Isbel making a fast impression on Royals

September 16th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- received one of the biggest Salvy splashes of the season after Tuesday night’s win over the A’s, when Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield ambushed the Royals outfielder with a big cooler of ice water as he was doing his on-field interview.

The celebration that greeted him when he got in the clubhouse was even bigger, and well deserved. Isbel had just hit his first Major League home run, a 102.2 mph rocket into the right field seats that gave the Royals’ insurance runs in their comeback win.

“It had me speechless,” Isbel said. “There were a lot of different emotions going through my head. I’ve come a long way to get here, and I’m just happy. And happy I could help the team win.”

The Royals' No. 6 prospect, Isbel only been with the team for two games while filling in for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, but he has impressed in that small sample size, both offensively and defensively. He came through in big situations in both games and played his first real game in the expansive Kauffman Stadium center field on Tuesday. While he didn’t see much game action, the little things he did gave the coaching staff more confidence in his ability to roam center field.

“There are times where I glanced up as I’m watching the ball being hit, and you see Michael already in stride,” manager Mike Matheny said of Taylor's presence on defense as the regular center fielder. “And just even a little bit of that yesterday, you saw it with Kyle. You can tell the instincts and first-step quickness with the reads. He looked really good. He’s going to keep getting tested here.

“This is the proving ground for an outfielder. What kind of skills you actually have, they’re going to be tested.”

The left-handed-hitting Isbel sat Wednesday as the Royals faced lefty Sean Manaea, with Edward Olivares getting his first look in center field in Kansas City. With Taylor on the family emergency medical list and no timeline for a return yet, the Royals are getting a look at their young center fielders now.

Kansas City has always valued center-field defense given the size of the outfield, and with Taylor an impending free agent the Royals will be on the lookout in the offseason -- whether that’s internally or externally -- for a center fielder.

Isbel’s depth perception in the outfield has always been impressive to Royals coaches, and it’s apparent from the way he played Tuesday that he was comfortable out there. What stood out to the Royals’ staff was Isbel’s ability to read the pitch and the location, and as it was being delivered, he was already moving. That allows him to read the ball off the bat better, and, as Matheny noted, already be in stride if it’s coming to him.

“I got to play here a little bit and experience it in center field a couple falls ago,” Isbel said. “I’m really comfortable there, and I love it.”

Royals honor Roberto Clemente Day
Wednesday was Roberto Clemente Day around baseball, as clubs honored the Hall of Famer who was well known for his philanthropic and humanitarian work. The Roberto Clemente Day logo appeared on the bases and official dugout lineup cards and a special tribute video was to be played in ballparks. Perez, the Royals’ nominee this year, wore No. 21 to honor Clemente.

“Obviously a very special player in the history of our game,” Matheny said. “It’s great to see when guys understand the opportunity -- and I’d say responsibility as a Major League player -- to make a difference in the world.

“It's legendary what Roberto Clemente was doing for kids and people in tough situations. Salvy’s a great example of somebody with the right kind of heart to go out and make a difference and use what he’s been able to accomplish for the greater good.”

Around the horn
• With the front-office reshuffling announced by the Royals on Tuesday, ESPN reported that longtime scout Gene Watson was re-joining the Kansas City front office after a year with the Angels. Watson was a scout and executive with the Royals for 14 years before joining the Angels last offseason as a special assistant to general manager Perry Minasian. Watson was at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday.

• Left-hander Mike Minor hitting the injured list with left shoulder impingement syndrome moved the rest of the Royals' rotation up, with Carlos Hernández starting Wednesday night and Daniel Lynch starting Thursday against Oakland. Kansas City had a six-man rotation before Minor went down, and with Monday’s off-day, Hernández was going to have a full week in between starts before he was moved up.

The Royals don’t yet know Minor’s timeline for a return, but they’ll be able to go back to a five-man rotation now and still have some extra rest with two more off-days left in the season.