The Royals’ 2019 season may best be summed up as “at least we weren’t the Rangers, Orioles, Marlins or Tigers!” As a unit, their hitters didn’t do much of anything when it came to driving the ball or getting on base. The only counting stat in which they posted a strong final line was steals, where the team swiped 117 bags and ranked second overall behind only the Rangers—another terrible offense.
But it’s not as if you could pluck any Royal off the wire and wrangle a few steals at a given point in the season. Together, Adalberto Mondesi (43) and Whit Merrifield (20) accounted for 53% of the team’s stolen bags. They didn’t rank higher than 19th in any major stat. Beyond Merrifield and Mondesi are a few solid or above-average regulars, but not much else.
- ADDITIONS: N/A.
- SUBTRACTIONS: Alex Gordon (LF) is the only potential loss for Kansas City right now. However, the organization loves him, and he could easily have a contract and role on the team if he wants one. The skills have declined as they would for anyone playing through age 35, but there’s still use for a player of his stature on a young, rebuilding squad. And maybe yours, too, if you need a good matchup flier from waivers.
Salvador Perez (C | Batting 6th)
2018: 52 R, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 1 SB, .235/.274/.439
2020 ADP: 266.3 (C #8)
Salvador Perez missed all of 2019 after suffering an injury in spring training that required Tommy John surgery. He should be healthy and begin the season with the club, and immediately start over any option left on the roster from last year.
If he’s back to his usual self, he’ll be a rock-steady performer behind the plate. From 2014 to 2018, he was pretty much a lock for 50+ runs, 20+ homers, and 70+ RBI without being a drag on other categories outside steals or OBP, depending on your settings.
But we can’t just assume full health. Sure, Tommy John surgery isn’t as serious for position players as it is for pitchers, but it’s still an intense procedure that can impact performance. Maybe we can consider Didi Gregorius as a reference, since he had TJ at the end of 2018 and came back last June. Didi slashed .238/.276/.441 this season. The slugging was in line with his Yankee career (.447), but his batting average was down 35 points and his OBP was down more than 40 points. If the average drags down the OBP as he gets back into game shape, Perez will have some daunting stretches.
Strengths: HR, RBI
Weaknesses: OBP, SLG
Perez will play most of 2020 in his age-30 season. He’s a rock behind the plate who can register 130 games or more and buoy you at the catcher position with power and steady counting stats, even on a bad team.
The TJ zaps his stroke at the plate and he becomes the first guy you cut at a time where there are surprisingly more catcher options available than there have been previously. He scuttles to a below-average line as the rest of the league continues to put up record-setting offensive marks.
2020 Projection: 66 R, 27 HR, 81 RBI, 2 SB, .252/.291/.465
Maikel Franco (3B | Batting 8th)
2019: 48 R, 17 HR, 56 RBI, 0 SB, .234/.297/.409 | 3B #54
2020 ADP: Undrafted (Unranked)
Maikel Franco is a tough nut to crack. He’s always demonstrated an ability to hit the ball hard but he’s shown an inability to make contact or lift the ball when he did. The Phillies tried a bunch of ways to help him. They moved him around the order, they tried to tweak how he was using his spine to better get to the ball, they tried to add loft to his flat-planed swing, and they probably tried other tweaks, too. Nothing ever clicked over a prolonged period of time.
Things reached a nadir for Franco in 2019 when he was demoted to the minors in August. He eventually returned but ultimately amassed his most underwhelming major league campaign. He’s going from one of the friendliest ballparks for right-handed hitters in Citizens Bank Park to one of the least friendly in Kauffman Stadium. The only possible plus to consider through draft season is that the Phillies have been poor at player development in recent years, but what we see might be what we get from Franco at this point. He went undrafted in all 6 PL mocks.
The change of setting helps something click for Franco. He delivers on the promise purported when he was a top prospect, he becomes a top-20 3rd baseman, and you have a chance to pluck him up for nothing.
2020 shows us Franco is what 2019 made us think he was.
2020 Projection: 55 R, 19 HR, 60 RBI, 1 SB, .267/.330/.472
Nicky Lopez (2B | Batting 7th)
2019: 44 R, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB, .240/.276/.325| 2B #86
2020 ADP: Undrafted (Unranked)
Lopez debuted last year with the profile of a light-hitting, contact-oriented guy who had great strikeout-to-walk ratios and could steal close to double digit bags. He worked into 103 games but only got 1 steal on 2 attempts. His K-rate was only 12.7% but his walk rate was just a third of that. Right now he’s pegged as the Royals starting 2nd baseman but hasn’t shown us a carrying trait to buy into. He’s currently going undrafted and probably isn’t worth an investment beyond an eye on the waiver wire if he happens to flash some promise.
Strengths: SB, AVG
Weaknesses: HR, SLG
Lopez outperforms what he did in the minors, registering a batting average well above average and stolen base totals that sell his speed.
He can’t adjust to major league pitching and the Royals send him to the bench in favor of Whit Merrifield moving back to the keystone from the outfield. You don’t think about him.
2020 Projection: 58 R, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 9 SB, .272/.327/.377
Adalberto Mondesi (SS | Batting 2nd)
2019: 52 R, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 43 SB, .263/.291/.424 | SS #11
2020 ADP: 41.3 (SS #10)
The love affair with Mondesi persists for now, but it might be time to consider a change of heart. He suffered a severe shoulder injury in September that ended his season and requires five to six months without baseball activity. The Royals reportedly expect to have him back for Opening Day but we haven’t had a chance to see if there are any residual effects from his injury.
It’s not just the shoulder injury that’s concerning. Mondesi showed a fascinating power-speed combo when he broke through with 14 homers and 32 steals in 75 games in 2018. He did it while posting a walk rate below 4% and a K rate above 26%, though, and followed it up this season by walking half a tick more but striking out an additional 3%. He was shifted a bunch more in 2019. His ISO dropped 60 points—from well above average to well below in spite of the rabbit ball. He hit 30% more grounders in 2019 than 2018. And now he’s got an injury that could impact his bat path through the zone. Projections are buying into his ceiling, but the variance possible still make his current price feel high. There’s a host of bona fide talent being picked around him and a handful of intriguing lottery tickets to boot.
Weaknesses: OBP, SLG
Mondesi plays as though the shoulder injury never happened, he corrects his issues with grounders and shifting, and he more closely resembles the outstanding player we saw in his partial 2018 season. The price paid in the winter is worth it.
The shift continues to eat him up, and he continues to put the ball on the ground too much. He becomes nearly one-dimensional with his speed and looks a lot more like Mallex Smith than you’d like from a 4th-rounder.
2020 Projection: 82 R, 20 HR, 75 RBI, 48 SB, .253/.293/.430
Ryan O’Hearn (1B | Batting 5th)
2019: 32 R, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 0 SB, .195/.281/.369 | 1B #90
2020 ADP: Undrafted (Unranked)
At least it probably can’t get worse for Ryan O’Hearn than 2019?
Weaknesses: Pretty much everything
O’Hearn rebounds and looks anything like the 2018 version that slashed .262/.353/.597 in 44 games. You snag him off the wire as a fun surprise.
He repeats his 2019.
2020 Projection: 49 R, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB, .235/.314/.434
Jorge Soler (DH/OF | Batting 3rd)
2019: 95 R, 48 HR, 117 RBI, 3 SB, .265/.354/.569 | OF #16
2020 ADP: 84.7 (OF #23)
2019 was the Jorge Soler season we’ve all been waiting for. It may have come a year or two later than expected, but he finally put it all together and ended up leading the American League in dingers. The slugging appears to be legitimate, rabbit ball or not. He hit the ball in the air harder than all but nine players last season. With speedy boys like Merrifield and Mondesi setting the table, Soler will continue to have a chance to rack up RBI with his extra-base hits. The ADP suggests people are looking elsewhere for outfielders for a while, making him a strong add as a second outfielder. Everyone’s hitting bombs for now, but Soler’s power could more easily survive another potential “manufacturing inconsistency” with the baseball than other players.
Strengths: HR, RBI, SLG, R
The power burst sticks and Soler Power lights up your smile all season.
The ISO peaked in 2019 and you buy in on a career year only to be left a little disappointed.
2020 Projection: 87 R, 34 HR, 95 RBI, 3 SB, .257/.349/.503
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF | Batting 1st)
2019: 105 R, 16 HR, 74 RBI, 20 SB, .302/.348/.463| 2B #4
2020 ADP: 54.8 (OF #17)
Merrifield is another Royals late bloomer who has a track record that includes speed and power over the last three years. The speed is the big lure here: He’s stolen 34, 45 and 20 bags over that stretch. About 20 guys steal that many bags per season, and it’s been fewer than that in two of the last three years.
The big drop from 2018 to 2019 may be concerning, though. Merrifield will play 2020 at age 31, and speed is a skill that ages poorly. He lost two-tenths of a second off his sprint speed last season, dropping him from the 93rd percentile to the 85th. That’s still pretty awesome, but for an aging player who plays nearly every game, it’s something to be mindful of.
Merrifield also qualifies in the outfield and possibly even first base, depending on your league settings. Current ADPs see him going within a few picks of Ketel Marte, José Altuve and Jonathan Villar. If you’re looking for steals at that spot, three of these four offer varying amounts. Second base also runs deep, even for 15-teamers, so missing out will likely still leave you a few options in the coming rounds.
Strengths: H, R, SB, AVG
Merrifield’s tiny drops in sprint speed mean nothing; he continues playing nearly every game and helps you move toward the top of the league in steals while being a legitimate contributor in the other big counting categories.
The sprint speed continues to dip and so do the steals, leaving you with a nice player, but one who’s similar to others who probably went rounds after him.
2020 Projection: 91 R, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 23 SB, .282/.337/.427
Hunter Dozier (OF/3B/1B | Batting 4th)
2019: 75 R, 26 HR, 84 RBI, 2 SB, .279/.348/.522 | 3B #21
2020 ADP: 160.7 (OF #45)
Hunter Dozier blasted onto the scene in April and May, hitting .313 with 26 extra-base hits. June was a disaster with a sub-Mendoza line average. But according to counting stats, the rest of the season provided a useful line, if less exhilarating than his opening months as he returned from injury. He came out of obscurity and rode all sorts of ebbs and flows through the year, leaving us to ask what to expect for 2020.
At 94.2 mph, he hits the ball hard in the air—harder than nearly 75% of the league—and that always plays. He’s going to be in the heart of any offensive success for Kansas City, and there’s always value in players who have those roles even when they come on a bad team. He’ll likely make a fine corner infielder or bench bat who offers positional versatility. He doesn’t have OF eligibility yet, but there are reports that he’ll move to right field and White Merrifield will move to center with the club having signed Maikel Franco to play 3rd base.
Strengths: AVG, HR, SLG, OPS
Dozier resembles more of what he was at the start of 2019 than the end and becomes a powerhouse at the hot corner. His torrid pace probably pushes your team into contention or beyond as one of the big surprises in 2020.
His ability to drive the ball dissipates and so does almost all of his value, leaving you with a solid batting average but not much else.
2020 Projection: 75 R, 22 HR, 82 RBI, 4 SB, .252/.321/.445
Brett Phillips (OF | Batting 9th)
2019: 7 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB, .138/.247/.262 | OF #234
2020 ADP: Undrafted (Unranked)
Brett Phillips is in his third organization in four years and has shown varying degrees of progress. He played in only 30 games last season for the Royals. If he can corral his Ks, he might be a sneaky value play on the tail-end of a deep roster. It seems as though the Royals are collecting former first-rounders and and trying to catch another late bloomer out of the bunch.
Weaknesses: Pretty much everything else
Something clicks and Phillips is able to get on base at a consistent clip. His ability to drive the ball is solid, and he’s an under-the-radar speed play.
His 2019 performance is his true talent at the major league level.
2020 Projection: 48 R, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 11 SB, .211/.299/.365
Playing Time Battles
Alex Gordon is technically a free agent, but the org loves him. If he wants a contract, he’ll probably get one. Beyond that, the addition of Maikel Franco and commitment to Nicky Lopez seems to solidify a lot. Merrifield and Dozier will look to stick in the outfield and Jorge Soler is tabbed to primarily DH. Brett Phillips or Bubba Starling turning into even a replacement level player would be big for the Royals and offer some depth, but the fantasy impact is likely to be minimal.
The Royals have a pair of potentially high-value fantasy players and a few more steady or above-average regulars. Lottery tickets litter the roster, but not the kind you need to seek out. If you’re drafting from this squad, it might be best to look in that Soler-Dozier-Perez lot because they have more room to offer a surplus return based on where they’re getting picked than Merrifield and Mondesi. If you’re keen on getting steals early, you’ll probably have other players who are more reliable and who will be available at similar spots.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)