KC Royals 2022 Projections: Nick Pratto will be fine

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2022. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is first baseman Nick Pratto.

Nick Pratto is a pretty good ballplayer. So good, in fact, that MLB Pipeline believes he’s the second best prospect the KC Royals have, second only to Bobby Witt Jr. and just ahead of Asa Lacy. So good, too, that Pipeline also considers him to be one of the best defenders at first base.

And so good that he demolished Double-A and Triple-A pitching last season by hammering 36 homers, driving in 98 runs, and posting an excellent .385 OBP across stints with Northwest Arkansas and Omaha.

But is Pratto good enough to make close followers of the Kansas City organization forget about his awful 2019 season at High-A Wilmington when he struggled to hit .195? Can he prove in 2022 that 2021, and not 2019, reflects the real Nick Pratto, and wasn’t a fluke?

How FanGraphs projects Nick Pratto will perform for the KC Royals this year.

FanGraphs (Depth Chart version) predicts Pratto will play 53 games in 2021 and hit .247 with 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and a .325 OBP.

What will Nick Pratto’s actual performance be for the KC Royals this season?

Predicting how a rookie will fare in his first major league campaign can be difficult, especially when, like Pratto, he’s performed at such extremes in the minors.

What seems fairly certain, however, is that Pratto, his ugly 2019 notwithstanding, is the real deal. Players generally aren’t mere flashes in the pan when they slash .280/.343/.443 and hit 14 homers in their second professional season, as Pratto did at Low-A Lexington in 2018, then recover from a disastrous third season by playing and hitting like he did in 2021. Expect Pratto to perform well as a rookie this year.

But how much he’ll play for the big club, and how good his numbers will actually be, depend on what the Royals decide to do with incumbent first baseman Carlos Santana, who started out so well in 2021 but slumped for most of the second half when he found a nagging hip injury hard to shake. He finished at .219, but still managed to club 19 homers.

Santana is entering the final season of a two-year deal; assuming he’s having a decent season when the trade deadline rolls around, he’ll be gone to a contender before the campaign ends.

But his departure could come sooner—the designated hitter rule becomes universal Opening Day, and Santana is a Royal who might be a National League DH prospect.

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So it is that the timing of Pratto’s sure-to-come promotion to the majors hinges on Santana. If Kansas City chooses to move him before spring training ends, Pratto heading north with the Royals makes sense; if the club can’t or won’t trade Santana until later, Pratto will begin the season at Triple-A Omaha.

But whenever the Royals call him up, something sure to happen sometime in 2021, he’ll do well. He might, like so many rookies before him, struggle a bit, but he’ll prove by season’s end that last season was no fluke.

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Look for Nick Pratto to have a good rookie campaign for Kansas City.