3 New Year's Resolutions for the Royals

Improving pitching and position player defense among Kansas City's 2023 goals

December 26th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- It’s about to be a new year, which means new hopes and goals for all of us in 2023.

The Royals included.

Kansas City is hoping 2023 gives it more wins on the field, at least better than its 65-97 record in 2022. But the key for this coming year is the development of the team's young core at the Major League level, including both position players who debuted last season and pitchers who need to take steps forward.

Here are three resolutions for the Royals in the new year:

1. Help key position players take steps forward defensively
The Royals are going into 2023 confident they have some stud hitters in their mix. Of course, improvements need to be made, but what we saw from Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and others last season -- and what they learned -- proved that the Royals’ hitting development program has laid a strong foundation.

Where there can be more improvements is on the field. The Royals specifically hired José Alguacil as their infield coach under manager Matt Quatraro to help Witt and the infielders, including second baseman Michael Massey. The Royals are committing to Witt as their everyday shortstop, and he has the tools to stay there, but he must improve from his 2022 numbers. Last season, he posted a -11 outs above average (-9 at shortstop and -3 at third base).

Melendez is the other core hitter whose defense could be improved. He had -5 defensive runs saved in the outfield and -18 DRS behind the plate in his rookie season. Melendez’s numbers in the outfield need to be taken in context, given he had never played out there before this year -- and he did get better as the season continued. 

The Royals have said Melendez will catch some next year, backing up Salvador Perez. If that’s true, Melendez will need to show better receiving skills; he allowed six passed balls and 49 wild pitches as a backstop. Some of that could have been nerves, coupled with learning a new position in his first big league season.

2. Find a center fielder of the future
As it stands now, the Royals will have Michael A. Taylor man center field on Opening Day, starting the final year of his contract. They are open to trading the veteran outfielder either this offseason or at the Trade Deadline, sources have said. That would open a spot for a young player or an addition next offseason if Kansas City sees a fit.

Internally, seeing what Drew Waters and Kyle Isbel both bring in an everyday role could give the Royals an answer for whether they have a future everyday center fielder in their mix. Both have plus speed that could cover Kauffman Stadium’s extensive outfield. In a small sample size last year, Waters showed the potential impact his bat -- he posted a 124 OPS+ and 125 wRC+ in 109 plate appearances -- and defense could have in the Majors. Isbel could perhaps benefit from more consistent playing time.

Whether it’s these two or someone else, the Royals can use this coming season to find a center fielder to be part of their core moving forward. 

3. Flip the script on pitching development
The Royals have been quiet with offseason acquisitions, but internally, the gears have been turning. Adding new voices to the front office and coaching staff has been the top priority for general manager J.J. Picollo and his team, especially the voices that will help the young pitchers.

The Royals ranked in the bottom five of ERA in 2022 and walked 9.4% of all batters (league average was 8.2%). Their strikeout percentage (19.1%) was second worst in baseball.

Brady Singer took a significant step forward in 2022 with his 3.23 ERA. Now it’s time for the rest to follow, including Daniel Lynch, Jonathan Heasley, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar and others. The depth in the Minors -- Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox and others -- should be able to follow suit.

The Royals have invested heavily in these pitchers from the 2018 and '19 Drafts to bring them into contention. The new coaching staff isn’t the only thing that will have to change for there to be a difference from last year; buy-in and talent are necessary from the players, too. This season could show whether the Royals are ready to contend with the young pitchers they have in place now, or if a pivot is necessary.