KANSAS CITY -- The Royals essentially have reached the quarter-mark of the 2019 season, and they remain a bit of a puzzle.
Their offense is averaging over a half-run better than in 2018, they are on pace to set a franchise record for triples and challenge the franchise home run record. And they are on pace for about 160 steals.
The bullpen has been vastly improved from the nightmare it was earlier this season, and their defense is sound.
Yet Kansas City sits at 14-27, the worst record in the American League.
“We’re better than that,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “But we have to start showing it.”
With that, let’s get to your questions for this week’s Inbox:
Is Scott Barlow capable of starting? He has four killer pitches. Seems a waste to bring him in for two innings before the ninth.
-- Bob B., Independence, Mo.
K.C. would be more apt to try Glenn Sparkman in the rotation. Scott Barlow has been an incredible find for the bullpen, and there’s no need to mess with that. Remember, the Royals are trying to find pieces for a shutdown bullpen again, which is what made them such a menace to the league from 2013-16. It’s way early, but Barlow looks like he could be a Wade Davis-type addition -- he has made hitters look silly lately.
What is the plan for Gutierrez going forward? Especially long term with Dozier also playing third.
-- @jbh2006, South Williamsport, Pa.
The Royals’ coaching staff and front office have been impressed with Kelvin Gutierrez since his recall. Regarded as a terrific defender, Gutierrez showed early he could handle the bat up here. He has since cooled off (.676 OPS). Hunter Dozier has emerged as the team’s third baseman going forward -- he has improved dramatically in the field -- so finding long-term playing time for Gutierrez will be challenging. In the short term, first baseman Lucas Duda isn’t especially close to returning, so Kansas City doesn’t have to make the either/or decision with Gutierrez and Duda anytime soon, and yes, I know how fans feel about that. In the big picture, having Gutierrez in the organization provides great depth.
Will we see Bubba Starling at the K soon? And if no, why not?
-- Bill Duron, Kansas
I’d be surprised if we don’t see Bubba Starling up here later this season, especially if/when the Royals can move Hamilton. While Starling’s gaudy .347 average at Triple-A Omaha has been bolstered mostly by singles (29 of 35 hits), the organization has been impressed with his progress at the plate. Starling isn’t on the 40-man roster, but by the time Kansas City is ready to bring him up, clearing space shouldn’t be an issue. The only caution, though, is that the organization knows that once it calls him up, it has to be certain: Starling is out of options.
Any rumblings on who the Royals are leaning toward with that No. 2 pick in the 2019 Draft?
-- @jsouth14, Lenexa, Texas
I asked Moore this the other day (somewhat in jest, because I knew he wouldn’t give me any hints), and he said the team had narrowed its list down to about five to seven players. Our MLB Pipeline folks are infinitely more plugged into the Draft situation, and they have the Royals taking Bobby Witt Jr., the five-tool shortstop.
Josh Staumont had a solid outing as an opener for Omaha on Sunday. Are the Royals considering this strategy?
-- Chris L., Kan.
Every so often, we ask Ned Yost about this, and we usually get the same shrug-of-the-shoulder response. Yost isn’t necessarily opposed to the idea; he’s just not sure it’s a fit for his pitching staff, especially considering the questionable depth of his bullpen.
How much does fishing for framed called strikes mess with the overall pitching results? It seems like a lot of the pitching is living on the outside-third and missing outside if they can't hit the zone.
-- Brandon H., Independence, Mo.
A fair question, but a lot of corner strikes that guys like Jorge Lopez and Brad Keller aren’t getting so far are on the inside corner, where pitching coach Cal Eldred wants them to pitch. When Lopez and Keller have been hurt this season, it’s on middle-middle pitches. Keller has just one full season, and Lopez is still new as well, so let’s see how umpires adjust to their movement as the season progresses. The coaches and players in the clubhouse believe the umpires simply aren’t accustomed to the late movement that Lopez and Keller get on their pitches, and thus tend to give up on them.