Five Fearless Royals Predictions for the Upcoming Season

It’s been a while since I posted here, which isn’t by choice. If there’s one difficult thing about working in educational administration, it is this: when it rains it pours.

Well for the last week, it’s been an absolute torrential downpour professionally, which has left me with either no time or no energy left to sit down, gather some thoughts, and put them down on this blog. Finally, I have had the time to sit down, relax, and gather some thoughts on the Kansas City Royals and their outlook for 2023, which is frustrating since Opening Day is only a few days away.

Let’s not waste any more time though. Here are five fearless Royals predictions I have for the upcoming season, which will be written in brief to-the-point segments.

Bobby Witt, Jr. Represents Kansas City at the All-Star Game

All offseason, I have been bullish about Witt’s outlook for 2023.

As I wrote about in my recap of the Royals Rally back in January, this team feels like Bobby’s team, which is crazy to think about since Salvy, one of the last remaining members of that 2015 World Series team, is still around. And yet, when it comes to Royals players talking about who the most important player is on this team, Witt is the first one mentioned. Always.

Safe to say, Witt had a good, but not a great rookie year in 2022. He fell just outside the Top-3 AL Rookie of the Year voting, which ended up preventing the Royals from getting an extra year of team control. And while he did hit 20 home runs and stole 30 bases, his 99 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR in 150 games and 632 plate appearances left a bit to be desired for a player who was one of the top prospects in baseball going into 2022.

Despite all that though, I think Witt is ready to break out in 2023 and in a major way at the plate offensively.

Yes, I am still suspicious about his defense at shortstop, even with all his work with the new coaching staff (especially new infielder coach Jose Alguacil) this spring. And he will never be a guy who will post a 10+ percent walk rate at the Major League level either, which may disappoint Royals fans who prefer Vinnie Pasquantino’s skill set (more on that later).

But in terms of contact and power tools? Witt may be already there, and he showed it in this at-bat against Dodgers starting pitcher, and budding ace (when healthy) Dustin May.

I think Royals fans should be ready for a season where Witt can be around a 4.0 fWAR player, even with bad defense. That demonstrates how good his hitting and baserunning will be in 2023.

And that, in my opinion, will help him get his first All-Star berth in only his second MLB season.

Aroldis Chapman is Traded By June

The Royals’ acquisition of Chapman was a head-scratching one from the get-go, especially with Scott Barlow already holding down the closer role for 2023.

Sure, Chapman came on the cheap, and he gives the Royals a nice veteran presence in the late innings when Barlow may not be ready (or needs a day off). Nonetheless, it would’ve been nice for the Royals to pursue a guy without so much off-the-field baggage.

To make matters worse, Chapman has had a bit of an up-and-down Cactus League campaign with the Royals this spring. He’s back to touching 100 MPH on the radar gun, but he hasn’t been as adept at shutting guys down with two strikes in comparison to seasons past, as evidenced by this single allowed to former Royals Eric Hosmer.

Chapman will be better once the games start, and I think he’ll do much better in lower-leverage situations as well. However, the Royals just recently demoted some quality relievers to Triple-A Omaha, which included not only lefties Josh Taylor and Richard Lovelady but also Josh Staumont, who was the Royals’ setup man as recently as 2021.

The Royals have too much depth to carry on an arm like Chapman long-term.

Add that with some recent injuries to some “contending” teams’ bullpens (i.e. the Mets), and it makes sense that JJ Picollo would try to trade away Chapman sooner rather than later, even if Chapman looks like the Aroldis of old.

Kris Bubic Becomes the Royals’ Third-Best Starting Pitcher

Bubic made the start tonight and held his own against the Texas Rangers in his final exhibition pitching performance before Opening Day on Thursday.

Not only did Bubic pile up the strikeouts and limit the hits, but he also accumulated a fair number of whiffs and utilized his newly-implemented slider frequently as well.

And to get a deeper look into Bubic’s night, let’s take a look at his player breakdown against Texas, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

The new pitching staff has helped Bubic make his slider his second-most utilized pitch. And as a result, his other three pitches, which he relied solely on from 2020 to 2022, have gotten more effective on a CSW end. Bubic getting over 40 percent CSW rates with his four-seamer and changeup are promising developments, even in an exhibition game.

I think Royals fans should expect more performances like this from Bubic in 2023. Bubic has always been known for being the most analytical of that vaunted 2018 draft group. And based on the metrics this spring, he has seemed to adjust the most quickly to the approach of the new coaching staff (though Brad Keller has too and could be a candidate to be the Royals’ third-best starting pitcher as well).

Those are two big reasons why Bubic could ascend to be the Royals’ third-best pitcher on the starting pitching staff, behind only Brady Singer and Zack Greinke.

Vinnie Pasquantino Slightly Disappoints

Don’t get me wrong. I love Vinnie. He’s got the best personality on the team and he’s the best interview as well, plain and simple. He was a late draft pick who has worked his tail off to get to this level, and his rookie season was also incredibly encouraging, especially after just cruising through the Royals’ system in 2021 and 2022.

It is not surprising that Pasquantino is being tabbed as a true breakout candidate as he prepares for his first full season at the Major League level. And this sentiment is not just among Royals fans, but especially in fantasy baseball circles.

Last season, Pasquantino posted an insane 137 wRC+ which included 10 home runs, 26 RBI, and a 1.03 BB/K ratio in 72 games and 258 plate appearances. Based on his impressive rookie campaign, many people and projections systems are projecting Pasquantino to push .300 and maybe hit 25-30 home runs in 2023 as well.

All I can say is that we should cool the jets a bit on Vinnie and that particular outlook for 2023, especially in the power department.

Do I think Vinnie’s going to continue to show excellent plate discipline? Absolutely. Do I think he’s going to be one of the Royals’ five best hitters in 2023? No doubt.

But I worry about his power, especially on a home run end.

Despite having one of the best hard-hit rates on the team last year, he only posted a barrel rate of 8.8 percent in his rookie season. Furthermore, his power PLV rolling chart from 2022 showed some interesting regression and doesn’t look too favorably when compared to fellow teammate MJ Melendez.

Notice how Melendez’s extra bases added hovers more around the 90th percentile than Pasquantino. That to me is a concern with Vinnie, and why I’m not ready to christen Pasquantino as a bonafide 25+ home run hitter just yet.

And if that power doesn’t really mature in 2023, that will deflate his overall value offensively in 2023.

Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pasquantino’s wRC+ falls short of that 132 wRC+ ZiPS projection, via Fangraphs.

The Royals Farm System Ranks Higher by Mid-Season

The Royals farm system has definitely been getting it this offseason from pessimistic Royals fans who will look to anything to be negative about. Gavin Cross has been the only one to really appear on any Top-100 prospect lists, and whether it’s Baseball America, Fangraphs, or MLB Pipeline, the Royals organization has ranked near the bottom of the league in prospect depth.

On a positive end, the Royals have ranked a bit higher when it comes to under-26 talent, which includes many players on the current Royals roster who fit that demographic.

Nonetheless, for a team still in the rebuilding process, it’s discouraging to see the Royals rank so poorly in the eyes of so many prospect experts, websites, and publications.

However, the ribbing of the Royals’ lackluster farm system won’t last for long.

I think it is likely that Royals fans will see a lot of growth and development from not only talented hitters such as Maikel Garcia, Tyler Gentry, and Cross but also from the pitchers, especially those in the upper Minors like Jonathan Bowlan and Alec Marsh, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

The Royals have made an intentional effort this offseason to improve in this area through a more analytically-driven approach to pitcher development (which was absent in the Dayton Moore era), and I could see a lot of those “maligned” pitching prospects take a big step forward in 2023 under this new and revised regime.

And while they are not necessarily “maligned” just yet, I could also see Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna becoming more serious pitching prospects in the eyes of national prospect experts by the middle of the 2023 season as well. They are being noticed by the fantasy community, but only in dynasty formats primarily (and even then, DEEP dynasty formats).

If the Royals pitchers in the Minor League system show positive gains, much like in 2019 when the pitching was ahead of the hitting (amazingly), then I think this could be a Top-15 system again…

And that should give more Royals fans hope for 2024 and beyond.

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


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