The Royals entered 2023 in a tricky spot. They’ve already rebuilt but haven’t progressed to the point where the organization and its fanbase had surely envisioned. While Kansas City went into last year as a dark horse pick to hang in the Wild Card mix, they stumbled to a 65-97 record that led to changes at the top of baseball operations and in the manager’s office.
Kansas City had a relatively quiet offseason. They added Jordan Lyles, Ryan Yarbrough and Aroldis Chapman while retaining Zack Greinke, looking for veteran stability on a pitching staff that hasn’t gotten expected contributions from a handful of highly-regarded young arms. The offseason attention on the pitching staff apparently left little room in the budget to attack an offense that ranked 24th in the majors in run scoring.
Franmil Reyes, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Duffy — each of whom broke camp after signing minor league contracts — are the only new faces in the Royals’ position player group. (K.C. also shipped out center fielder Michael A. Taylor to the Twins.) While it’s still very early, the Royals are feeling the effects of that lack of offseason attention to the lineup.
Entering play Tuesday, the Royals sit 28th in the majors in runs scored (54). They’re dead last in all three triple slash stats with a .202/.264/.326 team batting line. Only the Giants have a higher strikeout rate than Kansas City’s 26.5% clip and they’re 25th in walk percentage. With that kind of offense, it’s not a surprise the Royals have been outscored by 32 runs and limped to a 4-13 start.
As one would expect given the extent of their struggles, the Royals aren’t getting much production virtually anywhere in the lineup. Duffy has been solid in a limited role. First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino has been excellent and is somewhat quietly making a case for himself as one of the sport’s best young hitters. Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. has been adequate. Beyond that trio, the offense has been almost completely unproductive.
Ten of the 13 Kansas City hitters with 20+ plate appearances are off to below-average starts. The second base/third base duo of Michael Massey and Hunter Dozier hasn’t hit. Things have arguably been even more worrisome on the grass. Royals’ outfielders are hitting .178/.241/.256 over 195 combined trips to the dish. That’s the worst output in the league by a wide margin; the second-worst start by an outfield, by measure of wRC+, is the .207/.263/.337 production from the Diamondbacks’ group.
Outfield was a major question mark for K.C. heading into the year. It’s a group comprised mainly of players in their mid-20s who haven’t yet established themselves at the MLB level. Catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez has power but questions about his swing-and-miss and his best defensive fit. Edward Olivares has paired interesting physical tools with an aggressive approach resulting in a meager .302 career on-base percentage. It’s a similar story with Kyle Isbel, who has been productive in the upper minors but not yet translated that against big league pitching. Nate Eaton had a big 2022 season in Triple-A; he’s already 26 and was never an especially highly-regarded prospect though.
Drew Waters, who has been on the shelf all season with a left oblique strain, has power and an excellent defensive profile but concerns about his strikeout totals. Bradley and Reyes have been very good MLB players in the past but fallen on hard times offensively in the last couple seasons.
It’s too early in the season to write off any specific player, particularly the younger options who have gotten scattershot playing time over the past couple years. As a collective, however, it’s an unencouraging start. Even if someone like Melendez or Olivares takes a step forward, the overall outfield looks like a below-average group. Perhaps 2022 first-round pick Gavin Cross can solidify a spot in the long run, but the Virginia Tech product is still in High-A and looks unlikely to be an MLB factor this year.
The Royals’ offense assuredly won’t be this bad all season. Salvador Perez is going to snap out of an early-season rut. Witt should post a better line than his current .262/.314/.415 mark. There’s essentially nowhere for the outfield to go but up. Yet even with some amount of forthcoming positive regression, it’s hard to see the Royals climbing back towards competitiveness. They entered the season as a projected bottom five to ten team at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus. They’ve promptly dug themselves a nine-game hole just to get back to .500. Despite playing in one of the game’s weaker divisions, the Royals are trending towards deadline sellers.
We’re not yet at that point. General manager J.J. Picollo and his front office are unlikely to consider any serious roster subtractions before late June at the earliest. Barring a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the next two months, though, there’s likely to be a fair amount of deadline chatter about possible trade candidates on the K.C. roster. Closer Scott Barlow is off to a rough start but would draw plenty of interest if he can rediscover his 2021-22 form, particularly with an extra season of arbitration control. The Chapman signing has looked good in the first couple weeks, as the fireballing lefty has punched out 12 of 22 opposing hitters. He’s an obvious midseason trade candidate as a one-year free agent pickup. Starter Brad Keller and lefty reliever Amir Garrett are impending free agents off to decent starts.
The coming months will determine how many of those players change uniforms midseason. The club’s lack of hitting through the year’s first three weeks has put them behind the eight ball if they’re to avoid trading veterans who are getting closer to the open market.
Predictably bad start for predictably bad team was predictable.
“Terrible franchise who are only good once every 30 years have 22 more years of futility ahead of them.”
Here’s an absolutely bonkers idea for the offence. Forget about hitting homers every at bat and play actual baseball .
You don’t win ballgames being an easy out. As far as I’m concerned, Dayton Moore’s 2017 draft was a bust:
Melendez currently leads MLB with 24 strikeouts and a 36% wiff rate.
Nick Pratto’s career K% is north of 30%.
Then there’s Hunter Dozier. Dozier currently has a 37.5% K rate on the season. Ouch. The WORST contract in MLB.
You know, Pat Mahomes Jr is a good baseball player too. He could do the Deion Sanders thing!
And yeah, I said Pat Jr. Pat. Not Patrick. Junior. Not II.
A 37th round draft choice that focused on football for the last decade has no future in baseball. Kyler Murray has more of a non-zero chance than Patty J. Yeah I said Patty J.
So I take it you’re not a fan?
And out here in AZ, I’m not the biggest Kyler Murray fan either.
Haha. No opinion, just mirroring your comment but decided to give him a different name.
I dont think either of them would be good at baseball at this point. They have focused on another sport for so long, I dont think they’d ever catch up enough to contribute similar to when Russell Wilson attempted to play in Spring training and looked like a joke.
Reminds me of everyone saying lebron could be an nfl tightend right away just because of his size. Different sports and a different focus.
This team stinks
Hate to brag but I did say Pasquantino was a top 5 rookie prospect in the game last year. And I was mocked, condemned, ridiculed, and slandered because he wasnt on Jonathon Mayo’s top 100 prospect list
They have many good hitting prospects (it seems) but sometimes it doesnt work out for whatever reason
Maybe it clicks at some point. Theres a lot of baseball’s better prospects there
At least they have a chance. Teams like the Marlins and Pirates have no chance with their prospect cores
@Camden, even when you try and gloat you fail. He emerged on most all top 100 prospects early last year after being named player of the month last May for the International League….
Sorry for being an Angels fan
Hey don’t knock the early hole, that hole is their forever home!
Lumps of Cole
It seems like they’ve got a lot of guys trying to hit for power, who have no power.
I read today the Giants are on pace for 1800 Ks. Would be the modern record by a huge amount.
And bringing Darin Ruf back into the fold just adds fuel to the fire. Let’s go out and get someone who is the epitome of what’s happening here so our mediocrity won’t miss
A best. In Ruf they chose the devil they know instead of the devil they don’t know
Dumpster Divin Theo
About 700 words longer than one might expect in a story about the Royals. Look to Lorde by way of example- she had an economy of purpose
disagree. this was well written
Dumpster Divin Theo
Maybe. But Lorde better
Reyes isn’t doing terrible and i have to believe this team did not sign JBJ to be a major offensive contributor. Asking Melendez to not only serve as backup Catcher but also as starting Right Fielder can’t possibly be helping him any at the plate. 2B/3B and CF have been awful as well. Maybe as the weather gets warmer so will the bats
I don’t see their bats heating up much. They have a nice trio with Witt, Vinnie, and Perez. Outside of that the lineup leaves a lot to b desired. Reyes is a free swinger with some pop that would b tolerable in a more balanced lineup. Dozier’s big 2019 now looks like it can b completely attributed to that year’s juiced balls. The rest of the lineup looks very bleak. Hopefully for them Massey bat emerges this season. That would give them a nice core with him and the trio mentioned above.
When I saw they were breaking camp with Reyes, JBJ, and Duffy, that’s all I needed to know. I could see choosing one, but all three? Gonna be a mighty long season.
I was at the game tonight, getting smacked by texas like that makes me wonder how Atlanta didn’t beat Is by 20
There were plenty of affordable low level options available better than Duffy, Bradley and Reyes.
I say that KC and ANA have pieces to make a trade. Witt Jr (while he has value) to Angels for Adell and other pieces.
Even Al Avila wouldn’t make that absurd trade.
That’s the kind of trade that gets a GM fired…
The Royals young players are so much better than they are playing at present. Sometimes, a team can bring the right player and it can make a world of difference. Sometimes, the Manager can change everything. Rookie Manager, Matt Quatraro, may show that Ray’s base coaches don’t make good managers after all.