After chaotic '22, Pratto proving he belongs

March 9th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All can say about his 2022 season is that it was a whirlwind. It started back in the offseason, when he was added to the 40-man roster before the lockout prevented him from working out at the Royals’ facility in Arizona, as he had done in previous offseasons.

Then, Pratto’s season included 17 home runs at Triple-A Omaha, a concussion that lingered longer than he thought it would, his Major League debut and a demotion back to Triple-A late in the season.

At the start of 2023, he’s putting all that behind him. And he really wants to make this team.

“I’m in a good spot,” Pratto said. “I know who I am and what I’m capable of, and I’m ready.”

Pratto is 6-for-15 in six Cactus League games this spring with two doubles, two walks and six strikeouts. In the Royals’ 14-5 rout of the White Sox at Surprise Stadium on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old walked and tripled against American League Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease. And Pratto's going to get a lot more at-bats and playing time while is playing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

With those at-bats comes the opportunity for Pratto to show the Royals’ new coaching staff why he should be on the roster come March 30. At his best, he is a power bat who can lengthen the lineup, and his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base could help stabilize the infield. In that case, Pratto could play first while Pasquantino serves as the designated hitter to get both of their bats in the lineup.

“I’m excited to start getting him more at-bats,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “He’s a guy that works extremely hard. Obviously proud of his accomplishments and how he’s developed. I’m really looking forward to seeing him.

“He looks like a left-handed shortstop playing first base. He’s got really smooth actions. He’s commented on some changes he’s made, and he said he’s felt very comfortable and very secure in what he’s doing.”

But Pratto must show he can adjust to the Major Leagues after he slashed .184/.271/.386 in 182 plate appearances last season.

“That obviously wasn’t the level of play that I’m capable of, or used to, for a whole bunch of reasons,” Pratto said. “… There was a lot of pressure I was putting on myself. You get to this place where you finally get an opportunity to help the team you’ve been striving to help win. Especially when I wasn’t there physically, I was trying to make do with things I probably wasn’t capable of pulling off.

“Just focusing on things that are out of my control instead of bringing what I had every day, understanding what I needed to do to prepare myself every day.”

Pratto spent the offseason getting healthy and working on his mindset, although there were kinks to work out in his swing, too. He struck out at a 30.5 percent clip in Triple-A last year and 36.3 percent in the Majors. The lefty slugger is a patient hitter -- his walk rate was nearly 16 percent in Omaha last year -- but that can also get him in trouble if he’s too cautious. Pratto worked with the velocity machine in the batting cages this winter, setting the machine to spit out pitches from pitchers Pratto will see throughout the year.

“Not overdoing it, but I wanted to mimic what I’m going to see more,” Pratto said. “But really, most of the offseason was working on getting my body back to the shape I’m used to. I felt like I was deteriorating a little bit, whether it was stress or innings or whatever, I could have done a better job. I was banged up throughout the year, and I’m not used to that. The concussion took more of a toll on me than I guess I realized. I had a lot of work to do to get back to feeling good this offseason.”

In his first taste of the big leagues last year, Pratto learned how important it is to limit distractions, which is easier said than done. So he spent the offseason retooling his mind, rethinking his swing, and now he’s ready to filter everything else out and focus on the opportunity ahead of him in the coming weeks.

“I think every day is, no matter what the situation is, I think it’s always an opportunity to give what you got that day,” Pratto said. “It’s a reminder for everybody. This team seems to be very fluid right now, so it’s important for all of us out there making an impression with a new staff.”