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The 2023 Royals are upstream without a paddle

This team needs help, but from where?

Texas Rangers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It didn’t take long for the hopes and dreams of the Kansas City faithful to deflate into grumbles and frustration. Just 19 games into the 2023 season, the Royals are an abysmal 4-15, including 1-12 in the perhaps not-so-friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium. That frustration from fans is clear on social media and the players are working their way through it as well. There were boos from the stands during the team’s loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, and the 10,388 in attendance for the Wednesday matinee matchup didn’t see a much better result.

After losing 12-2 on Tuesday, the Royals fell 12-3 on Wednesday. They were outscored 28-5 in the three-game series at The K. Not many — if anyone at all — predicted that this team would make the playoffs this season. Most expected a losing record. However, there was hope for improvement and hope for a glimpse into what the future could hold. Instead, things seem as grim as ever and the team doesn’t look any better than we saw last season. Bobby Witt Jr. commented on the start and outside noise on Tuesday, stating it “can get hard.”

“I know at times, it can get hard. You can hear it with all the outside noise. But you just got to keep a positive mindset. We’re not trying to go out there each and every day trying to lose every game. People don’t see the work we’re putting in before the game. That’s what we can continually do.” - Bobby Witt Jr.

With such an awful start to the season, it begs the question: when will it all start to turn the right way for the Royals? At least in previous years, there were reinforcements on the horizon. The 2018 Royals lost 104 games but the draft brought a highly touted group of young pitchers. In 2019, there were 103 losses but Bobby Witt Jr. joined the farm system as the 2nd overall pick. 2020 was another losing season but the pitchers started making their debuts, such as Brady Singer and Kris Bubic.

The 2021 season was the fifth in a row with a record south of .500, but Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar made their debuts. Down on the farm, the trio of Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto dominated in the minor leagues. Last season, the Royals lost 97 games but the next wave of prospects arrived, starting with Witt on Opening Day. Later came Melendez, then Vinnie Pasquantino and Michael Massey. At least in these last five years of losing baseball, there has been some sort of silver lining to point to. What do we have in 2023?

No one is coming to save the Royals except themselves

The 2023 season is missing a lot of what fans have hung their hat on in previous years. The farm system currently ranks 29th in baseball, according to Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. The team’s lone top-100 prospect, Gavin Cross, isn’t likely to make his Major League debut until 2024 at least. Sure, the system is pretty deep and underrated by many. There are a lot of good, young players that could make their debut in 2023.

Nick Loftin and Maikel Garcia are knocking on the door. 2022’s Minor League Player of the Year, Tyler Gentry, isn’t far behind them. Alec Marsh looks better this season, and in Omaha, both Drew Parrish and Austin Cox have held their own. Guys may come up, but all the “big guns” are already in the arsenal for Kansas City. After a hot streak, Loftin is now 0-for-his-last-8 and hitting just .255 on the season. Maikel Garcia was a late scratch to Wednesday’s Storm Chasers lineup. It’s been reported he was scratched with an injury.

With Kris Bubic on the Injured List, there isn’t even a pitcher in the minor leagues that offers much confidence in taking his place in the rotation. Instead, the team’s best option is offseason signing Ryan Yarbrough — he of a 9.00 ERA and -0.4 bWAR through six appearances this season.

The situation that the Royals currently find themselves in isn’t all bad. Sure, they’re starting Hunter Dozier far too often. Beyond that, however, the players you want to see taking at-bats are. The lineup is filled every day with most of the players that fans in Kansas City have been clamoring for over the better part of two seasons. The core has arrived in Witt, Melendez, “Pasquatch”, and Massey. Once healthy, Drew Waters will join them.

The Royals are upstream without a paddle. The only way out of their current situation is to play their way out of it. There’s nothing that MJ Melendez or Kyle Isbel will gain from more time in the minor leagues. Sure, there could be some tweaks. Massey’s approach looks poor to start the season and the team could option him to Omaha. What happens afterward if Loftin comes up and struggles the same way?

For most prospects, slumps happen, and for many, they last quite a while. Alex Gordon’s lasted the better part of four seasons and 408 games. The problem that the Royals are faced with is the fact that many of these young hitters arrived more-or-less at the same time and seem to be struggling all at once. There isn’t an easy replacement for them all, and (I know, roast me now) in an evaluation year, struggling at the Major League level is probably a lot more useful long-term than dominating at the minor league level for some of these hitters.

The farm system has a lot of depth, but not much MLB-ready

I’ve spent a lot of the early season mentioning how underrated the farm system is for Kansas City. It doesn’t feature a lot of elite prospects. It does feature a lot of depth, however, and many guys that could become regular contributors in the major leagues. Peyton Wilson, Nick Loftin, Maikel Garcia, Carter Jensen, and Tyler Gentry all look like future everyday players. There are others beyond them that probably reach the majors at some point as well.

On the pitching side of things, Drew Parrish, Austin Cox, and Alec Marsh have bounced back early this season. Arms in the lower minors like David Sandlin, Frank Mozzicato, and Ben Kudrna have all looked good at times as well. That’s a lot of names that I truly believe make up a really solid farm system for the Royals. The talent evaluators rank the farm system near the bottom of the league, but there’s the potential to improve to 20th or better by mid-season. That isn’t incredible, but when put into context with all the elite prospects that have graduated in the last three years, it’s pretty damn good.

Despite having a solid depth of talent, when you narrow down the names to players that are major league ready right now, the list shrinks to almost no one. As stated before, the Royals' only real option to replace Kris Bubic is Ryan Yarbrough. There aren’t great options ready to go in the minors. Jackson Kowar has been pitching in relief this season and Jonathan Heasley owns an 8.84 ERA for Omaha this season.

Nick Loftin has looked good to start the season but doesn’t even have 250 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt. The same can be said for Maikel Garcia and Tyler Gentry. Is rushing more young talent worth getting a few more wins on the calendar this season? The answer won’t sell more tickets and it won’t save John Sherman from more heat on Twitter. Even still, the best answer for the Royals right now in mid-April is to play through the struggles with who they’ve got.