Things are not getting better anytime soon for the KC Royals. Sure, the season's second half is going better than the first, but the team is battling to avoid 100 losses rather than competing for a postseason berth. Fans are rightfully getting restless, as the Royals become synonymous with losing. The World Series banner and memories fade more every day. The Royals have a chance to recoup some hope, depending on their evaluation season's outcome.
The KC Royals 2023 evaluation season is winding down. So, let's evaluate.
The Royals trade deadline moves suggest this front office is more transactional. But, Royals general manager J.J. Picollo needs to do more in identifying and committing to what he deems this team's next contending core. The Royals had that in the 2010s, when first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and others joined the roster. But, that small group was not always a clear success.
Hosmer struggled mightily at times, Moustakas even went back to Triple-A Omaha for a spell. They nearly played their way out of the core, as other promising players did in Kansas City.
There are some young players who once concretely belonged in the team's future. But, struggles in since the All-Star break call their future status into question. They may not have superstar expectations, but these players all factor into Kansas City's plans for 2024 and beyond. Who are these players and what will add them back to the Royals' core list?
It feels like Angel Zerpa has been with the Royals for a while now. After all, he first made his debut late in 2021, Zerpa's expectations in the rotation were high. Sure, it was just a scoreless five innings, but the fastball looked good and he struck out four with only one walk. With the 2018 pitchers struggling so much, Zerpa coming out of nowhere and succeeding was a welcome surprise.
Nothing saps the positive energy from a good debut like a series of injuries. He suffered a knee injury in the 2022 season, limiting him to only three MLB games that season. Then, left-shoulder tendinopathy delayed his 2023 season until he returned on August 2. Since then, he has appeared in four games out of the bullpen with mixed results.
He carries a 7.71 ERA with a 6.05 FIP, with that damage coming in a four-inning outing and three-inning appearance six days apart. Zerpa surrendered four runs in each of those games, with the other two being shutout outings. It is concerning that Zerpa is not back in the rotation, but that he cannot last the length of even a short start.
Was the hype too much around one game in 2021? Probably so, but even MLB Pipeline has Zerpa as the Royals' 13th-best prospect. The most seasoned prospect evaluators see Zerpa's talent, and the 23-year-old could be with the Royals for awhile. But, his current production doesn't warrant much consideration for the team's core.