KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' start to 2018 hasn't been anything like they imagined coming out of Spring Training.But Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon are back, healthy again, and the club is playing much better baseball lately, having won six of nine. And of all the crazy things, the Royals
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' start to 2018 hasn't been anything like they imagined coming out of Spring Training.
But Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon are back, healthy again, and the club is playing much better baseball lately, having won six of nine. And of all the crazy things, the Royals are only six games out of first place in the suddenly wide-open American League Central.
With that, let's get on with the latest Inbox:
The Royals are keeping a very close eye on Josh Staumont's progress. Obviously, the right-hander has electric stuff, with a plus-plus fastball that touched 102 mph in Spring Training. Since his conversion to the bullpen this season, Staumont, the Royals' No. 11 prospect, has put up a 0.68 ERA in 10 outings at Triple-A Omaha. He's still walking nearly a batter an inning, which won't play in the big leagues. But he's made some mechanical adjustments in his delivery. He told me late in Spring Training that he's still "thinking" about his delivery -- rather than relying on his muscle memory take over -- which can explain a lack of command at times. He will make his Major League debut at some point this season.
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The short answer is probably not. The guess here is that the Indians will eventually get out of their early-season funk and run away with the division, as almost everyone predicted. Yet there rarely is anything definite in baseball. The Royals' starting pitching has not been awful and should get better once Danny Duffy emerges from his slump. And lately, the bullpen and the offense have come around. These are perhaps signs of hope. But in the big picture, this season and next are about rebuilding, not about competing for the playoffs. Several players likely will be flipped at the Trade Deadline.
Not much change. Nate Karns is still feeling a tinge of discomfort in the right elbow area, and that inflammation has to be get cleared out before he's activated. No timetable.
Former manager Trey Hillman was the one who wanted the bullpens switched in the first place because he thought he could get a clearer view of his relievers warming up in the left-field bullpen. (Weird, I know.) This year the Royals switched back to the original setting in the right-field bullpen because it's closer to their dugout. And while the right-field bullpen is in the direct line of fire with no shade from the sun -- which could be a problem in July and August -- pitchers can always chill in the neighboring groundskeepers' air-conditioned office. That's another reason they switched.
Probably everyone but Salvador Perez. As general manager Dayton Moore said repeatedly in the offseason, the immediate goal for the Royals over the next two years is to restock the farm system. That means virtually everyone is a trade chip. Certainly, Lucas Duda, Jonathan Jay, Ryan Goins, Justin Grimm (when he gets healthy), Blaine Boyer and anyone else signed in the offseason to a one-year deal are extremely likely to be flipped at the Deadline, if there is interest.
That is a very good question and something we'll all be tracking as the season progresses. But the decision of Alcides Escobar vs. Raul Mondesi won't be based on Mondesi's offense against Triple-A pitching. It will be based on Mondesi's ability to stay healthy and whether the Royals believe he can consistently play above-average defense at shortstop at the big league level. The Royals under Moore have been an organization that prides itself in elite defense -- that's how Kansas City won back-to-back pennants and a World Series championship.
In fact, the Royals have won more Gold Gloves than any other team since 2013 (and Lorenzo Cain should have won some as well). That alone tells you their priorities. Escobar's offense obviously is not good. But Mondesi has been overmatched offensively at this level as well. But if Mondesi has a consistent season defensively at Omaha and stays healthy, yes, I could see him supplant Escobar later in the season. Even if Mondesi again is overmatched offensively up here, if he plays consistent defense, he brings the element of superior speed and power potential to the offense.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.