Where does Steven Cruz stack up in the KC Royals pitching deck?

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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 pitcher Steven Cruz.

The Immaculate Grid reminds baseball fans just how tightly woven MLB is. For example, I imagine that KC Royals player evaluation and international scouting coordinator Fred Guerrero never thought that an international free agent he signed for the Minnesota Twins back in 2017 would eventually make his major-league debut in Kansas City. But, that is exactly what Steven Cruz did in 2023.

Cruz was a few days early for the typical September call-up, making his MLB debut on Aug. 29 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The NL Central team had a rude welcome brewing for the Dominican Republic native. Cruz didn't last the inning, allowing four runs on three walks and three hits. It was far from the optimal introduction.

Steven Cruz bounced back nicely for the KC Royals

Outside of his horrendous debut, Cruz was very effective from the mound. He made nine other appearances, posting a 2.25 ERA across 12 innings and limiting the opposition to a .182 batting average.

Also, he played nicely in manager Matt Quatraro's opener role last season. He made four starts for the Royals and allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings as a starter. Plus, his strikeout stuff still played against the top of the order, striking out seven batters for an 11.1 K/9. But, that is all in the past. How could Cruz perform in 2024, at least according to the projections?

How FanGraphs projects he will perform for KC Royals

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) projects a large workload for Cruz, with 44 appearances in 2024. They project him to be a replacement-level player, with 9.02 K/9, 5.41 BB9, and 4.85 ERA.

How Steven Cruz will actually perform

Cruz's fastball velocity and strikeout stuff may have fans enamored with him, but the righty still has work to do in Triple-A Omaha. He only pitched 17 innings at that level before injuries forced him and others to the majors late last year. Kansas City leadership does like to make most prospects play their way through the system, with the occasional exception.

Kansas City took Cruz out of MLB camp Mar. 9, assigning him to Omaha. There, Cruz will have a longer leash to work on his control issues and a third pitch. His slider looked solid against MLB competition last year, but every pitcher has room for improvement.

I do not think Cruz reaches 44 appearances in 2024, or even half of that. The Royals added plenty of bullpen arms this offseason, while prospects like Will Klein and John McMillon are competing with Cruz. There is no need to rush him and abandon him refining his control. He has never been a polished reliever, but he can still improve on his marks from last year.

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