KANSAS CITY -- When faced with the decision for who should be named the Royals’ Player of the Year in 2023, it might not have been that hard for voters.
Go with the guy who made history.
Bobby Witt Jr. was unanimously named the Les Milgram Player of the Year for the second straight year, the Royals announced Wednesday. Alongside him was Cole Ragans, voted the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year. Maikel Garcia earned the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award, which is given to an unsung player who contributed beyond what was expected or someone voters felt deserved recognition for an outstanding season.
The team award winners are voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Witt, 23, is the first Royal to be Player of the Year in each of the first two seasons of his career after he became the fourth rookie in club history to earn the honor in 2022. Witt had an historic sophomore season: He became the first player in Royals history to record a 30-homer, 30-steal season, and he finished the season with 49 stolen bases, which ranked second in the American League. Witt appeared in 158 games and slashed .276/.319/.495 with 28 doubles, 11 triples and 96 RBIs; his 5.7 fWAR ranked 11th among Major League position players.
Only four players in Major League history matched Witt’s combination of 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases in a season, including Eric Davis (1987), Barry Bonds (1990), Mike Trout (2012) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2023).
“It’s special if you start throwing those names out and then you see my name,” Witt said. “It’s truly a blessing just to [have the] opportunity to be able to do that. But then also … you just want to keep doing it. I think the coolest stats are the ones where you’re just that one person with that stat.”
Witt undoubtedly cemented himself as the face of the Royals’ franchise and the player they have been and want to continue building around for the future. That’s why it’s important for the Royals to start having long-term extension talks with Witt and his representatives this offseason -- and ensure that they surround him with teammates that help turn things around in Kansas City.
Because when asked to reflect on his season Wednesday, Witt kept coming back to one thing: winning. And how he wants more of it.
“I think the biggest takeaways are that we just need to figure out ways to win more games,” Witt said. “That’s definitely the ultimate goal coming into this offseason. That starts with getting myself right, getting myself ready to play hopefully more than 162 games next year. And then just trying to be ready each and every day. Also talking with teammates and holding them accountable and being ready for what’s to come. That’s really the ultimate goal is just to come in here this offseason, get to a lot of work and be ready for what’s to come.”
When the Royals traded for Ragans by sending Aroldis Chapman to Texas on June 30, they were excited about the 25-year-old starter joining their organization. They had no idea that Ragans would turn into their second-half ace.
Over 12 starts with the Royals, Ragans went 5-2 and posted a 2.64 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. He was named the AL Pitcher of the Month in August after posting a 1.72 ERA in six starts, becoming the first Royals pitcher to win AL monthly honors since Zack Greinke in April 2009.
“It’s awesome,” Ragans said. “Everyone welcomed me with open arms, let me be myself, so it made the transition really easy. The guys were awesome. Every time I stepped out there, I just tried to give us a chance to win, get as far as I could and hand it off to the next guy and trust the guys behind me.”
Garcia opened the season in Triple-A Omaha, but he quickly cemented himself as an everyday player in Kansas City after being recalled on May 2. Garcia hit .272 with a .681 OPS in 123 games in his rookie season, and his 126 hits ranked fourth among qualified AL rookies this year. In his first year playing third base full time, the 23-year-old ranked second among all third basemen with 13 outs above average.
“You know from his family ties and everything, he’s a big leaguer,” Witt said of Garcia, the cousin of Acuña and Alcides Escobar. “And it showed. He can go out there and perform each and every day at a high level. It was fun playing the left side of the infield with him.”