All hail Bobby Witt Jr.

End of the season accolades are starting to roll in for the top prospect. Plus a look at how the Royals' offense has performed over the last month. And a begrudging congratulations to the White Sox.

Back to back off days in September are the ultimate baseball buzzkill.

If the Royals were in an honest-to-goodness pennant race, an empty Wednesday and Thursday would be met with simply nervous anticipation for Friday. Forty-eight hours of tension that would test the limits of a collective fan base and their fingernails.

Since the Royals aren’t in a pennant race and play only their fellow dead-enders from here to the end of the season, the gap between games is a time for diehards to check on their families and perhaps make a roster move or two on their fantasy football team. Idling the time away until the action returns because action is simply something to do as the evenings turn colder, a reminder that soon we will be without baseball for a longer stretch than two days.

Ugh. Like I said…buzzkill. Sorry.

The photo credit on the preview of this post belongs to Minda Haas Kuhlmann. As always, thanks to her for providing some fantastic photos throughout the season. Make sure you check out her Flickr page.

Buzzing around Bobby

A bit of noise around Bobby Witt Jr. this week. (Honestly, the dude has just crushed it this year, so when is there not noise surrounding him?) First, over at The Athletic, prospect writer Keith Law named him as his 2021 Prospect of the Year.

Witt hit .295/.369/.570 for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, which is a reasonably good place to hit, and then hit .288/.358/.612 after a midyear promotion to Triple-A Omaha, with 32 homers, 34 doubles and 26 steals in total this year so far. The second pick in 2019, Witt has already answered a lot of the questions surrounding him in high school — notably how he’d fare against a consistent stream of better pitching his own age, since the competition he faced as an amateur was not great — and all three of those Royals prospects are ready to take the next step to face big-league pitching. The future in Kansas City is extremely bright.

Law notes that he also shortlisted Nick Pratto and M.J. Melendez for the honor.

That individual accolades are starting to roll in for the Royals’ top prospect isn’t a surprise. Those numbers are insane, and as Law notes, answers a question that many had prior to this season. He’s in the Royals’ 2022 Opening Day lineup. Full stop.

It’s interesting that Law mentions that Witt Jr. plays “a superb shortstop” in his write-up. Because Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs says he hasn’t performed so well at the position this year. This is from his notes on his reshuffled Top 100 where Witt Jr. has passed San Diego’s CJ Abrams for as his second-best prospect in the game:

Abrams has the superior feel to hit, and the gap between the two on defense — where a healthy Abrams improved while Witt sputtered — has closed. Witt’s range and hands have both regressed; he’s not a lost cause at shortstop but he does need polish.

Interesting how two evaluators can come to a different conclusion. Myself, I haven’t watched enough of Witt Jr.’s defense to weigh in on which way I lean. I have seen the highlights though, and they are, like everything Witt Jr. does, spectacular.

As the roster shakes out heading into 2022, the Royals are fortunate to have no fewer than three quality candidates for shortstop. Don’t make me rank them today, but I will say that I believe the optimal defensive alignment with the three would be Witt Jr. at third base, Adalberto Mondesi at short and Nicky Lopez at second.

This setup has two of the three at their natural positions—only Witt Jr. is truly moved. Lopez has played an exquisite shortstop this year, but he was likewise fantastic defensively at second last year. Put him at either position and you’ll get superior glove work. Mondesi, as Dayton Moore said earlier this summer, cannot be counted on to play the full season, but I do think you can count on him to play outstanding defense at short when he’s in the lineup. It’s possible the Royals could decide the path to keeping Mondesi healthy starts in center field, but I’m not so sure that’s the case.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Witt Jr. was the third-best defender of this trio. That wouldn’t be a knock on his defensive abilities. When you’re ranking three players, someone has to finish at the bottom of the list. Besides, in Mondesi and Lopez you have two proven quality major league defenders at shortstop. I don’t think you move both off the position for a rookie who isn’t markedly better.

Where does this leave Whit Merrifield? As was planned for the start of 2021, I think he slots into right field. He’s not a great outfield defender, but he’s more than adequate and gives the Royals continued defensive flexibility around the diamond.

I swear every time I write about Witt Jr. it gets me excited for the future. The 2022 season cannot get here fast enough.

A retirement in Omaha

Omaha Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg announced his retirement after seven years at the helm of the Royals Triple-A club.

I thought this tweet captured what Poley has meant to the organization and Omaha in general.

The goal in life should be to treat people with a certain level of kindness that when you decide to hang ‘em up—in whatever profession—people say these kinds of nice things about you. Congrats to Poley on a great career in baseball and for being the type of person who made others feel welcome and respected.

Now, speculation can start on who will replace him in Omaha. My first thought turned to Tony Peña Jr. It’s been clear for a couple of years the Royals think highly of Peña Jr. and believe he has what it takes to be a manager. He was tabbed to be the bench coach in Omaha for the 2020 season and was also going to manage the Royals’ affiliate in Burlington. Of course, COVID scrapped those plans. Peña Jr. has spent the 2021 season as part of Mike Matheny’s major league staff. He previously managed Surprise in the Arizona Rookie League.

Catching up with the offense

With the team off for a couple of days, now is a fine time to check in with the offense to see how things have gone the last 30 days. If you’ve hung in there and continued to watch this team, the hot and cold performers won’t be a surprise. Although exactly how hot and how cold they are could be illuminating.

Let’s just run down this list with a few words on each hitter.

Nicky Lopez - Professional hitter. He’s powering those numbers with a .427 BABIP, which is most definitely unsustainable, but goodness is he some kind of locked in at the plate.

Salvador Perez - Johnny Bench’s favorite catcher.

Come on, 13 dingers in 30 days is insane. And for a catcher who has taken just one day off to do that at this point in the season? Superhuman.

Andrew Benintendi - I know there was some talk about Benintendi playing himself into a non-tender situation this winter, but he’s played some strong defense in left and is finally playing at full health after cracking a rib earlier this summer. He’s now the Royals’ cleanup hitter. The fact he’s scored just seven runs while posting a .351 OBP—four of them on his own home runs—is a scathing indictment on the lower half of the Royals’ lineup

Whit Merrifield - A 99 wRC+ points to a league-average player. You need a few of those in your lineup.

Michael A. Taylor - The fWAR value comes from the glove in center. The Royals have an interesting decision to make this offseason. They can pursue Taylor to return, or as mentioned earlier, could decide to put Mondesi out in center. I would imagine Taylor remains an option for the Royals as I don’t see a team offering more than a one year deal.

Hanser Alberto - Proving himself a capable understudy.

Hunter Dozier - Nice to see a strong finish, but I’m not sold on him going forward. Too much volatility in the bat over the course of a full season. With the defensive alignments getting crowded and Dozier’s below-average glove at any position, it’s difficult to see where he fits outside of designated hitter going forward. And if he is a DH, he’s not going to do it on a full-time basis.

Adalberto Mondesi - He’s scuffled offensively since his return from his latest oblique strain. His scuffles started in Omaha during his rehab assignment. But he’s hell-bent on making up for lost time in the stolen base department. If he’s on (which hasn’t been all that often) and the base in front of him is open, he’s running.

Edward Olivares - Everyone’s favorite maligned Royal, Olivares hasn’t shown much at the major league level. Of course, part of that could be due to having to keep his car gassed up and his bag packed for the inevitable return trip along I-29.

Ryan O’Hearn - Why?

Carlos Santana - Just a total offensive collapse. Stunning given the way he started the year. And now the Royals have to hope he provides some kind of value in 2022.

Central issues

It’s over. The White Sox have officially backed their way into the AL Central title. They earn a “y” in the standings.

Congrats to Chicago.

Just for fun, let’s see how the standings stack up since the All-Star break.

I’m not a believer in momentum in baseball. Despite what Rex Hudler says, it really doesn’t exist. But the White Sox have been playing uninspired, mediocre baseball for a couple of months now. Is this because they had the division wrapped at the All-Star break with an eight-game lead over flawed competition? Perhaps. Their 298 runs scored points to a potent (for the Central) offense. They’ve maybe run into a bit of rough luck.

Up next

The Royals reshuffled their rotation after Wednesday’s rainout in Cleveland. Hey, look at the standings above! This is an AL Central showdown that could go a long way to determining the second-half division champion. If only such a thing existed.

Friday - Carlos Hernández vs Casey Mize @ 6:10 CDT

Saturday - Jon Heasley vs Tarik Skubal @ 5:10 CDT

Sunday - Kris Bubic vs Wily Peralta @ 11:10 CDT

Due to that rainout, the Royals detour back to Cleveland for a makeup game on Monday and then return home for the season’s final homestand. Their first opponent…Cleveland!