You would be forgiven for admitting that you haven’t thought about the Royals much lately. After nearly 30 years of no playoff baseball, Kansas City finally made it back in 2014 and won the World Series the following year. However, they fell back to .500 the next year and haven’t cracked that mark again in the years since.
Going into 2023, is there any reason to think things will go differently, or are the Royals destined to finish in the fourth/fifth range in the AL Central once again?
Kansas City Royals
2022 Record: 65-97 (5th, AL Central)
2023 FanGraphs Projection: 65-97 (4th, AL Central)
The most notable change for KC is that they have a new manager and a slightly new front office in charge of things. Towards the end of last season, Dayton Moore — who built the 2015 World Series team — was let go after a long spell in charge. In his place, the Royals elevated J.J. Picollo to the GM role. In turn, he made a change in manager, bringing in Matt Quatraro to replace Mike Matheny. Quatraro got this job after having spent the last couple seasons as the Rays’ bench coach.
Despite those changes, it’s difficult to see anything being different on the field yet for Kansas City. They project to still be what they’ve been the past couple seasons: a rebuilding team. That being said, there are still some interesting thing to watch, mostly surrounding the young players the Royals are bringing through.
Bobby Witt Jr. was seen as one of if the best prospect in all of baseball ahead of his debut in 2022. He was pretty good, finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably wasn’t quite an immediate impact superstar, at least offensively. Seeing how he develops in year two will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on. Beyond Witt, multiple others of the Royals’ top 30 prospects going into 2022 got some time at the big league level. That list includes Maikel García, Drew Waters, and Ángel Zerpa. Their best hitting season last year arguably belonged to Vinnie Pasquantino, who is only 24 years old.
On the pitching side of things, they’re also very young. With the exception of Zack Greinke, everyone who made a double digit number of starts last season was under 30. While many of those pitchers struggled in 2022, it was a breakout year for Brady Singer. After a so-so start to his career, Singer put up a 3.23 ERA, 127 ERA+, and a 3.58 FIP in 153.1 innings in his age-25 season.
From a Yankees perspective, one interesting thing to look out for this season will be the play of Aroldis Chapman. Kansas City signed the former Yankees closer to a one-year contract after a tumultuous end to his career in the Bronx. Even beyond his packing up and going home after not getting guaranteed a playoff roster spot, he was really struggling in 2022.
It doesn’t seem completely out of the realms of possibility that if a bunch of those young player take a step forward, then the Royals can too and close in on .500. The AL Central remains — on paper — not the strongest division in MLB. While they will have less games against those teams in the new schedule format, there are certainly wins there for the taking in that division.
However, there’s a reason the FanGraphs projection has them with the exact same record as they had last year. They weren’t that good in 2022, and progress isn’t linear. Sure, all their young players could all take a step forward together at the same time, but the odds are that some do and some don’t. It seems likely that they end the year with somewhere between 90-100 losses and they’ll be a team we’ll hope the Yankees can win both series over.
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