Royals batters learning from hard lessons

April 20th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- When the Royals fully pivoted to their youth movement last season, a jolt of energy seemed to find its way into the clubhouse, with a bevy of rookies playing pivotal roles late in the season.

What I remember most about that time was the achievement on the field -- which was fun to cover -- and comments from a few team and industry sources: These young hitters will have to make adjustments in Year 2, and it’s not going to be easy.

It seems obvious that every hitter must make adjustments from season to season, especially young hitters who could regress from their rookie seasons to their second year. They might have the advantage of having faced Major League pitchers in their second year, but those pitchers also have an advantage of facing the hitters.

Three weeks into 2023, we are seeing how obvious it is.

“At this level, the competition on the other side of the ball is the best in the world,” said , who has just over seven years of service time and won the 2014 World Series with the Giants. “It’s the best that athleticism and data has to offer. If you have a weak point or slow stretch, they are going to abuse you and nobody is going to feel bad for you. That’s a really powerful moment in a player’s career, their first stretch like that. 

“You feel like a Little Leaguer, and somebody plopped you into a Major League game. Coming out of that, you can say, ‘Oh, I didn’t forget how to hit. I didn’t lose it forever.’”

The Royals have six hitters on their active roster who are 26 years or younger, who exceeded their rookie limits last year, who are getting playing time this season and who are considered to be part of the Royals’ future. First, the two bright spots: , 22, started the season off 5-for-35 through his first 10 games but has gone 14-for-38 since, and , 25, has an on-base streak of 14 games with nine extra-base hits.

, 24, is 10-for-64 with a .523 OPS. , 25, is 6-for-49 with 20 strikeouts. , 26, is 10-for-50, and , 26, is 1-for-23.

“You could go ask pretty much any hitter, guys who have 10 years of experience, and they don’t feel like they have it figured out at any point,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “This is a hard game. You can take any substantial chunk of at-bats from any hitter of any quality, and you’re going to find times when they really struggle.

“Those rolling chunks of at-bats, when they happen at the beginning of a year, for a young player especially, are very difficult to handle.”

So how are the Royals handling it? Well, it’s not easy. But the lessons are apparent.

“You learn that these kinds of slumps are just part of it sometimes,” Massey said. “I think as a younger player, you lose perspective. You think it’s the end of the world. But it’s something in my career that I’ll have to look at and have it be something that builds me up. The game will certainly break you down, but it’ll build you back up, too. That version that builds back up is going to be a lot stronger, too.”

Massey has leaned on veteran hitters to help gain perspective. Duffy remembers a bad stretch in 2021 with the Cubs, when he was 1-for-25 in July after coming off the injured list. Eight games felt like an eternity. But it wasn’t the first slump he’s been in, and it likely won’t be the last.

“Experience is how you get out of it,” Duffy said. “But when you’re in it, especially the first time, you’re like, ‘This is it, my career is over. I’m never going to find it again.’ That’s what I’ve told guys through this process, it’s not going to be your last stretch like this. … What this group has done a good job of so far is controlling their work. Once they're in the game, they’re competing.”

The Royals are focused on little tweaks in their swings and approaches to unlock their offensive potential. In between, they’re trying to make sure their mentality doesn’t make this any harder than it already is.

“This game breaks you down, but it breaks you down to teach you,” Massey said. “And it’s on you to take the cues. In the past, I haven’t taken all of them. Now, it’s like, this is going to happen, whether you like it or not. At least get something from it.

“I’m trying to stay within a similar process without ignoring the need for adjustments. You can’t keep going up there doing the same thing every time and having no chance. But also being like, ‘Wait a second, I’m here for reason. I did this all the way here.’ So I’m staying with my same routine but then also finding the tweaks I need.”