A breakthrough 2017 performance appeared to have put a Kansas City outfielder on the path to potential major league stardom. Things haven’t been the same for him since and his big league hopes now lie with a Central Division rival.
For Jorge Bonifacio, the 2017 season that marked his major league debut must seem deeper in his baseball past than a mere two full campaigns. It was in 2017 that he broke in with the KC Royals and established himself as an outfielder to be reckoned with.
Bonifacio was already a seven-year veteran of the Royals’ organization that year, having signed an international free agent deal with the club as a 16-year old in 2009 and then beginning his climb up the minor league ladder in 2010. He was coming off the best all-around season of his career, a 134-game 2016 campaign at AAA Omaha with 19 home runs, 86 RBI, a .277/.351/.461 slash and an .812 OPS.
He returned to Omaha to start 2017 and was hitting .314 with three homers and 12 RBI in 13 games when the Royals called him up on April 21; he finished the season with KC and hit 17 homers, had 40 RBI and slashed .255/.320/.432 with a .752 OPS, statistics sufficient to give him the inside track for a 2018 outfield spot.
Then came the 80-game PED-related suspension that derailed Bonifacio’s 2018 season. He returned at mid-season but never regained his form–despite hitting .392 in 13 games at Omaha, he slashed a dismal .225/.312/.360, and hit four homers with 23 RBI after returning to the Royals for 69 games. His stock fallen, Bonifacio spent most of 2019 back at Omaha where, despite slugging 20 homers, he batted just .222. He played in only five games for Kansas City.
The Royals DFA’d him just before the deadline for setting their 40-man roster for 2019 Rule 5 Draft purposes. Hoping to salvage him for their own outfield, the Detroit Tigers signed Bonifacio to a minor league contract in early December and invited him to Spring Training.
So it is that Bonifacio, once a rising star with the Royals, finds himself trying to rebuild his career with the worst team in baseball, but one that plays in Kansas City’s division. He’s never appeared in a game other than as a member of the KC system; if he makes the Tiger roster, he may get the chance to prove the Royals wrong.
At least five former KC Royals may face their former team in Central Division games this season. KC fans will watch each with interest to determine whether the Royals’ decisions to let these players go were wise.