Turns out winning is actually pretty fun. You’re forgiven if you had forgotten that because before this week, the last winning streak longer than three games for the Royals came back in spring training. In the final win of a seven-game Cactus League winning streak, Ryan Goins started at shortstop. I have somehow forgotten the Ryan Goins era in spite of my disdain for it, so yeah, it’s been a long time. And to make it even more exciting, the young guys are carrying the freight. Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn have been bumped to 3-4 (in most games) in the order and are hitting like they belong there. Adalberto Mondesi is doing his thing at shortstop (in most games) and even Meibrys Viloria had a chance to get in on the fun. They may not pick number one, but I’m not too worried about that.
- I’m both surprised and not surprised that Frank Schwindel didn’t get a callup when the Omaha season ended. I had heard some things a couple weeks ago that indicated to me that he had a really good shot to be in the big leagues, so in that way, it’s surprising. But then when I think about it a little more, it’s really not. I’ve mentioned in this space that even with what O’Hearn has done, I still think Schwindel was the more deserving player at the time to get called up, but he was passed over. He also was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last year, coming off a .329/.349/.541 season and was passed over by every team. Yes, the Royals have some easy 40-man moves they could make to get him in the big leagues now, but looking forward, there will be a squeeze on the roster after the season when 60-day DL guys need to be activated. They have two pending free agents on the entire roster and a nearly full roster. Add in the four guys on the 60-day DL who will need to be added back and there’s already a crunch because subtract those two free agents and add the four DL guys and you’re over 41. Yes, there is absolutely dead weight. You could DFA guys like Nate Karns and Jesse Hahn and try to bring them back on minor league deals. Cheslor Cuthbert appears to have played his last game for the Royals. Andres Machado, Burch Smith, Ramon Torres, Paulo Orlando and Bubba Starling are easy drops if you need the space, but they’ll also need 40-man space for a Rule 5 guy next year if they go that route or any free agents they sign to shore up the bullpen. My guess here is that with O’Hearn hitting the way he has and Dozier stepping it up that the Royals decided to roll the dice and assume they could keep Schwindel without making their 40-man decisions any tougher over the next six months. I’d have brought him up, but it’s easy to see why they didn’t.
- Acquiring Ben Lively from the Phillies is a vaguely interesting move for a team that is evaluating starters the rest of the season and probably into next year. He’s probably more Sam Gaviglio than Jakob Junis, but it’s still a worthwhile gamble to take for a team that isn’t going anywhere for a couple seasons. He had his moments last year for the Phillies with a 4.26 ERA in 88.2 innings, but he didn’t strike out enough hitters and had a basically appalling seven percent swinging strike rate. This year, he wasn’t especially good, but the sample is skewed by one of his five starts being a massive disaster. He does a pretty good job of throwing strikes and seems like a guy who can get you deep into a game occasionally. His fastball isn’t special, sitting 91-92 and maybe touching 94 at times and his bread and better is his slider, which has been good for a 36.4 percent whiff percentage. The biggest issue I see is that his pitches tend to flatten out, which is both good and bad because it may be a mechanical issue that I’m certainly not smart enough to figure out. Or it may be that he’s just not good enough. I don’t mean to make it seem like he has to be great to justify the acquisition or anything, but hey, it’d be nice. Like I said, this is exactly what they should be doing, so I’m curious to see if they just liked him for depth or if someone sees something in him they believe they can unlock.
- Lexington won their first playoff game on Wednesday night, and it was really fun to watch because of how they won it. First, Jackson Kowar had a really nice playoff debut, going five innings in just 57 pitches and striking out five without a walk. After striking out just eight batters in his first 17 innings (with 10 walks), he let it fly and now in his last four starts, he’s gone 14.1 innings with 10 hits allowed, two runs and just two walks with 19 strikeouts. That’s what you want from a top draft pick. And to do it on a playoff stage is impressive. But maybe even more impressive is what Nick Pratto is doing. He went 2-for-3 with a home run and two stolen bases in his first playoff game as a pro, which is just maintaining what he’s done since the start of August. In 32 games, he’s hit .374/.439/.659 with 10 doubles, two triples and seven home runs. His BABIP is insane at well over .400, but it’s so nice to see him breaking out. I think his start to the season really took him off the radar, and he’s doing everything he can to get back on it. I’m not sure much would surprise me with him, but it’s nice to see him performing so well.
- Man, what a weird year for Jorge Bonifacio. He looked like one of the two best players on the team in spring training (with Whit), then obviously got popped for the PED suspension that cost him half the season. Then he comes back and hits .288/.351/.451 in 13 games before the break and it looked like he would build on some nice things in his rookie year and that very good spring. Then he spent 16 games just ice cold, hitting .109/.210/.164 and it sort of looked like maybe he was actually a product of those PEDs and he wasn’t worth figuring out the roster for moving forward. So naturally, he’s hit .292/.365/.431 since and has been more than serviceable offensively (though with much lighter power than you’d like). The Statcast data for him isn’t good. His average exit velocity is way down. His hard hit rate is way down. His barrel rate is way down. His launch angle is way up, but not in a good way. Some underlying numbers, though, are quite good. His walk rate is up by about one percent. His strikeout rate is down by about two percent. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and making contact on more pitches inside the strike zone. One of the biggest differences in his batted ball profile is that he’s pulling way more pitches and not using the middle of the field as much. And he’s hitting considerably worse on balls he pulled. In 2017, he hit .500 with a 1.118 SLG on pulled balls. This year? It’s still obviously impressive, but his average is down to .425 with a .750 SLG. I’m not sure that means he shouldn’t be working to pull the ball as much, but it is interesting. Either way, it’s a weird year and I’m not sure we actually learned anything about him, which kind of stinks.