Welcome back to our "KC Royals Lineup" series. We're identifying and analyzing issues the club may face at each position heading into the 2023 season. Up today is first base.
In a perfect baseball world, playing first base for the KC Royals this season would be Vinnie Pratto. Or Nick Pasquantino.
A first sacker, in other words, with Pratto's marvelous glove and the strong bat Pasquantino gave the Royals last year.
But especially for Kansas City, this isn't such a world. The Royals simply can't manufacture the near-perfect first baseman a combination of Pasquantino and Pratto would be, which leaves them to determine who between the two will be at first base when the club begins the season March 30 against Minnesota.
One player definitely has the edge at first base for the 2023 KC Royals
If anything is certain about Kansas City's first base situation it's who, barring injuries to, or horrible spring training slumps by, Pasquantino and Pratto, won't start there Opening Day. Because the Royals' clear goal is to return Hunter Dozier to third base, he won't be in the picture at the other infield corner when spring training starts next week.
That leaves Pasquantino and Pratto. Give the present edge to the former, not the latter.
Pasquantino beat Pratto to the big leagues last season when the Royals called him up from Triple-A Omaha late in June; they'd finally traded Carlos Santana, and chose Pasquantino to replace him, which made perfect sense at the time because Pasquantino had the hot bat that Pratto, his Omaha teammate, didn't.
Selecting Pasquantino paid off. He stuck with the Royals for the rest of the season and finished with 10 home runs and a slick .295/.383/.450 line in 72 games. But Pratto, summoned to Kansas City after Pasquantino, so struggled with big league pitching that his .184/.271/.386 line moved the club to send him back to Omaha in September.
Pasquantino's hitting gives him the inside track to first base for 2023. Two things, though, could complicate the Royals' decision-making process: Pratto's Gold Glove-caliber defense and his offensive potential. While Pasquantino's glove is certainly serviceable, Pratto's is superior and the one Kansas City would prefer at first base.
But unless he shows strong signs in Cactus League play that his 2021 season wasn't a fluke, Pratto won't start, and probably won't break spring camp with the club. Recovering from a poor 2019 campaign (there was no minor league ball in 2020) and splitting 2021 between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, he belted 36 homers, had 98 RBIs, and slashed .265/.385/.602, numbers irrefutably demonstrating his ability to hit, and hit well.
If Pratto continues to slump, though, Kansas City will be happy to keep Pasquantino at first.
There is, however, another possibility, one the Royals will relish if things break just right.
What will the KC Royals do if Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto both hit?
This is the best-case scenario for Kansas City. Imagine Pasquantino and Pratto hitting so well that the club has to find a way to play them both every day. The solution is easy: Pratto plays first and Pasquantino is the regular designated hitter, taking time off when Salvador Perez needs to DH or playing first when Pratto requires a day off. Maybe that happens, or maybe it doesn't, but it's the closest the Royals will come to a perfect world at first base.
First base will be an interesting position for the Royals.