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Kyle Isbel makes the Opening Day roster

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Isbel becomes the latest 2018 draftee to make it to Kansas City.

Milwaukee Brewers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Royals manager Mike Matheny announced today that the team will add rookie Kyle Isbel to the active roster. The 24-year old will start in right field on Opening Day with Whit Merrifield moving to second base. Isbel had an impressive spring for the club, hitting .333 with two home runs and forcing his way onto the roster, which could deepen a lineup that looks better than they have run out in few years.

Most will remember the 2018 draft for the number of college pitchers taken but lost in that, was the selection they made in third round with their 94th overall pick. The choice was right on par with where Baseball America had him ranked, number 93 overall. The former UNLV outfielder joined the Royals organization after agreeing to a slot deal for $594,800. At 24 years old, gaming service time is something the Royals should not worry about here. Signing a former third-round pick to a friendly deal shouldn’t be too difficult considering he will be 30 should he play out to free agency now.

At the time he was drafted, Isbel was praised for his blend of power and speed. At the time of his selection, I gave this scouting report:

Give me a grinder with some pop, and that’s what Isbel is. Even if his power is more the 10 HR type instead of 15-20, I think the Royals have a nice utility guy here who can play multiple positions on the dirt or in the outfield. Perhaps we have Whit Merrifield’s future replacement in the UNLV outfielder.

The evaluators at Perfect Game liked his power potential.

Isbel is a solid defensive outfielder in the middle of the diamond, and scouts who believe he can stay in center field long term see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder from the left side of the plate, a highly sought after type of profile every year in the draft. He’s a bit undersized but is physical and strong, showing big raw power with the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark in any direction, and the improvements he’s made as far as his bat-to-ball skills and subsequently his ability to get to that raw power in game situations.

Isbel instantly impacted when he joined the organization, crushing the ball in Idaho Falls to push his way onto Lexington. He stepped into the top of the lineup to solidify their order on the way to a playoff championship. Between the two stops and the playoffs, the outfielder hit .322/.384/.493. Isbel got off to a spectacular start in 2019 season, showing off some power with eight extra-base hits, including a pair of home runs in the first 11 games. Unfortunately, that came to a quick end when he suffered multiple injuries after making a dive for a ball. Not only did the ball careen off his face, but Isbel injured his hamstring in the process. A hamate bone injury came that season, forcing him to miss nearly three months of action. Things didn’t click for him on his return from injury as he hit just .176 in his final 39 games in Wilmington during the regular season.

Fortunately, that was more signs of rust than anything as he bounced back with a good Arizona Fall League and prepared himself for Double-A. Unfortunately, as we know, the 2020 minor league season didn’t happen, but that didn’t stop Isbel from impressing at the Alternate Site. Perhaps he impressed enough that the Royals didn’t blink when the Mets wanted to acquire Khalil Lee, an outfielder they had taken two years before Kyle’s arrival.

When he joined the organization, Isbel did not look like the imposing type, standing at 5’11 190 lbs. Since then, he’s added plenty of muscle to give an appearance that he can damage mistakes. One scout from an organization I spoke with after the Arizona Fall League in 2019 said that he looked the part of a fourth outfielder who may not have the power to make an impact in the majors. That same scout has some reservations still, but his bat’s impact isn’t one of them.

Scouts along the way have compared him to new Royals outfield Andrew Benintendi as well. That comp in his early years rings true today as a hitter who will likely have some swing and miss but impact the ball and the game in multiple ways. I see a Benintendi/David DeJesus-type impact bat in the corner outfield for the Royals with a 2.5-3 fWAR player on average with maybe a couple of slightly better seasons mixed in there. That value may pop higher in his early years when he can handle center.

Whit Merrifield was the last homegrown impactful position player drafted by the Royals outside of the first round, and before him, it was Mike Aviles or DeJesus. There is a good chance Isbel will be the latest.