Royals rookies show flashes of greatness, others disappoint


Frank Schwindel, first baseman, receives a warm ovation from the crowd in Omaha before an exhibition game. Schwindel received news prior to the game that he had been selected for the Royals’ Major League roster for Opening Day. Photo courtesy of Minda Haas Kuhlmann.

Alex Burbidge, Reporter

The 2019 season for the Kansas City Royals has been a progressive one to say the least. So far this year 13 players have made their Major League debuts, the most in a single season by a Royals team ever, topping the 12 that made their debuts in the imfamous 2004 campaign. The players have had varying degrees of success in their first seasons, from only appearing in one game to getting standing ovations for every plate appearance.

Frank Schwindel, first baseman, was first to make his debut, doing so on Opening Day. Though he went hitless in his debut, he reached base twice, both on errors. However, Schwindel’s fortunes went south quickly, as he only collected one hit in fifteen Major League at bats before being designated for assignment. He is now in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system.

Kyle Zimmer, pitcher, made his debut three days later, pitching a scoreless inning and picking up his first career strikeout. Zimmer’s debut was highly anticipated by Royals fans, as his entire Minor League career was derailed by a series of arm injuries that nearly led him to retirement. He has moved back and forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues and is currently in the Kansas City bullpen, pitching to a lackluster 9.28 ERA.

Chris Ellis, pitcher, came into the 2019 season unknown to Royals as he was a Rule V draft pick selected during the offseason; however, he will also exit the 2019 season unknown to Royals fans, as he became the 527th pitcher in Major League history to only appear in one game. Making his debut the inning after Zimmer made his, he also had a scoreless inning, allowing only one hit. Four days later, Ellis was designated for assignment and was returned to the St. Louis Cardinals organization, where he is now pitching in Triple-A.

Next to make his debut was Richard Lovelady, pitcher. A left-hander from Georgia, Lovelady was expected to anchor a weak bullpen. However, he has been extremely unlucky when balls are put into play, as his ERA is at 7.65 with a .353 opponents’ batting average against him. Though he is now in the Royals bullpen to stay, he has only pitched in 20 innings, allowing 30 hits.

After an injury to Hunter Dozier, infielder, the Royals brought up Kelvin Gutierrez, infielder to take his spot at third base. He performed admirably, hitting .260 and providing solid defense at third base; however, he was sent back down to Omaha when Dozier returned and hasn’t been the same, sporting a 96 WRC+ since he was sent down, 4% below the Pacific Coast League average of 100. With Dozier back at third base, he will be blocked from seeing a big league field again, barring injury.

Nicky Lopez, infielder, came into 2019 as the Royals’ No. 8 prospect and excelled in Triple-A, hitting .353 with a .457 on-base percentage; however, since his recall, Lopez has been the worst statistical hitter in baseball, slashing .238/.275/.317 with an incredibly low .591 OPS, the lowest qualified OPS since his call up. He has played 85 games and is currently splitting time at shortstop with Humberto Arteaga, infielder.

Arteaga has been even worse than Lopez, hitting .196/.255/.225 with a .480 OPS. Since he has only had 102 at-bats, he is not a qualified hitter. His highlight for the season was when he came into a 18-3 game against the Oakland Athletics as a pitcher, throwing 1.2 innings and allowing one run. He only has collected three extra-base hits in the Major Leagues, which will likely lead to him being designated for assignment in the offseason.

Bubba Starling, outfielder, made his debut on July 12 and was the most highly anticipated debut likely since Eric Hosmer’s in 2011. After being drafted in 2011 as the sixth overall pick, Starling never had a season in which he hit over .300 in the Minor Leagues, hitting a low point in 2016 when he hit a combined .183 between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. The 26-year-old finally put it together in what many thought to be his make-or-break season when he hit .310 to start the year. Since his debut, Starling has been very underwhelming, hitting a mere .205 while starting nearly everyday in center field. If he doesn’t pick it up, he will also probably be designated for assignment in the offseason.

The Royals have lacked a fireballer out of the bullpen since the departure of Kelvin Herrera, pitcher, so when news broke that Josh Staumont, pitcher, would be called up, it was expected that he would fill that spot and be great. Though he has been solid with a 3.95 ERA, he has collected a 6.94 FIP, which calculates how many runs a pitcher would allow with a league-average defense. This FIP has been significantly inflated because of a horrendous outing against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he allowed five runs, all unearned because of two critical errors. It is entirely possible that he is one of the few bullpen pieces returning for the 2020  season.

The latest debut to occur was that of Nick Dini, catcher, who was called up to replace Cam Gallagher, catcher, when he went onto the Disabled List on August 8. Thus far into his career Dini has only had three hits in 19 at bats, but two of them have gone for extra bases. He has provided solid defense behind the plate, throwing out two of three runners that have attempted to steal on him. Dini was hitting .296 with a .934 OPS in Triple-A at the time of his call up and will finish the year with the big league club.

Ryan McBroom, first baseman, was a surprise addition to the team, being traded from the New York Yankees on August 31. He made his debut on September 3, picking up his first hit in his first at-bat and hasn’t stopped hitting since, hitting an even .300 with two doubles and four RBI. He will compete with Ryan O’Hearn, first baseman, for a starting job next year.

Erick Mejia, center fielder, was the second Royal to make his debut in September. Though he remains hitless in his career, he has reached base twice via the walk. Acquired in the trade that sent Scott Alexander, pitcher, to the Dodgers, Mejia had a mediocre season in Omaha, with a .271 batting average in a league where the average hitter hit about .300 and hit only seven home runs.

Lastly, Gabe Speier, pitcher, made his debut the same as Mejia, though Speier performed much better, firing a scoreless inning and picking up his first strikeout. The cousin of Chris and Justin Speier, shortstop and pitcher, respectively, Speier has been the most reliable pitcher in the Royals bullpen since his debut, allowing only one hit and no runs. He has consistently hit 95 on the radar gun with his fastball and has complimented it with a nasty slider.

Though there have been more failures than successes in rookies, the Royals’ front office staff is looking for all of the players remaining on the team to step up their game for the final month of the season. September will be a sink-or-swim scenario for quite a few players and their success will be a critical factor in the overall success of the team’s rebuild.