The Kansas City Royals' star prospect triplets — Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez — are all making waves this year by crushing baseballs at an alarming rate. They have a combined slash line of .283 AVG/.372 OBP/.612 SLG/.984 OPS in Omaha. Needless to say, these three will be making their debut for the big club sooner rather than later.
In Bentonville, AR, the birthplace of Wal-Mart and the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, lies a potential wrench in the Royals' plans. His name is Vinnie Pasquantino.
Pasquantino is currently demolishing Double-A pitching, hitting .335 with an OBP over .400 and a SLG in over .500 in Northwest Arkansas. He has a total of 21 HRs and 73 RBIs in the minors this year. All of this is fantastic, clearly, but there's one slight issue: Pasquantino is projected as a designated hitter and like it or not, Salvador Perez is most likely going to end up there at some point in the future.
Also, before you say anything to me about Perez being an unmovable force from behind the plate, let me remind you: I wrote The Baseball Hipsters War Against Salvador Perez Trilogy which you can find here, here and here.
Perez, on most teams, would be the full-time catcher until his contract or knees are gone. Luckily, because MJ Melendez projects as an excellent defensive replacement for Perez, there is no need to cut Perez's career short by keeping him behind the plate longer than is necessary.
Fielding: 60/60 – Arm: 60/60
Melendez is the complete package as a catcher. He calls the games at these very low minor league levels and does so very well. Melendez has also caught 36 of 60 runners (60%) attempting to steal on him in 2019. His defense has always been his best skill, with an electric arm, quick feet, and quick hands, he will be very hard for runners to steal on for years to come.
So, with DH out of the question for the possible-long term future, what about a DH’s natural positional home of first-base? Once again, Pasquantino remains unlucky as that future spot is currently being groomed for Nick Pratto — who is projected as a Gold Glove-caliber player.
Pratto has long been revered for his defensive prowess as a first baseman, with many evaluators giving his glove a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. His athleticism translates well at the position, while the plus arm that he used to fire upper-80s fastball as a prep is an underrated weapon. Given that defensive ability and his increased offensive production, Pratto has turned himself back into one of the best first-base prospects in baseball.
After assessing the situation, you might say, "it says right there in your quote that Pratto has a 'plus arm,' so why not move him over to the hot corner and let Pasquantino play first base?"
The answer: Witt and Adalberto Mondesi have to play somewhere and with Nicky Lopez surely coming back in 2022, that leaves the entire infield occupied with possible Gold Glove candidates. Also, before we move on, let’s just admire the fact that the Royals have a potential homegrown infield that in 2-3 years could sweep the Gold Gloves for infielders.
That leaves the outfield as Pasquantino's last shot of making this team as a regular player and with left field most likely being occupied by Andrew Benintendi and center field being completely off the table, that leaves right field as the lone vacancy.
The Royals have given several starts in right field to Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier. They once gave a start in the outfield to Kendrys Morales. To say that they are willing to overlook a bit of defensive ineptitude in that spot wouldn't be an exaggeration.
This is not meant to be a dig at Pasquantino because while he doesn’t grade out a good defender, he would more than likely be able to hold his own at first base. But like the old saying goes, the best ability is availability. If Pasquantino wants to reach the show as soon as possible, he may need to learn how to play in the corner of the outfield.
With the bat, Pasquantino is putting up similar or better numbers when compared to former Royals first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler in his final full-time minor league season.
Billy Butler (2006): .331/.388/.499/.887, 15 HR, 96 RBI
Pasquantino (2021): .312/.401/.581/.982, 21 HR, 73 RBI
Again, with prospects, you never know how things will work out. Past performance is never a tell-all indicator that future success is guaranteed, and that certainly applies even more to young players who are still developing. There is an element of uncertainty involved. With that being said, here is my potential dream lineup for the Royals in 2023.
1) SS- Bobby Witt Jr.
2) 2B- Nicky Lopez
3) DH- Salvador Perez
4) 3B- Adalberto Mondesi
5) CF- Starling Marte
6) 1B- Nick Pratto
7) C- MJ Melendez
8) RF- Vinnie Pasquantino
9) LF- Andrew Benintendi
I certainly don't hate that lineup, I can tell you that much. While projecting the addition of Marte is risky business and Benintendi may not re-up for the 2023 campaign, that looks darn good on paper and incorporates a good blend of youth and veteran leadership. If Pasquantino can find a full-time position, he'd make a great add to the lineup.