On the list of things I expected to see this season, a Royals starter taking a perfect game into the ninth inning was not anywhere to be found. So Jorge Lopez’s flirt with perfection was possibly the highlight of a horrible season, and if it’s not the highlight, it’s somewhere in the top five for sure. I guess it’s important to find silver linings in everything, and I think we’ve seen enough to make this not a total waste of a summer watching Royals baseball. Ryan O’Hearn’s crazy fast start, Brad Keller’s contributions and Adalberto Mondesi’s ascension to being something close to the player many always thought he could be have been great storylines to put a positive spin on a 100-loss season. Hey, they may even avoid having the worst record in franchise history.
- It’s easy to forget about Jorge Soler because he hasn’t played in the big leagues since mid-June, but if you think back to the team in May, he was probably the most exciting part of it, and with good reason. Soler is a 26-year old with plate discipline, massive power and actual athleticism, and he was somewhat making good on his promise before yet another injury derailed his season. Now, it wasn’t all perfect. He hit just .175/.238/.361 over his final 105 plate appearances of the season, but he showed that he could actually carry an offense when he got hot. But since he got hurt, the Royals have added Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin to the outfield mix and O’Hearn has entered the fray as another offensive piece for 2019 at least, so where do the Royals go with him? Looking ahead to 2019, the roster is a little bit cramped with Alex Gordon, the aforementioned outfielders, Jorge Bonifacio and Rosell Herrera, another new addition to the big club since Soler went down. Those five along with O’Hearn, Hunter Dozier, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Salvador Perez and likely Cam Gallagher as a backup catcher leave the Royals with really one roster spot open given their proclivity to carry 13 pitchers. Soler can fit there, but one of two things needs to happen for it to work. They have to believe Herrera can handle shortstop because Mondesi is not a 162-game player like Alcides Escobar has been (for better or for worse) or they’ll have to move away from Herrera’s versatility and sign a utility infielder (please not Escobar) who can handle shortstop as a backup. But if they choose to sign that utility player and keep Herrera, I don’t know where Soler fits. And while he had a nice season offensively, I can’t imagine his trade value is especially high. It’s a bit of a conundrum.
- Some notable Royals who will be out of options next season are Mondesi, Bonifacio, Goodwin (he already is), Lopez and Brian Flynn. Of course, Cheslor Cuthbert is famously out of options and has been since seemingly 2010, so the Royals will have some restrictions on their roster next year. In addition, Paulo Orlando (big time DFA candidate) and Bubba Starling (same) will be out of options as well, which should enhance their DFA likelihood. Obviously, their hope is that Mondesi and Bonifacio are good enough to stay on the roster all year, so they’re not all that important. But Goodwin, Lopez and Flynn are interesting enough. I think Goodwin has shown a great deal since coming over with a nice bat and has shown well in center field. An outfield with him in center, Phillips in right and Gordon in left is one that can be one of the better defensive outfields out there, though Goodwin and Gordon aren’t the fleetest of foot, so from a ground covering perspective, Phillips might be needed to be in the middle even though his arm plays better in right than Goodwin’s. But there are other factors, such as Nicky Lopez and his potential callup to the big leagues that might push Whit Merrifield to center field again next year. So there are a lot of questions, but Goodwin is an interesting player to watch as someone who might be auditioning more for his next team than his role on the next good Royals team.
- Even before they started winning, the Royals pitching started to look much better and in their last 21 games before last night, they’d posted a 3.53 ERA with fewer hits than innings pitched and a reasonable home run rate. Their walk rate has dropped by a decent amount as well over the last few weeks, which is really nice to see. The starters are the real bread winners here, averaging about six innings per start before last night (and that includes Duffy’s outing of less than an inning) with an ERA of 3.11, fewer hits than innings pitched and very few home runs. It’s been really encouraging to see what the young (for the most part) rotation has done. And Fillmyer, I thought, was terrific last night even though the numbers aren’t quite as good because of the eighth inning. The bullpen has been better, but not enough. They’ve given up too many home runs and they’ve been way too hittable. I will say it looks better if you take Jason Hammel out, but it’s still not where you want it. To me, I think guys like Jake Newberry, Glenn Sparkman and newly acquired Jerry Vasto are going to have their chance to join Kevin McCarthy and probably Wily Peralta in the 2019 bullpen, but I really believe there’ll be at least a couple new faces along with the potential debut of Richard Lovelady next year. There’s work to be done.
- Since the start of this 18-game stretch where they’ve gone 12-6, one thing that I’m not sure stands out, but I’ve noticed is that they’re actually walking quite a bit more. They’ve walked 59 times now in their last 18 games. That’s a walk rate of 8.8 percent, which isn’t anything special. It would rank around 11th or 12th in baseball, though, which is considerably higher than where they are. It’s also WAY higher than the 7 percent they were walking before this stretch. A lot of it is just silly randomness, but guys like Alex Gordon, Ryan O’Hearn and even Jorge Bonifacio have done a nice job of working walks and all have a place on the 2019 Royals. We’ve mentioned the patience of some of the players in the lower levels of the system, so we can at least dream a little that this is the start of a more patient lineup for years to come. I’m not holding my breath, but you never know.