With just a few days left until he takes to the air for his annual gift-giving spree, it’s time for Santa to don his favorite KC Royals cap, review his lists of presents, and make sure he has Mike Matheny’s gifts packed safely in his bag.
Matheny, preparing for his third season as Kansas City’s manager, could use some fine things from the North Pole. Let’s see what the skipper should hope to find under his tree.
Matheny Gift No. 1: Bobby Witt Jr. in the Opening Day lineup for the KC Royals.
If MLB Pipeline’s top Kansas City prospect isn’t on Matheny’s wish list, Santa should put a new manager under principal owner John Sherman’s tree. But that won’t be the case because Witt starting somewhere Opening Day is just what the Royals and their manager need. Witt did everything in 2021 to prove he’s ready—splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit 33 home runs, narrowly missed driving in 100 runs with 97, and slashed .290/.361/.575.
For good measure, he also stole 29 bases and stroked 35 doubles.
Kansas City’s infield is already bursting with talent, but Matheny will find somewhere for Witt to play.
Matheny Gift No. 2: A healthy Adalberto Mondesi for the entire season.
Santa will have to work some hard overtime to get it done, but having Mondesi for the whole 2021 campaign would be a special and invaluable present. The wonderfully-gifted infielder can do it all when he avoids injury—just look, for example, at the final month of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when he slashed .356/.408/.667, hit six homers, and stole 16 bases.
Having Mondesi on a regular basis can only help the Royals. Avoiding injury is the key: like Witt, Matheny can always find some place for a healthy Mondesi, even if he has to rotate around the field.
Matheny Gift No. 3: A spot on the Kansas City roster for MJ Melendez.
Salvador Perez is the most secure player the KC Royals have. He’s a seven-time All-Star, owns five Gold Gloves, and won a club record fourth Silver Slugger after hitting 48 homers, driving in 121 runs, and batting .273 last season. And his new four-year $82 million contract kicks in next year, so he’s not going anywhere.
Those numbers and that deal make it difficult for MJ Melendez, Perez’s presumptive successor, to crack Kansas City’s lineup, at least on a daily basis. But if 2021 is any indication, Melendez’s bat is ready for the majors—he began the season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, moved up to Triple-A Omaha in August, and finished the season leading the minors in home runs with 41. He also had 103 RBIs, a .386 OBP, and hit .288.
How Santa can make Matheny happy, then, is to bring him a way to fit Melendez into the Royals’ lineup next season.
Matheny Gift No. 4: A comeback for a KC Royals starter & a pitch for another.
Another veteran starter and a stable rotation would be nice. Also good, though, would be a return to form for one rotation member and a fully developed third pitch for a teammate.
Brad Keller, thought to be the staff ace when last season began, needs to rebound from his 8-12, 5.39 ERA campaign; if past is prologue, 2022 might be the time. Keller’s early big league pattern is to pitch well in even-numbered, and poorly in odd-numbered, years. He debuted in 2018 with a 9-6, 3.08 season, was 7-14, 4.19 in 2019, and went 5-3, 2.47 in 2020. A return of The Good Keller is something the Royals need if they expect to improve.
Brady Singer needs more than two pitches. Per Baseball Savant, Singer threw his sinker 56.3% of the time last season, his slider 38.2% of the time, and his changeup 3.9% of time. That he resorts to his four-seamer so rarely (1.6%) makes it hardly worth mentioning.
Singer’s reluctance to throw, or dislike for, his change leaves him too vulnerable—hitters can sit on his sinker and slider and, if one or both aren’t working well, feast on their choice of the day. They needn’t worry about the changeup because they know it probably isn’t coming.
Singer will be better, probably much better, when he develops the change, or another third pitch he’s confident with.
Matheny Gift No. 5: A sensational KC Royals encore season for Nicky Lopez.
Few presents Matheny might find under his tree could be better than another superb season from Nicky Lopez. The oblique injury Adalberto Mondesi suffered late in spring training scuttled plans to start weak-hitting Lopez in the minors, but he proved a more than adequate substitute for Mondesi by becoming the first Royal shortstop to hit .300. He deserved the Gold Glove he didn’t win and teamed with second baseman Whit Merrifield to form a stellar double-play combo.
Can Lopez, who’ll likely return to short or move back to second next season, repeat that performance? If he does, Santa will have done well.
Santa will soon pay Mike Matheny a visit. Let’s hope he brings the Royals’ manager everything he wants and needs for 2022.