2023 MLB Season Preview: Kansas City Royals

Image: Photo by Ed Zurga / Getty Images

2022 Record: 65-97 (.401 win%, 5th in Division)

2023 Payroll: $77,875,000 (24th)

2023 Projected Lineup:

1. LF/C MJ Melendez, .237 AVG/.327 OBP/.431 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

2. SS Bobby Witt Jr., .260 AVG/.309 OBP/.451 SLG, 3.7 fWAR

3. C Salvador Perez, .257 AVG/.298 OBP/.466 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

4. 1B Vinnie Pasquantino, .277 AVG/.361 OBP/.475 SLG, 2.9 fWAR

5. DH Franmil Reyes, .240 AVG/.302 OBP/.431 SLG, 0.1 fWAR

6. 3B Hunter Dozier, .231 AVG/.298 OBP/.385 SLG, 0.3 fWAR

7. 2B Michael Massey, .254 AVG/.305 OBP/.398 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

8. RF Edward Olivares, .257 AVG/.314 OBP/.407 SLG, 0.6 fWAR

9. CF Kyle Isbel, .242 AVG/.303 OBP/.385 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

10. UTL Nicky Lopez, .254 AVG/.314 OBP/.335 SLG, 1.1 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation:

1. RHP Brady Singer, 184.0 IP/3.85 ERA/3.68 FIP, 3.1 fWAR

2. RHP Zack Greinke, 138.0 IP/4.66 ERA/4.47 FIP, 1.1 fWAR

3. RHP Jordan Lyles, 169.0 IP/4.99 ERA/4.76 FIP, 0.9 fWAR

4. RHP Brad Keller, 118.0 IP/4.25 ERA/4.11 FIP, 1.0 fWAR

5. LHP Daniel Lynch, 94.0 IP/4.35 ERA/4.29 FIP, 0.8 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. RHP Scott Barlow, 72.0 IP/3.76 ERA/3.66 FIP, 0.5 fWAR

2. RHP Dylan Coleman, 68.0 IP/3.79 ERA/3.82 FIP, 0.3 fWAR

3. LHP Ryan Yarbrough, 117.0 IP/4.84 ERA/4.82 FIP, 0.6 fWAR

4. LHP Aroldis Chapman, 63.0 IP/3.46 ERA/3.61 FIP, 0.5 fWAR

What Does Baseball Mean to Kansas City?

The Royals haven’t had a winning season since 2016 when they went 81-81. Their rebuild has had its ups and downs, but so far hasn’t gone according to plan. High draft-pick pitchers like Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch and minor league prospects like Asa Lacy and Alec Marsh have all disappointed. 

While there has been more success on the offensive side with players ranging from second-overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. to 11th-round steal Vinnie Pasquantino, the Royals lost 97 games last year and were recently ranked as the 29th best farm system by MLB Pipeline. Due to the recent turmoil, the Royals ended up firing their longtime General Manager and (recently promoted to President of Baseball Operations) Dayton Moore. 

The focus of the team now is developing their young major league roster full of former top organizational prospects. The focus for the owner John Sherman: finding a location to build a new stadium. Leaving Kauffman Stadium is a hot topic right now and will have a direct impact on the entire Kansas City community. 

With the Chiefs winning another Superbowl, the Royals displeasing fans with their lack of free agent spending, and the controversial stadium search, the Chiefs will stay the focus of Kansas City for a while. 

2022 Offseason Recap:

The Royals had a very busy offseason, hiring a new coaching staff, letting their longtime face of the front office, Dayton Moore, go, and making various trades and free agent signings. To start with the coaching, general manager J.J. Picollo and owner John Sherman wanted someone with a more analytical mind that can take this team into the new era of baseball, where KC has been so behind the eight ball. 

This is what led to the hiring of former Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro and former Cleveland Guardians bullpen coach Brian Sweeney as the team’s new manager and pitching coach. These moves were highly regarded by Royals fans and showed an understanding by the front office that changes moving forward needed to be made. 

The Royals also retained their Hitting coach Alec Zumwalt who was very successful in helping breakout players in 2022 like MJ Melendez and Vinnine Pasquantino come to fruition. 

Beyond the coaching turnover, the Royals traded away Michael A. Taylor to the Twins for minor league relievers Evan Sisk (left-handed pitcher, 1.57 ERA in 63 innings over AA and AAA in 2022) and Steven Cruz (right-handed pitcher, 11.57 K/9 in AA in 2022), and traded away long time Royal Adalberto Mondesí to the Red Sox for Josh Taylor (left-handed pitcher, 47.2 IP in 2021 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.0 WAR). 

Both moves made sense, as Taylor was taking playing time away from young outfielders Kyle Isbel and Drew Waters. Mondesí was coming off another injury and the Royals already had Bobby Witt Jr. at shortstop, Hunter Dozier at third base, Michael Massey at second base, and Nicky Lopez at all three. While Mondesí was once regarded as the organization’s top prospect, it never worked out with the Royals, and giving him a fresh start with a new organization was in both teams’ interest. 

The Royals weren’t very active in the free agent market as well. They focused on pitching as they signed veterans including Jordan Lyles, Ryan Yarbrough, and Aroldis Chapman. They also re-signed Zack Greinke and Jake Brentz (who is coming off Tommy John surgery and will start the season on the 60 IL). 

The key theme with a lot of these moves: innings eaters. The Royals starting pitching last season was some of the worst in all of Major League Baseball, and they spent the offseason focusing on cheap veterans who can give you innings. This also allows for a lot of pressure to be taken off of arms like Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic. 

Besides these major league signings, they also signed various relievers and utility players to minor league deals with invitations to spring training. The reliever list includes Nick Wittgren, Brooks Kriske, and Mike Mayers. All three are somewhat familiar names who have had up-and down Major League careers and are looking to bounce back with the Royals at some point in the season. 

As for the utility men, this list includes former Dodger and Padre Matt Beaty, former Brave Yohan Camargo, former Giant (and 2014 World Series Champion against the Royals) Matt Duffy, and former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. They are all competing for one or two spots on the roster with the rest playing in Omaha to start the season. 

Kansas City also signed Franmil Reyes to a minor league contract and he is expected to make their 26-man roster and play a good amount of DH to start the season as he has an OPS of almost 1.200 in 40 Spring Training at-bats. This could be a sneaky signing that helps a lineup full of young talent. 

While the Royals didn’t make any major free-agent acquisitions, they revamped their coaching staff and added much-needed pitching depth. The biggest takeaways from this offseason should be that the bullpen has a lot of depth now and that they are letting their young offensive stars play. 

2022 MLB rookies like Nate Eaton, Drew Waters, and Kyle Isbel will get a fair chance with the Royals this year to showcase their talents and try to solidify themselves as parts of the rebuild and future of the organization. The lack of offensive moves is intentional and will allow for these players, as well as prospects like Nick Loftin, Tyler Gentry, Nick Pratto, and Maikel Garcia, to get a chance later in the season. 

The one major critique I would give the Royals during their 2023 offseason is that they did not extend any of their young players from the list of Witt Jr., Pasquantino, Melendez, and Singer. If the Royals can lock this group of names down to long term team-friendly contracts like the Braves have so famously done over the last couple of years, they can set themselves up for a more successful future. 

2023 Regular Season Preview:

The Royals are a team that will probably not be contending this year. This can be very difficult to hear as a Royals fan (especially after their sixth sub-.500 record season in a row) but there are positives to look forward to as well. The most glaring ones, their young lineup, with Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, Drew Waters, and Kyle Isbel as well as the face of the team: Salvador Perez. 

This young lineup of former top prospects will be exciting and they will all finally get regular playing time together at the Major League level. There are also prospects like Maikel Garcia and Tyler Gentry knocking on the door. 

On the pitching side, there is not as much to be excited about. Beyond Brady Singer and a potential above-average bullpen, there are a lot of question marks. To start with the starting pitching, Jordan Lyles, Ryan Yarbrough, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, and Brad Keller are all coming off disappointing seasons. Zack Greinke is coming off a surprisingly solid season, but with rising age and an extremely low strikeout rate, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some downward regression from last season. 

The bullpen was not great last year, but at the end of the season, it started to come on with guys like Amir Garrett, José Cuas, and Dylan Coleman finishing the season strong. Along with some off-season additions and minor league deals to guys with previous success like Nick Wittgren, the bullpen should be a lot better and have something it hasn’t had in a while, depth. 

It will be interesting to see how new manager Matt Quatraro and his staff handle this very young and inexperienced team. There is a lot to be negative about, but enjoy the young lineup and hope for some of the young pitching arms to improve. 

Player to Watch #1: SS Bobby Witt Jr.

Bobby Witt Jr. was the MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect going into last season. He had a solid rookie year with a .722 OPS and 2.3 fWAR. He was about a league average hitter with his 99 wRC+ and was statistically the worst defensive shortstop as he was in the first percentile in Outs Above Average. 

There is a lot of potential for the young 22-year-old coming off his stint with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and it will be interesting to see how he develops now with a full MLB season under his belt. 

Player to Watch #2: INF Maikel Garcia

Maikel Garcia is one of the Royals’ most fascinating prospects who is on the footsteps of becoming a regular on the squad. He is a phenomenal defender with wheels and had a .942 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League. 

It all comes down to his power and ability to hit the ball hard. The Royals don’t expect him to hit 20 homers, but if he can hit for a little pop and play stellar defense, he will be a big part of the future.

Player to Watch #3: SP Daniel Lynch

Daniel Lynch has been one of the most disappointing Royals prospects over the last five years. He has struggled at the Major league level and with new pitching development in the organization and adjustments to his pitches, this will be a make-or-break year that will be interesting to watch. 

Position Group to Watch: Starting Pitching

The Starting Pitching was the worst part of the team last season and with the veteran additions of Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbrough, it will be interesting to see how things go this year. Brady Singer was phenomenal in 2022 and will hopefully build off this successful year to solidify him as the ace of the future for the Royals. 

Beyond Singer, it is a group of aging arms that will eat innings and struggling younger guys including Brad Keller, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch. If the Starting Pitching can improve with the new pitching visionaries of Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove (Director of Major League Pitching Strategy and Assistant Pitching Coach), the team will be much better off this season and especially for 2024. 

2023 Record Prediction: 70-92

The Royals are a team that is not expected to contend this year and are projected to win 70 games by ZiPS and 64 by PECOTA. I believe they are better than last year’s team that won 65 games and PECOTA always seems to be down on the Royals. 70 wins are the ballpark area where they will probably finish and I hope they prove me wrong. 

If the lineup full of young talent can outperform their projections and everyone’s perspectives, this team could win more games but probably won’t contend for the playoffs. Hopefully, I can be more optimistic in my 2024 preview.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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