A closer look at Royals' return for Merrifield

August 3rd, 2022

CHICAGO -- When the Royals faced right-hander Max Castillo on July 16 in Toronto, hitters commented on how well his changeup played, as it generated four whiffs on 13 swings with five resulting in foul balls.

This season, Castillo is holding batters to a .171 average on the pitch that showcases nasty movement and vertical separation from his fastball that allows it to play. During that three-inning start, he also flashed a fastball that runs and a breaking ball that misses bats.

Castillo’s arsenal will likely be impressing the Royals again sometime soon, although this time, they’ll be playing behind it.

The Royals acquired Castillo and Samad Taylor from the Blue Jays on Tuesday in the trade that sent utility man Whit Merrifield to Toronto, giving Kansas City two prospects for Merrifield’s year and a half of control.

Castillo is a 23-year-old Venezuelan native who slots in as the Royals’ No. 13 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30. He was added to the 40-man roster and optioned to Triple-A Omaha. Taylor is a 24-year-old second baseman with natural bat speed and some power Kansas City hopes to unlock once he gets healthy, as he’s been sidelined with oblique injuries this year.

The Royals think Castillo can stick as a starter, although he’s filled a swing role for the Blue Jays and offers some flexibility there. He was optioned to Triple-A as Kansas City better determines his role.

“When you look at the big picture, how you add depth to a Major League staff, he certainly provides that to us,” general manager J.J. Picollo said.

The Royals were interested in Taylor when he was Rule 5 Draft eligible last December, so when that didn’t happen because of the lockout, they kept their eyes on him. His athleticism stands out, as well as his speed and versatility. Ironically, he reminds several scouts of a younger Merrifield.

Taylor slots in as the team's No. 23 prospect, and the Royals will decide where he best fits this year once they learn more about how his rehab is going.

“He plays the style of game that we like,” Picollo said. “He’s athletic, got quick twitch to him. We do have some people that feel like, with his speed because he’s a plus runner, he could potentially go to the outfield. That’s something we’ll continue to discuss.

“I don’t know if we’ll get him on the field by the end of the Minor League season. Once our medical staff gets their hands on him and makes their assessment… we’ll have a better idea of where he’s at in his rehab. We’ll just have to figure out what’s best for him, and if he misses the rest of the season, that’s OK. This is more of a long-term acquisition for us.”

Now that the Trade Deadline dust has settled somewhat, it’s clear the Royals are looking toward the future after adding what they believe are key pieces both talent-wise and depth-wise.

The clubhouse looks different now than it does in April; second baseman Michael Massey was called up Wednesday to replace Merrifield, and Sebastian Rivero was called up to replace backup catcher Cam Gallagher, who was traded to the Padres for outfielder Brent Rooker. He's having a big year in Triple-A with a .990 OPS and 19 home runs, and he offers Kansas City depth as a right-handed outfielder. He was added to the 40-man roster and assigned to Triple-A.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Merrifield and Gallagher, along with Andrew Benintendi last week, the Royals are embracing that change because of what it might lead to in 2023.

“What’s most important is building relationships,” infielder Nicky Lopez said. “We have a lot of young guys coming up. It’s going to be pretty cool to see how it unfolds. It’s kind of like we’ve got to build a culture around here again and get back to playoff baseball and, ultimately, the goal is to win a World Series for Kansas City.”