The KC Royals lost 106 games last season. A victory over the Yankees in the campaign's last game, which Zack Greinke helped sew up, was all that separated the 2023 team from being the worst in franchise history.
That narrow escape did nothing, though, to temper the indignity of such a bad season, or to soothe the dispositions of fans grown too familiar with the brand of bad baseball the Royals have played for so long. Improvement became the name of the KC game as baseball's winter unfolded.
Fortunately, general manager J.J. Picollo recognized the urgency of the situation and unhesitatingly pushed the club into an uncharacteristically busy offseason. New to the roster are outfielder Hunter Renfroe and proven utility man Garrett Hampson, and Picollo recently signed veteran catcher Sandy León for insurance behind the plate.
But pitching has been Picollo's primary focus, and with good reason — without poor mound work, the Royals wouldn't have lost 106 times, wouldn't have had the second-worst ERA in the American League, wouldn't have blown over half their save opportunities, and wouldn't have been forced to continually use Jordan Lyles, who last season lost more games than any other major leaguer and had the big leagues' highest ERA.
Picollo's hard winter work has, at least on paper, paid handsome dividends. Joining the Royals for the 2024 season are established major league hurlers Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Will Smith, and Chris Stratton, a group that should well-complement returning pitchers Brady Singer and Cole Ragans among others.
And it won't be long before Royals followers get their first looks at Picollo's new additions.
Pitchers and catchers are preparing to report to spring training
Those looks will come first to fans who relish chances to watch Royal workouts under the Arizona sun — the club's Surprise, Arizona, training complex will swing its gates open to Kansas City pitchers and catchers Feb. 14, and those batterymates will get into their spring training regimen almost immediately.
The rest of the players slated for major league camp report a few days later. That group will include those members of KC's 40-man roster and the club's non-roster invitation list who don't work behind the plate or on the mound. Full-team work is scheduled to begin Feb. 19.
Exhibition games, which begin Feb. 24 with a single Cactus League contest against the Rangers (with whom the Royals just happen to share Surprise Stadium), will give Kansas City fans their first of over a full month's opportunities to watch the team's new and incumbent pitchers in preseason action. The club breaks camp after playing the Rangers March 23, then makes a stop two days later in Springdale, Ark., to play its Northwest Arkansas Double-A affiliate.
What pitchers and catchers should KC Royals fans keep their eyes on?
Besides newcomers Wacha, Lugo, Smith, Stratton and León (who'll be trying to earn a big league spot backing up Salvador Perez and Freddy Fermin), close watches are warranted for Singer (will he throw a badly needed third pitch more often?), Ragans (can he maintain the stellar form he displayed during last season's second half?), Lyles (can he improve?), and non-roster invitee Logan Porter (where does he stand with the Royals?).
Clues to the answers to all those questions will begin surfacing Feb. 14.