Timing isn't right for Pratto, Garcia, Fermin

Royals' young trio among latest camp cuts; Garrett, Barlow show off sinkers

March 23rd, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Royals’ roster picture gained some clarity on Wednesday when the club optioned infielders and , as well as catcher , to Triple-A Omaha.

All three were in the mix to make the Opening Day cut, though perhaps long shots based on where they sat on the depth chart. The messaging to them upon receiving the news was that they should expect to be in Kansas City at some point this season.

“We feel it’s best for them at this point in their career to go down and get consistent at-bats, especially early in the season,” manager Matt Quatraro said after the Royals’ 4-3 win over the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. “And all three of them we think, genuinely, are going to be a huge part of what we do in the future. But the timing right now, for various reasons, isn’t the right time.”

Garcia, ranked as the Royals’ No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, slashed .355/.375/.516 across 31 at-bats this spring and looked like he might hit his way onto the roster. Best known for his defense at shortstop, Garcia is blocked right now in Kansas City by Bobby Witt Jr. Garcia, 22, has gotten some reps at third base and in center field, so he’ll continue to move around for when his time comes with the Royals.

Pratto had a similarly good spring, slashing .313/.378/.438, but with 13 strikeouts in 32 at-bats. The 24-year-old has a disciplined approach, and the Royals tasked him with hunting pitches that he can do damage with in the strike zone. Pratto plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, and the Royals are hopeful that he can show enough with his bat early on at Omaha so they can promote him to Kansas City to play first and have Vinnie Pasquantino serve as the designated hitter.

“It’s more about the end of the year and what we found out throughout the course of the year, whether it’s in the Minors or Majors,” said executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager J.J. Picollo. “There are certain guys that we need to see them in the Majors. But with the length of the season, you don’t have to jump to some of those decisions early on.”

The Royals discussed having Fermin, 28, serve as the backup catcher with Salvador Perez behind the plate and MJ Melendez playing mostly in the outfield with some starts at catcher. But the club wants Melendez to continue to improve as a catcher after he posted -18 defensive runs saved, per Fangraphs, and was rated at -25 blocks above average, according to Statcast’s new catching metric.

Kansas City has seen improvement in Melendez’s technique this spring, but he’ll be tested in the regular season.

“Mentally and physically, he’s more prepared,” Picollo said. “We believe he’s a good catcher. He’ll get enough games back there where I think it’ll help keep him on a path where he’s going to improve as a catcher.”

The Royals are still deciding on what the bench will look like, and it appears they could carry three of the five non-roster veteran position players in camp: Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Beaty, Matt Duffy, Franmil Reyes and Johan Camargo. Bradley (center-field depth) and Reyes (right-handed power) seem to be frontrunners, while the team must decide what kind of skill set it would rather have on the bench early on -- Duffy brings infield versatility and a right-handed bat, while Beaty is left-handed-hitter with more pop.

Garrett, Barlow emphasize sinkers

Amir Garrett has pitched six innings this spring and he has yet to give up a run, turning in another perfect inning against the White Sox. The lefty is setting himself up well to be a high-leverage reliever again for the Royals in his final year before free agency. And this season, he’s focused on using his sinker much more than the 23 he threw in 2022.

Garrett is a strikeout heavy pitcher, but the pitch should help with weak contact against righties.

“It’s working to my benefit right now,” Garrett said. “And kudos to the coaches for telling me that it’s something I should be doing a lot. Those guys are smart.”

The same goes for Scott Barlow, who threw a scoreless inning on Wednesday. Barlow relies heavily on his breaking balls and hopes the sinker gives a different look.

“My four-seamer, in year’s past, was kind of leaky,” Barlow said. “I’d maybe get away with it one pitch an at-bat. For the most part, I couldn’t utilize it multiple times in an at-bat. With the sinker, I can throw a four-seamer and then have a different look, being able to throw more fastballs in counts.”