Why the KC Royals can't afford to waste this player

Dairon Blanco has a lot of value. Kansas City needs to exploit it one way or another.

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That the KC Royals like outfielder Dairon Blanco became evident when Oakland came calling for help during the Athletics' last shot at postseason play. The year was 2021, the A's had their eyes on Kansas City reliever Jake Diekman, and the Royals were willing to deal. The resulting trade sent Diekman to the Bay Area and brought Blanco and Ismael Aquino to Kansas City. Both new Royals headed to the minors.

Aquino is no longer with the organization, but Blanco is, and in excellent standing. Twice the Royals have invited him to spring training, where he caught eyes last year by slashing .310/.412/.724 in a not inconsequential 16 Cactus League games. But that performance, while good, wasn't enough to get him to Kansas City for Opening Day.

But what he did next at Triple-A Omaha was. After a 49-game assault on International League pitching — he slashed .347/.444/.45 with a 136 wRC+ and 111 OPS+, and stole 47 bases — the Royals called him up in mid-June. He stayed for the rest of the season, played in 69 games, stole 24 bases, and hit .258. All in all, his performance was a bright spot in KC's otherwise dismal campaign.

And now, he doesn't need another non-roster invitation to spring camp. A full-fledged member of Kansas City's 40-man roster, he'll be in Surprise, Arizona, Feb. 19 when the club's position players join pitchers and catchers (who report Feb. 14) for the club's first full-squad spring training workout.

What, though, does the future hold for Blanco? He's an outfielder, which means he'll be battling a formidable crowd for a big league roster spot; with the starting three looking set with Kyle Isbel in center, Hunter Renfroe in right, and MJ Melendez in left, that leaves a couple of reserve spots (at most) up for grabs among Blanco, Drew Waters, Nelson Velázquez, and probably Tyler Gentry. And because the Royals will probably keep Velázquez so he can share DH duties, the fight could come down to Blanco, Gentry and Waters.

But whatever happens, the club needs to find a way to keep, and not waste, Blanco.

It's time for the KC Royals to make a decision on Dairon Blanco

At 30 (31 in April), Blanco is at a Kansas City crossroads. More baseball probably lies behind than in front of him, and the Royals are transitioning to a more youthful roster.

He does have minor league options left, which gives the club flexibility, but that misses the point when it comes to Blanco. As a team, the Royals gain little by playing him in Omaha rather than Kansas City — yes, he'll probably stay sharp by playing every day for the Storm Chasers, while a part-time role is more likely, at least to begin this season, if he stays in Kansas City.

But is a reserve spot on the big league roster so bad? No. Blanco can handle the bat; although he hit only .258 in the big leagues last season, that's far better than many of his teammates, and his .347 at Omaha last year and his .288/.356/.440 five-season minor league line reflect Blanco's serious potential at the plate. While Gentry (.282/.394/.473 over three years) and Waters (.282/.348/.449 over six) boast similar lines, both are younger than Blanco and could stand a bit more seasoning.

Blanco is also fast, a commodity the Royals can definitely use and upon which their best years have in no small part typically been built. Including the 47 bases he swiped at Omaha last season, Blanco has three 40-plus minor league steal seasons behind him, and the 24 big league bases he stole in 2023 suggest he'll be a major threat on major league base paths.

His defense isn't bad, either — he's errorless in 108 big league chances, and has made only nine defensive miscues in 452 minor league chances.

In short, Blanco is good at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. He brings value to the Royals' bench, and might do quite well as a starter if Isbel, Melendez, or Renfroe falter. Simply put, he's prime active roster material.

But if there isn't a place for him in Kansas City, it's time for the Royals to trade him. Now. Alone, he'll net a nice return; in a package, he could help guarantee a better one.

All that means the club has a decision to make. Blanco is too fine a player to waste in the minor leagues.

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