Kansas City Royals 2024 Season Preview

The Kansas City Royals weren't fun to watch in 2023, but a new-and-improved roster has the chance to surprise people in 2024.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates scoring a first inning run with teammates while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 28, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Royals are a young and fun team heading into the 2024 campaign. That doesn’t mean they’re going to contend for the AL Central crown, but the promise is certainly there.

Last season, this squad put together only 56 wins, the lowest full-season amount they’ve had since 2005. They also finished under .500 for the seventh consecutive year and had the lowest non-Oakland A’s winning percentage in all of baseball.

We’re talking about a roster that had the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr., Hunter Dozier, Franmil Reyes, Matt Beaty and Brad Keller taking the field for them at various points of the season. It’s not that surprising to see where they finished in the standings, but there was clearly a lot to be done this winter.

How Did the Royals Address Offseason Needs?

Ownership took some significant strides this offseason in shoring up the big league roster. A total of 8 players were signed to big league free agent contracts. The front office handing out north of $100M in free agent deals was a refreshing sight. Two more impact players were acquired via trades, too.

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Pitching Staff

Easily the most improved part of this roster is the Royals’ bullpen. In 2023, the relief corps had the second-highest ERA (5.23) in all of baseball, lower than only the Rockies ‘pen. They walked a ton of batters and allowed entirely too many home runs, which is why they mustered up just 0.5 fWAR on the season.

Signing Will Smith and Chris Stratton in free agency, purchasing Nick Anderson from the Braves, trading for John Schreiber from the Red Sox and claiming Matt Sauer from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft are all excellent steps in the right direction.

On the starting pitching side, veterans Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha both came aboard via free agency. Kyle Wright, a promising right-hander, was also acquired in a trade with the Braves. They’ll join an already strong duo in Cole Ragans and Brady Singer.


The Royals were 24th in the league last year in offensive fWAR, coming in at 11.3. One player single-handedly had a 5.7 fWAR, accounting for more than half of the total number the team had.

Bobby Witt Jr., the club’s undisputed leader and face of the franchise, was solid as a rock in 2023 and was rewarded for the potential he’s delivered on and continued to show off. The 23-year-old was locked up to a whopping 11-year, $288.7M contract extension in early February.

Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, Garrett Hampson and Austin Nola were all signed to big league contracts this offseason. Renfroe brings the pop while Frazier and Hampson bring speed and versatility and Nola provides another reliable option behind the plate.

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Vinnie Pasquantino is healthy, too, which is huge. He will once again be a heavily relied upon option in the middle of the batting order. He has flashed serious potential in the past, so as long as he’s healthy, the sky is the limit.

Kansas City Royals Projected Starting Lineup

Internal improvements across the board are going to be the primary offensive storylines to watch this year. With a lot of the dead weight being removed from the roster, it’s now going to be time for some of these younger players to step up and show what they’re made of.

Here’s how the lineup should look on most nights:

Kansas City Royals Projected Starting LineupLineup Vs. LHPDepth Pieces
1. 3B Maikel Garcia1. 3B Maikel GarciaAustin Nola (C)
2. SS Bobby Witt Jr.2. SS Bobby Witt Jr.Nick Loftin (INF)
3. 1B Vinnie Pasquantino3. 1B Vinnie PasquantinoDrew Waters (OF)
4. C Salvador Perez4. C Salvador PerezTyler Gentry (OF)
5. LF MJ Melendez5. DH Nelson VelazquezDairon Blanco (OF)
6. RF Hunter Renfroe6. RF Hunter RenfroeDevin Mann (INF, non-40-man)
7. DH Nelson Velazquez7. LF Garrett HampsonNate Eaton (INF/OF, non-40-man)
8. 2B Michael Massey8. 2B Michael Massey
9. CF Kyle Isbel9. CF Kyle Isbel

FanGraphs’ Roster Resource and I disagree a bit on both who is making the Opening Day roster and how the starting lineup(s) will shake out.

First off, Nelson Velazquez must be on the 26-man roster to start the year. FG has him projected to start the year in Triple-A Omaha. The slugging outfielder hit 14 home runs and had a 134 OPS+ in just 40 games for the Royals last year. He came over via trade from the Cubs and immediately took off. It’s unlikely that the club saw that performance and determined he’d best fit in the minor leagues.

One of Maikel Garcia or MJ Melendez will be the Royals’ leadoff hitter, but it’s not yet clear which it will be. I’m leaning Garcia because of his speed and Melendez fifth because of how well he hit there last season. Again, it could go either way and both players have cases for the leadoff spot.

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The middle of the lineup is going to be where the Royals do the most damage. Witt, easily the club’s best hitter, is set in stone as the No. 2 hitter. Perez is coming off of a down year (23 HR, 80 RBI, 94 OPS+ which is not bad but lower than usual for him), but he’s still got a ton of pop in his bat and feels like a prime rebound candidate.

As previously mentioned, Pasquantino is going to be a major addition now that he’s back from injury. He’s got a 122 career OPS+ through 133 games and was hitting the ball very well in 2023 before an injury prematurely ended his season. He’s historically hit well against both right- and left-handers and will see playing time against both.

Melendez will bow out against southpaws in favor of utilityman Garrett Hampson, who could also spell Massey at second base against lefties. Hampson was solely brought aboard to fill defensive needs all around the diamond but his 120 OPS+ against left-handers is surely an added bonus.

Kyle Isbel is a name to watch this year, as he’s a high-speed, defensively gifted center fielder who could very easily snag a few Gold Gloves before he hangs it up. Last year, he was in the 93rd percentile in Fielding Run Value and 96th in Outs Above Average. That’ll play.

Projected Bench

Freddy Fermin (C), Adam Frazier (UTIL), Hampson, Nick Pratto (1B/OF)

Even with Austin Nola on hand, the backup catcher spot is Freddy Fermin’s to lose. The 28-year-old performed exceptionally well in a 70-game showing last year, hitting nine home runs with 32 RBI and 112 OPS+. Fermin does a lot of things well and, barring injury, will be No. 2 behind Perez for the entirety of the 2024 campaign.

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Adam Frazier and Hampson fill similar roles, but one hits left-handed and one right-handed. Hampson will sneak into the starting lineup against southpaws either at second base or left field, but Frazier is going to be an oft-used option against righties.

Frazier, 32, had an impressive (for him) 94 OPS+ last year while also setting career-highs in home runs (13) and RBI (60) in 141 games for the Orioles. He can play second base, all three outfield positions and shortstop in a pinch. That positional versatility has always been highly valued by the Royals, which is exactly why they’ll have both Frazier and Hampson filling super-utility roles.

Nick Pratto is hard to put a read on. He’s always been a power hitter through and through, but he has yet to capitalize on the potential in the big leagues. In 144 games, he carries a .659 OPS and 82 OPS+. To Pratto’s credit, he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in spring this year. He’s hitting .421 with four home runs, 13 RBI and a 1.292 OPS in 13 games.

If Pratto is able to come even close to his spring production in the regular season, look for him to find his way into the lineup either as the Royals’ DH or in a corner outfield spot. He’s a first baseman by trade but Pasquantino isn’t going anywhere.

Kansas City Royals Projected Starting Rotation

Kansas City Royals Projected Starting RotationDepth Pieces
1. LHP Cole RagansRHP Jonathan Bowlan
2. RHP Seth LugoLHP Daniel Lynch IV
3. RHP Michael WachaLHP Anthony Veneziano
4. RHP Brady SingerRHP Luis Cessa (non 40-man)
5. RHP Alec MarshRHP Chandler Champlain (non 40-man)
LHP Kris Bubic*LHP Austin Cox (non 40-man)
RHP Kyle Wright*
* = Injured list

Seeing how poorly the starting rotation was last year, it’s really encouraging to see the group the Royals plan on sending out this year.

Cole Ragans is set to be the club’s ace this season, and deservedly so. The southpaw was acquired from the Rangers at last year’s deadline and immediately became an otherworldly talent.

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In 12 post-trade starts, Ragans posted a 2.64 ERA, 2.49 FIP and 168 ERA+, striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. He also allowed only three home runs in just under 72 innings of work. Suddenly one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in the league, expectations are sky-high for the 26-year-old.

Seth Lugo is an interesting case, as he broke into the league as a starting pitcher, turned into an oft-used reliever and then made a switch back to the rotation. Last year, he made a career-high 26 starts for the Padres and looked very strong. He turned that into a three-year contract with the Royals and he’s expected to play a crucial role near the top of the club’s rotation.

Michael Wacha, 32, started leaning on his changeup more last season and immediately began to reap the benefits. He posted a 3.22 ERA in 24 outings and is now going to give the Royals another valuable veteran on their staff.

After battling through inconsistencies on the mound and a back injury that prematurely ended his 2023 season, Brady Singer is a name to watch here. The right-hander is a prime example of a young player that could learn a lot from the likes of Wacha and Lugo.

Singer added a four-seam fastball and sweeper this offseason and has already found success in spring games with them, especially the sweeper. He hit a career-high in innings last year and now that he’s healthy, he’s going to be an important piece of this puzzle.

Then there’s Alec Marsh, who was only just recently confirmed as the club’s No. 5 starter. He looked severely overwhelmed in a 17-game showing last year, but he still managed to punch out over 10 batters per nine innings. Marsh has rebounded nicely in spring, as he has a 3.57 ERA with 20 strikeouts across six outings and 17.2 innings of work.

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Bubic underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2023. He is not expected back until at least the All-Star Break, but expecting him to retake the mound and immediately excel this year is unfair.

Wright, 28, won 21 games just two years ago but will not make a start in 2024. The right-hander had shoulder surgery in October and has already been confirmed as out for the entire year. He’s not eligible to hit free agency until after the 2026 season, though, so Royals fans will get to see plenty of him soon enough.

Projected Bullpen

Kansas City Royals projected bullpenDepth pieces
RHP James McArthurRHP John McMillon
RHP John SchreiberRHP Will Klein
RHP Nick AndersonRHP Steven Cruz
RHP Chris StrattonLHP Josh Taylor
RHP Jordan LylesRHP Dan Altavilla (non 40-man)
RHP Matt SauerRHP Tyler Duffey (non 40-man)
RHP Carlos Hernandez*LHP Sam Long (non 40-man)
LHP Angel ZerpaLHP Evan Sisk (non 40-man)
LHP Will Smith
LHP Jake Brentz*
* = Injured list

As mentioned earlier, the 2023 bullpen was atrocious for the Royals. The starting rotation was addressed in a big way but the ‘pen was upgraded in a huge way.

James McArthur emerged as a potential closer of the future despite the fact that he had a mid-4.00 ERA. ERA is far from the best way to measure a pitcher’s success, though. McArthur had a sparkling 2.78 FIP and finished last year with 16.1 straight scoreless innings in which he struck out 19 and didn’t walk anybody. The guy looks legit.

Chris Stratton and Will Smith, two members of last year’s championship-winning Rangers squad, bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to their new club.

Smith, 34, broke into the league as a starting pitcher with the Royals way back in 2012-2013. Since then, he has turned himself into one of the most reliable left-handed relievers in the game. Smith is solid as a rock and will give the Royals another option to close games if McArthur struggles to find his footing.

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Stratton, 33, is another starter-turned-reliever who has done an excellent job since his role change. Last year, he had a combined 113 ERA+ across 64 outings between the Cardinals and Rangers. He leans heavily on a fourseam fastball that batters hit just .188 off of last year and finished in the 85th percentile in Fastball Run Value.

John Schreiber and Nick Anderson are two more, you guessed it, veteran arms that will go a long way in shoring up this bullpen. The two righties each have experience in a variety of different relief roles, versatility that will be highly utilized by the Royals.

Jordan Lyles, the worst starting pitcher in the league last year, has already been confirmed as a reliever to start the 2024 campaign. He is nothing more than an innings sponge and has led the majors in earned runs in three of the past four seasons. Lyles, a pending free agent, will not finish the year with a job on the Royals.

Finally, Matt Sauer, a Rule 5 selection, will round out the bullpen as a long reliever and sixth starter. He looked great for the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate last year, posting a 3.42 ERA across 14 outings, and has a real shot at lasting the whole season on the Royals’ big league roster.

Closing Thoughts

The 2024 Royals are not going to be a team that busts out with 80+ wins, regardless of how much better they’re looking compared to last season. However, 70 wins feels like a distinct possibility here, which would be a major step up.

Thanks to slew of offseason additions, we’re looking at a team with a whole new look. Now it’s just a matter of getting them on the field and making incremental improvements over the trainwreck that was the 2023 campaign.

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