KC Royals: The case for Nick Pratto
KC Royals first baseman Nick Pratto has been an afterthought this spring training, and it is not necessarily his fault. He is a member of the large 2022 Royals rookie group and one of the few who did not meet expectations. The emergence of first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino is working against Pratto's Opening Day case, while other young players are making their marks where they can. Just fans forget the 14th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft amongst his peers. But, Pratto is doing a lot of things right this spring. The former top prospect is trying to put a new foot forward in 2023.
KC Royals first baseman Nick Pratto is not a lock for Opening Day. But there are signs he should start the season in Kansas City.
The California native made his MLB Debut on July 14, 2022, part of the young wave debuting against the Toronto Blue Jays. That series looked promising for Pratto when he recorded four hits and a home run in four games for Kansas City. He stayed with the major-league club while many of his peers returned to Tiple-A Omaha. Pratto looked like the prospect fans had hoped for, with a powerful bat and Gold Glove-caliber defense in the field. But, the larger sample size showed Pratto was still developing as a player. In 182 plate appearances, Pratto recorded a .184 batting average and .657 OPS, with a highly concerning strikeout percentage of 36.3%. That was the highest strikeout percentage in Pratto's professional career and just one metric during a lackluster MLB debut season with the Royals.
""That obviously wasn't the level of play that I'm capable of, or used to, for a whole bunch of reasons… There was a lot of pressure I was putting on myself. You get to this place where you finally get an opportunity to help the team you've been striving to help win. Especially when I wasn't there physically, I was trying to make do with things I probably wasn't capable of pulling off.""- Nick Pratto
But, Pratto is not keeping his head hung heading into the 2023 season. He is healthy this spring and fully recovered from a lingering concussion in the 2022 season. Pratto was candid about how that injury hampered him, saying it "took more of a toll on me than I guess I realized." MLB.com's Anne Rogers detailed Pratto's offseason work in the batting cages, mirroring pitches he will see during the season. A combination of unlucky hitting, nerves, and lingering injuries held Pratto back more than fans realized in 2022. Pratto is a highly patient batter, after all, walking 15.8% of the time at the AAA level in 2022. He is a patient hitter, almost to a fault. His struggles at the plate are not typical, and Pratto looks like his old self once again this spring training.
Pratto has six hits in 18 Cactus League at-bats this spring, with two doubles, a triple, four walks, and eight strikeouts. He has played in the past four Royals games due to Pasquantino joining Team Italy for the World Baseball Classic. On top of that, Pratto's performance is against a relatively higher level of opposing pitchers. Baseball-Reference quantifies how good of pitchers a batter faces during spring training, where the level of competition is constantly in flux. Their "Opponent Quality" score is 1-10, with 10 being MLB-level competition, 8 being AAA-level, etc. Here are the top scores among Kansas City hitters with at least ten plate appearances:
Nick Pratto - 8.2
Freddy Fermin - 8.2
Maikel Garcia - 7.8
José Briceño -7.8
Matt Duffy - 7.7
Hunter Dozier - 7.7
There should be more confidence in Pratto's performance at the plate this spring because he is still doing it against good competition. Due to lower competition, some of the other spring performances are more questionable. But Pratto looks much better at the plate, and the patient approach is back so far. The Opening Day roster push is in full swing ahead of Kansas City's March 30 game against the Minnesota Twins. Pratto admits his past performances will not define his trajectory in 2023 and beyond.
""I think every day is, no matter what the situation is, I think it's always an opportunity to give what you got that day. It's a reminder for everybody. This team seems to be very fluid right now, so it's important for all of us out there making an impression with a new staff.""- Nick Pratto
Pratto is Kansas City's highest-ceiling option at first base, as he is a better athlete and defender than Pasquantino is. There is a real chance both are in the Royals' lineup, with one at designated hitter and the other at first. Pratto started working in the outfield during the 2021 season, which could help with Kansas City's current outfield injury issues. He played in left and right field for the Royals in 2022, totaling 58 innings of work and no errors. It is a small sample size, but Pratto's path to the MLB could be as an outfielder once again. Baseball Savant had Pratto as an average defender in the outfield, showing his debut nerves did not detrimentally affect his glove.
All in all, Royals fans could be underestimating Pratto's chances at the Opening Day roster. His bat this spring could force Kansas City to play him, and his glove fills several positions of need for the Royals. Whether it be first base, outfield, or a designated hitter, manager Matt Quatraro will have plenty of options to play Pratto once the season starts.