We’ve reached the eighth installment of our Kansas City Royals Spring Preview. Previous positional previews are below:
The Royals have some options at the corner outfield spot this season but will hope for consistency. The last time the Kansas City Royals had the same full-time Right Fielder two seasons in a row was when Jorge Bonifacio manned the position in 2017 and 2018. The curse of Jermaine Dye? Not since Dye has a Royals’ right fielder held the position for more than 2 consecutive seasons. This isn’t to say the Royals haven’t had solid contributors at the position, but rather, just a lack of long-term stability. That stability could be on the horizon for Kansas City. Here are the key contributors entering 2022:
Long-time super-utility man Whit Merrifield becomes the Royals’ full-time right fielder in 2022. “Two-Hit Whit” voiced his desire this offseason to play one primary position to reduce the stress on his body. With Nicky Lopez moving to second base, that means Whit slides to the outfield grass. Merrifield has been an outstanding player for his entire tenure in Kansas City. Since he entered the league in 2016, Merrifield ranks eight in baseball with 909 hits. He’s led the league in hits twice, doubles once, triples once, and stolen bases three times. His 159 stolen bases since entering the league rank fifth. Whit Merrifield is the definition of a baseball player. He’s an outstanding hitter at the plate, plays hard every day, and serves as an excellent leader in the clubhouse. The Kansas City Royals didn’t trade him because he means more to the team than any trade could return.
2022 ZIPS Projections : 155 G, .284/.327/.410, 11 HR, 99 wRC+
Kyle Isbel, the Royals’ 7th ranked prospect, is making a strong case to make the team (again) this spring. Isbel was drafted in the 3rd round of the pitcher heavy 2018 MLB Draft. His counterparts on the mound have shrunk the hype somewhat, but it’s not remotely due to his play on the field. He plays exceptionally in the field, with a 55-grade arm, 55-grade field tool, and 60-grade speed. At the plate, Isbel can hit at an above-average level with league-average power. He’s shown an increase in power already this spring with a 1.210 OPS and 3 home runs.
Last season in 28 games for the Royals, Isbel hit /276/.337/.434. Isbel broke Spring Training with the Royals last season. He made it 12 games into the season before he was sent down to Triple-A Omaha. Isbel remained in Triple-A from April 22 through September 11th, ultimately earning a second look in September last season. In his second stint in the majors last season, he hit .286/.362/.524. The Royals will look to give the young prospect a longer look this season, possibly giving them a long-term option at the position once Merrifield’s time in Kansas City is up.
2022 ZIPS Projections : 120 G, .247/.308/.398, 12 HR, 91 wRC+
Edward Olivares has been on a tear this spring. He will likely earn Cactus League MVP. Through 23 at-bats this spring, he’s currently hitting .609 with a .1861 OPS and 3 home runs. Wow. The Royals acquired Edward Olivares and reliever Dylan Coleman from the Padres in the Trevor Rosenthal trade. Despite a dozen trips between Triple-A and the Majors last season, Olivares shined at times and showed he deserves a long-term look in the big leagues.
“Olly” posted just a .697 OPS in 39 games at the Majors last season. In 67 games at Triple-A, he scorched the ball, hitting .313/.397/.559. The defense is suspect and won’t play in the cavernous Kauffman Stadium center field. He’s a major league right fielder with plus potential at the plate and average potential in the field. The Royals value glove-work all over the diamond, so Olivares will have to continue to hit if he wants to stick in Kansas City.
2022 ZIPS Projections : 119 G, .259/.313/.410, 14 HR, 95 wRC+
Hunter Dozier, the former first-round pick by the Royals in 2013, should get a fair amount of work in Right Field this season. I don’t expect it to be often, as the Royals have a strong amount of depth already with the trio of Whit, Isbel, and Olivares. Last season, Dozier played 454 innings in right field, the most of any position on the diamond. He played 60 games in right and just 11 at DH. It’s a huge question mark with Dozier. He burst onto the scene in 2019, followed by another good season in 2020 that led to a four-year, $25 million contract extension prior to the 2021 season. 2021 was nothing short of terrible for Dozier. There’s no clear position for him but the Royals seem set on giving Dozier another look in 2022. ZIPS projects him to be the best hitter out of this bunch as well.
2022 ZIPS Projections : 138 G, .238/.307/.437, 20 HR, 100 wRC+
The final piece to the right-field puzzle this spring is Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn, perhaps even more so than Hunter Dozier, just seems like an odd-man-out without a position. He played the most innings in right field last season, with 167. He played 117 innings at first base. Whit Merrifield and the rest of the “Right Field Quartet” all project as better hitters than O’Hearn. They are likely all better fielders as well. It feels like the final landing spot for O’Hearn will be a bench depth piece that fills right-field and first base until Nick Pratto can come up and fill the same role. O’Hearn has had an impressive spring, but it’s tough to see a path to regular at-bats for the 28-year old slugger.
2022 ZIPS Projections : 118 G, .228/.296/.413, 16 HR, 89 wRC+
Organizational Depth For Kansas City Royals
Brewer Hicklen, a 7th round pick from 2017, has had a tumultuous journey throughout the minor leagues so far. Hicklen hit the ground running after he was drafted, posting a .321/.409/.532 batting line in his first professional season. He struggled mightily at High-A Wilmington in 2018, hitting just .211. Since then, he’s rebounded nicely. He gets on base consistently and brings good power to the plate. At 26-years old, he should get the call-up soon should the opportunity arise.
Seuly Matias can straight up destroy the baseball. He might boast the most pure power in the entire system. He plays strong defensively and has a cannon for an arm, but just hasn’t been able to control the strikeouts. He’s still just 23 and could put it together with another full season in the minors.
Tyler Gentry reached High-A last season after being drafted in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft. He should get the chance to start this season at AA Northwest Arkansas. Gentry is an intriguing name that posted a 1.304 OPS in his final season at Alabama. He gets on base, hits for average, and hits for good power. Last season in the High-A Central league he posted a 15.6% walk rate (.395 OBP) but struck out 29% of the time.
Juan Carlos Negret was one of the 12 Braves prospects who hit free agency in 2017 following the franchise’s international signing violations. The Royals signed him to a contract before the 2018 season. He’s still just 22 but can’t seem to shake the strikeouts. He posted a 36% strikeout rate in both 2019 and 2021. The interesting development in 2021 was his increased walk rate. It jumped to 13% (up from 5% in 2018 and 2019). Oh, he also hit 23 home runs last season in just 100 games at Low-A Columbia.