As we dive back into the season, it’s once again time for us to start picking the brains of those who know our opponents the best.
Usual by this time of year the Tigers would have played about ten games against the Kansas City Royals as the two teams competed to stay off the bottom of the AL Central (at least if the past two seasons have been any indication).
But with a new shortened season, the small sample size skews in anyone’s favor, and it’s really hard to know which teams are going to come out on top. It could be a chance for an underdog winner to emerge.
We chatted with Max Rieper, managing editor of our Royals sister site Royals Review, about what he’s liking so far in this season, and how some early bullpen adjustments might prove helpful for the Royals in 2020.
Weird year so far. Obviously we’re only three games into the season, but what do you see as the biggest challenges for the Royals in this adjusted year?
The bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball over the last two seasons, but there are some signs of improvement. They brought in veteran closers Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, both of whom have struggled since Tommy John surgery, but so far they have looked great in camp and in their first outing. They have a few hard-throwing youngsters that could be a plus out of the pen like Tyler Zuber, Kyle Zimmer, and Josh Staumont. With the suspended spring training and a short season, pitching depth will be an issue for all teams, so the Royals will have to be creative.
Which taxi squad players are you most excited to see brought up?
With 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer having an impressive debut on Saturday, Royals fans are looking to see what other pitching prospects from that draft class could follow him soon. Jackson Kowar, Singer’s teammate at the University of Florida, is one of the top pitching prospects in the system and a guy that some feel might have higher upside. Daniel Lynch has been touted as the top prospect in the system by Keith Law as a hard-throwing lefty, although they may take their time on him after he had some arm soreness last year. Asa Lacy, their top pick in the 2020 draft, was not included on the 60-man club pool, but it is not unreasonable to think he could be added later and perhaps get in some innings.
Do you think the newly changed schedule helps or hurts the team?
Having 60 games gives a team like the Royals a better chance of having something to play for, if only because of the randomness that will be more at play. Even if the Royals aren’t really contending, I think there is some benefit for the younger players in having a short season where the club isn’t 30 games back in the standings in August. Seeing how these players compete will be a good way to evaluate them.
Who has surprised you the most so far, 3 games in?
The bullpen as a whole has surprised me a bit since it was so bad last year. I didn’t have many expectations for Rosenthal or Holland, but both have looked pretty sharp with the kind of velocity we’re used to seeing out of them and some decent command. Tyler Zuber is a name that got some buzz in camp, and he looked very impressive in his MLB debut over the weekend, providing two shutout innings with some good life to his fastball. The bullpen is where the Royals have the most room for improvement, so if it can be at least a decent pen, the Royals could be much improved.
Did the Royals make any offseason moves that seem to be working out for them?
The pickups of Rosenthal and Holland were low-cost minor league deals that could be pretty rewarding, particularly if they find interest at the trade deadline. The Royals made the first significant deal after the hiatus, acquiring Ronald Bolaños and Franchy Cordero from the Padres for Tim Hill. Bolaños had mixed results in a short two-inning start on Sunday, but shows some good potential as either a starter or reliever. Cordero has had loud tools for awhile, but has had trouble staying healthy and will need some development. With Hunter Dozier out, Cordero has an opportunity to show what he can do.
How do you think the team can get themselves into the postseason, since it’s really anyone’s season.
To reach the post-season the Royals will probably need Brady Singer to be a serious Rookie of the Year candidate, the bullpen to be much improved, and hitters like Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler not to regress much. The lineup gets overlooked because they do have some really talented hitters, but it papers over some major holes in the lineup. Salvador Perez returns this year after missing last year with an elbow injury, but his offensive numbers have been slightly declining the last few years. First base is still a big question mark after Ryan O’Hearn had a disappointing sophomore season in 2019. Nicky Lopez really struggles in his rookie season, although he bulked up in the off-season. Maikel Franco has power but is an otherwise flawed player. Alex Gordon is in the twilight of his career. They’ll probably need a few surprising seasons from those hitters to make a surprise post-season run.
Which Tigers player do you think poses the biggest risk for the Royals, and why is it C.J. Cron?
Cron does destroy the Royals with a career line of .302/.357/.952 and 9 home runs in 35 games! Other than that, maybe Cecil Fielder? Do the Tigers still have Lance Parrish?
Thanks so much to Max for taking the time to chat with us ahead of the coming four-game series. You can read more of Max’s work over at Royals Review.