The Kansas City Royals’ Roster Preview continues, this time with first base. You can read our previous previews below:
First base, much like at catcher, is a solid organizational position for the boys in blue. The major difference? First base doesn’t carry the proven upside already available at the major league level. The results last year weren’t great. On the season, the Royals’ first basemen combined for a batting line of .222/.317/.347. The position hit just 18 home runs and 37 total extra-base hits. All major batting categories ranked near the very bottom of the league. The Royals will look for stronger production from the position in 2022.
Here are the major contributors entering 2022:
Santana, the Royals’ incumbent first baseman, will look to bounce back after a very up and down 2021 season. 2021 was truly a tale of two seasons for Santana. In the first half last season, Santana posted a .368 on-base percentage and hit 15 home runs. He looked every bit the player the Royals were hoping for after signing him to a two-year contract. Over the second half, his on-base percentage dipped to .254 with only four home runs. He struggled with injury and wasn’t the same player at the plate. The Royals and Santana alike are hoping for a resurgent 2022 with the same version of Carlos that we saw in the first half of last year.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 128 G, .231/.336/.374, 16 HR, 95 wRC+
The 28-year old Ryan O’Hearn once seemed a non-tender candidate for the Royals this offseason. Instead, he will return to the Royals for another season after the team avoided arbitration and agreed on a $1.3 million contract for the 2022 season. In 2018, O’Hearn burst onto the MLB scene, posting a 153 wRC+ and slugging .597 in his first 44 career games. The results since have been much worse. Worth -2.3 WAR for his career, O’Hearn has posted a combined batting line of just .205/.280/.358 over the course of the previous 3 seasons. The Royals’ commitment to O’Hearn is highly curious. ZIPS projects a bit of a bounce-back next season, but not enough to truly turn the needle on his value. He figures to spend some time at both 1B and RF if he does indeed stick on the major league roster this season as a depth piece.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 118 G, .228/.296/.413, 16 HR, 89 wRC+
It’s been quite some time since Hunter Dozier was drafted 8th overall by the Royals in 2013. He has had quite the journey through the minor leagues before ultimately sticking on the Royals roster in 2018. He burst onto the scene in 2019 with a 123 wRC+, good for 2.9 WAR. Dozier looked to have found a true resurgence at the plate hitting for contact, getting on base at a strong pace (.348), and hitting for above-average power (26 home runs). 2020 saw Dozier’s power disappear. He slugged nearly 150 points lower, but his walk rate increased north of 14% and allowed him to remain valuable at the plate. 2021 was much worse. Dozier saw the walks decline, the power never returned, and he struck out nearly 30% of the time, the highest mark of his short major league career. Much like O’Hearn, Dozier will split time between 1B and RF in 2022 and hope to bounce back to his 2018 form.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 138 G, .238/.307/.437, 20 HR, 100 wRC+
It’s not too often that the best candidate for regular playing time on the roster is a player with zero career major league at-bats. That’s quite possibly the case for Kansas City. Nick Pratto was drafted 14th overall by the Royals in the 2017 MLB Draft. The draft pick ushered in a new future for the Royals, one that would eventually see World Series hero Eric Hosmer depart in free agency later that season. Pratto performed well in 2018 for Low-A Lexington, posting a .786 OPS. 2019, however, was much different. Pratto fell off every prospect radar after he hit just .191 with a .588 OPS and 164 strikeouts over 124 games at High-A Wilmington.
Pratto burst back onto the scene in 2021, a full year removed from his 2019 woes thanks to a lost COVID season in 2020. Between AA and AAA in 2021 Pratto posted a .385 on-base percentage and an other-worldly .602 slugging percentage. Pratto boasts a 70-grade glove at first base, walks often, and hits for outstanding power. Strikeouts are a concern; Pratto struck out 157 times last season but his walks (83) should help alleviate concern. The Royals will look to give Pratto every chance in Kansas City, if not on Opening Day this season, very soon thereafter.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 127 G, .249/.325/.468, 24 HR, 112 wRC+
The Royals’ lack of depth past the aforementioned Carlos Santana and Nick Pratto may be the reason for the Royals’ continued commitment to Ryan O’Hearn. Pratto and fellow top prospect Vinnie Pasquantino form an excellent duo of the future for Kansas City at first base. Pasquantino, an 11th round selection in 2019, had perhaps the best season of any Royals prospect in 2021. At the very least, he increased his stock more than any other player in the Royals’ system.
Pasquantino appeared in 116 games between High-A and AA last season. He hit .300/.394/.563 with 24 home runs. Perhaps most notably, Pasquantino his 64 extra-base hits, walked 64 times and struck out just 64 times. Kansas City will likely start their young phenom’s season in AA this season, where he could move to AAA very quickly with continued strong performance.
Behind Pratto and Pasquantino, the Royals’ prospect depth takes a deep dive. 28-year old Gavin Stupenski and undrafted free agent Saul Garza round out the remainder of the Royals’ first base depth. The Royals will certainly look to backfill the position in future drafts but even still, with top talent like Pratto and Pasquantino on the rise, Kansas City is set for quite some time.