How much, if at all, the KC Royals will improve next season depends in no small part on Vinnie Pasquantino and his surgically repaired right shoulder. Pasquantino, who quickly endeared himself to Kansas City fans after the Royals called him up in 2022 to replace Carlos Santana, missed most of this season after injuring that shoulder and having a June operation to repair it.
The Royals sorely missed Pasquantino. Summoned to the big leagues last season to fill the first base and designated hitter lineup gaps Santana's trade to Seattle created, Pasquantino started slowly — after playing his first big league game June 28, he was hitting just .219 when July ended — but caught fire and slashed .346/.424/.536 over his last 43 games and finished his rookie campaign with 10 homers and a .295/.383/.450 line.
Combined with fellow first-sacker Nick Pratto's mostly disappointing rookie season, those numbers made Pasquantino the Royals' presumptive starting first baseman coming into this season.
Pasquantino was on his way to living up to that billing when the shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season struck. Although his average had slipped to .247, he'd homered nine times and driven in 26 runs through the Royals' first 63 games, marks that extrapolated to around 23 homers and 67 RBIs had he lasted the full 162-game schedule. And that doesn't account for the improvement he likely would have made as the season progressed.
The Royals need a healthy Vinnie Pasquantino next season
Could having Pasquantino for the entire 2023 season helped Kansas City avoid a club record-tying 106 losses? No one will ever know the definitive answer to that question, but his presence couldn't have hurt, especially because the other Royals who played first base most often didn't have great numbers doing so. As first basemen, Pratto hit .243 with six homers in 67 games, Salvador Perez hit .214 and two homers in 21, and Matt Beaty hit .162 without a home run in 13 games.
And what of next season, when the Royals hope to put considerable distance between themselves and the awful season they concluded earlier this month? Beaty is sure to be gone by Opening Day and Pratto should be; expect Perez, on the other hand, and despite scattered trade rumors, to return and appear occasionally at first.
All that puts Pasquantino right back where he was before this season began. He's the hands-down first base favorite, the type of slugging, defensively adequate first sacker the Royals have been looking for since Eric Hosmer moved on after the 2017 season.
The club needs his big bat. But they also need him to stay healthy and on the field. Hopefully, his shoulder surgery did the trick.