Cheslor Cuthbert

Royals Can Make the Most of Dim Opportunity

I’m sure there are some dreamers out there who think the Royals can put it all together and make a crazy run to a Wild Card or even a division title this season. As of this date, with the Royals under .500 with less than two months to go and so far out of either race, I would not be someone in that category. As I’ve said, bad seasons happen. For franchises that didn’t have 29-year playoff droughts and a full decade between winning seasons in their recent history, it doesn’t seem as daunting as it does for Royals fans. There’s always a fear that we’re about to return to the dark times. I’m not sure how long that fear might last. It’s an interesting topic for another day, though.

Today, I want to talk about how I think the Royals can make the most of an opportunity they have over the last couple seasons. It’s been discussed and written that the injuries for the Royals have given them a chance to see what young players can play and which ones just aren’t there yet. They had a chance to evaluate a guy like Brett Eibner and determined that he was worth trading for a guy who probably profiles as a fourth outfielder, which they have a few of already. They’ve learned that Cheslor Cuthbert is a big league hitter. They’ve already seen that Raul Mondesi’s range remained the same in the big leagues.

But there’s certainly an opportunity to learn more heading into what they hope is another championship season in 2017. The hope, of course, is that they get full seasons from Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis. They hope that Alex Gordon returns to the form that saw him hit .281/.359/.450 from 2011 to 2015. They hope Eric Hosmer can avoid his month (or two-month) long slump next season. But even if all those things come true, there are quite a few questions surrounding the 2017 roster.

For example, who starts games? We have a pretty good idea that Danny Duffy is in the 2017 rotation. At this point, I’m not sure how he doesn’t start on Opening Day. We can also feel confident that Ian Kennedy is there and probably Yordano Ventura, barring a trade. Then there’s Jason Vargas, back from his Tommy John surgery (and at 20 months out when the season starts, that’s kind of prime comeback time). But who fills the rest of the rotation? I think there’s a better than decent chance Edinson Volquez is back, but a lot of that depends on how he finishes the season.

So why not see what some of the young guys have to see if you need to go out and get someone to give them more time or not? I chatted with our resident prospect guru, Clint Scoles, and he seemed skeptical that any of the upper level young arms would be able to make an impact. While I agree, it seems there is little harm in seeing what Alec Mills, Jake Junis and Matt Strahm have in a couple starts in September. I mean, they ran Chris Young and Kris Medlen out for the first month. Why not see what they have in some actual young arms in the last month? Maybe you don’t find a solution there for 2017, but it would be nice to give the big league coaching staff a chance to look at these guys against Major League hitters.

I mentioned in my trade deadline instant analysis that I’d get rid of Kendrys Morales. And that’s still true. Put him on waivers, trade him for pennies, do whatever you need to do. There’s no real point to him on this team right now, which is sad to say for one of the best performers on a world champion, but that’s where we are. If the Royals don’t do anything else over the final two months, I think they need to get Hunter Dozier to the big leagues and give both he and Cuthbert at bats at designated hitter. The only way to accomplish that is if Morales is no longer on the team.

You might wonder why I want them to both get at bats at DH. For Dozier, there’s a few reasons. I just want to get him in the big leagues to see if he can play. He’s had a spectacular minor league season, reestablishing himself as a top prospect. Now is the right time to see if he can keep it going in the big leagues. It’s not like he’s that young. He turns 25 in a couple weeks. He’s older than Cuthbert. It’s time to put up for him. I also want him in the big leagues because if the Royals are considering moving him to the outfield as has been speculated, why not have him working with Rusty Kuntz for a couple months?

But the other big reason is that sometimes young players can’t handle the DH role. It’s too hard for them to just hit four or five times and not do anything else. The Royals should find out if either or both can do it to see how they’ll handle the return of Moustakas next year. If either or both can, the Royals can go into next year with all on the roster. If one can’t, the Royals can make a move accordingly and deal from a surplus.

One other big thing I’d do is get Raul Mondesi time at shortstop. The guy is an incredible athlete and an excellent defender, but it would be great to get him more reps at short before the season is over. No, you don’t lose it if you don’t use it, but that’s his ultimate spot in the big leagues, and let’s just say the guy currently playing there isn’t lighting the world on fire.

And finally, I’d get this team fresh for next season. Salvador Perez has already mentioned they may be tired. So why play the big guns every single day down the stretch? Perez should play four games per week. Gordon should play four games per week. The same is true for Cain. I’m fine if you want to run Hosmer out there every day, but especially come September, there will be plenty of options on the roster to play in the outfield and behind the plate. If they’re tired now, why not take this chance to make them not so tired for the 2017 season?

Look, losing baseball games and having no real chance for the postseason is something we’re very familiar with but haven’t dealt with in a few years. As long as it’s not an every year thing, this is something that can be turned into a positive for the Royals as they try to win another title in 2017.

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