Winners of just four of their last 15 games, the KC Royals now sit five games below .500 and have plummeted to nine games behind the American League Central Division leading White Sox.
While there are still 91 games remaining and plenty of time and room for improvement, this current Royals’ roster clearly lacks the talent to compete with the true contenders of the American League.
Only five teams from each league are awarded playoff spots (three division winners and two wild card teams). As it currently stands, both their stats and the “eye test” would strongly suggest the Royals are nowhere near playoff contention. Teams like the Rays, White Sox, Red Sox, Athletics, Astros, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Indians all have them beaten both from record and talent standpoints.
This is no surprise, as the Royals’ 2021 season was always considered to be the final year of their rebuild, one last season devoted to player development and learning how to win games at the major league level. However, a blazing 16-7 start to the season may have convinced the organization to change its original philosophy and try to contend for a playoff spot.
Now, approaching the midway point of the season and almost completely out of playoff contention, the Royals must start playing for the future.
The KC Royals should be developing young pitchers at the big league level.
Earlier in the season, two of the Royals’ best pitching prospects, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar, made their highly anticipated major league debuts. Both results were disastrous to say the very least.
Called up in early May, Lynch made three starts before being sent back down to Triple-A Omaha. In his brief three-game major league stint, the young (24) lefty was absolutely hammered, posting a heinous 15.75 ERA and 2.88 WHIP, stats you just can’t afford to see at the major league level.
After dominating in the minors with a 5-0 record and an immaculate 0.85 ERA, Kowar finally got called up in early June. Unfortunately, and like Lynch, he has been annihilated at the major league level, posting an 18.00 ERA and 3.20 WHIP.
So how must the organization handle the struggling Lynch and Kowar?
One option is to keep developing them in the minor leagues. But because the Royals are essentially out of the playoff picture, there is no reason to keep them off the major league roster. Wins do not matter much anymore—just development.
A more aggressive option is to continue developing them in the major league rotation, where they debuted. The problem with this approach is that it puts too much pressure on them, especially after their prior struggles as starters. Another failed start could completely wreck their confidence.
So, the option that actually makes the most sense is to develop them in the Royals’ bullpen. This essentially serves as the ideal compromise as it would give the young pitchers more major league experience, while also easing them in cautiously. Ideally, they would start by pitching in lopsided games to minimize stress and get more comfortable on a big league mound.
The KC Royals should replace some of their veterans with top prospects.
Currently, the Royals’ lineup is filled with players who probably don’t figure in the team’s future plans. Jorge Soler, Michael A. Taylor, and Hanser Alberto will all be free agents after this season and will more than likely not be re-signed.
Because the KC Royals need to start playing for the future and developing their position player prospects, there is absolutely no reason for soon-to-be free agents to be playing almost every day or to even be on the roster. Instead, Kansas City needs to either trade or DFA them in order to create roster space for the up-and-coming prospects who should be playing at Kauffman Stadium now.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Although having only played 38 minor league games in his young career, Bobby Witt Jr., the Royals’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, appears to be major league ready. After a slow start to his Double-A campaign, Witt, 21, seems to have figured things out and has been absolutely raking lately.
Since May 12 and through Monday, he had a .369 OBP, 1.001 OPS, and 11 home runs (really 12, but he was called out on one for not touching home plate…although it looks like he did).
Call him up, Dayton Moore, and he can develop in the majors the rest of the season.
After a disappointing 2019 minor league season, first base prospect Nick Pratto is now leading all of Double-A with 12 home runs. His improvements have been unbelievable with a slash line of .293/.423/.629/ on the season.
Again, the Royals need to play for the future and start developing prospects like Pratto at the major league level.
This KC outfield prospect is hitting .370 with a .447 OBP at Triple-A Omaha. He essentially forced his way on to the major league roster in late May but, since his original call-up and return to Omaha, has been sent up and down twice.
Based on what he showed in only seven big league games this year, Olivares has held his own, hitting .261 while playing solid defense in right and left fields.
More importantly, Olivares, 25, is a legitimate prospect in the system and there is no excuse for him not to be on the roster during a rebuilding, developmental year. The club should trade or DFA Taylor and play Olivares in center field.
The KC Royals are all but out of playoff contention. It’s time for them to give some hot prospects some big league time.