Both Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny think Nick Heath could play a role on the 2020 KC Royals team. That highlights a larger problem in the outfield.
As spring training approaches, the KC Royals will be getting a clearer picture of who belongs on the Opening Day roster. They’ll also possibly catch glimpses of players who could join the team at some point in the regular season. Nick Heath appears to be the latter — and he’s popping up on more and more radars by the day.
Per a story by MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan, the young outfielder is someone to “keep an eye on.” The skinny on Heath is that he’s a player with blazing speed that plays well both on the basepaths and on defense. His 60 total stolen bases in the minor leagues last season seem to back that up.
He was also respectable at the plate in 2019. In 84 games at the AA level, he hit .255 with a .332 on-base percentage. His OBP spiked to .392 in 21 games with AAA Omaha which, combined with his .410 SLG, made for an impressive .802 OPS. He struck out 143 times in 105 games which is alarming but nonetheless, Heath has proved he can handle minor league pitching at all levels.
Flanagan’s article goes on to give some quotes from both Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny, and both seem to love Heath. The two raved about his speed and ability to defend at a high level, but they also tempered expectations for Heath to make the team early on. It appears that if he is to join the MLB club, it would be a bit later in the season. Here’s more from Matheny:
"“But it’s kind of fun to think about having a weapon around like Nick Heath. The guy stole 50 bags before he even got to Triple-A. But I want Nick Heath playing every day. I hope he gets up here at some point. Of course.”"
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As mentioned with Alex Gordon‘s potential (and now official) return for the team, this year’s outfield is already crowded. With Gordon in left, Whit Merrifield in center and Hunter Dozier in right, the starters are set. After that, Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling are both facing make-or-break seasons.
Khalil Lee‘s name has been tossed around in talks about which minor leaguers could be promoted this season but with Heath also on that list, that highlights a bigger problem.
Matheny wants Heath playing every day. If he gets called up to the MLB, that probably isn’t going to happen. Would sitting him on the bench and using him as a fourth, fifth or sixth outfielder and pinch-runner be a good decision? What would that mean for Phillips and Starling? What about Lee?
There are a lot of variables to take into consideration here. While Heath is a speed demon with developing on-base skills and terrific character, risking potentially stunting his development may not be worth it. Maybe at midseason, the organization will have a better idea of what it wants the outfield to look like.
Heath will have an opportunity to shock the world this spring. If he puts up good numbers at the plate and uses his legs to his advantage, don’t be surprised to see him patrolling the outfield at Kauffman Stadium soon.
Unfortunately, though, that’ll likely come at the expense of someone else.