Fantasy Breakdown: Kansas City Royals for 2021

A preview of Kansas City's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

The Kansas City Royals are pointing in the right direction. After several years of pure misery, the Royals are starting to show life with a combination of high performing veterans and upstart youngsters. Add that to Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore’s offseason additions of Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, Michael A. Taylor, and bringing back Greg Holland, the Royals will be an exciting team in 2021.

 

Hitters

 

 

Infielders

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS)

2020: 33 R, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 24 SB, .256/.294/.416 | SS #6

2021 ADP: 25.9 (SS #6)

 

After bashing six home runs with a 1.075 OPS while swiping 16 bases in September, Mondesi’s stock has risen meteorically, nearly entering the second round in fantasy drafts so far. We’ve all seen this story before and I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. Despite his sterling record in the last month of the season, Mondesi still swung at 33.5% of balls outside the zone and whiffed at 23% on swings inside the zone. This was not much of an improvement over the rest of his career where he swung 36.7% of the time outside the zone and whiffed 31.8% inside the zone. With no significant change, it’s hard to buy Mondesi anywhere near his ADP despite his tantalizing skillset.

 

Salvador Perez (C)

2020: 22 R, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, .333/.353/.633 | C #2

2021 ADP: 81.4 (C #2)

 

Salvador Perez came back with a vengeance in 2020 after missing all of 2019 due to a knee injury. The Royals’ backstop mashed at a level far beyond his career norms, reaching a .300 ISO and hitting 11 home runs — good enough for a 162 wRC+. Additionally, the hard work Perez put in working on his balance at the plate means the results do not seem like a fluke either, backed with a .387 xwOBA (10th best amongst qualified hitters in 2020) and a 47% Hard-Hit rate. If he stays healthy, I don’t see any reason why we can’t see this again in 2021. 

 

Carlos Santana (1B)

2020: 34 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB, .199/.349/.350 | 1B #34

2021 ADP: 306.3 (1B #34)

 

For the third consecutive season in a row, Santana posted a walk rate (18.4%) greater than his strikeout rate (16.9%). Unfortunately, hitting is more than just being selective — you need to hit the ball. Santana posted his lowest barrel rate (6.7%) and Hard-Hit rate (36.6%) in the Statcast era, explaining a measly .350 slugging percentage. However, with that elite plate discipline, the Royals’ new first baseman can be a bargain at his current ADP if he reverts back to his hard-hitting ways — especially since he’s hit 31 home runs with a .953 OPS in 151 games at his new home, Kauffman Stadium.

 

Hunter Dozier (3B)

2020: 29 R, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 4 SB, .228/.344/.392 | 1B #40

2021 ADP: 237.2 (1B #24)

 

Like Soler, Dozier regressed significantly in 2020. And like the aforementioned Santana, Dozier’s average exit velocity cratered from 91.1 MPH to 86.4 MPH, explaining the drop in hard-hit rate from 43% to 31% — if those figures don’t go up, his current ADP might still be too high. However, given his positional flexibility — first base, third base, and outfield — with good plate discipline, Dozier could offer fantasy players sneaky value towards the back end of drafts.

 

Nicky Lopez (2B)

2020: 15 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .201/.286/.266 | 2B #73

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Like Michael A. Taylor, Lopez is also a defensive-minded starter. But Lopez is an even worse hitter (55 wRC+) than Taylor (75 wRC+) and that’s certainly a problem. However, if you participate in a ‘Worst Ball’ league, Lopez should go in the first round. 

 

Outfielders

 

Whit Merrifield (OF)

2020: 38 R, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 12 SB, .282/.325/.444 | OF #5/2B #1

2021 ADP: 40.7 (OF# 11)

 

Whit Merrifield was the fifth-best outfielder and the top-rated second baseman on ESPN’s Player Rater in 2020, boasting an all-around skill set. While Merrifield does not sport a high hard-hit rate at 27.3%, the Royals’ leadoff hitter had an xBA of .292 while improving on his barrel percentage to a modest 5.3%. Now entering his age 32 season, it will be worth monitoring his sprint speed (89th percentile in 2020 according to Baseball Savant) to keep his stolen base total towards the top of the leaderboard to keep himself atop fantasy baseball’s elite. 

 

Jorge Soler (OF/DH)

2020: 17 R, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .228/.326/.443 | OF #82

2021 ADP: 146.6 (OF#40)

 

After leading the American League with 48 home runs in 2019, Soler fell flat on his face this past season. His strikeout rate ballooned from 26.2% to 34.5% and his xwOBA subsequently fell from .397 (14th in 2019) to .338 (76th in 2020). The good news is that his barrel rate, average exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage were the same, if not greater, in 2020 than in 2019 — he can still hit the ball as well as anyone around. The bad news is, in addition to the escalating whiffs, Soler only played eight games in the outfield — depending on the league platform, the Royals’ slugger might not qualify to play the outfield. Soler’s current price is a little steep, but I wouldn’t let him slip too far given what he showed us in 2019 and the expectation he’ll play enough games in the outfield to regain his eligibility.

 

Andrew Benintendi (OF)

2020:4 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB, .103/.314/.128 | OF #235

2021 ADP: 229.9 (OF #63)

 

Benintendi’s 2020 disaster was the final straw for Boston’s front office, where the former first-round pick now finds himself in Kansas City — for the many who thought of him as a franchise player early on, it’s certainly a shocker. Though considering that 2019 was also a disappointment, you can maybe see why the Red Sox thought it was time to move on. The Royals hope to get the peak version of Benintendi, who hit 16 home runs, stole 21 bases, and hit .290 for the 2018 World Series champions. However, Kansas City will need to put in a lot of time with Benintendi to rejuvenate the former top prospect after a couple of lackluster seasons. Hopefully, putting him in the sixth spot in the lineup will help ease the pressure of producing — if he does even a little bit, it would likely be enough to switch spots with Mondesi when the shortstop inevitably falters. But if he sticks towards the bottom of the lineup a majority of the season, Benintendi’s bottom line won’t reflect that of a top fantasy outfielder but could allow him to be more aggressive on the basepaths.

 

Michael A. Taylor (OF)

2020: 11 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .196/.253/.424 | OF #128

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

While 2020’s numbers don’t look too good, Taylor’s never been a good hitter so don’t expect a whole lot in 2021 — his career line is .237/.291/.395. Taylor is a defensive specialist who could end up being a fourth outfielder as the season wears on in favor of younger options.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Expecting poor offensive numbers from Taylor and Lopez, there should be spots that open up as the season progresses. Hanser Alberto, who signed a Minor League contract as a non-roster invitee, is the obvious candidate at second base. Alberto does little besides making contact but still is a better hitter than Lopez. Ryan McBroom hit for power with a .506 slugging percentage in 2020, but he doesn’t hit the ball hard (31.4% Hard-Hit rate) and is mostly a platoon option (1.103 OPS against left-handed pitching and a .656 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2020). Since he played a bit of left field last season, he might spend time platooning with Benintendi early on in 2021. Nick Heath is another outfield prospect worth a look from the Royals’ perspective, especially since he’s now 27 years old. Heath got some at-bats in 2020 and didn’t do well, but in 2019 he did steal 60 bases across Double-A and Triple-A while producing roughly average numbers at the plate — steals are always worth monitoring. The longshot is Edward Olivares, acquired in the Trevor Rosenthal trade at the trade deadline. Olivares is yet another five-tool type player for the Royals, hitting 18 home runs and stealing 35 bases in 2019. Given he didn’t hit well in 2020, I would assume Olivares gets a little more seasoning in Triple-A before getting called up again mid-season. Finally, we’ve got Lucius Fox. He’s not a great hitter, but he’s absolutely electrifying on the basepaths — 39 stolen bases total in 2019. To temper expectations, Fox has only played 15 games in Triple-A and did not play in 2020. Nevertheless, he’d still be a far more intriguing option in fantasy circles compared to Lopez and Alberto if given the opportunity.  

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Danny Duffy (Likely Starter)

2020: 4-4, 56.1 IP, 57 K, 4.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP | SP #99

2021 ADP: 500.1 (P #199)

Repertoire: 39.4% Four-Seam, 17.2% Slider, 15.2% Changeup, 14.1% Curveball, 14.1% Sinker

 

Through July and August, Danny Duffy had pitched fairly well with a 4.11 ERA, 20.6% strikeout and walk differential (K-BB), and a 4.16 FIP. Then the calendar flipped to September and that’s when everything fell apart. The southpaw posted a 6.33 ERA for the month with only a 5.1% K-BB and 5.72 FIP. Duffy’s early success was largely predicated on his four-seamer being effective with a 22.5% whiff rate and a .247 wOBA (.266 xwOBA), allowing him to then attack with his slider, changeup, and curveball later in counts to put hitters away. Unfortunately for the left-hander, the heater got massacred in the season’s final month to the tune of a .460 wOBA (.464 xwOBA) despite him posting his highest average velocity on the pitch for the year. Going into 2021, there have been rumors of Duffy entering the bullpen and that shouldn’t be dismissed — Duffy’s poor fastballs would be put on the back burner if he only had to face a few guys as opposed to being a starter. For now, Duffy would be, at best, a backend starter for your fantasy team but could end up being a much better reliever if that’s the path taken.

Brad Keller (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-3, 54.2 IP, 35 K, 2.47 ERA, 1.02 WHIP | SP #29

2021 ADP: 300.3 (P #113)

Repertoire: 38.3% Four-Seam, 38.2% Slider, 21.4% Sinker, 2.0% Changeup

 

Brad Keller was phenomenal in 2020, though I’m not sure if any of it is sustainable. While Keller’s 2.47 ERA is supported by a 3.43 FIP, it’s also backed up by a 4.82 SIERA and an 8.4% K-BB (that figure is the highest mark of his career too). The big change in Keller this season was the booming usage of his slider, up roughly ten percent and nearly becoming his most thrown pitch. That slider was also revamped for this season with pitching coach Cal Eldred during Spring Training 2.0 where Keller focused on getting more downward movement. However, still centered around his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, Keller could be due for substantial negative regression given his microscopic .233 BABIP — though his previous two seasons were near .290 — and is, therefore, an underwhelming option despite the improved slider.

Mike Minor (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-6, 56.2 IP, 62 K, 5.56 ERA, 1.24 WHIP | SP #148

2021 ADP: 332.5 (P #125)

Repertoire: 50.7% Four-Seam, 22.2% Changeup, 20.7% Slider, 6.4% Curveball

 

Minor is back to where it all began — well, technically speaking, no. But after years of being a failed starter with a top prospect pedigree in Atlanta, Minor spent the 2017 season in Kansas City and was a force out of the ‘pen. Now, he’ll be back with the Royals but this time as a starter. Minor’s high spin four-seamer has done wonders to revive his career but spent last season in a bit of a rut with both the Rangers and Athletics. The improvement in strikeouts is undoubtedly a positive, but an elevated 1.75 HR/9 — higher than the ~1.35 HR/9 marks in the previous two seasons — and a 62.9% LOB (74.1% LOB for his career) were the biggest reasons why the southpaw ended up with a 5.56 ERA this past season. What makes Minor most appealing this draft season are the innings he throws, pitching over 200 in 2019. If he can get about 150 innings — remember, off of a short season it’ll be hard to push towards 200 — he’ll be dependable enough across the other categories to be a solid starter for your fantasy team.

Brady Singer (Locked In Starter)

2020: 4-5, 64.1 IP, 61 K, 4.06 ERA, 1.17 WHIP | SP #52

2021 ADP: 220.7 (P #79)

Repertoire: 57.1% Sinker, 37.4% Slider, 4.7% Changeup, 0.7% Four-Seam

 

Singer’s first professional season was in 2019, reaching Double-A. With all the chaos of 2020, Singer found himself in the big league rotation — and excelled. Better yet, Singer was outstanding in September with a 2.73 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 29.2 innings pitched, including a near no-hitter against Cleveland on September 10th. Given Singer’s overwhelming usage of his sinker, it’s no surprise that his groundball rate was a lofty 53.7%. However, for fantasy purposes, the next step will be to generate more strikeouts, as his 23.2% strikeout and 9.5% swinging strike marks are fairly pedestrian. Considering Singer has a slider with a 32.8% whiff rate (34th best with at least 100 swings induced), there seems to be an avenue for the young right-hander to add to his strikeout total with an increase in the pitch’s usage. One final point that should be made is that he is a two-pitch pitcher in a starting role. While that didn’t hurt him in 2020 (.478 OPS third time through the order), Singer needs to find a reliable third pitch to ascend into a top tier starter.

Kris Bubic (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-6, 50.0 IP, 49 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.48 WHIP | SP #173

2021 ADP: 452.4 (P #179)

Repertoire: 54.2% Four-Seam, 29.9% Changeup, 15.9% Curveball

 

Kris Bubic was the other young pitcher for the Royals this season but did not have the same success Singer had. Bubic’s point of attack is four-seam and changeup combination, his two best swing and miss pitches, but his best-performing pitch was his curveball with a .174 wOBA (.220 xwOBA). The left-hander only threw his curveball sparingly relative to his two other pitches, however, and that seemed reasonable taking his paltry 11.6% whiff rate on the breaker into account. With a walk rate approaching ten percent and a 17% home run to fly-ball rate last season, Bubic should be passed on when drafting for 2021.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Given the speedy promotions of Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, one could deduce that other top pitching prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch could be given a run in 2021 — especially if Danny Duffy is moved to the bullpen. You’ll read more about Kowar and Lynch in our Fantasy Prospects list, but neither of them is necessarily worth monitoring intensely since they profile similar to Singer and Bubic. In a slow-moving offseason, there could be more free-agent additions from Dayton Moore, but Ervin Santana probably has the clearest path to a rotation spot should one open up given his experience. Furthermore, he recently hit 95 MPH in Dominican Winter Ball — maybe there’s a resurgence, who knows. 

 

Relief Pitchers

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Greg Holland (Closer)

2020: 6 SV, 2 HLD, 28.1 IP, 31 K, 1.91 ERA, 0.95 WHIP | RP #9

2021 ADP: 371.9 (P #145)

 

After several trying years, it’s fitting that Greg Holland has finally found himself in the same uniform he initially asserted his dominance in. Holland rode his slider and used it over 50% of the time for the first time in his career. The pitch also helped him have a remarkable season, as his 2.81 xERA ranked 32nd best amongst qualified pitchers this past season. The only question here is whether or not the Royals will win enough to give Holland enough save chances to be a top closer in 2021.

Josh Staumont (Next In Line)

2020: 0 SV, 8 HLD, 25.2 IP, 37 K, 2.45 ERA, 1.40 WHIP | RP #79

2021 ADP: 403.9 (P #153)

 

He may walk 14.3% of his batters. But if you see this knee-buckling curveball, you’ll see why he’s worth talking about. Put it together with his blazing fastball and you get some ugly reactions from hitters. My goodness. If he could somehow walk batters at a more palatable rate — say ten percent — Kansas City has got themselves a real stud and potential fantasy league winner if Holland ever got hurt.

Scott Barlow (Other Holds Options)

2020: 2 SV, 7 HLD, 30.0 IP, 39 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP | RP #61

2021 ADP: 487.33 (P #192)

 

Barlow wasn’t quite as good as Staumont last season but was yet another superb reliever in Kansas City’s bullpen. The right-hander gets tons of whiffs — his slider and curveball were both over the 40% threshold, while the four-seamer was roughly 30%. Putting all three together, the result was a strikeout rate of over 30%. Add that with an improved seven percent walk rate, nearly half of what it was for him in 2019, and you can see why Barlow was a much better option than the 4.20 ERA suggests. I will say that with his 16% home run to fly ball ratio, Barlow may find it difficult to ascend the bullpen ranks — but the risk of giving up the long ball could be easier to deal with than Staumont’s lack of control.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Kyle Zimmer was yet another phenomenal reliever for the Royals last season, and even though he did get a single save or hold, the 29-year-old pitched to a 1.57 ERA. With a strikeout rate of 27%, Zimmer is worth a look if any of the top three guys get hurt. Jesse Hahn started throwing 95 MPH when he reached the Royals last season, and he’s added a phenomenal curveball and slider to go with it en route to a 0.52 ERA and 0.69 WHIP. Oh yeah, Wade Davis is also back on a minor league deal — maybe lightning can strike twice as it did with Holland. It’s just crazy how good this bullpen looks.

 

ADP data taken from FantasyPros composite ADPs [hyperlink to be added once 2021 data is available].

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Jai Correa

Jai Correa is an alumnus of UMass Amherst. He is incredibly passionate about the Red Sox, Indian cricket and economics.

Account / Login
>