Dairon Blanco provides elite tools, untapped production to 2024 KC Royals

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Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Up today is the speedy Dairon Blanco.

Let's compare two KC Royals players after the All-Star break in 2023.

Player A: .308/.372/.526, 143 wRC+, 19 SB, 8% BB%, 19.3% K%, 1.2 fWAR in 50 games with 88 plate appearances.

Player B: .301/.343/.563, 139 wRC+, 22 SB, 6.3% BB%, 13.5% K%, 3.3 fWAR in 68 games with 303 plate appearances.

Both great second-half splits from each player, with drastically different workloads. Both are great on the basepaths, not strikeout-heavy and have overall positive impacts on the Royals. Player B, otherwise known as Bobby Witt Jr., earned his flowers and a massive 11-year extension this offseason.

Player A, known as Dairon Blanco, is still hoping for an Opening Day roster slot. He is not more important than Witt in the 2024 scheme, but Blanco's 2023 season shows what he can bring to Kansas City.

The KC Royals need to unleash Blanco while he is still here.

Blanco is a big "what if" story as an international free agent. He did not defect from Cuba until he was already 23 years old, nearly a decade later than most international free agents join an organization. The Oakland Athletics signed him in 2018, and Blanco didn't play his first minor-league game until he was 25 years old. The Royals acquired him in the Jake Diekman trade, and Blanco has done nothing but steal bases and get better since.

Blanco had a career year last season, playing in 69 MLB games with 138 plate appearances. He started at least seven games at each outfield position, playing solid defense at all spots. He was a popular defensive substitute. He was surprisingly never a pinch hitter but was wildly successful as a pinch runner. In 15 such games, he had six stolen bases and scored eight runs. Manager Matt Quatraro has to love that body of work.

Blanco will be 31 this April, casting doubt on his long-term role in Kansas City. Whether he is here next year or five years from now, the Royals need to tap into his tools now. Let's take a look at what he could do in 2024.

How FanGraphs projects Dairon Blanco will perform in 2024

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) has a very sluggish projection for Blanco. They predict he will play in 15 games, hitting .259/.323/.389 with one home run and six stolen bases. All in all, that prediction makes him worth a measly .2 fWAR.

How will Dairon Blanco actually impact the KC Royals this season?

While I could not disagree with the limited games and opportunities Fangraphs predicts for Blanco, the work's quality is promising. That many stolen bases in only 15 games, plus a projected 93 wRC+, are great for a fourth or fifth outfielder. But Blanco needs more opportunities because, when given a chance, he produces more often than not. Simple as that.

Royals fans love speedy players, dating back to the franchise's beginning in 1969. Blanco isn't going to hold franchise records for stolen bases or anything, but he might double his career total in 2024. Even in a part-time role, Blanco should post at least 25 stolen bases this coming season. His speed is just too great, and Kansas City is insanely aggressive on the basepaths.

The 2023 Royals had 2,056 stolen base opportunities, which ranked as the third-fewest in baseball. On the flip side, they had the third-most stolen bases with 163. They were caught stealing a whopping 47 times, but that further exemplifies how often Kansas City tried to swipe second. A player like Blanco in the lineup or on the bench only helps Kansas City's base-stealing efforts.

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