This season in Kansas City is all about the Royals learning what they have with their young roster, for good or for bad. As we get into the middle part of the season, there will be more young players getting their shot in the Majors.
With all that in mind, we thought it would be worthwhile to use this newsletter to catch up with director of player development/field coordinator Mitch Maier to discuss several prospects.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MLB.com: Let’s hit on a couple of notable injured players. What’s the status of utilityman Nick Loftin (Triple-A), lefty Asa Lacy (Double-A) and two young players in Single-A, lefty Frank Mozzicato and infielder Brennon McNair? (Note: Mozzicato and McNair went on the injured list last week after colliding during practice. Initially, it was thought that Mozzicato would be sidelined for about a month, but now he is only expected to miss one or two starts. McNair will be out for a week.)
Maier: “Loftin had been dealing with pain in his (right) knee, something he was playing through, but it got to the point where we said, ‘Let’s get it taken care of.’ So a very minimal-type procedure with his meniscus. I would say we’re expecting right around the All-Star break is when he should be returning.
“Asa’s throwing bullpens in Arizona, transitioning to lives. There is no definitive timeline for him, but we’re hoping to get the bulk of the second half of the season. But at this point, it’s too early to necessarily put an exact timeline on it.
“Frank and Brennon, we’re lucky that it wasn’t bad. During BP, the hitter hit a popup kind of in shallow left-center field. They both just went for the ball. Unfortunately, they hit head-to-head, which was the scary part. Frank had a couple of small fractures. Brennon had a broken nose. After seeing a face and ENT specialist in Kansas City, it ended up not being as bad. We knew McNair would be OK because it was just his nose. But for Frank, there was a concern because it was the eyebrow area, so you worry about the intensity. But they’re both already cleared to resume baseball activity.”
MLB.com: In Triple-A, 2B/OF Samad Taylor is slashing .291/.385/.432 with an .817 OPS during his first full season after being acquired from Toronto last year. What are your impressions of him?
Maier: “We knew the tools when we acquired him, but getting to know Samad as a person has been great. High energy, loves to work. Whether it’s on the bases or playing small ball with two strikes or the way he drives a baseball, he does a lot of different things well. There’s versatility defensively. So we’ll keep moving around and make sure he gets a ton of reps at those positions. He’s a spark plug-type player with that skillset and energy.”
Maier: “They are doing what they need to do at that level to get the opportunity to keep moving up. Will was just trying to play catch up last year after the injury, and at a new level for the first time. The same goes for Christian. He went into the Fall League with a plan and has been able to take the next steps. Had struggled with command and overall getting outs in the zone. That’s been a big emphasis for him this year.
“They came back to Double-A, they’re throwing consistently and feeling healthy, so now they can go out and worry about executing pitches and competing.”
Maier: “Alec’s done a much better job this year. Tackling some of the things -- consistency, pitch usages -- we discussed and wanted him to rectify from last year. The stuff looks good. We’re pleased with what he’s doing. It’s really about making sure his mechanics are consistent, and then making sure he’s continuing to utilize all his pitches in the proper way to attack hitters.
“Bowlan was much more precautionary than anything. Now we’re just making sure we’re continuing to find consistency outing after outing.”
MLB.com: High-A Quad Cities is starting to turn around with a lot of star players on that roster. How has your top pick last year, Gavin Cross (.730 OPS with 10 homers but 74 strikeouts in 193 at-bats,) looked so far?
Maier: “From an overall standpoint, I don’t think he’s where we think he’ll finish. There’s more in there. We know the power, but I think he’s still adjusting to the league a little bit. He’ll continue to get better at that level.”
MLB.com: How about Chandler Champlain, who has a 2.68 ERA in nine starts this year? He struggled last year after the Yankees traded him as part of the package for Andrew Benintendi.
Maier: “He’s more comfortable. You get drafted by an organization and start to get used to it, then all of a sudden you’re flipped to another and start at a different level. And then just fine-tuning his approach, his stuff. He’s an ultimate competitor. He gets on the mound, and he’s there to beat you. He really comes after guys, and we love the way he works. A lot of it has been getting his feet wet at the level last year, going back this year and understanding how he needed to improve to get better.”
MLB.com: I should mention Javier Vaz, who didn’t start the year as one of MLB Pipeline’s top prospects but is making the case to be one. He’s hitting .303 with an .882 OPS, has 13 stolen bases and has walked (21) more than struck out (13). What have you learned about your 11th-round Draft pick last year?
Maier: “We knew there was versatility from when he played at Vandy and on the Cape. He’s a smart player who knows how to play the game. He’s a guy who can get on base, and he knows what to do when he gets on base. There’s some pop in his bat, too, so lots of doubles and extra-base hits. He’ll help you win in a lot of ways. And he’s a leader. Shows up every day there to win.”