Just two seasons ago, it looked like the KC Royals had finally found a suitable replacement for Eric Hosmer, who'd rejected their free agency overtures and ventured west to San Diego after the 2017 campaign.
After a minor league season lost to the pandemic, Pratto exploded in 2021, first at Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he homered 13 times and slashed .271/.404/.570, and then at Triple-A Omaha, where he clubbed 15 more home runs and slashed .259/.367/.634. And he excelled defensively, winning a minor league Gold Glove for his play at first base.
And after posting an excellent .333/.545/.667 line over 10 Cactus League games in 2022, he seemed ready to step into, and fill, Hosmer's vacated first base shoes.
But the promise of 2022 disappeared quickly for Pratto. Beaten to the majors by fellow first sacker Vinnie Pasquantino, who the Royals called up in June, Pratto floundered after receiving his own call to Kansas City in July—struggling at .184 and striking out at an alarming rate, Pratto found himself back at Omaha with just a couple of weeks left in the campaign.
Nevertheless, the Royals decided to include Pratto in what they concede is a non-contending evaluation season. Sharing first base and DH duties with Pasquantino until the latter's torn labrum sidelined him for the rest of the season, Pratto is a player whose bat remains in question—he's hitting .238 with seven homers in 78 games and is striking out 37.5% of the time.
Now, he's on the IL with a groin strain, and all he can do is watch from the sidelines as a veteran Royals star may be threatening his spot at first base.
Are the KC Royals contemplating replacing Nick Pratto with Salvador Perez?
This is one of the biggest questions surrounding the Royals. Some probably thought the club was simply giving Perez a "rest" of sorts, or showcasing him for a possible trade, when on July 28 manager Matt Quatraro started him at first, a position he hadn't played since 2020, and before that 2018.
It's unlikely, though, that Perez was on the trade market stage that day: no contending team looking for a first baseman would, on the basis of just that game, jump on acquiring Perez to play first. Perhaps Quatraro was simply providing his All-Star backstop a break from the rigors of catching, or using Perez, among others, to fill in at first while Pratto mends.
But the KC skipper didn't stop there. He's deployed Perez at first in three of the five games the Royals have played since, and has him scheduled to play there for the third straight time when the club faces Philadelphia tonight:
Difficult to discount, then, is the notion that Quatraro and general manager J.J. Picollo are considering moving Perez to first. Such a move makes some sense—the aches, pains and injuries that come from catching in the vast majority of games his 12 big league seasons encompass appear at times to be catching up with him. He's signed through 2025 (with a club option for 2026) and playing Perez at first, with occasional stints at DH and behind the plate, could help maximize his performance and tenure.
And the splendid play of rookie catcher Freddy Fermin, who's hitting .302 with a .342 OBP and a half-dozen home runs in 46 games, strengthens the argument for moving Perez.
What, though, would a decision to alter the defensive direction of Perez's possible Hall of Fame career mean for Pratto? A lot, especially with Pasquantino returning next season. Perez taking over at first would reduce, if not eliminate, Pratto's time there—Pasquantino's bat, which is better than Pratto's so far, means Pasquantino, the club's probable primary designated hitter next season, would likely get the bulk of first base playing time when Perez needs a turn at DH, leaving little, if any, room for Pratto.
Interesting to see will be whether the Royals transition Perez to first. What they're thinking, or not thinking, should become more apparent when Pratto returns to action.