Since the recall of Jorge Bonifacio during the Royals last road trip, the team has won just one game. I know what you’re thinking. When are they are going to send Bonifacio down? But wait, it’s not that simple. It turns out he’s done quite well for himself in the big leagues. After going 2 for 3 yesterday with a home run and a walk, he’s now hitting .333/.400/.556 and has a TAv of .324. That’s the best average, OBP, SLG and TAv on the team. Yes, the sample is small. He has about one-third of the plate appearances as everyone else, so that’s worth noting, but he’s been quite good.
One thing I noted before his callup is that he had been able to decrease his strikeout rate in AAA in the short time he was there to start the season. With a rate of 23.5 percent in AA in 2015 and 23.3 percent in AAA in 2016, there was a question of if he’d make enough contact in the big leagues. So far, so good. He’s struck out in just 16.7 percent of his plate appearances and walked in 10 percent of them. He’s shown a solid approach at the plate, swinging at just 26 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.
The one flaw in his game that we’ve seen in the early going is he’s had some defensive lapses. I never thought Bonifacio would win a Gold Glove or be considered one of the game’s best, but I always expected him to be better than he’s shown. He was good enough that they felt comfortable putting him in center field in just his second big league game (which was definitely weird). My guess is he’s having a little trouble adjusting to the third deck in the big leagues and maybe even the position of the lights. It’s not an excuse. There have been multiple balls he should have caught relatively easily. But I both believe it’ll get better with experience and that when someone is hitting, you can overlook defense a little bit.
I know this is shocking, but I don’t believe he will continue to hit at an MVP level for the rest of the season. Mike Trout has a career .406 OBP and .562 SLG, so I’m not so sure Bonifacio is going to be at that level. But I do think he’s shown in a short time that he’s both not intimidated by the spotlight and can handle big league pitching. I also think that given his acumen he’s shown at the plate, he’s reached a point in my mind where heading back to the minor leagues won’t do him a ton of good. He’d be better served to work with Rusty Kuntz on his outfield play at the big league level.
But there’s the rub. Sometime in the next week or so, the Royals will have to make a decision on Jorge Soler. He only gets 20 days on a rehab assignment by the rules. That time is up next Wednesday. So what do they do?
The easy solution is just to maintain all inventory and send Bonifacio back to AAA while you sort out the roster. The way things are going, Eric Hosmer seems likely to be dealt at some point in the next three months. At that time, Brandon Moss can take over first base and there are enough at bats to go around. If they’re planning on dealing Hosmer sooner than later, I’m not necessarily against that thought. A few weeks in AAA isn’t that big of a deal for Bonifacio. These are the Royals, though, and I don’t think they’ll make a decision that quickly unless the season really gets out of hand.
To me, there are two real options at this point other than just swapping Soler for Bonifacio. The first makes the most sense to me. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. The Royals are currently operating with an eight-man bullpen with four lefties. One of them, Travis Wood, hasn’t pitched in more than a week. There’s a reason for that. He’s been atrocious. I don’t think it would be too presumptuous to think he might be injured given his control problems he’s had. And even if he hasn’t been injured, he might need a stint on the disabled list followed by a rehab assignment. Yes, it’s super sneaky, but it wouldn’t be the first time. They could also DFA Chris Young, but I think they like what he can give as a long reliever when they need innings and a disabled list stint for Wood allows them to maintain the inventory they love so much.
The other option is to DFA Christian Colon. I probably like Colon more than most, but he’s picked up 16 plate appearances in 24 games, so it’s hard to argue that he’s a vital cog to this team. Not having a backup second baseman is a little bit concerning given the fact that the starter is a career minor leaguer in Whit Merrifield, but you can work around that. Merrifield would just have to play every day. Cheslor Cuthbert can stand around the area where a second baseman stands for a few innings if there’s an injury and then the team can call up Raul Mondesi or Corey Toups or whoever to play second the next day.
With either of these options there’s just an issue of playing time, but I believe with Alex Gordon struggling, the team can mix and match with him, Bonifacio, Moss and Soler and find a good amount of playing time for those four in three spots.
It may be fleeting, but Bonifacio has shown he belongs in the big leagues, at least for now. I asked the question on Friday of if the Soler trade looks worse now that Bonifacio is hitting in the big leagues. The answer is clearly yes. But that trade is done and they now are stuck with a decision to make. I think they can make it work, but I don’t think the right answer is sending Bonifacio to the minors. He’s just been too good.