The Royals have one of the weakest rosters in baseball. After winning 59 games last season, they did nothing to try to improve their team. I honestly do not blame them though. They need to completely revamp their pitching staff as they have no legitimate top of the rotation starter on their roster (or any viable fantasy pitcher) and they have a pedestrian lineup at best. This will be a slow rebuilding process for the club. They do have some bright spots/draft worthy players in the lineup with 2B/OF Whit Merrifield, SS Adalberto Mondesi, AL Home Run Champion OF Jorge Soler, 1B/3B Hunter Dozier, and C Salvador Perez. Outside of these five players, their roster consists of placeholders like 1B Ryan O’Hearn, SP Danny Duffy, and once highly touted prospect 2B Nicky Lopez, none of whom are draft worthy unless you are in a deep mixed league. As a team, they were amongst the worst in the league in almost every statistical category and I do not expect them to be any better this upcoming season.
Usually, after breaking down all the viable fantasy options for this season, I would end with a Breakout, Bust, and MVP segment, but just like in my Orioles edition, I will refrain from doing that in this Team Preview. From potentially overachieving (Soler) to being underwhelming (Mondesi) to being overrated (Merrifield), there are evident question marks for all of the Royals in fantasy this season. Nonetheless, there are still 5 players that are being drafted (more so over-drafted) in fantasy drafts, all of whom are positional players.
Adalberto Mondesi (ADP 45): Mondesi’s draft position is strictly based on his potential/hype and 2018 season. Unless there are significant strides in his launch angle and ability to create harder contact, I am fairly confident that we know who Mondesi will be for at least this season. With his launch angle (9.6 degrees), he is simply more prone to hitting ground balls (47%). He is not a good hitter and his speed blinds most fantasy players of this fact. He has a very high BABIP (.357), which is due to his tendency to hit ground balls and speed but will still only provide for a mediocre .265-.270 BA. I can live with that batting average, but Mondesi does not walk either (4.1% in his career), which will equate to less on-base production and he strikes out at an enormous clip (29%). As for Mondesi’s power, that is the main question about his game that will make or break his total output. I am inclined to believe that his 19.8% HR/FB in 2018 was more of a fluke than what will be the norm. He just doesn’t provide for consistent hard contact or barreled balls and in combination with his average launch angle, all signs point to 15 HR and a .170ish ISO over a full season. I know those high SB numbers and Mondesi’s potential/previous hype have a certain appeal, but I believe that Mondesi is nowhere deserving of a top 50 selection and his projections agree with that sentiment.
ZiPS Projections: .249/.286/.423 with 14HR/63 RBI/62 R/42 SB and a .296 wOBA (Do NOT draft him this high in loaded SS class!!!)
Whit Merrifield (ADP 49): If Mondesi was a good hitter, then he would post similar production to Merrifield, but he is not, yet he is being drafted below Mondesi? It makes little sense to me, especially in a loaded SS class. The 2B/OF Merrifield can definitely hold his own in mixed league 5×5 leagues. I have mixed feelings about him as an overall hitter with his below-average hard-hit contact rates and incredibly low barreled ball rates. However, we are not actual GM’s, we are fantasy GM’s and Merrifield is a versatile fantasy contributor with the amount of PA that he is expected to receive. That being said, a tremendous amount of his value comes in the form in health as he is second to only Francisco Lindor in PA the last 3 seasons as he is averaging over 700 PA/year. I have no reason to believe that that will not continue but it is definitely something that should be taken into consideration as most of his fantasy value comes in the form of on-base production (runs, stolen base, average). Also keep in mind, even with the amount of time he played last year, he only had 20 SB (55% decrease from the year before). I personally am not going to be drafting Merrifield this high, but his sheer number of plate appearances will give you a very productive all-around fantasy contributor.
ZiPS Projection: .287/.334/.433 with 14 HR/64 RBI/88 R/24 SB and a .324 wOBA
Jorge Soler (ADP 84): Honestly, I don’t know what to make of Soler. He made absolutely huge strides last season that came out of nowhere. I highly doubt that Theo Epstein saw this coming either. No one expected Soler to be the AL Home Run Champion with 48 Home Runs when his career-high to that point was 12 HR. Obviously staying healthy and getting playing time was critical, but this was unforeseen. He has always had the ability to produce with his power and launch angle, but last season he was hitting barreled balls as he had never done before. He had the most barreled balls in the entire league last year (70). That contributed to being in the top 5% in the league in xSLG, Exit Velocity, xwOBA, and xwOBACON. As for this year, you can see there is some trepidation by drafters considering his ADP of 84. There is the unknown of whether Soler can have that repeat performance and I do not blame them. He had a career year that will be hard to top, but it seems as if Soler made significant strides in his approach and mechanics that suggest that it was not a fluke. The numbers he posted last year are easily worthy of a top 40 selection. I am not advising to select him in the top 40 (even though I am more bullish on him than most), but if he falls to you in the sixth round or later, then you should be ecstatic. He is worth the risk especially with players like Tommy Pham and Victor Robles being drafted in front of him. That should not be happening. Get on the Soler bandwagon.
ZiPS Projections: .256/.351/.504 with 33 HR/81 RBI/73 R and a .359 wOBA
Salvador Perez (ADP 167): And he is back. After missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery, the 8-year pro and one of the faces of the Royals franchise will be back behind the plate for them this season. Catcher is always one of the toughest positions to know where to draft especially if you miss out on the top tier of catchers. That is really no different this season as there are 6 premiere catchers (Gary Sanchez, Mitch Garver, Yasmani Grandal, Will Smith, Willson Contreras, and JT Realmuto). However, there are three late middle-round catchers that I am targeting that will provide for more upside and that I have far greater confidence in than Perez: Christian Vazquez (ADP 198), Carson Kelly (ADP 211) and Sean Murphy (ADP 246). If I miss out intentionally or unintentionally on those six top catchers, Vazquez/Kelly/Murphy are the three to target. I would even overreach for them rather than take the more commonly known Perez who will simply provide mediocre production especially after taking a full year off due to injury. As you might be able to tell with me barely touching on Perez here, I want little to nothing to do with him as a mid-round pick.
ZiPS Projections: .249/.283/.458 with 21 HR/61 RBI/44 R and a .307 wOBA
Hunter Dozier (ADP 175): There is nothing remarkable about Dozier and he is certainly a late bloomer at 28 years old, but there are a lot of solid aspects about his game. Last year was not a fluke and I expect him to have a similar year of production. He had 66 XBH last year with an above-average walk rate (10%), gets hard contact (45%), and can hit LHP and RHP alike. He has a launch angle that can produce extra-base hits (16.7 degrees) and was second on the Royals to only Soler in barreled balls, exit velocity, and HR. I much prefer Dozier over the likes of Byron Buxton, Amed Rosario, Mallex Smith, and Bryan Reynolds, all of whom are being taken around the same time as Dozier. Obviously, you must base your selections based on needs at that time of the draft combined with the overall upside. However, Dozier offers more consistency and is more of a lock to have a repeat in performance than the aforementioned.
ZiPS Projections: .251/.321/.468 with 24 HR/76 RBI/69 R and a .329 wOBA
Justin has been a DFS pro for 5 years now, focusing primarily on NHL and MLB. He has won numerous tournaments on Draft Kings and FanDuel and has made it to multiple live finals for hockey. Prior to becoming a DFS pro, he was an associate scout for the Toronto Blue Jays.