In Dayton Moore’s book More Than a Season, he references what he calls “The Process”. This of course is the process of which to build a successful franchise. He talks about how he learned the process from his time in Atlanta and they were able to achieve major success there for quite a long time. They are a bigger budget team than we are in Kansas City, but still not Yankee or Boston level budget either. So some of their process made sense to bring here. The big thing was the understanding that the only real way to build a strong successful team for more than season is not thru free agency, but rather thru your minor leagues. You have to build and develop your farm system to be one of the best. Essentially the idea is that you continually have a supply of young talented players coming up to replace the talented players you have to let go because you can no longer afford them. The Kansas City Star Columnist Sam Mellinger has called our current rebuild The Process 2.0 and it is accurate. Now you could call what the Royals do “Money ball”, and you would be wrong, but also kind of right. It is a variation on the idea that was “Money Ball”.
“Money ball” was all about pursing players who excel at getting on base. On base Percentage in the days of those Athletics was a stat that was often overlooked. Billy Beane found something that was an over looked talent and made it into a winning strategy by getting that talent cheap. Essentially, when the rest of the league zigs, you try to zag. You are able to acquire players in the free agency cheaper because their talents are not as coveted by other teams. You are able to draft the players you want easier because they are not as pursued by the other teams. From a strategy stand point it makes a lot of sense. But the Royals never really put their attention to On-base percentage like the A’s did. By the time the Royals joined the money ball practice, On-base Percentage was now a highly coveted skill that every team was pursing which left the Royals in a pickle. They had to find another way to zag from what the rest of the league was doing. The Royals knew that they had one of the largest ballparks in baseball, and that there was one skill more than anything that played well in big ballparks, speed.
With Major League Baseball and the rest of the league really focusing on Home Runs, speed was the new overlooked talent. This is what ultimately led the Royals to the 2014 and 2015 teams we all know and love. The problem is we lost so much talent in trades and some bad drafts that our farm system is now depleted and ranked towards the bottom of the league. Luckily speed is still an over looked asset and we have been able to make some moves in the free agency and should still be able to make some moves in the draft to rebuild. We are now the fastest team in baseball with 4 players on the team capable of stealing 40+ bases this year. With speed often comes defense and we should again have a strong defensive team. What the Royals need now are two things, base runners and people to knock them in. In 2014-2015 the Royals were fast and had defense, but they still managed decent On-base percentages because of high batting averages. We finished dead last in walks both years. Walks are less likely to happen in large ballparks because pitchers are less afraid of the Homerun and tend to come after hitters more aggressively. So we had to have high batting averages to get runners on base to have the kind of success we saw. We are not seeing that with this team. Only Merrifield has had a batting average on this team anywhere close to .300. So the stolen bases will be great for when we do get runners on, but they just are not going to get on base enough is the problem. We also are not going to knock them in often enough with the low averages and the low RBI totals that most of the players have had on this team. So how do we get better?
Ways to Improve
On-Base percentage needs to become a higher priority for this team in the draft and in the farm system. If we can not compete in free agency for players who can get on base, than we need to look at making them homegrown. Royal’s baseball is about Speed and Defense 100%, but the one thing that often got overlooked was the fact we were an aggressive hitting team and a high level directional contact hitting team. We were a very good team at advancing runners with directional hitting and sacrifice’s. We knew we had to create opportunities, because homeruns would be the exception and not the rule for our team. So our formula for winning baseball is getting close, to what we need it to be, but we have a few key ingredients to find still. Our Bullpen is getting better, but still is not near the elite unit it once was. Our starting pitching is decent and seems primed to get better over the next couple seasons. The real question boils down to our offense. Can we find the same level of contact hitting positional players? The next draft will hold the answer.
Building Through the Draft
The next draft will be the crucial one to answer this question. Problem is all the experts say this draft class isn’t exceptionally deep. All signs point to the Royals taking a positional player with their 2nd pick in the draft and there seems to be two picks that at this time seems to be the clear top two. Of course it is still early and things could change over the course of the college season. Oregon’s catcher Adley Rutschman seems the consensus number 1 pick for the Orioles this season leaving 18 year old Short Stop out of Texas Bobby Witt Jr. who is committed to Oklahoma as the number 2 pick to the Royals. This kid has the whole package and is projected to be a 20/20 hitter (20 homeruns, 20 stolen bases) in the big leagues. He is strong defensively with great arm and pretty good speed. The Royals have had some success drafting kids out of high school, like Moustakas and Hosmer. The one hiccup that there seems to be with this kid is that he strikes out more than he should. Experts say he is a very aggressive hitter, which the Royals seem to covet as an asset, but they like high contact hitting, not strikeouts. Scouts seem to think that with some adjustments to his aggressive style he could improve in his contact hitting thus bringing him more in-line with what the Royals are looking for. The Royals really don’t need a catcher as they have one of the highest rated catching prospects already in their farm system. They also don’t really need a short stop with Mondesi currently in the big leagues and projected for a breakout season. But there is one great thing about Short Stops, and that is they are fantastic athletes. With time and some coaching they can play anywhere on the field. The Royals could possibly see Witt as a new 3rd baseman and they could move Dozier to first. The Royals like playing Dozier at first for his glove, but they have a need for that glove at third right now. The Royals like O’Hearn’s power bat in the lineup, but his defense is seen as more of a liability on a defensive minded team. So as Witt would move up the ranks O’Hearn would likely move to DH. Of course the Orioles could throw a wrench in the whole thing and take Witt since they just signed his uncle as an assistant coach.
With the Royals not needing a catcher they may shake up the whole draft and go with two other high prospects in rising star out of Missouri Outfielder Kam Misner or Cal First baseman Andrew Vaughn. Andrew Vaughn being a short right hander is unlikely to play first base in the majors, but his bat is by far the best in the draft. He doesn’t strike out, can hit for contact and has incredible power for his size. He is likely going to move to 3rd base or outfield by the time he moves up the ranks thus still making the Royals move Dozier to first. The Royals have options in the outfield for the future with left and right open for future players. Alex Gordon is likely retiring at the end of this year and Soler will likely be traded or let go due to his inability to stay healthy a whole season when playing in the field on a regular basis. Seuly Matias who is projected to make his debut by 2022 could be an option to replace Soler in right field and bring another power bat to the lineup. The Royals may decide to give Bubba Starling his chance to earn a spot in left field to replace Gordon next year. However, if they don’t like what they see in Starling and they feel like they like Dozier at third, they may decide to draft Kam Misner who plays first and outfield. Misner is another great hitter who has exceptional power and good contact hitting ability. He could be a massive bat for the Royals lineup with his 6’4” frame hitting from the left. Misner was drafted by the Royals once before in 2016, but opted out and decided to play college ball for Missouri instead. This could prove to be another opportunity to get the kid they liked in 2016. They Royals have the luxury of having 3 strong picks to choose from with their second pick. If we are to truly be contenders for another World Series run in 2022-2023 like I previously predicted, we will need this pick to be a big success. The whole Dayton Moore process will likely come down to this pick in June. No pressure Dayton!