A roster of young emerging stars, a Cy Young candidate , and 100 million dollars are all reasons the Kansas City Royals have a real chance to go from worst to first in the AL Central for the 2024 season, and Vegas agrees.
The Royals' opening odds to win their division were in the +2000 range, but today they've already surged to +900. It may be late to get that ridiculous 20-to-1 payout, but it may not be too late to jump on the bandwagon.
Bobby Witt Jr. and company rallied off 12 wins in their last 16 games in 2023 showing some resilience, but the 162 fans had to watch them basically win at a pace similar to the Oakland A’s in 2023.
That “and company” group will need to take the next step in 2024 in order to bring winning baseball back to Kauffman stadium. This specifically includes MJ Melendez, Maikel Garcia, and Nelson Velazquez.
Melendez may be in a make or break year after a rough year defensively in the outfield and showing no signs of being used as a catcher again. His 95 OPS+ won’t cut it as an outfielder but this was due to his poor first half posting a .622 OPS before the all star break, he had a .836 after. Melendez is young and this looks to be his year to take the next step, if you look at his Baseball Savant page you can see the kid hits the ball hard and has the tools to be an impact player in 2024.
Maikel Garcia is coming off one of the best seasons by a Royals rookie ever. For such a young player Garcia does not chase or whiff much, and along with his above average speed he has the makings of a good lead off hitter. As the former shortstop continues to learn third base, he looks to join this young core and play a crucial role going forward.
Nelson Velazquez is a huge wild card for the Royals going into 2024 as he gives the team the best chance of being a legit power threat. With power comes strikeouts and he will need to work on his swing and misses but with 17 homeruns in just 53 games he brings 30-40 home runs a year potential which is something this team desperately needs.
The signing of Hunter Renfroe shows the team realizes this is a huge hole and are not 100% confident in Velazquez being consistent for an entire year to fill that hole, but the potential is there. In 2023, of players with a minimum 150 plate appearances he ranked only behind Aaron Judge with a 21.4% barrel rate. With just about one year of service time in the majors, Velazquez will look to work on not chasing breaking balls and hopefully not be as unlucky as he had a .221 BABIP in 2023.
While the offense has a good chunk of the young core KC fans are excited about, Cole Ragans is entering into year two as a top 10 Cy young contender according to Draft Kings sportsbook. Baseball Savant compares his pitch speed and movement mostly to Shane Mcclanahan, the Ace of the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that does nothing but produce top tier arm talent. The stats, analytics, and Vegas odds all point to Ragans being a stud on the mound.
As the majority of the baseball world still waits for their favorite teams to make their off season moves, Royal fans saw J.J. Picollo spend over 100 millions very early into the offseason. Giving up the third most runs allowed last year led to almost all of that money being spent on pitching. With this money two of the players brought in were Michael Wacha (3.22 ERA in 2023) and Seth Lugo (3.57 ERA in 2023). Both pitchers will be looked at to give quality innings but quantity may be the issue as skipper Matt Quantro would probably be happy to get 150 innings from each of them. With that being said, Piccolo also brought in three veteran relievers (Nick Anderson, Chris Stratton, Will Smith) that will be looked at to solidify the bullpen. Like the 2015 world series team, this team will look to use the bullpen to gain their edge.
The young offense will have to make sure the Royals are not in the bottom third of the league in runs this year again while the new and improved arsenal of arms keep opposing offenses at bay. If the new guys do what they were brought in to do and players continue to develop this team will see a much different result in 2024.
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