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Nick Pratto: First Baseman of the Future or Trade Candidate?

Should Kansas City bank on Pratto hitting his ceiling or consider trading him?

Nick Pratto's road to the majors was a road filled with a lot of ups and downs. Early in his pro ball career, he showed that he was someone to keep an eye on in the Kansas City Royals' minor league system. Then, his 2019 season derailed all the hype surrounding him and the question looming was who the franchise's first baseman of the future would be.

To make things worse for Pratto, the 2020 season followed and minor league baseball wasn't being played due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he was at the Royals' alternate site trying to regain his form from earlier in his professional career. Going into the 2021 season, he wasn't even one of the top 30 prospects in the Royals' system and had a lot to prove in order to get back on that list. That is precisely what he did, though. 2021 marked Pratto's resurgence into a top prospect as he slashed .271/.404/.570 with a .947 OPS at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. This led to the Royals promoting him to Triple-A after 275 at-bats, and he didn't stop there.

In Omaha, Pratto slashed .259/.367/.634 with an OPS of 1.001. In total, he hit 36 home runs, had 98 RBIs and had a .337 ISO between Double-A and Triple-A. Pratto ended the year as the Royals' No. 2 prospect behind Bobby Witt Jr. With the newfound hype around him, Pratto was expected to have a chance at the big-league roster in 2022 since first base was a question mark.

Pratto started the 2022 season in Omaha, and there were some issues early on. After a decent start to the season, slashing .250/.323/.477 with a .800 OPS, Pratto got hit in the head with a pitch and landed on the injured list with a concussion. After returning from the IL, his strikeout rate was around 30% for most of the year and his ISO was .221 in Triple-A. Pratto is still somewhat raw as a prospect, as he flashed upside but still has things to work on. While the issues are obviously not good, his "advanced" approach is something that will help him get on base and see pitches to hit. That approach led to the Royals giving him his shot in the 2022 season.

Aug 26, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Nick Pratto (32) celebrates while rounding the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres in the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Pratto got his first shot in the majors in July against the Toronto Blue Jays due to 10 Royals players being unvaccinated. In that series, Pratto went 4-for-15 with a double, his first MLB home run, and an RBI. He got sent down after the series but was back up the week after. His 2022 season wasn't totally how it was supposed to play out, as there was some obvious regression after blowing up minor league ball in '21. There was a key issue for Pratto that hurt him in the minors a bit and in the majors a lot.

His K% to BB% is very extreme, to say the least. Starting with the good news, Pratto knows how to draw walks at an above-average rate in the major leagues at 10.4%. In Triple-A, he was elite at drawing walks as he had a 15.8% walk rate. This is really good for any player, let alone a young one. The issue arises with the other extreme.

Pratto strikes out too much. While in Triple-A last season, he had a K-rate of 30.5%, a career-high in his pro ball career. That 30.5% figure ballooned to 36.3% with the Royals, which is very concerning. This may be a core issue for Pratto, but another thing that didn't help was his overall lack of power in the majors.

Pratto slugged .386 in Kansas City, his lowest SLG since 2019. His .203 ISO is misleading due to this, because the formula for ISO is SLG-AVG. So, if you want a positive . . . when Pratto gets hits, they tend to be of the extra-base variety. These trends are not inherently great, though, given that the Royals have Vinnie Pasquantino and have re-signed Ryan O'Hearn.

This has hurt Pratto's trade value a little bit, but not as much as one would think. According to Baseball Trade Values, he has a median value of 16.1, which would be the fifth-highest on the Royals. Kansas City hasn't been known for dealing prospects in recent years, but Pratto could be the one they do move due to said value. The most recent deal of this sort the Royals have done is the three-team trade that sent Franchy Cordero to Boston for Andrew Benintendi and Khalil Lee to the Mets for a player to be named later. Looking back at prospect trades the Royals have done, it isn't great. 

There was the Ashton Goudeau trade that ended up being a non-factor swap for both teams involved. In the A.J. Puckett and Andre Davis trade for Melky Cabrera, Puckett was a top prospect and he hasn't reached the majors yet with the White Sox. And who can forget the Esteury Ruiz, Matt Strahm and Travis Wood trade that netted the Royals Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill? 

Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems that the Royals have not been great at trading prospects since the 2015 season. The initial Benintendi deal looked good on paper, but he's no longer on the team. There is one positive, though, if there are trade talks for Pratto: He's probably the highest-valued candidate of the bunch listed above. Are the Royals likely to deal him? Probably not right now. Should they once the offseason starts to get going? If they want to make a move for pitching, this would be the move to make since first base is already covered. 

The Royals are trying to be more competitive next year, and for the next couple of years, but they have limited their options by not trading some excess prospects for proven talent. In order to move the needle more, if desired, Pratto or others would have to be shopped at the very least.