The KC Royals have “cut” Nick Pratto. But that’s no reason to write him off.
Thursday didn’t bring the best of news to Nick Pratto. The KC Royals announced their first roster cuts of the spring, and Pratto found his name among the 27 players no longer assigned to the major league camp. His days playing Cactus League games with big leaguers this spring may be limited.
That doesn’t mean the Royals are through with Pratto, or he with them. He’s still with the organization, but transitions now to whatever plans the franchise has for him and the other reassigned players while they await the full opening of minor league camp.
Thursday’s move probably disappointed Pratto, but couldn’t have surprised him. Even though his .364 Cactus League average ranks fifth on the team and he’s played more games (10 of the team’s 12 through Friday) than any of the four players ahead of him—Whit Merrifield, Michael A. Taylor, Salvador Perez and Sebastian Rivero—he was never going to make the club.
Standing in his way is Carlos Santana, signed over the winter to play first base, the same position Pratto hopes will someday be his. But Pratto has something to prove before the Royals can bring him to Kansas City—he must show them his miserable 2019 season was something to be concerned about, but nothing upon which to determine his future.
Pratto spent 2019 playing Advanced A ball at Wilmington. It was his third professional season; he debuted two years before with the Royals’ Arizona rookie club after Kansas City made him the 14th player selected in 2017’s amateur draft, then moved up to Class A Lexington for the 2018 campaign.
Like so many first-year players’ statistics, his Arizona numbers weren’t spectacular (four home runs, 34 RBIs, .247 average in 52 games), but he showed in 2018 why he merited a first-round pick. He rapped 33 doubles, hit 14 homers, drove in 62 runs, and slashed .280/.343/.443 in 127 games.
Then came 2019 at Wilmington. In only three fewer games than he’d played the season before, Pratto’s doubles dropped to 21, his home runs to nine, and his RBIs to 46. His line collapsed to .191/.278/.310. The implosion was shocking.
At the same time, a 2017 Royals’ draft mate seemed to be mounting a threat to Pratto. Travis Jones, chosen 28 rounds after Pratto, slashed .262/.354/.359 at Double A Northwest Arkansas; perhaps the college ball experience Jones had and Pratto lacked explained the difference, but the performance gap was still striking.
Well-chronicled by The Athletic’s Alec Lewis (subscription required) is Pratto’s hard work on his hitting after the 2019 campaign. Unfortunately, COVID-19 wiped out 2020’s minor league season, but his work with the bat apparently went well at the Royals’ alternate training site where he was a member of their 60-man Player Pool.
His good work continued this spring. Although he struck out too many times—five in 13 plate appearances—he doubled twice, homered once, and had that solid (albeit small sample size) .364 average. His postseason work in 2019 and last summer’s experience are likely sources of the improvement.
So, Thursday’s reassignment means nothing more than Pratto won’t break camp with the major league club. Instead, he’ll stay behind in Arizona, work until the rest of the minor leaguers arrive, then spend another spring training phase preparing for the 2021 season. Kansas City hasn’t given up on Pratto (the mere fact he made last year’s Player Pool proves that), and he’ll get this year in the minors to show the club, and himself, that 2019 isn’t the metric by which to measure all things Pratto.
Will he be ready if Santana doesn’t return to the Royals when his current contract expires after the 2022 season? Time will tell, but Pratto has plenty of time to make the KC Royals forget 2019.
Nick Pratto isn’t assigned to the KC Royals’ major league camp anymore. But he’s still in their plans.