What more is there to say about this season? It’s actually interesting because when the Royals got good, I made a point that it was easier to write about a bad team than a good team because there were more areas to critique. I think I’ve learned this season that there is a limit to how bad a team can be and have them be interesting enough to find writing topics. Sure I could write again how Junis has regressed massively this season and during this season. I could write about how giving Alcides Escobar playing time every day has made the organization a bit of a caricature of itself at this point. I could even write about how essentially every move Dayton Moore has made over the last two plus seasons has turned out poorly. I am pretty interested in one of those topics right now, though, and what it means in the big picture, so we can start there.
- When the Royals decided to move on from Don Wakamatsu and Dave Eiland, they did so under the premise that they wanted to bring in some new voices for the rebuild. So those two were out, Dale Sveum moved from hitting coach to bench coach, Terry Bradshaw became the hitting coach and Cal Eldred took over the pitchers. I know this has been on Twitter, so it’s not a new thought, but at what point do we question if Eldred has any idea what he’s doing? I’ll leave Bradshaw alone for now because I think a hitting coach does far less than a pitching coach. But Eldred makes me wonder about the Office Space line of wondering what it is he does. Junis is the perfect example, and if you want to read too deep into Ned Yost’s comments, you might wonder if Yost has the same question. After his last start, Yost said it was a simple adjustment. Now I know there’s way more to it, but if it’s that simple, why hasn’t it been made? And I could be way off here. Maybe it was brought up and Junis is having trouble implementing it. But outside of Brad Keller, who has been nothing short of a revelation to this point, what pitcher hasn’t regressed? I don’t know if Eldred is the answer at pitching coach or not, but I do know that the results his staff has gotten this season has me leaning one direction. Fair or not, this is a results business, and his staff is one of the very worst in all of baseball and doesn’t appear to be getting any better. I could very well be letting off some steam as a fan of the team and looking for a scapegoat, but I definitely have questions about his ability to lead a pitching staff.
- Having said all that, I have to say I’ve been really surprised at the work of Heath Fillmyer in his long relief outings. He’s only thrown nine innings, but the stuff looks a little dirtier than I remember from watching video when he was in the A’s organization. He hasn’t gotten the strikeouts, but he’s another ground ball guy, which seemed to be a focus this offseason. I guess I should break here in my Fillmyer praise to mention how sad it is that this is one of the bright spots of the season. He’s had three outings and thrown nine innings and I’m marveling at him. Obviously he’s only struck out five batters, and that’s not good enough, and he won’t maintain his near 90 percent strand rate and all that, but I am surprised that the stuff has been as good. This doesn’t change my evaluation of him any. I think he’s a pretty generic AAAA type arm, but those are valuable to have to protect more important investments and to ride the I-29 shuttle during his options years. Maybe he can be a guy Eldred develops to turn my previous point into me looking really stupid. It’s certainly happened before and it’ll certainly happen again. I’m confident of that.
- I have my doubts about Brad Keller’s ability to stick in the rotation, but they’re getting a little more difficult to justify with each passing start. He’s made six starts and gone 33.2 innings, which is quite good because he’s only made three of his starts with a full pitch count available to him. He’s posted a 2.14 ERA and allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. It’s been a really fun stretch of starts to watch, but his last two are the highlights, of course. He’s gone 15 innings and allowed just one run on eight hits with only two walks allowed. My concerns lie mostly with his lack of strikeouts, and I think those are valid concerns, but he does a really fantastic job limiting hard contact and converting batted balls into outs, as tenuous as that can be. Opponents are hitting just .206 on ground balls against him, which is way below the league average of .242. He’s been barreled just 2.9 percent of the time. He’s allowed balls hit of 95 MPH or higher just 32 percent of the time. His ground ball rate of 59.4 percent ranks third in baseball among pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched this season. If I told you about all that, then told you he’s a 6’5”, 240 lb. 22-year old with a fastball in the mid-90s, you’d think he’s a future star. I’d like to think the slider he used a lot against the Angels can be a big strikeout pitch for him, but I just don’t know. If he can figure out the changeup, I believe he can stick in the rotation, but the nice thing is that it’s pretty clear he can be a bullpen piece of the rotation doesn’t work out. Either way, it’s fun to watch him pitch in days when not much is fun.
- On the farm, it’s really nice to see a couple of recent minor league promotions hit the ground running. Khalil Lee was recently promoted to Northwest Arkansas, and we discussed him last week. Nicky Lopez was also promoted to Omaha. So often, guys will get the bump and hit a little bit of a slide when they move up for various reasons, but both of these players have been very good in the early going. Yes, there’s time for that to change because the sample size at their new level is so small, but it’s good to see at this point. One thing Clint Scoles was mentioning in the BP KC breakroom is that both of those players have such a solid approach that it isn’t too surprising how well they’ve taken to their new levels. It’s just so nice to have some players who actually have a quality approach. I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but there are actually quite a few players with advanced approaches in the system, which is quite a departure from the past. Not all of them will make it. Maybe none will. But even if two or three do, it allows the Royals to better carry guys like Adalberto Mondesi and Seuly Matias if he can develop enough to ever be a big leaguer. Yes, in an ideal world, they’d have nine guys with a .350+ OBP, but we all know that’s not likely. If Mondesi could be a .280/.320/.475 guy at shortstop and Matias could be a .240/.300/.575 guy in right field, that’ll play with a few guys who actually know a ball from a strike. A guy can dream.