This is likely to be the last year where we have to see our divisional rivals 19 times a season, with the 2023 season promising to see more diversity in match-ups with every team facing each other at least once every year.
Still 2022 is a classic year where we’ll be seeing a lot of our four divisional rivals, so we figured for the first clash between the Royals and Tigers we would see how the offseason treated their team, how former Tiger JaCoby Jones fared in spring training, and where the Royals seem poised to end the season.
We chatted with Max Rieper, the managing editor of our sister site Royals Review, for his expert opinion on all things Royals for this year and what the Tigers can expect in this coming series.
BYB: The Royals picked up former Tiger JaCoby Jones over the offseason but he didn’t make the 40-man roster. How did things fare for him in spring training and do you think he has a major league future at any point with the team? (PS, his mom is wonderful)
RR: He was pretty underwhelming in spring training, but hit a monster 460-foot home run in his first game for Triple-A Omaha. I think the club sees him as depth as a regular Triple-A outfielder, but he could see some time in the big leagues if they feel like they want to get younger guys like Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel more regular playing time in Triple-A. The Royals have a pretty regular outfielder of Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, and Whit Merrifield, so playing time will be hard to get for any other outfielders until there is an injury.
BYB: Things look pretty evenly balanced in the AL Central this year, so where do you see the Royals finishing the year and who do you think will be their toughest competition?
RR: I think this club is still a year away. They need the young pitchers to take a step forward and the young hitters like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez to make their debuts. So I think the Royals can improve a lot towards being a contender, even if it is not reflected in the standings. If everything breaks their way they could be a .500 team, but I have them more like a 75-win team that we can hopefully look back at with some encouraging progress.
BYB: Coming out of spring training, which players are you most excited for this season?
RR: Bobby Witt Jr. is the player all Royals fans are focused on. He was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year and anointed the top prospect by MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus. He’s a five-tool player that could have superstar potential with terrific power, speed, and defense. He has passed every test so far, destroying the upper minors and faring well in spring training. He got a game-winning double on Opening Day, but has struggled in the few games since, but has still made a difference with his defense at third. Royals fans are also eagerly anticipating the debuts of catcher MJ Melendez - who led all minor leaguers with 41 home runs - and first baseman Nick Pratto - who has three home runs already this year. Both should be up by July, but it will be interesting to see how the Royals work Melendez in the lineup with Salvador Perez blocking him there. Melendez will play some third and outfield this season, so we’ll have to see how well he can make that transition.
BYB: Obviously small sample size, but who has surprised you the most, for better or worse, in these opening games?
RR: The Royals have hung their hat on a young crop of pitchers all 25 or younger - Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernández, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch. They had mixed results last year but have all gotten off to pretty disastrous starts this year. You expected some pitching prospects to fail but the Royals will need at least 1 or 2 to become solid MLB pitchers.
BYB: Bold prediction: which Royals players will be representing the team at the 2022 All-Star Game?
RR: Salvador Perez seems like a good bet. I can see them maybe getting a second player in, maybe an Andrew Benintendi if the outfield crop is thin, or maybe even Bobby Witt Jr. if his bat gets going. Scott Barlow has also been a very strong reliever that is due for some recognition.
BYB: Which player on the Tigers roster worries you most for this upcoming series?
RR: Austin Meadows was a guy a lot of our readers wanted in the 2013 draft, but the Royals passed on him to take Hunter Dozier, with Meadows going one pick later. He has only played 5 games against the Royals, but with two home runs and a .389 average. I really liked that trade for the Tigers, and wish the Royals would make more deals like that. Robbie Grossman has always hit well against us, and we should probably expect some fireworks from Javier Báez when he faces Amir Garrett, as the two have had a spat dating back to last summer when Javy was with the Cubs and Amir was with the Reds.
Many thanks to Max for taking the time to chat with us. You can read more of his work at Royals Review.