KC Royals: Why demoting Nick Pratto isn’t an outrage

Talented KC Royals outfielder Edward Olivares, sidelined since late July with a quad strain, is finally back in the lineup. The club activated him from the Injured List before its Saturday afternoon game with the Red Sox and manager Mike Matheny wasted no time deploying him in right field.

Returning Olivares to the roster didn’t come without a price. To open a spot for him, the Royals demoted promising first baseman Nick Pratto, who they brought to the majors for the first time when 10 unvaccinated players couldn’t play in Toronto. Optioned back to Triple-A Omaha after the series with the Blue Jays ended, he rejoined Kansas City just a few days later.

Unfortunately, Pratto’s introduction to the big leagues left much to be desired. Yes, he’s played good, and often spectacular, defense, but he hasn’t hit, and that’s why the Royals chose to demote him.

Fans immediately and hotly decried the move on social media, a not surprising reaction given how anticipated the rookie’s debut was and how popular he’s become in such a short time.

But sending Pratto back to Omaha isn’t an outrage. Instead, it makes sense, and certainly doesn’t signal the end of Pratto’s budding Kansas City career.

More on that in a moment. But first, why didn’t the Royals clear roster space for Olivares by moving someone else?

Rightly or wrongly, the KC Royals weren’t cutting either of 2 other players.

Kansas City fans expressing anger about Pratto’s demotion on social media Saturday made no secret of their disdain for the club’s choice, and many disliked it because it didn’t involve moving Ryan O’Hearn or Hunter Dozier, two consistently disappointing veterans, off the roster to make room for Olivares. No specific stats need be cited to prove their poor play, and good cases exist for cutting either, or both, players loose.

But Dozier and O’Hearn aren’t going anywhere, at least not until the season ends. Per MLB rules, the Royals can’t trade them until after the World Series, and even then a market may not exist for either. For one, KC will have difficulty finding another team willing to assume all, or a large chunk, of the $16.25 million remaining on the four-year deal Dozier signed before last season started, and the Royals aren’t the kind of club likely to choke down the cost of Dozier’s contract.

For the other, and despite his curious ability to pinch hit reasonably well, finding any club seriously interested in O’Hearn will be harder than locating one willing to take on Dozier’s contract. And the Royals show no present signs of interest in an O’Hearn DFA.

KC Royals first baseman Nick Pratto’s bat requires serious attention.

Kansas City sent Nick Pratto to Omaha for one reason, and one reason only.

He wasn’t hitting. Period. And his defense, the quality of which no one can argue, wasn’t enough to outweigh the problems his struggles with the bat presently pose.

Pratto, who’d played in 49 of the 56 games the club had played since his initial callup, was batting .184 (.103 in September). His OPS+ was 84, his OBP a dreary .271. He was striking out at an alarming 36.3% rate. Even Dozier and O’Hearn had batter averages, OBP’s and strikeout rates entering Saturday’s game in Boston.

The Royals could have kept Pratto, but Omaha is probably the best venue for the work he needs to do—this is the player who slugged 36 homers, drove in 98 runs, and slashed .265/.385/.602 in the minors last season, so something is amiss, either with his mechanics, approach, or outlook.

Why not, then, send him down to the less intense, less pressurized, more relaxed world of the Storm Chasers, where he can concentrate on getting better rather than preparing for the daily grind and trappings of major league games?

Some will argue Pratto doesn’t have enough time to get his bat well at Omaha because the Chasers’ season ends in less than two weeks. But like it or not, he’ll get more at-bats, and more pre-game work, done with them than with the Royals.

And nothing prevents KC from recalling him when Omaha finishes its campaign—Pratto has to stay with the Storm Chasers for 10 days, a period that dovetails nicely with their schedule. He’ll be eligible to return to the majors shortly before Omaha’s season is over. And if he does well in the minors, or at least shows signs of some improvement, don’t be surprised to see the Royals move someone else off their active roster and bring Pratto back.

The Royals make more than their share of mistakes. For now, though, they’ve made a move that could help one of the franchise’s top prospects solve his problems at the plate.

Pratto’s time with Kansas City is by no means over.

No one needs to panic over Nick Pratto’s demotion. He’ll be back.