Two months ago many Kansas City Royals fans were impatiently clamoring for the promotions of Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto to the major leagues, itching to see some of the ability that made them both highly regarded prospects in the minors.
During the most recent homestand, Pratto blasted the first walk-off home run of his life at any level to beat the Boston Red Sox. Pasquantino put up gaudy enough numbers at the plate that he earned American League Player of the Week honors for Aug. 8-14.
The Royals’ duo of left-handed hitting rookie first basemen have thrived together in the majors similarly to the way they did at Triple-A Omaha this season, when they played at the same level for the first time in their careers.
“I think what’s working is when we find at-bats,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Finding at-bats in the outfield, finding at-bats at DH. (Omaha manager Scott Thorman) was doing the same thing at Triple-A. So they were getting the repetitions. It’s always been kind of prioritizing Nick and first base because he’s such a standout defensively. But Vinnie is doing a nice job over there. So how do we keep them all relevant and going? That’s kind of the challenge as much as anything.”
Pasquantino, who homered in his first at-bat on Monday night in a 4-2 loss to the Twins, went 10 for 22 and slashed .455/.500/1.045 last week with an American League-best four home runs along with a double, six RBIs and two walks. He struck out only once and hit safely in all six games he played. During that stretch, he led all AL hitters with a 1.045 slugging percentage and 23 total bases.
He became the first Royals rookie to garner AL Player of the Week honors since Mike Aviles won co-Player of the Week honors for the week of July 28-Aug. 3, 2008. Aviles came up at the end of May that year.
Pasquantino said he learned of the award while doing a crossword puzzle with MLB Network on in the background. He heard one of the TV hosts struggling to pronounce his last name.
But he was quick to point out that “more importantly” than his good statistical week was the team’s 7-4 performance on their homestand, against playoff contenders. Pasquantino entered Monday night batting .260 with a .341 on-base percentage and a .440 slugging percentage in 41 games in the majors.
“I think that’s kind of the way this game works, as pitchers are trying to figure me out, I’m trying to figure pitchers out,” Pasquantino said. “But at the same time, I’m also trying to figure myself out. Sometimes that’s more important. I’m not even talking about from a physical standpoint. I’m talking about from an emotional standpoint and from a mental standpoint of just kind of getting used to what this is.
“I still don’t think anything has ‘clicked.’ It’s just kind of like there were results shown this past week that are things I try to do all the time. I’m not going to let this Player of the Week get me too high, the same way when I was hitting .150 after two weeks didn’t get me too low.”
Pulling in the same direction
An 11th-round draft pick out of Old Dominion in 2019 (319th overall), Pasquantino enjoyed an outstanding season last year at High-A Quad Cities and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Between the two stops, he slashed .300/.394/.563 with 24 home runs, 84 RBIs and 79 runs scored in 116 games (61 at High-A, 55 at Double-A).
This season, Pasquantino began the season at Triple-A Omaha where he shared time at first base with Pratto. Pasquantino, 24, started 33 games at first base and 36 as the designated hitter.
Why has it worked so out where they haven’t seemed to take away from each other or get in each other’s way of accomplishing their goals?
“Because I think we have the same mindset and that has nothing to do with each other,” Pasquantino said. “It has to do with putting wins on the scoreboard. Both of us want to do whatever we can do to score more runs than the other team on any given night, so there’s no issue there.
“There’s just no issue. We both want to provide. We both want to drive in runs, and we both want to play a really good first base. We both have the same goals. When you have the same goals as somebody, it’s easy to root for each other.”
Pratto expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s simply because we see a lot of value in what both of us do and we both respect each other as players and teammates,” Pratto said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch him do his thing this year and have the conversations because I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time around him until this year.
“But it’s been fun kind of maneuvering everything. As long as we’re able to get our bats in the lineup, that’s a way moving forward that we can just have everybody out there competing.”
Pratto, a first-round pick (14th overall) out of Huntington Beach High School in California, went into this season ranked among the top 100 prospects by Baseball America (No. 43), MLBPipeline.com (No. 62) and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel (No. 78).
In 2021, Pratto slashed .265/.385/.602 with 36 home runs and 98 RBIs in 124 games (61 at Double-A, 63 at Triple-A). He also earned Double-A Central postseason All-Star honors at first base.
Pratto also earned a Minor League Gold Glove as the top defender at his position in the entire minor leagues. Pratto registered 813 putouts and 64 assists in 879 total chances, and he committed just two errors in 955 2/3 innings at first base (113 total games). His .998 fielding percentage was the highest among the nine Gold Glove winners.
This season, Pratto started playing the outfield at Triple-A in an effort to accommodate both him and Pasquantino in the lineup together.
“I enjoy it,” Pratto said of playing the outfield. “I’ve played outfield a lot in the past, especially in high school. It’s been a treat just to see everybody go out there and experiment with new things and learn new things.”
In his 74 games for the Omaha Storm Chasers, Pratto started 50 at first base, 12 in left field, seven in right field and five as designated hitter.
Pratto entered the night batting .200 with a .305 OBP and a .400 slugging percentage in 25 games. He’d also played 24 games in the field without an error.
As far as seeing Pasquantino on a daily basis for the first time, Pratto said he considers Pasquantino one of several players including fellow rookies like Bobby Witt Jr., Michael Massey, Kyle Isbel and MJ Melendez that he’s bounced things off of in regard to hitting as well as some veteran players.
“When you look at everything, there’s a lot of ways to bake the cake,” Pratto said. “There’s many styles. There’s many approaches to hitting and just the game in general. It has been a pleasure watching (Pasquantino) do his work and seeing how he goes about his business. I think it’s cool, no matter who you’re looking at in the league, you can kind of take things and be able to talk through their processes. He comes out here and tries to dominate things in his control. It’s fun to watch.”