MLB Team Roundup: Kansas City Royals

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Kansas City Royals

2021 Record: 74-88
Fourth Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.65 (21st in MLB)
Team OPS: .702 (25th in MLB)

What Went Right

The Royals’ 2021 season got out to a 16-9 start, but they then lost 11 straight which began a dreadful two-month run. They ultimately finished 14 games below .500, as they haven’t had a winning season since they won the World Series in 2015. There were certainly some bright spots, though, chief among them Salvador Perez, who put together a historic season at the catcher position. Perez tied for the major league lead with 48 home runs and led baseball with 121 RBI. Nicky Lopez wound up being the everyday shortstop with Adalberto Mondesi missing most of the season due to injury, and he not only played excellent defense but also hit better than expected with a .300/.365/.378 line. The consistency wasn’t there, but Andrew Benintendi’s .276/.324/.442 batting line with 17 home runs was a solid first season in Kansas City. The Royals had a pretty strong bullpen led by Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont. Carlos Hernandez was also solid in the bullpen but showed he might have a future in the rotation with some strong second-half work. Danny Duffy was excellent when healthy but missed much of the season with a flexor injury.

What Went Wrong

The aforementioned Mondesi wound up playing only 35 games because of multiple oblique and hamstring injuries and he didn’t offer a ton with the bat when he did play with a pedestrian .723 OPS. The Royals signed Hunter Dozier to a contract extension during spring training and then watched him be one of the worst regulars in baseball with a lowly .216/.285/.394 batting line. Carlos Santana was arguably worse with a .214/.319/.342 line, as was Jorge Soler (.192/.288/.370) before he was traded. He had some nice moments, but overall Brady Singer held a 4.91 ERA and 1.55 WHIP and also dealt with some shoulder issues. Brad Keller was a disaster with a 5.39 ERA and 1.66 WHIP and ended the season with a shoulder ailment. Kris Bubic held his own, but other young starters for Kansas City (Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar) mostly flopped during their opportunities.

Fantasy Slants

** It was already going to be difficult to predict what to expect out of Adalberto Mondesi in 2022 after another injury-wrecked season. His situation became even murkier when president of baseball operations said in an interview in early August that the club can’t count on Mondesi next year and would have to manage his workload moving forward. Mondesi then returned from injury a month after that and was moved off shortstop, becoming the team’s third baseman down the stretch. There’s no denying Mondesi’s talent, and he was able to go 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts and hit six homers in 2021 even while playing just 35 games. However, his outlook has never been foggier.

** When will the Bobby Witt Jr. era begin? There was some buzz during spring training that Witt might actually crack the Opening Day roster even though he had never played above rookie ball and didn’t play anywhere in 2020. He wound up spending all season in the minors, but he killed it while there with a .936 OPS, 33 home runs, 97 RBI and 29 stolen bases between Double- and Triple-A. Witt is just 21 but looks major league-ready and the Royals seem prepared to give him a shot sooner rather than later. He’s a five-category monster in waiting.

** Whit Merrifield was still awfully good for fantasy managers in 2021. He batted .277 with 10 home runs, 74 RBI, 40 stolen bases and 97 runs scored. That said, his overall .277/.317/.395 batting line left something to be desired and continues a downward trend. He’ll also turn 33 in January. It’s fair to wonder how useful Merrifield will be in fantasy leagues when the stolen bases start to dry up. Thankfully, he showed no signs of slowing down on the basepaths in 2021. Merrifield should remain really good for fantasy purposes in 2022 even if he’s not a great hitter at this point.

** When will the Royals find a spot for MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto? Melendez suffered through a dreadful 2019 season at the High-A level before sitting out in 2020. The catching prospect reworked his swing, though, and experienced a breakthrough in 2021, leading all minor leaguers with 41 home runs between Double- and Triple-A. The Royals are obviously set at catcher after a similar power breakthrough from Salvador Perez, but it’s not difficult to envision Melendez seeing regular playing time in the designated hitter spot while also spelling Perez at catching when he’s DHing. The power potential for someone with catcher eligibility in fantasy leagues would certainly be alluring. Pratto was similarly great between Double- and Triple-A with 36 dingers, 98 RBI and 12 steals. The path to major league playing time would seem to be clearer for the first base prospect.

** Which, if any, of the Royals’ young rotation options will step up? Brad Keller seems likely to bounce back to respectability if he’s healthy, but his fantasy ceiling is limited with the lack of strikeouts. Brady Singer already has 39 starts under his belt and he did strike out more than a batter per inning in 2021. Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez have shown some flashes. Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar mostly struggled in their first taste of the majors but boast plenty of upside. Asa Lacy isn’t far away. The Royals have plenty of talent here and but will need things to click for some of them if they want to contend for a playoff spot next season.

Key Free Agents: With the Royals inking Michael Taylor to a two-year contract extension, their most notable free agent is probably Greg Holland. In other words, they have no key free agents.

Team Needs: The Royals have the potential to be pretty decent in 2022 if things break their way, especially in the weak AL Central. They have very few safe bets, though, so adding at least one reliable veteran bat and arm seems like a necessity if they fancy themselves as potential playoff contenders.