Bonifacio if no other team wants him and he’s released. But should they?

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Jorge Bonifacio is not the rising star he once was. His decline can’t be attributed solely to his 2018 PED suspension–although he hit well in five games for the Kansas City Royals in 2019 and in 13 games for Omaha in 2017, he hasn’t hit consistently well since his first four minor league seasons (through 2013). He has occasional power but his defense is average; others have passed him by in the battle for regular KC outfield spots. Should he fail to find another team, Bonifacio might merit a shot at Omaha if the club believes he can recapture the promise of his early career.