Splash Hits: Projections, prospects and postponements
With a dearth of news, it's an extended notes edition of Into The Fountains with a focus on prospecting lists and some very early projections for 2022.
The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that it is expected that Major League Baseball will announce that the start of spring training will be delayed and that it could come as early as Thursday.
The owners are currently holding their quarterly meeting in Orlando, Florida, amidst a background of questionable negotiating tactics with the MLBPA that culminated in last week’s request for a federal mediator. That request was unsurprisingly rejected by the players. Manfred himself hasn’t met with the press since announcing the lockout back on December 2. That press conference was a study in misdirection and outright lies as the commissioner sought to position the lockout as a way to get the players to negotiate with urgency. Since then, the owners took 43 days to make an initial proposal to the players and have since failed to deliver on a promised counter proposal and tried to punt the process to the aforementioned mediator. It would be fun if Manfred met with the press at the end of the meetings.
Meanwhile, reports are the owners have been drafting that counter proposal and the two sides are scheduled to meet Saturday. No rush, everyone.
Camps are scheduled to open February 16. Tick. Tock.
Whit Merrifield was on the Starkville edition of “The Athletic Baseball Show” with Doug Glanville and Jayson Stark this week. Merrifield is the Royals’ player representative with the union, and the whole episode is worth a listen, but some of the quotes transcribed at The Athletic really stood out.
In any business, if you’re doing something that generates the company more and more money, you’re going to go ask for a raise, because that’s how business works. And that’s what we’re asking. These young players are generating billions of dollars a year for baseball. And in doing so, we’re going to knock on the boss’ door asking for a raise, because that’s the way business works.
And so along with that, along with tanking, along with the CBT, along with the service-time manipulation, all of it works together. And all of it is going to help make our game better and help players be on the fair side of this business.
Merrifield makes the case of the MLBPA in a nutshell. Revenues are up, the players are responsible for that, and they’re asking for a larger share of the pie. Especially for the younger players who, as I noted earlier this week, make up a majority of the talent in the league.
Merrifield also touched on his own perspective, coming from a smaller market.
Yeah, we’re a smaller-market team. But we’ve proven in years past that we can win, and that we can spend money. And it’s hard for me because I’ve developed a relationship over the years with (team president) Dayton Moore and gotten to know (new owner) John Sherman pretty well the last couple of years. And I really do feel like their hearts are in the right place. And I can’t say the same about other organizations.
They’re baseball men. They’re in the business for the right reasons. They want to win baseball games. And that’s why Mr. Sherman came on and bought the team. And I feel like we’ve done it the right way under the current structure of the CBA. So I’m not so much discouraged by us. I’m discouraged about what I see from other teams.
None of the above is really surprising if you’ve followed the Royals for any length of time. Moore’s aversion to tanking has probably cost the Royals a few seasons during their rebuilding process. That makes him an outlier in today’s game. And it’s not surprising that Sherman, a newly-minted owner who saw this city celebrate a championship seven years ago, would want to get back to the playoffs as soon as possible.
Damn the lockout, it’s around this time of year that projection season starts to get rolling. It’s always great fun, except for the fact this year, there’s been a freeze on player movement for the last two-plus months. Still, the projections are forthcoming.
Fangraphs posted their ZiPS team win projections, along with standings for the divisions. (Just writing the previous sentence makes me realize we still don’t have any idea about how baseball plans to sort their postseason for the upcoming year. Ten teams? Fourteen? Lordy, this is a disaster.) The Royals are projected to finish with 74 wins, last place in the AL Central. Before you grab your pitchforks and descend upon the computer, the main takeaway from the Central is that it’s the White Sox’s division and then there’s everyone else. Literally. And that’s not against the grain of any kind of conventional wisdom. A total of four wins separate the Royals, Twins, Tigers and New Guardians. If you’re into political polling, four wins in 162 games has to be within the margin of error. In other words, second place is up for grabs. And the Royals are in the mix.
That means that, at least according to ZiPS, the second most successful team in the Central will be the one that catches the most positive breaks, or the one that can avoid a string of poor performance and bad luck.
Game on. Once they decide to agree to a new CBA.
Speaking of ZiPS, Dan Szymborski released his Royals team totals a few weeks ago and they contain reasons for optimism within. The best Royals’ offensive performer projects to be none other than Bobby Witt Jr. (3.0 fWAR). He’s followed by the usual suspects of Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez (2.8 fWAR) and Nicky Lopez (2.4 fWAR). That trio is ahead of Nick Pratto (2.0 fWAR) and MJ Melendez (1.9 fWAR). Adalberto Mondesi and Andrew Benintendi round out the top eight.
That, my friends, is a fun collection of bats. Nothing overwhelming at the start, but the blend of veteran hitters and youthful upside certainly gets the engines revving. Could Witt Jr. drop into the Royals’ lineup and become the best hitter from the jump? Can Pratto and Melendez find their spots and provide production in their rookie campaigns? The questions alone generate excitement. It’s been a long time coming, but the 2022 season (whenever that starts) is shaping to be the start of a promising era in Kansas City.
On the pitching side of the ZiPS ledger, it’s a little less optimistic. That’s because we have actual major league results to enter into the projection machines and those results haven’t been too hot. Brady Singer (2.1 fWAR) projects as the top starter, followed by Brad Keller (2.0 fWAR) and Mike Minor (1.9 fWAR). Yeah, that’s not what you want.
From the results I’ve seen the previous two seasons, I just can’t see how Singer could possibly be the best pitcher on this staff. It’s possible that it happens, but it’s not probable. And if it does come to pass, the rest of the arms will have woefully underperformed. The upside just isn’t as strong here.
We all know pitching is a much different beast from the bats. The development takes a little more time in most cases, and the evolution of today’s pitcher means the opportunities (and innings) are strictly limited. I’d probably lean toward Carlos Hernández as the de facto young ace of the staff for this next year with Daniel Lynch close behind. The one thing that is certain is the Royals have inventory. Their stable of prospects remained relatively healthy as they progressed through the organization so the club has options to mix and match within the rotation and the bullpen. The challenge will be finding the correct roles for everyone going forward. And having those young pitchers realize their potential.
With most of the Top 100 prospect lists now released, the prospect hounds have turned their attention to the organizational rankings. Baseball Prospectus has the Royals minor league system ranked as 11th-best.
The Royals added a large and intriguing prep class in this year’s draft with the bonus savings from taking Frank Mozzicato at pick seven. That’s going to take a fair bit of time to play out, but in the meantime, they have impact bats at the top of their system ready for the bigs. I do worry about how much their top pitching prospects have stagnated in recent years, though.
Fair enough, but…Bobby Witt Jr.!
Baseball America is a bit more bullish on how the Royals farm system compares to their peers. They check in at number five, the first time they’ve charted that high since they were at number three in 2012. You will recall that was just one year removed from being the best farm system in the history of everything.
Bobby Witt Jr. is the clear headliner in the Royals’ farm system, but the bounceback seasons by M.J. Melendez and Nick Pratto in 2021, plus the emergence of prospects like Vinnie Pasquantino, give the Royals a more well-rounded system than they had a year or two ago.
No mention from them about the pitching. Which is probably just as well.
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Jeremy Giambi on Wednesday. Giambi was drafted by the Royals in the sixth round of the 1996 draft out of Cal State-Fullerton and made his debut two years later. He appeared in 108 games for Kansas City and hit .275/.368/.373. He was part of the group of guys like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney who were all in their mid-20s, along with Carlos Beltran at 22, who I thought would form a potent offensive nucleus for the Royals. It wasn’t to be.
Giambi moved to Oakland following the ’99 season when the Royals traded him for Brett Laxton. It was with the A’s where Jeremy played with his older brother, Jason. Yep, the Moneyball A’s.
Condolences to his family and friends.
A lot of random notes today. Thanks for making it to the end and thanks for subscribing. The season is going to start soon and coverage will pick back up once there’s actual news.
The Salvador Perez home run countdown will resume tomorrow.