Outfielder Kyle Isbel is bound to improve for the KC Royals this season
Three years ago, not long before the pandemic stepped in and forced baseball to shut down for almost four months, I wrote in this space about a young Kansas City outfield prospect who I'd mistaken during a game for Alex Gordon. For reasons more detailed in that story, I considered it a reasonable mistake, and still do to this day.
Since that game, Isbel hit well when he made his major league debut in 2021: in a season divided in two by a temporary return to Triple-A Omaha, he put up a 28-game, .276/.337/.434 line and handled 47 outfield chances without making an error.
Last season, though, wasn't good for Isbel. He played 106 times for Kansas City but hit only .211 with a .264 OBP and five home runs. His defense wasn't quite as good (.979 overall fielding percentage while playing every outfield position), but didn't seem to rattle the Royals.
Now, Isbel will enter spring training with renewed hope of landing an everyday spot in the Kansas City outfield. Gone via a recent trade to Minnesota is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, so Isbel will compete with Drew Waters for the center field job and perhaps with Edward Olivares in right. He's a decent bet to be the fourth outfielder if he doesn't beat out Waters or Olivares.
But whatever happens and wherever he plays, Isbel will, considering Taylor's departure, probably be a Royal when the regular season opens March 30. And he'll probably be better at the plate: he showed the club what he's capable of in 2021 (yes, it was a small sample) and owns a career .276/.352/.804 minor league line. The potential to hit is there.
Will Bobby Witt Jr. and Kyle Isbel improve in 2023? How about Brad Keller and Hunter Dozier? Let us know what you think.