After a 95-67 season in 2015 that resulted in a World Series title, the Kansas City Royals’ decline started: they finished 81-81 in 2016 and 80-82 in 2017, but really hit rock bottom in 2018 (58-104) and 2019 (59-103). The pandemic season (26-34) and 2021 (74-88) were actually decent compared to that ugly 2018-19 period.
The Royals, however, are eager to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They want to return to relevancy, and actually made some win-now moves for the 2022 campaign. For example, they brought in homegrown starter Zack Greinke, who is returning home at the tender age of 38 after posting a 4.16 ERA in 171 innings for the Houston Astros last year.
For the Royals to have a shot at finishing among the best teams in the AL Central division in 2022, however, they need several things to happen, the most important of them being their young starters taking a (massive) step forward.
Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic were, or are, all touted prospects at one point in their careers. They all pitched significant innings in the big leagues last year, and here are the results:
Brady Singer: 4.91 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 22.4 K% in 128.1 IP
Daniel Lynch: 5.69 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 17.1 K% in 68 IP
Kris Bubic: 4.43 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 20.5 K% in 130 IP
Jackson Kowar: 11.27 ERA, 6.43 FIP, 18.1 K% in 30.1 IP
Not good. Not good at all. Perhaps Greinke can do some coaching in Kansas City, or maybe some of them will find consistency and significantly improve in 2022 simply because of natural prospect growth, but the franchise does need more of that foursome. Brad Keller and Carlos Hernandez will also eat some innings as starters.
For Kansas City, however, things are looking particularly bright in the position players’ department. Bobby Witt, who completely dominated Double-A and Triple-A last year with 33 homers and 29 stolen bases (plus some really impressive wRC+ marks), is expected to be the third baseman and is a candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
The Royals have Salvador Pérez’s power (a league-leading 48 homers in 2021) from the catching position, which is a plus even though he is far from an asset behind the plate; as well as Adalberto Mondesí’s game-changing speed even if his plate discipline profile is not ideal.
To balance things, Kansas City has Andrew Benintendi’s all-around production (.276/.324/.442 line, 17 homers, eight steals, and a 106 wRC+) and Nicky López and Whit Merrifield’s speed and contact skills.
López is actually quite underrated. Expected to be the starter at the keystone, he led the Royals last year with 4.4 fWAR: he hit .300 and had a solid .365 OBP with very good defense. As for Merrifield, though, perhaps the Royals should have traded him last year while he still had some value, as he is already declining (91 wRC+).
MJ Meléndez and Nick Pratto, like Witt, are heralded hitting prospects who hit more than 30 homers in the minors last year and are expected to contribute in 2022. They are both quite talented.
If the Royals can get something out of Michael A. Taylor, Carlos Santana, and Hunter Dozier offensively, it would be a bonus. Taylor is a defensive ace in center field, though.
The Royals, now that they traded for Amir Garrett, have some good relievers: Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, and Jake Brentz certainly qualify, but the group isn’t particularly deep.
Win Total Prediction: 80-82 (.493)
All in all, the Royals are slowly crawling back to contention, but they are not quite there yet until they can develop some pitching. They have the prospects: now they have to show they can give them the necessary tools to succeed against the best hitters in the world.
I am fairly confident that the Royals can finish with a better record than the Cleveland Guardians, and may be able to challenge the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers if they can get something out of Singer, Kowar, Lynch, and Bubic. They are more of a 2023 or 2024 play, though.
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13