Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2022. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is outfielder Kyle Isbel.
With only four outfielders listed on Kansas City’s 40-man roster, one might think Kyle Isbel’s spot is secure.
However, nothing is certain for the lefty-swinging rookie (yes, he played 28 games for the Royals last season, but didn’t reach rookie limits). Michael A. Taylor is expected to occupy center field and Andrew Benintendi left, leaving Isbel and Edward Olivares, both on the 40-man roster, vying with non-roster spring camp invitee JaCoby Jones for reserve spots.
However much still depends on how the Royals infield shakes out—with a likely infield of Bobby Witt Jr., Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez at third, shortstop and second, that leaves Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier looking for time between infield spots and the opening in right field.
Isbel began 2021 by starting seven of the Royals’ first eight games and playing in 12 of their first 17. He collected nine hits in 34 at-bats, but struggled with the strike zone, piling up 15 strikeouts and just two walks before being optioned to the Alternate Training Site to prepare for the delayed start to the minor league season.
In a four-month stint at Triple-A Omaha, Isbel clubbed 15 home runs and posted a .269/.357/.444 slash line with 22 stolen bases and 45 walks, but still had 91 strikeouts. A September return to the Royals resulted in another 42 at-bats with six walks, only eight strikeouts and Isbel’s first major league home run. He finished with a .276/.337/.434 line and drove in seven runs in 83 plate appearances.
How Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project Kyle Isbel for the KC Royals.
Baseball Reference predicts Isbel will be a contributor in a reserve role with a .259/.329/.431 slash line, seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 242 plate appearances.
FanGraphs (Depth Chart version) projects .250/.313/.405 slash line with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 294 plate appearances.
How will outfielder Kyle Isbel actually perform for the KC Royals in 2022?
Manager Mike Matheny has shown his ability and willingness to spread playing time by shuffling positions, and he’ll continue to do that in 2022; having so many players ready to contribute at the big league level is a good problem for a manager to have. For Isbel to continue to progress and gain playing time, his key will be to control his plate discipline and his swing to reduce his strikeout rate. Defensively, Isbel is solid, having one outfield assist and no errors with the Royals in 2021.
Provided he can bring down his strikeout rate, Kyle Isbel should be a good contributor for the Royals this season, spelling the regulars at all three outfield positions and providing some pop with the bat. Look for an average around .265 with a handful of home runs from him.