Breaking down the Royals’ first half of 2023

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.

Happy All-Star break. There has still been plenty of baseball activity this week with the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game and MLB Draft all happening in Seattle. But the Royals’ roster got a few days of rest before kicking off the second half against the Rays on Friday at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals limped into the All-Star break 39 games under .500 and with the second-worst record in baseball. It certainly hasn’t been the easiest start for manager Matt Quatraro and his coaching staff.

Let’s dive into a midterm report:

What we learned in the first half
The Royals still have a long way to go. They dubbed this year an “evaluation season” for their young players to get experience in the Majors and improve on the fly, so some turbulence was expected.  But the team is on pace to surpass the franchise record for losses, which is currently 106 in 2005.

Kansas City is building its future around a young core of hitters, but in the first half, the club’s offense has been the most disappointing. It’s ranked second-worst in runs scored (337) and wRC+ (81), fourth-worst in strikeout rate (24.7 percent) and sixth-worst in isolated power at .139, meaning the Royals aren’t hitting for many extra-bases or showcasing much power. 

The Royals weren’t expected to contend, given how many young players make up the everyday lineup and a pitching staff that’s iffy at best. That being said, there’s a lot of work to do to instill confidence that the pieces are in place for the club’s next contending team. 

Likely Trade Deadline strategy
Sell, but it will be interesting to see how much. The Royals already traded one reliever in lefty Aroldis Chapman, sending him to the Rangers for a lefty starter in Cole Ragans — who, barring injury, we’ll likely see in Kansas City in the second half — and Dominican Summer League outfielder Roni Cabrera.

Kansas City will continue to be involved in the relief market with closer Scott Barlow over the next few weeks. The 30-year-old right-hander has been one of the more reliable relievers in the American League over the past three seasons and has one year of control left, so his value could be higher than that of Chapman, who is on an expiring contract. In 5 1/2 seasons with the Royals, Barlow has a 5.4 fWAR, which ranks eighth in franchise history among relievers.

Beyond relievers, the Royals aren’t looking to move many of their young talent — not this summer, at least. There are a few players outside the core who could be dealt, like infielders Nicky Lopez and Matt Duffy, or outfielder Edward Olivares, although he is now dealing with a mild left oblique strain. So as much as the Royals are sellers, how busy they are this Deadline remains to be seen.

Key player: Daniel Lynch
After spending nearly two months on the injured list to begin the season, Lynch has made eight starts for the Royals this year, posting a 4.18 ERA. He’s looked better and gone deeper into games than he has in past years, all good signs as the Royals figure out what they have in the lefty. They’d like him to take some big steps forward this year; if he can turn into a reliable mid-rotation starter and Brady Singer can get back on track, the Royals have rotation pieces they can build around. They’ll still need to add a frontline starter in order to take the next step in their rebuild.

Prospect to watch: Maikel Garcia
Just like his steady ascent in the Minors, Garcia has been on the rise ever since reaching the big leagues. His 1.8 fWAR this year ranks fourth among AL rookies, in large part because his third-base defense has been so good, with three defensive runs saved and eight outs above average (which is tied for third-best among all third baseman). Garcia’s .284 average is third-best among AL rookies, while his .342 on-base percentage ranks eighth — and his 102 wRC+ ranks in the top 15. The Royals have said they’re targeting young, Major League-ready talent this Trade Deadline. They already have that in Garcia, who has taken over third base with ease but can also play shortstop.

Other names who could earn a callup in the second half would be pitchers such as Ragans, Jonathan Bowlan, Will Klein and Anthony Veneziano, and maybe infielder Nick Loftin, who is just returning from an injury in Triple-A.

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