Three thoughts on Carlos Santana trade, Vinnie Pasquantino call-up to KC Royals

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·4 min read
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The Kansas City Royals traded the hottest hitter in their lineup Monday, a move almost universally praised, and that tells you a lot about where they are right now. Or maybe it just suggests something about the potential of the prospect. Or maybe it’s both.

In any event, Carlos Santana has been traded to Seattle, and a couple of pitchers are headed to Kansas City in the return. But let’s not bury the headline here: Vinnie Pasquantino, the first baseman prospect mashing the ball in Triple-A this year, is headed to Kansas City, too. At long last, right?

Let’s unpack it:

1. The patience with Carlos Santana

We have to start with Carlos Santana because, well, that’s the player the Royals elected to start.

Again.

And again.

All while Pasquantino tore up minor-league pitching.

And you know what? It worked out quite nicely.

I won’t bill the entire arrangement as a success story — when you sign a player to a two-year, $17.5 million contract, you’d like him to contribute to a competitive team, and absent that, at least be productive enough that you don’t need him to get hot enough for a few weeks to just get something for him. But at least the back end finally happened.

The Royals could have cut bait in May — just designated Santana for assignment — and no one would have blamed them for it. Heck, most encouraged it, and I’ll throw myself into that group.

They didn’t deem Pasquantino ready and instead stuck with Santana, into June even, and his .478 on-base percentage this month ranks second in the majors. They waited, and a pair of prospects — 27-year-old Wyatt Mills and 23-year-old William Fleming — are the reward.

Let’s not overhype the return package, because it’s entirely possible it’s not much in the end. Fleming is ranked as the Mariners’ 27th-best prospect, and Mills is not ranked at all. (The Mariners do have the No. 2 farm system in baseball per MLB.com.) But I will point out that in 2020, the Royals traded Trevor Rosenthal to the Padres and acquired Edward Olivares and Dylan Coleman. Neither was ranked among the Padres’ top 30 prospects in their farm system heading into the 2020 season. Coleman was a player to be named later and wasn’t, ahem, named until November.

Olivares hit cleanup on Monday night, and Coleman is a staple in the back end of the bullpen. They each could be here awhile.

The point is they got something for Santana. And something is better than what the alternative appeared to be in May.

The patience could pay dividends, and if the downfall is merely a month longer wait for Pasquantino, you can live with that.

2. What’s to like about Vinnie

The back-of-the-card numbers immediately pop — Pasquantino is second in the Triple-A International League with 18 home runs and second with a .948 OPS this season. He also leads that league with 67 RBI.

But as the Royals claim the gap between Triple-A and the majors has never been wider, another stat carries the weight of the optimism for the looming transition. Pasquantino has walked 37 times this season and struck out just 36. He actually has as many extra-base hits as strikeouts, too.

How rare is that complete package? There are 76 hitters in the International League who have popped at least six home runs this season — only one has walked more often than he has struck out this year.

Pasquantino.

As a player makes the move to the majors, there are a wide-range of success indicators, but near the top of that list is identifying (and swinging at) the right pitches. He’s already on that track.

3. What we’re still waiting to see

You might be thinking: Why would it take the Royals this long to promote a player putting up those kinds of numbers?

Simple question.

Two-part answer, and this is from the Royals’ perspective.

The Royals have publicly said they wanted Pasquantino to get at least 500 plate appearances in the upper levels of the minor leagues (Double-A and Triple-A combined). He surpassed that mark earlier this month.

Beyond that, the Royals have (less publicly) been concerned about the high fastball. In a recent interview in Omaha, Pasquantino referenced that as a point of his emphasis. The fastball only accelerates — literally — in the majors. How will he handle that?

It’s past time we just find out.

He might do fine. He might struggle. Guess what? Big-leaguers often do after call-ups. Much of the Royals core that turned into a World Series championship team in 2015 struggled upon their arrivals. It’s often part of the journey.

But that’s not a reason to prolong his stay in Omaha. Contrarily, it’s actually a reason to promote him sooner rather than later. The Royals are 26-45 heading into Monday night’s game against the Rangers. They’re not going anywhere this season. But Pasquantino will be better prepared for 2023 after a couple of hundred plate appearances in the majors than he would with another couple of hundred in Omaha..

Time to see what he’s got.