For however long it survives the current push for a new ballpark, Kauffman Stadium will require of KC Royals center fielders what it always has—range, speed, and an excellent glove. All are must-haves for anyone the club picks to patrol The K's hitter-friendly outfield middle.
Luckily, and despite being one of the worst teams in the majors this season, the Royals have Kyle Isbel, who's been just fine in center. In 55 games there, including Sunday's series finale at Philadelphia, Isbel has been flawless: he hasn't made an error and speedily runs down just about everything hit in his general vicinity. And although he missed almost two months of the season with a hamstring injury, he's clearly manager Matt Quatraro's first choice for center.
All that suggests Isbel's Kansas City future is as bright as it seemed when he broke in with an impressive 28-game .276 average in 2021. But projecting Isbel's tenure without considering his performance at the plate would be a mistake.
And it's that performance that casts a cloud over Isbel.
His hitting could force Kyle Isbel out of the KC Royals' future plans
Isbel's offense is his most troublesome asset. Taking that first season's .276 out of the equation, and entering Sunday's action against Philadelphia, he was slashing .218/.262/.356 in the 161 games he's played since, including the miserable .191 he hit after May last year that helped make him one the Royals' three most disappointing players of the season.
Unfortunately, 2023 hasn't been that much better. After going 0-for-4 against the Phillies Sunday, Isbel is slashing .222/.254/.370 for the season and is 2-for-16 (.125) this month. There are reasons for hope, however—he hit .284 and homered three times in July, a month that also included a 4-for-5 game against the Twins and five other multi-hit contests. And through Saturday, he's striking out less this season (20.1%) than he did in his first two (27.7% in 2021 and 27% last year).
Sooner or later—probably sooner—he'll have to improve his career .225 average if he wants to remain with the Royals as a regular; the 49 games left on Kansas City's schedule will give him plenty of opportunities to prove he can handle big league pitching consistently.
Count this writer among those who recognized, even before he debuted in the majors, just how good Isbel is defensively, but how mercurial he can be at the plate. Unless he starts hitting well regularly, though, his glove may not be enough to keep him in Kansas City.