Now that the Royals finally have Jorge Bonifacio back, they can prepare for their second half push to the pennant. Stop laughing. Seriously, stop. Okay fine, so getting him back won’t change anything, but it will make the team a little easier to watch and maybe a little more fun. I keep thinking back to spring training and other than Whit Merrifield, Bonifacio was the best player on the field. He’ll be under team control through the 2022 season, which means that he can definitely be a part of Mission 2021. I’ve talked about how I think he got the short end of the stick when the Royals picked up Melky Cabrera last year, so I’m really excited to see him over the last three months of the season. Once Jorge Soler comes back, the lineup might actually be a little fun, especially if they don’t trade Merrifield.
- It’s a smaller than small sample, and it’s even highlighted by an even smaller sample making it look better, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Adalberto Mondesi in his first few games back since he was called up a bit ago. The numbers aren’t great. Since and including his first start, he’s hit .240/.269/.440, but the tools just seem a little louder this time. And I said this after his 11 at bats in September as well. He actually got an extended look at Triple-A pitching last year and then again this year, and seems to have actually developed from it. He’s always going to be fighting an uphill battle because of his lack of plate discipline, but he seems to just be making better contact. His hard hit rate of 40 percent is above MLB average. He’s barreled two balls in his first 18 batted balls this season. He’s flying around the bases when he gets on. And he’s shown a lot defensively too. His arm is a plus, and he made a really nice play to stretch at second base on a bad throw from Kevin McCarthy to get the force there. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have things to work on still. Breaking pitches have always been a problem for him and that hasn’t changed, though he’s really cut down on his whiffs on those in the tiny sample we have. But it’s been fun to watch him just look more comfortable as a big leaguer. That’s what struck me in his first two stints. He just seemed like he was uncomfortable and didn’t belong. Now he at least looks the part, and if the results start to come, watch out. He’s still just 22 years old. The only reason he’s not a top prospect in baseball is because the Royals rushed him to the big leagues and let him fail for too long. Maybe he can’t be a star, but I think we’ll have a much better idea in three months if he can or can’t, and I’m excited to see that with an increasingly athletic team around him.
- Wily Peralta as the Royals new closer is a pretty wild thing to think about. You might recall that Peralta was actually designated for assignment after a rough spring training when he allowed 14 runs on 16 hits in just eight innings. Then he went to Omaha and struggled too, but he eventually took to his relief role and posted a 2.54 ERA over his final 28.1 innings before getting the call back to the big leagues. I’m a little surprised to say that he’s looked good in his five games back, notching two saves. He’s struck out six in 4.2 innings pitched. He’s also walked four, so that’s something to watch for. But he’s averaging 97 MPH with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs and his slider has been dirty at times. Amazingly he’s still just 29 years old and the Royals have a club option for him next year for $3 million with a buyout of an amazingly low $25,000. I didn’t expect them to get anything out of him, but they might as well let him close for the next month at least. If he does well, who knows? Maybe they can flip him. And if he does well, but they keep him, maybe he can keep building that value over the next year. I’m not preparing for a top prospect in return, but you never know. I just think it’s a crazy story that he’s in the role now after all that’s happened with him this year.
- What’s happened to Jakob Junis? He’s likely always going to have a home run problem at times because his fastball isn’t overpowering enough to compensate for the games when his slider isn’t working as well, but he’s been having a rough go of it for awhile now. Over his last six starts, he’s 0-6 with a 6.69 ERA in 35 innings with 41 hits allowed and 11 home runs. He’s been throwing his two-seam fastball a little more, his four-seam fastball a fair amount less and his slider a bit more as well. What’s interesting about that is his two-seamer has been demolished over his last six starts with a .452 average allowed and .807 SLG. The four-seamer has been worse actually, so that makes sense that he’s throwing it less, but wow. The good news is on the slider that’s still really good with a .127 average allowed and 30 of his 35 strikeouts. It’s kind of easy to see what at least one of the problems is. He’s just living in the zone way too much with his fastballs that just don’t have that much zing. 48 percent of the fastballs he’s thrown are in the strike zone and a whopping 31 percent are in the middle row of the hitting grid. That makes for some tasty looking pitches to hitters. Prior to this stretch, just 42.5 percent of fastballs were in the zone and just 24.5 percent were in that middle row. And nearly 12 percent were below the zone and off the plate in the bottom corner of the lefty batter’s box, which is a difficult pitch to hit. There’s obviously more to it than location, but it’s playing a big role in his struggles.
- Khalil Lee’s promotion to Northwest Arkansas a couple days ago isn’t the least bit surprising, but does verify the possible timeline of his ascent to the big leagues. I don’t say that to get ahead of ourselves. He still needs to do some things at Double-A and Triple-A before we even think about him in the big leagues, but getting to Double-A by mid-season of one year puts you on a very good track to be in the big leagues in the second half of the following season. The biggest question for Lee is if he can regain some of his power that has been sapped in a bad hitting environment for power. I don’t believe that’s entirely to blame, but it’s at least a good part of it. Now he’ll be in a better hitting environment and will likely have the benefit of better umpires, which I think actually matters with Lee. The other question is if he can handle center field. Clint Scoles has noted before that the organization believes he can, and with the acquisition of Blake Perkins, this move has to be at least partially about being able to keep Lee, Perkins and Donnie Dewees (with his promotion to Omaha) playing center field every day for the time being. I really believe Lee is headed for some big things, and now it looks like we might see him sometime next year.