Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Kansas City Royals

Which Royals are worth their draft price and which should be faded?

A year after looking extremely thin in terms of fantasy production, each of the Royals’ top four hitters are likely to be selected in the top 10 at their position and in the first 115 picks overall. They also have a very relevant starter and closer and some other interesting young pieces that could factor in as the year goes on. This is no longer a team to fade when your draft day comes around, but one major team-wide factor to keep in mind is that they play in a park that is quietly the third-toughest to hit home runs in over the past three years behind only Detroit and Oakland. This likely casts some cold water on potential power breakouts, a fact I still need to tell myself sometimes. Despite being so tough on homers, Kaufmann ends up playing pretty evenly, so don’t overvalue KC pitchers because of that home run figure. I’ve ended up, by a matter of chance, focusing only on hitters here, but it doesn’t mean I’m out on Brady Singer and Scott Barlow. Quite the contrary! I just think their price is pretty fair right now. Kansas City shouldn’t be too active in free agency, so expect some young guys to get plenty of opportunities. Let’s see who is in line to take advantage!




Vinnie Pasquantino

Key stat: 1.03, his BB/K ratio, 8th best in the league (min 100 PA)


How is this guy still in sleeper lists? He’s currently being drafted in the top-100 as the sixth first baseman off the board in draft-and-hold leagues despite being projected as 11th by Steamer in 5×5 leagues (yes, despite being projected 14th overall in wRC+, Steamer doesn’t have it translating to fantasy success quite yet). He’s already been on every relevant sleeper list since he made his debut and has been hyped up on Twitter by anyone who could manage to correctly spell his name. Hasn’t the fantasy community already heard enough of this guy for him to not qualify as a sleeper anymore? Not. Even. Close.

First of all, I just want to make sure everyone continues to agree. I think his price may fall a bit going into draft season as people start looking at the raw numbers and stop remembering how good this season was under the hood. Second, I think there’s reason to argue that 94th overall (his current ADP in draft and hold leagues, so take it with a grain of salt) is a steal. I’ll start by saving you a click through to the Pitcher List player page.

I’d like to first draw your attention to the K-rate and BB-rate. He’s one of just eight players in the league with at least 100 PAs and more walks than strikeouts. Among the other seven players are some of the best contact hitters in the league like Luis Arraez, Steven Kwan, and Alejandro Kirk, but also some of the game’s elites in batting eye like Juan Soto and Alex Bregman. His 92nd percentile zone contact % and 6.6% swinging strike rate show that he has contact skills rivaling that first group of names, but his .550 xSLG (per PitcherList) and elite hard contact rates show he has the power of Soto and Bregman as well. Despite only hitting ten bombs in 298 PAs in 2022, Statcast gives him 15 xHR based on batted ball distance and he would have had at least 18 homers if he played in six major league ballparks. Now, he will continue to play in Kansas City, so this isn’t to say he “should have hit” 18. I’m showing that the power is there and only a bit more distance is needed to start sending more over the wall. Combining his contact skills with his power, you have a guy who could be seen as a perennial 30-homer, .300 average threat very soon.

The fact that his performance last year was elite shouldn’t be up for too much debate, but the question now turns to how he can keep it up next year. He’s a young hitter and young hitters often have holes in their swing that major-league pitching can exploit. This forces the sophomore hitter into playing catch-up all year, trying to close holes in their swing while not allowing others to open up, leading to the aptly named “sophomore slump”. Why will Pasquantino avoid this? The holes in his swing are small and extremely dangerous to try to exploit consistently. Let’s take a look at his xSLG by batting zone remembering that the league average xSLG is around .409.

We can easily see some holes up and in as well as low and away. For the up and in stuff, look at how narrow that margin of error is. Miss up, his eye is good enough to take it for a ball. Not a big deal, but miss over the plate or low and he’s mashing to the tune of a .596 and .917 xSLG. You have to be pinpoint. It looks like there’s a bit more wiggle room low and away, but that’s also a trap. In the outer corner low where his xSLG is .373, his line drive rate is 35% (compared to a league average 22%) and his xBA is .310. Those aren’t pitches he’s driving, so the slugging is low, but those are pitches that he’s able to flip the other way for line-drive base hits. If you want to actually get this guy out, you’re going to have to dance with the devil and come up and in.

So overall, we’ve established that Pasquantino has an elite contact rate, solid power, and a good eye. He can hit fastballs and breaking balls alike and we’ve shown that he can hit pitches on both sides of the plate. Regardless of how Kansas City’s young offense develops this year, this guy is going to put in quality at-bats every day and I’d put money on him beating his Steamer average projection and hitting close to .300. If the power develops further, he’s potentially a season away from being seen as one of the league’s most complete hitters.


MJ Melendez

Key stat: .418, his wOBA in 116 non-shifted plate appearances


In 64 games from the leadoff spot, MJ Melendez hit .215 with 8 home runs, 36 runs, 35 RBIs, and 2 steals which is a 150-game pace of 19 homers, 84 runs, and 82 RBIs. Melendez figures to see time behind the plate, in the outfield, and at DH and, despite Steamer projecting just 123 games and 560 plate appearances, I think he has a chance to push 150 games and 650 plate appearances as the regular leadoff hitter in this lineup given the lack of other good options for the role. Before I even dive into any numbers or reasons why he could improve next year, I am already higher than Steamer because I think it’s underestimating his playing time.

Melendez is also one of the players in the league who is set to benefit most from the new shift rules and, given his small increase in stolen base attempts at the end of the year, could benefit from the pickoff and base size changes as well. Among his 532 plate appearances in 2022, 416 of them (78.2%) were against the shift and 116 (21.8%) were unshifted. His wOBA against the shift was a paltry .278, but without the shift, it rose to .418. His pull-heavy lefty swing is the type that will be benefitted most from the new shift rules. In addition, he started threatening to attempt and, eventually, attempting steals later in the year. With the managerial change, it’s uncertain if the Royals will continue to be as aggressive on the basepaths as they have been recently, but they were fifth in the league in attempted steals under Mike Matheny. Melendez wasn’t an amazing baserunner in his rookie year, but he is athletic and hits at the top of the lineup and new manager Matt Quatraro might want to take advantage of it.

Another attractive part of Melendez’s potential development is the power he showed when he smacked 41 home runs in 531 plate appearances across AA and AAA in 2021. We immediately need to qualify that by saying he’ll play his home games in Kauffman Stadium which is quietly one of the hardest ballparks to hit home runs in. His 10.4% barrel rate was third among catchers in 2022 and at least provides a little hope that he can be a fantasy asset at the catcher position, but I don’t see any immediate indications that a 30-homer season is incoming given his batted ball data, place in the lineup and home stadium. Even with a modest bump in plate appearances over what Steamer projects, I’d still say 25 homers would be a good target for Melendez, but there’s certainly potential for more given his swing, track record, and batting eye.

If we combine all of these little improvements, we get a guy capable of doing something like a .240 average, 25-27 homers, 160 R+RBI, and 10 steals from your catcher slot, which is basically a Dalton Varsho season for a ~60 pick discount with a small chance that this young Royals offense gels, that the shift ban allows the average to rise even higher, that he rediscovers his 2021 power stroke and unlocks 30 homers, or that his trend from September continues and he steals 15-18 bases. There are lots of ways in which Melendez could break out in 2023 and you always want to play games that give you multiple chances to win.


Drew Waters

Key stat: 93, the wRC+ of Royals outfielders in 2022. 22nd in the MLB


Beyond their new young core of MJ Melendez, Bobby Witt Jr., and Vinnie Pasquantino, the Royals have several mildly interesting young hitters that could break out that are getting some interest very late in drafts right now. In order of current ADP, Edward Olivares, Drew Waters, Michael Massey, and Nick Pratto are all getting some attention as late-round fliers. In general, I’m looking for the highest upside when I’m looking at these kinds of picks. I’m willing to accept a bit more playing time risk or strikeout risk because they’re likely not in my lineup to start the year. For me, that immediately eliminates Olivares as I don’t think he breaks 20 homers or 10 steals or a .260 average even with full-time at-bats. Of the remaining guys, the one I’d be most likely to take a late flier on is Drew Waters.

Waters was a top prospect not too long ago. In the middle of 2021, he was the consensus number two prospect in Atlanta’s system ahead of Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II. He’s also still just 23 with a lot of development left to do and I think the Royals have every reason to give him full-time at-bats, certainly more than the 322 plate appearances Steamer has him projected for. He won’t play himself out of at-bats with his defense as Nick Pratto might if he’s forced into the outfield on a regular basis. Waters has a plus arm and plays decent outfield defense at multiple positions. He has the flexibility to move around to accommodate breakouts or take advantage of injuries. It’s also not like the Royals are spoiled for choice in the outfield. Their outfielders turned in a wRC+ of 93 in 2022, 22nd in the majors. There are opportunities for playing time. In addition to his chances of developing and getting more playing time, we saw some impressive things at the plate, too.

The big thing that jumps out when it comes to the 109 plate appearances we saw from Drew Waters in 2022 was the 37% strikeout rate. Obviously, if that continues, he won’t be a regular player for very long. However, his 13.4% swinging strike rate (28th percentile) on the year and his 81.4% zone contact % (22nd percentile), while not good, at least give me some confidence that he didn’t deserve to be in the 3rd percentile of K-rate and that some improvement is due in that respect in 2023. He also flashed a solid 11% walk rate and some unexpected pop with five home runs. He didn’t flash that kind of power in the minors, but his 110.7 max exit velocity and 12.5% barrel rate are both decent and hint that maybe some 20-homer pop comes around. Steamer currently has him on a 550 PA pace of .239, 15 homers, 58 runs, 60 RBI, and 14 steals and I think there are good reasons to believe he can approach that PA target and meet or exceed those rates. Maybe he hits well enough to move up in the lineup and you get yourself a 2016 Adam Eaton with a slightly lower average. Not a bad late flier in my book.




Bobby Witt Jr.

Key Stat: .203, his xwOBA against fastballs up or away, 8th worst in the league


With the amount of power and speed he provides and the infinite leash he’s sure to have this year, it’s going to be tough for Bobby Witt Jr. to be a complete bust. But early returns show that you’re likely going to have to spend a pick in the top-10 to be able to get him on your fantasy team for 2023 and that’s sure to be a bit controversial. Steamer projections are baking in some improvements in average and power and I see those improvements as far from a given. His swinging strike rate (11.6%) and K-rate (21.4%) are both pretty good for a young power hitter in this era and he performed even better than that in the second half (11.0%, 18.9% respectively). However, diving deeper into where those swinging strikes came from leads me to believe there’s a high possibility for both of those rates to go up in year 2.

Witt Jr. displays some amazing contact skills on pitches low and in, even on breaking balls.  He sported a .295 average against breaking balls last year and nine of his twenty home runs came off pitches other than fastballs. For a young hitter, the adjustment to major league offspeed stuff is one of the toughest adjustments to make, so this is extremely promising in regards to his long-term value. However, he also was a rookie and had holes in his swing, notably, fastballs up or away. Let’s just narrow our focus down to four-seamers and define “up or away” as the Statcast attack zones 2, 3, 6, 12, 13, 16, 22, 23, and 26. This ranges from fastballs in the strike zone (at the belt or on the outside corner) to fastballs that are well up and away by up to a foot. His xwOBA on these pitches was .203, sandwiched between the likes of Joey Gallo and Bobby Dalbec for 8th worst in the league (minimum 200 pitches faced). Right away, I can think of two immediate criticisms of this number that I’ll address. First, no, he did not improve his performance on these pitches throughout the year despite his overall improvements. In the first month of the year, 15.2 % of pitches he saw were fastballs in the aforementioned zones and his xwOBA was .282. By the All-Star Break, those numbers were 19.4% and .230 respectively and, by the end of the year, 19.5%, and .203. Second, why does this matter? Those are generally pitchers’ pitches. Tons of good hitters struggle with fastballs in those zones. Guys like Mike Trout and Austin Riley have xwOBAs below .300 and K-rates above 40% up there. It doesn’t mean Witt Jr. is a bad hitter or doomed to follow in the footsteps of Javier Báez. He can just swing less at those pitches and rake when he gets a pitch he likes. Well, that’s not so easy. For some insights on what pitches Witt Jr. likes and what he has success with, let’s take a look at his swing rates compared to league average on fastballs.



Look at those huge swing rates compared to league average on the inside part of the plate. He loves turning on fastballs up and in and, as we’re about to see, he’s ridiculously good at it. However, he’s so eager to do that, that the swing rate in the zones we just talked about also goes up above league average. But, hey, he’s not doing too badly. His swing rate is a bit higher than average on pitches in the zone, more or less at the average on pitches out of the zone, it’s not a HUGE deal, right? Well, let’s compare that to the whiff rate.



Look at those unbelievably low whiff rates inside and low. Witt Jr. loves turning on inside fastballs and has a good enough contact skill to stay on both breaking balls and fastballs thrown low in the zone. However, look at those three zones that are up and between 0-6 inches out of the strike zone. His swing rates there are 67%, 65%, and 56%, right at or just above league average. However, his whiff rate in those zones is 15-20% higher than league average, skyrocketing up into the 50s, meaning that he’s missing half of the time he’s swinging. Look at that zone where he just can’t lay off with a 97% swing rate. We’ve already established his contact is not good in these areas due to his poor xwOBA, but he also has a 43% whiff rate there, 19% more than the league average of 24%. I’m seeing a guy who has really struggled to lay off the high fastball, who was getting more and more of them as the year went on, and wasn’t able to adjust.

Witt Jr. certainly could make an adjustment to lay off those high fastballs that he’s been struggling with, but that might also mean taking more pitches that he can turn on and drive. Going into his second year with the expectation now being that he’s providing pop from the middle of the lineup, that adjustment to be less aggressive on high fastballs is going to be an extremely hard one to make. Pitchers will also continue to adjust to him. 19.5% of the total pitches he saw were up or away fastballs last year and I could see him moving up towards the leader in that rate, Mike Trout, who saw 22.7%. Per his PitcherList player page, his hiloc%, the percentage of pitches he saw high in the zone, was 28.8%, below the league average of 30.3%. Pitchers aren’t done adjusting to Witt Jr. and, with potentially an even more feared hitter batting behind him all year, pitchers may decide that he’s the guy they want to go after rather than Vinnie Pasquantino. I would expect Witt Jr. to be pitched higher in the zone with more fastballs until he shows he can lay off the ones out of the zone or make good contact on the ones in the zone. I’d expect a higher strikeout rate until he makes that adjustment which would make it extremely difficult for him to get that ~10 point batting average improvement that Steamer is baking in and could limit his production in counting stats as well. In my opinion, this is by far the riskiest player going in the first round and I wouldn’t even consider him until past pick 20.



Adalberto Mondesi

Key Stat: 20.6%, his swinging strike rate across 866 PAs since 2019


Look, I’m not going to talk about the chance of another injury. I don’t have his medical information. I’m not a medical professional. I can’t predict them. I am only going to talk about the player that Adalberto Mondesi has been over the past four years and what ACL surgery has typically meant for hitters. He’s currently being picked as the SS24 which currently demands a price of 259th overall.  It sounds like he no longer requires a high investment and, therefore, fits the bill of low-risk, high-reward, but I aim to show you here that Adalberto Mondesi is not the lottery ticker you want to be buying this spring.

Let’s give Mondesi the most benefit of the doubt we possibly can and look at his 2020 season where he finished as the SS5 on the back of a league-leading 24 steals in the shortened season. Even in this season when he had by far the best fantasy production of his career, it looks a lot like a mirage built on the back of speed. Among qualified hitters that year, his swinging strike rate was third-worst, his BB/K ratio third-worst, and his line drive rate dead last. Despite putting up a .256 avearge, his xBA was .215. You can say that his speed bought him all those extra hits, but his sprint speed in 2020 was 9th in the league. His home to first time was 18th. Plenty of players who were faster home to first didn’t exceed their xBA and none exceeded it by more than Mondesi. Luck was a major factor in his inflated average as well. This poor contact skill was not an aberration in the shortened season and has only gotten worse. In 866 plate appearances since 2019, Mondesi swings and misses at 20.6% of the pitches he sees. This number is second-worst in the league among players who have had at least 500 PAs over that stretch and he’s joined in the top-5 by fringe catchers Jorge Alfaro and Tomás Nido and up-and-down, strikeout-heavy power hitters Keston Hiura and Javier Báez. Of the nine other players with Mondesi in that top-10, seven are either fully reserves or struggling to find a full-time role in 2023. As we’ve seen from Billy Hamilton, Mallex Smith, and countless others before them, you have to be able to get on base in order to rack up steals and the numbers under the hood for Mondesi show a player that is likely to struggle to get on base with enough regularity to provide the game-changing amount of steals he’d need to be a valuable overall fantasy player.

In addition to his questionable track record as a hitter, his recovery from ACL surgery is going to play a role in the early going in 2023 as he’ll still be less than twelve months out from surgery on Opening Day. Recent studies have shown that players experience a 12% decrease in batting average when the ACL injury is on their rear leg and a 6% increase when the injury is on their front leg. The general speculation is that, because the back leg provides power, rehabbing an injury on one leg makes the healthy leg generally stronger allowing for a small improvement when the rear leg is the healthy one. Mondesi tore his left ACL, so it will be his rear leg when he bats as a lefty (against righties) and the front leg when he bats as a righty (against lefties). Unfortunately, if historical trends continue, Mondesi can expect to be batting as a lefty, placing his injured left leg as his power leg, in upwards of 70% of his at-bats. He already struggled against them with a career wRC+ against righties of 76, but this is sure to make things even more difficult from the left side of the plate. He could easily find himself on the weak side of a platoon if he starts the season off anywhere near as poorly as 2022.

There are so many players you could take a chance on at pick 259 that would provide a much higher chance of success. Look at Bryan De La Cruz and consider his hot hitting to end the year or Tyler Anderson and bet on him not regressing as much as people believe he will. There are so many options out there. Don’t get fooled by the ghost of 2019-20 Adalberto Mondesi. I would even take Maikel Garcia over him.




For a team that was 24th in team OPS in 2022 in a homer-hostile park, there are some interesting young hitters here that will get a lot of attention in drafts this Spring. I’ve not mentioned guys like Salvador Perez, Brady Singer, and Scott Barlow as I don’t have opinions strong enough on them given their current ADPs to write about. Whether I end up drafting them will depend on team composition and whether or not I can get a good discount. I would have also been interested in writing about Nick Pratto, but the inexplicable re-signing of Ryan O’Hearn will make it tough for him to consistently get at-bats given the defensive limitations of those two and Vinnie Pasquantino especially on days when Salvador Perez DHs. I should also mention Dylan Coleman as a potential top-15 closer in the second half if this is the year Scott Barlow finally gets traded. I believe in the skills.  I also think there’s a solid chance that Adalberto Mondesi gets unseated by Maikel Garcia at some point in the middle of the season and that Garcia ends up being a solid mid-season pickup with the potential for positive contributions in average and steals. In fact, let’s put a bold prediction on that. Maikel Garcia finishes the season with more steals than Adalberto Mondesi. There could be some sneaky value to be had in Kansas City this year. Don’t overlook them.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)


Eric Dadmun

Eric is a Core Fantasy contributor on Pitcher List and a former contributor on Hashtag Basketball. He strives to help fantasy baseball players make data-driven and logic-driven decisions. Mideast Chapter President of the Willians Astudillo Unironic Fan Club.

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