The real competition
So, we are down to Waters and Blanco. I predicted this month that Blanco, who will be 31 shortly after Opening Day, is poised for a breakout season. His bat played well to close out 2023, plus his speed is among the best in all of baseball. The speedster can do damage on the basepaths and would be the league's best pinch runner. However, there is a scenario that would not surprise me.
The Royals added utilityman Garrett Hampson this offseason on a one-year deal. The former Miami Marlin played all over the field last season. He doesn't excel at any one position, but he played all three outfield spots competently. His high-contact bat and equally impressive speed will get him in the lineup. I can see a scenario where Kansas City sends Blanco back to Omaha, keeping him active rather than sitting on the bench. Then, the team can explore trading him or bringing him back, depending on the team's health.
So, let's say that scenario happens. Blanco is a Storm Chaser once again. That leaves Gentry and Waters to battle it out for another spot.
This is where it gets down to preference. Waters, while not stellar, was okay in 2023. He was an above-average center fielder, recording 4 OAA in his time there. That was a big improvement from his -2 mark in 2022. Plus, he saw a second-half surge similar to many of his teammates. His strikeouts dropped, and his walks doubled, raising his wRC+ to... 86. That is cherry-picking stats and ignoring how bad he was to start the season. Granted, an injury during spring training delayed his 2023 debut and likely affected his start, but he was rough to watch at the plate even as the season went along.
Remember when I said preference? Here is mine: I want a break from the Drew Waters experiment. He just turned 25, so he still has time to grow and develop. But, in a season with more expectations, I would love to see Gentry's approach toward the bottom of the lineup. He draws more walks, has a more patient plate approach, and surprisingly had a better hard-hit percentage than Waters in Triple-A action this year.
Granted, this is all before any action in Arizona. It is important to note that the performances of all the outfielders mentioned during spring training will heavily influence the final roster decisions. Great showings, major injuries, or lackluster performances could significantly impact the outcome of these battles on the bench.
Considering Gentry's potential, his impressive performance in Triple-A, and the competition he faces in the outfield, it is evident that he deserves a spot on the Opening Day roster. While spring training performances will ultimately determine the final decisions, Gentry's skills and approach make a compelling case for his inclusion. If he can continue to showcase his abilities during this crucial period, Gentry has a strong chance of making his debut in a Royals uniform.