KC Royals Prospects: Season's first half could tell this slugger's tale

How a young outfielder could break into the outfield picture.
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Last week's news that Kansas City was acquiring slugging big league outfielder Hunter Renfroe immediately captured the attention of KC Royals fans everywhere. The move satisfied general manager J.J. Picollo's oft-expressed goal of adding a veteran bat to manager Matt Quatraro's lineup.

And Renfroe and his ultra-strong right arm should help solidify an outfield short on stability. In fact, picking him up probably sets that outfield going into spring training, and probably for Opening Day — right field will be his, Kyle Isbel's superb glove gives him a solid claim to center field, and the Royals seem committed to seeing MJ Melendez's conversion to the outfield through, which means he'll play left.

Where, though, does that leave other members of the club's crowd of outfield candidates, especially Tyler Gentry, who so many expected to see join the Royals when rosters expanded last September? Gentry, after all, boasts power and a strong arm like Renfroe, and MLB Pipeline ranks him as the organization's eighth-best prospect.

The answer to the Gentry question may well depend on how he and Renfroe perform during the first half of the 2024 season. The odds are good that their Kansas City fates are intertwined.

Why? Renfroe's KC contract is for at least one year; he holds a player option for a second, meaning he has significant control over whether he's a Royal in 2025. Kansas City could, of course, wrest that control away by trading, him, a disposition far from unlikely if he plays well and other clubs come calling at the midsummer trade deadline.

And that's where Gentry's performance becomes even more important than it otherwise would be. Yes, Melendez's defense could remain so questionable that the Royals give Gentry a shot at his job, but because the club likes him and his power potential (remember those minor league-leading 41 homers he hit in 2021?), expect them to tolerate his glove for another season. And even if Isbel fails, Gentry really isn't a center fielder.

Gentry, then, will be a logical choice to replace Renfroe in right if he's moved at the trade deadline ... but only if he puts up good numbers at Triple-A Omaha where, because he needs to play every day at this point in his career, he'll surely begin the season. Starting the year with the Royals and seeing action, especially live pitching, only once or twice a week will do him, and the organization, no good at all.

Can Tyler Gentry be ready to step up to KC sometime next season?

Hopefully but critical to consider about Gentry's development and immediate future is that he has only three professional seasons under his belt, so he can benefit from more minor league experience.

But he may not require much more seasoning. He established his ability to get on base with a .395 OBP in 44 games at High-A Quad Cities, his first pro stop, in 2021, then slashed .326/.422/.542 and clubbed 21 homers with 86 RBI in a 2022 season he started at Quad Cities and finished at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. And although his average dropped significantly to .253 when he moved up to Triple-A last season, he still posted a .370 OBP and homered 16 times in 129 games.

So, expect Gentry to begin 2024 as a Storm Chaser and improve at the plate as the season progresses. And if the Royals decide to trade Renfroe, don't be surprised to see Gentry take his place.

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