Will John McMillon overcome early demotion and help the KC Royals?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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. Let's look at pitcher John McMillon.

There were few consensus picks for the 2024 KC Royals roster. Guys like Bobby Witt Jr., Will Smith, and Vinnie Pasquantino are locks to begin the coming season on the Opening Day Roster. A close second were guys like reliever John McMillon who may have only pitched four innings last year but displayed serious MLB stuff. Unfortunately, he will have an uphill battle to return to the major league club.

McMillon took the Royals fanbase by storm in 2023, moving from Double-A Northwest Arkansas to the Royals. The righty began the season in Low-A Columbia and rocketed through the system. He accrued 99 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings pitched through four different levels of the Royals organization, earning MiLB.com All-Star honors along the way.

The then-25-year-old McMillon made his MLB debut on Aug. 17 against the Seattle Mariners, allowing a solo home run from Cal Raleigh. That would be the only hit, run, or baserunner McMillon allowed last season, retiring the next nine batters he faced over the next three innings. The rookie only totaled four innings pitched before a season-ending forearm strain, but captured the imagination of Royals fans everywhere.

Looking at his limited body of work last season, striking out eight batters in four innigns is very impressive. How does FanGraphs think he will perform?

How FanGraphs projects he will perform for KC Royals

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) has an aggressive projection for McMillon, slotting him for 58 appearances and 58 innings in 2024. His projected 4.45 ERA and 4.45 FIP are nearly double his 2023 marks while striking out a projected 27.6% of opposing batters.

How John McMillon will actually perform

Ultimately, Kansas City is taking things slow with McMillon this season. They sent him down the Triple-A Omaha this spring, citing some velocity and control concerns according to MLB.com's Anne Rogers. Royals manager Matt Quatraro spoke further on McMillon's demotion this past week.

“He made a lot of progress this spring from where he came in,” Quatraro said. “He was a little slowed in the offseason, and he came in here and the velo wasn’t there. His arm strength wasn’t there. He made some mechanical adjustments with the pitching guys and really came on quite a bit, especially those last two outings. His velo was there, his breaking ball was coming back. I was happy with the progress he made, he just needs to continue that.”

Barring any setbacks, McMillon should be back in the big leagues before the All-Star break. While his elite strikeout-to-walk rate is not possibly across an entire season, FanGraphs' projections are undervaluing the power righty. His fastball-slider combo is great, and he should be a setup man for the Royals by August. No matter his level in 2024, McMillon will record more than 70 strikeouts this season and maintain a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

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