Why this outfielder's KC Royals days may be numbered

Drew Waters isn't assured of spending 2024 in Kansas City.

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Welcome back to our 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 outfielder Drew Waters.

Drew Waters came well-credentialed when the Royals appeared to steal him away from Atlanta two summers ago. All Kansas City gave up in trade to get Waters, then MLB Pipeline's No. 1 Braves prospect, was its Competitive Balance pick in the 2022 amateur draft; the Royals lost no players in the surprising July deal, and even snagged a pair of other minor leaguers at the same time.

Waters was definitely a good prospect. Although he was hitting only .246 at Triple-A Gwinnett when the clubs made the swap, some of his minor league numbers — .343 OBP, .280 average, and 78 stolen bases (including 28 at Gwinnett in 2021) over five years — were excellent.

Switching organizations suited Waters. In just 13 games at Triple-A Omaha, he slashed .295/.399/.541 with seven homers, 17 RBI, and 13 steals to earn his first trip to the majors, where in 32 games he homered five times, drove in 18 runs and, despite hitting only .240, posted a 124 wRC+. He also didn't commit an error in 65 chances spread across all three outfield positions. Waters seemed destined for a nice career in Kauffman Stadium's spacious outfield.

But two things, a subpar 2023 season and the Royals' recent acquisition of veteran outfielder Hunter Renfroe, call Waters' Kansas City future into question. Off to a late start due to injury, Waters hit only .228 in 96 games for the Royals, and his wRC+ plunged to 82. And with Renfroe expected to start in right field, Kyle Isbel in center, and MJ Melendez in left, Waters may have difficulty beating out Dairon Blanco and Nelson Velázquez (who's also a DH), and perhaps promising prospect Tyler Gentry, for the club's fourth and fifth outfield spots.

So, what should fans expect from Waters this year?

How FanGraphs projects Drew Waters' 2024 Kansas City season

FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts Waters will slash .245/.315/.411 with six homers and 30 RBI in 55 games.

How will Drew Waters actually perform for the Royals this year?

Don't consider Waters a lock for Kansas City's Opening Day roster; absent red-hot Cactus League numbers for him, and catastrophic efforts from other outfield candidates, look for him in Omaha instead. Not unless injuries strike one or more of KC's outfielders, or Waters plays so spectacularly for the Storm Chasers that the Royals have to call him up, will he spend much time in the majors.

He'll perform serviceably for Omaha, though. But if he doesn't earn his way back to Kansas City and play regularly by midseason, his days as a Royal could be numbered, and he might find himself packaged in a trade deadline deal.

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