2. Kansas City Royals. The emergence of the Royals as a 2024 contender would rank among the game’s all-time surprises. Not only did Kansas City win just 65 games in 2022, but the Royals regressed in 2023, finishing a 56-106.
What on earth could possibly fuel speculation about a rise to contender status.
Three or four things, actually.
The first is Bobby Witt Jr. In 2023, his second season, Witt became an All-Star, producing a highly satisfactory .813 OPS.
The second is Cole Ragans, obtained from Texas in a mid-season trade. Quickly establishing himself as the staff ace, Ragans went 5-2 in a dozen starts with a 2.64 ERA. He beat the Mets, Cubs and Astros, and only twice allowed more than three earned runs in a start.
The third is improvement. Granted, the Royals were awful in 2023, but they stepped up as the season progressed. Relying almost exclusively on young talent, the Royals had a winning (15-12) September-October, outscoring opponents by nine runs after Aug. 31.
What the Royals need in 2024 is for their young major leaguers to step up and follow Witt. That includes guys of the stripe of M.J. Melendez, Brady Singer, Nick Pratto, Michael Massey and Maikel Garcia. As a group, those second and third-year system talents regressed in 2023.
They need to turn potential into performance.