How will Kyle Isbel stun KC Royals fans in 2024?

The centerfielder is poised for another career year patrolling Kauffman Stadium.

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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 outfielder Kyle Isbel.

KC Royals fans are never short of opinions when it comes to outfielder Kyle Isbel. Despite playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field in 2022 and 2023, his production at the plate is lacking. It is fair for fans to want it all in center field after Lorenzo Cain, but there has to be a give and a take. Kansas City has a centerfielder many teams would love to have, and Isbel is poised for another season of progression.

KC Royals fans severely underestimate Kyle Isbel's value

2023 was more of the same for Isbel, whether it be his elite glove or substandard bat. Injuries plagued the 26-year-old, limiting him to 91 games. He did have a career-high 313 plate appearances, giving him ample opportunities at the plate.

Drew Waters' supporters all want to point to his health for a down 2023 but refuse to give Isbel the same grace. He missed nearly two months of the season, due to a Grade 2 hamstring strain. He was better at the plate after his time away, posting a .254/.296/.393 (83 wRC+) line, better walk and strikeout rates, and four home runs since June 27.

Isbel was red-hot at the plate in September, a month that prevented Kansas City's 2023 season from being cataclysmic. His .267/.365/.400 (111 wRC+) line was a massive improvement, improving his walk-to-strikeout ratio as well. For all the hype around other Royals with strong Septembers, there seems to be none around Isbel. How do projection systems think he will perform in 2024?

How FanGraphs projects Kyle Isbel will perform in 2024

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) predicts a career year for Isbel. The predicted .252/.311/.402 (91 wRC+) would all be career bests in a full season. The predicted 1.4 fWAR would be another jump, from 1.1 in 2023 and .7 in 2022.

What kind of season might Kyle Isbel actually have?

The fact is that Isbel still has massive competition in centerfield this season. Waters was his primary competitor in 2023, but Waters, Dairon Blanco, and Garrett Hampson are all major-league talents vying for looks in center field. But, MLB.com's Anne Rogers reported that "the Royals believe Isbel is their best center field option," and his spring training performance shouldn't change that.

Isbel knocked a three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, nearly to dead center. The knock capped off a six-run sixth inning from the Royals in their 9-7 win over the AL West rival. There are some noticeable differences in the mechanics, namely a quicker and lower leg kick. These little changes offer hope, taken with a grain of spring training salt.

Isbel could still be a below-average batter, but that is acceptable if he maintains his elite defense. Manager Matt Quatraro noted Isbel is working with Olympic gold medalist sprinter Maurice Greene this offseason. The Kansas City native examined Isbel's running mechanics and habits, and there has been nothing but growth and changes coming from Surprise.

“In the past, when I felt something off, I was kind of searching and didn’t really know where to go,” Isbel said. “That’s when the inconsistency drags on. You don’t know what to target, you don’t know what’s off. … Learned a ton about the swing, dove deep into biomechanics and how your body works. Ties into my running and everything. I just want to learn about my body and how it functions.”

In that vein, I have two predictions for Isbel. First, His career-high in stolen bases is nine in 2022, and Isbel will surpass that in 2024. He was more aggressive on the basepaths in 2023, and this offseason's mechanical help will amplify his aggressive production. Also, I believe Isbel will capture a Gold Glove in center field this season. It is time for voters to recognize one of baseball's best outfielders, and improved production at the plate will get that done.

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