We have (finally) made it through the first half of Royals baseball and the most important thing is – we survived. The Royals started the season much like they did in 2018, with a poor bullpen contributing to them dropping 20 of their first 29 games in a hole they would not be able to dig out from. But let’s forget about the record for a second.
Although the Royals have been worse as a team than they were in 2018, there was a turnaround towards the end of the season. Once all of the youngsters got called up, the Royals won 20 out of their final 34 games and began to play respectable baseball. Could we see that same kind of second-half run from the Royals this year? Here are some things that you may want to observe closely during the second half of the season.
Is Hunter Dozier the real deal?
Going into this season there was some doubt as to whether Hunter Dozier would be on the roster much longer. He had a disappointing 2018 season and at age 27, it looked like the beginning of the end for his career. But Dozier rejuvenated his career with a terrific start, ranking among the best hitters in baseball by hitting .297/.380/.574 with 13 home runs in 58 games.
There are many players that come out of nowhere only to fade away months later. But Dozier’s performance looks sustainable enough to keep him from being a one-season wonder. He has always displayed great plate discipline and currently ranks among the top hitters in exit velocity and hard-hit contact rate. If he can continue to be an All-Star caliber player for the Royals, he gives them another cornerstone to build around for the future. What once looked like a player destined to be placed on waivers 12 months ago is now one of the better third basemen in all of baseball. Royals fans should be proud of what he has accomplished this year.
Can Adalberto Mondesi withstand a full MLB season?
Much of the Royas’ future relies heavily on the 23 year-old shortstop from Los Angeles. So far, he has impressed, slashing .260/.302/.441 to go along with a league-high 27 stolen bases. Mondesi has shown that he could be a building block during this rebuild, but the way his body is built has caused concern that he may not be able to withstand a full season in the MLB. He has been a bit injury prone the last few years, missing the start of last season with a shoulder injury, and recently landing on the injured list with a groin injury. The latter shouldn’t be as alarming as it should give him a break from the action and allow him to return when he is ready.
When will Bubba Starling get called up?
This is a question that I feel like gets asked way too often. For years now, many Royals fans have been eagerly waiting for Bubba Starling to be brought up into the big leagues as he continues to excel in Omaha. This year has been no different, with Starling hitting .310/.359/.434 in 63 games as well as being named a Pacific Coast League All-Star earlier this week.
The talent that Starling possesses is not the issue, its how the Royals can work him into the big leagues. The Royals would love to trade current centerfielder Billy Hamilton away but because Billy Hamilton is putting up some of the worst offensive numbers of his career, it is highly unlikely that any team would want to make a move for him. As the Reds couldn’t find a suitor for him when he played there, the Royals may have to do it the hard way and cut him. We need Bubba to play sometime this season and who knows how it will happen.
The trade deadline
Baseball will have just one trade deadline this year – July 31 – which will put the pressure on teams to improve their teams a bit earlier than in the past when teams could still make waiver trades in August. The Royals biggest trade asset is Whit Merrifield, who is once again having another terrific season while playing multiple positions. He could be an asset on a contender for many years to come as he is under team control through the 2023 season as well as being very versatile and being able to be a consistent leadoff hitter. However, Royals General Manager Dayton Moore does not believe that Whit will get traded anytime soon. In order to move him, the “ask would be crazy.”
Even if the Royals keep Merrifield, there are still other players who need to go. Reliever Jake Diekman has pitched relatively well and there is always a market for lefty-relievers with good velocity. Martín Maldonado hasn’t hit much, but his ability to frame pitches and play defense should be a nice fit on a National League team. Ian Kennedy could be another piece as his transition into a relief pitcher has been smooth so far. Alex Gordon has 10-5 rights, which would allow him to veto any trade, but perhaps he would be open to one more run at a championship in the right situation. Heck, Homer Bailey may draw some interest as both the Reds and Dodgers are paying his salary and he has pitched relatively well this season. If the Royals can get some nice prospects for any of the players mentioned, this could only help accelerate this painfully long rebuild.
When will Bobby Witt Jr. make his debut?
The 19-year old is currently in Arizona working out at Royals facilities and will likely see some action in the Arizona Summer League before he gets assigned to their rookie-level club in the Appalachian League, the Burlington Royals. There, Witt will be beginning his road to the show and hopefully start the beginning of a great career.
The expectations will be high for the Gatorade High School Player of the Year, but fans need to be patient. Many high school players take a lot of time to get adjusted to the big leagues which could lead to a lot of struggles for Witt early on. Still, you have to hope that the coaches down there know what they’re doing and will hopefully help develop Witt into a major league shortstop.
Overall, the next 81 games should be somewhat exciting for Royals fans. If you only care about the teams record, then come back in Opening Day 2020 for when this team will be progressively younger. However, if you don’t care as much about the record and just want to see exciting baseball at the K, then the second half of the season may fulfill that. Nicky Lopez has been called up already and Starling shouldn’t be far behind him. Richard Lovelady, Jake Newberry, Staumont, and Zimmer should find themselves in the bullpen sometime in the near future. It could be possible to see outfielder Khalil Lee and pitcher Brady Singer get the call in September if enough veterans are gone at the deadline.
What are you going to look at closely in the second half of the season?