KC crushin': Pasquantino on Royals' surge, hitting between 'freak' Witt & Salvy

May 24th, 2024

The Royals have been one of baseball’s most electric ballclubs this season, shaking off their 106-loss, last-place finish in 2023 with relative ease. As of Thursday, Kansas City is riding a six-game winning streak, sitting just a game and a half out of first place in the AL Central.

Their rebound has been due in no small part to the outrageous production they’ve gotten out of Bobby Witt Jr. (.308 batting average, 6 3B, 7 HR, 16 SB) and Salvador Perez (.337, 9 HR, 39 RBIs), the Royals’ typical two-hole and cleanup hitters.

Naturally, the person most prepared to evaluate the duo would be the guy who hits between them -- in this case, first baseman , who joined MLB Network Radio on Thursday to discuss his teammates’ hot starts and his unique role in facilitating both of them.

“I hit between Bobby and Salvy, and my job is basically [to] take the baton from Bobby [and] give it to Salvy,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve done a nice job this year of just grinding out at-bats, making pitchers work, trying to make it a little easier for those guys. Not that they need it, but any help that they can get, I’m sure they’ll take.”

Pasquantino’s contributions have certainly been felt -- although he’s had a somewhat slow start to the season, hitting just .232 with five home runs and a .722 OPS, he has maintained one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball (12.8%; ranks in 95th percentile). What’s more, the Royals played over half of the 2023 season without him, after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. In Pasquantino’s absence, Royals first basemen had a collective .532 OPS, a distant 30th in MLB (Yankees first basemen ranked 29th at .614).

Although the success enjoyed by Perez and Witt can’t solely be attributed to having a capable three-hole hitter between them, it certainly hasn’t hurt.

“Sal’s been doing [this] forever, and he’s as locked in as I’ve ever seen him,” Pasquantino said of the veteran catcher, enjoying yet another resurgence three years removed from his 48-homer campaign in 2021.

Witt, meanwhile, still just 23 years old and in his third Major League season, has already been at the center of the early American League MVP conversation. He finished 7th in AL MVP voting in 2023, a season in which he posted an OPS+ of 118; through the Royals’ first 51 games of 2024 (of which he has appeared in all 51), he has an OPS+ of 155.

“[Witt’s] the freak, right?” Pasquantino said. “He’s just about smarter than everybody, he’s more physical than everybody, he’s faster than everybody, he’s got more power than everybody, and he’s putting it all together. So far this season, he’s putting up an MVP-type season.

“I don’t want to speak further than today because I don’t think that’s fair to him, but what he’s done this far throughout the season, it’s just ridiculous. I know there are other guys having great years around the league, but he’s a top five player in baseball, and he’s not [fifth].”