Better: Outfielder Drew Waters
FanGraphs Projections: 107 games, .696 OPS, 95 wRC+, 1.3 WAR
Even after Anne Rogers announced Water's concerning injury, his improvement in 2023 will be noteworthy.
Waters will likely miss Opening Day this year after being Sibel's primary competition at center field. A left oblique strain will likely sideline Waters for at least six weeks, according to Rogers. That injury has plagued the Royals' younger players in recent years, including outfielder Jorge Soler in 2020 and infielder Adalberto Mondesi in 2021. But Waters only played in 32 major-league games in 2022. Imagine how he can do it with double or triple that number.
Waters made his Major League Baseball debut last season, hitting.240 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 32 games for Kansas City. The former Atlanta Braves prospect showed immediate improvement in the Kansas City system and skyrocketed up the organizational depth chart. His strong performance at the plate in Omaha saw him join the Royals, despite concerning strikeout numbers. Those did not go away in the majors, as Waters trucked out more than a third of the time. He doesn't even need much improvement there in 2023; he just needs to take advantage of the new MLB rules.
Waters had a .545 AVG in the majors when the opposing defense did not shift. The rules do not prevent shifts altogether, but the rule change will likely be enough for Waters. His high exit-velocity and above-average speed will help him be a strong on-base machine in 2023.
The injury this early in the season is concerning, but the initial projections point to Waters outperforming Isbel. Waters has a better chance than Isbel to affect a contending Royals team. The 2023 team is simply a stepping stone to the 2024 roster, according to general manager J.J. Picollo. If the Royals are serious about building their next championship team, Waters must outperform expectations and seize opportunities.