As All-Star balloting opens today, it’s fair to start to think about who the Royals representative for the game could be. And yes, it seems likely we’re back to the days of having no need to put an “s” on the end of that. The obvious answer is Kelvin Herrera, who has made 23 appearances and hasn’t yet walked a batter. He’s also running with a 0.83 ERA and is 12 for 13 in saves, so he’s a more than deserving candidate. There’s always the risk that he’s an All-Star, but not on the Royals by the time the game comes around. I’d love to say that Jorge Soler or Mike Moustakas are easy picks for the game, but they’re really not. Moose does have a pretty good case, as of right now. He’s second among third basemen to Jose Ramirez in home runs and RBI and is third in slugging percentage, so he has a chance. Not that any of it matters, but it’s an interesting turn back the clock to the days of trying to find a potential second All-Star.
- I know I’m not the only one impressed with Hunter Dozier in his time in the big leagues, but I haven’t written much about him yet and wanted to. With his first home run on Wednesday, he flashed some power that we just hadn’t seen yet in his short time up, and that’s sort of to be expected. He had a hamate injury last season that famously saps power for awhile and he lost a ton of weight during winter ball because of a virus (I believe). Even with that, he’s hit .264/.339/.396 with a TAv of .244. Of his 13 hits that got past the pitcher’s mound, just four of them have been to the left of center. I know he feels comfortable going the other way, but when he starts to turn on some pitches like he did late Wednesday with his home run, he might become a bit of a force. He is absolutely smoking the ball with an average exit velocity of 91.1 MPH and has been crushing fastballs to the tune of a .304 average and .565 SLG. And he’s even fast! Jesse Newell of The Star wrote about that yesterday, so he’s really doing it all. He’s impressed me defensively at first base and I would guess if he sticks there, he’ll become a very good defender, even if it isn’t all that important. The question is what happens when Lucas Duda and, to a lesser extent, Jorge Bonifacio return. I think Dozier has earned a stay in the big leagues. For now, Duda can DH against righties and give Dozier a breather, but I don’t think a mediocre veteran should stand in the way of a guy who might be part of the next wave of Royals winning. That’s a bit away anyway, so I’m excited to see Dozier continue to develop.
- Speaking of Bonifacio, he’s coming back soon, as long as he doesn’t get hurt on his “rehab” assignment that’ll start soon. The question becomes what happens when he gets back. The Royals outfield of Alex Gordon, Jon Jay and Jorge Soler has been pretty productive and Abraham Almonte is the only true center fielder of the group. So it’s a little bit tricky from a roster composition standpoint. Almonte does have an option remaining, so that seems to be the obvious answer to me and they can figure out how to handle center for the time being. I would guess Jay isn’t part of this team for a whole lot longer after Boni gets back, so Almonte could be back relatively soon if the team insists on it. As to who plays where, I think Soler and Bonifacio have to play every day or at least close to it. That means one is likely in right field while the other spends time at DH. As the roster stands now, they’ll have Gordon, Jay, Bonifacio, Soler, Dozier, Duda and Cuthbert to play five spots. The trade deadline will help to work some of that out, but priority needs to be given to Bonifacio, Soler and Dozier (in my mind anyway) with Cuthbert fourth. I’ve mentioned before that I’d be interested to see Soler play a little center. It would probably be a complete disaster, but as far as sprint speed goes, he’s the Royals fastest outfielder and maybe he’d get better reads on balls up the middle. Like I said, it’d probably be brutal to watch, but this season is for finding out, right?
- If it seems like the Royals are a little less swing happy, they are and they aren’t. According to Fangraphs, they are swinging at 33.4 percent of pitches outside the zone, which is the third highest number in baseball heading into Thursday’s action. And they’re led, of course, by Salvador Perez, who swings at 45.9 percent of bad pitches. That’s not getting better. But some Royals are actually doing at least a decent job of laying off pitches. Of the 439 batters who have seen at least 100 pitches, Alex Blandino of the Reds has done the best job with just a 9.95 percent chase rate. That’s ridiculous. Mike Moustakas has been a bit more patient this year. He ranks 84th with a 35.9 percent chase rate, which is way higher than 2016, but still better than 2017. Alcides Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier rank 183, 184 and 185 with identical 31.03 percent rates. The best on the team has been Drew Butera with a 23.5 percent chase rate, but predictably Jorge Soler (26.8 percent) and Alex Gordon (27.96 percent) are second and third best. So the Royals as a team are still swinging quite a bit, but at least there are a few guys showing some more patient chops. Soler, Dozier and Cuthbert are the only Royals with regular playing time seeing at least four pitches per plate appearance, so the more things change, the more they stay the same.
- He’s certainly not the first person to go if they need a roster spot, but I’m getting to the point that I don’t think the Royals are giving up on much if they risked losing Burch Smith by giving another reliever in the system a shot. It’s not that I think the Royals should be in the business of giving up potentially talented arms, but I’m thinking Smith really isn’t good enough to make a difference. When the Royals selected him, I was more excited about him than Keller because the idea of an upper-90s fastball with a solid changeup was very appealing to me. Instead, he’s averaged around 94 MPH and that’s been hit hard. I’m not saying they should just dump him, but if they move on from one of the veterans (once they’re off the DL) and Brian Flynn, Smith is a pretty clear choice to me to be the next one out, which is disappointing, but hey, at least we know.