Kansas City Royals standouts Bobby Witt Jr. and Cole Ragans received special recognition Wednesday afternoon. Both athletes were named 2023 team-awards winners for their performance on the field.
Witt, 23, won the Les Milgram Player of the Year Award for the second consecutive season. He put together a historic campaign that included becoming the first Royal to join Major League Baseball’s exclusive 30-30 club.
Ragans, 25, received the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award. He began the 2023 campaign with the Texas Rangers before the Royals acquired him in a midseason deal for reliever Aroldis Chapman. Ragans developed into the Royals’ top starter and was named American League Pitcher of the Month in August.
Additionally, Royals third baseman Maikel Garcia won the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award. Garcia hit .272 with four home runs, 50 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 123 games.
The special honors were voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It’s an honor really just knowing ... the team that we have, with the players that we have, and being able to do this in back-to-back years is pretty special,” Witt said. “It’s an honor being able to do that and represent myself and the team.”
Witt reached another level in his second MLB season. He fueled the Royals’ lineup and showcased his five-tool potential. Witt hit .276 with 30 homers, 96 RBIs, 49 stolen bases and 97 runs scored.
Despite an uneven start to the 2023 season, Witt finished third among AL batters with 177 hits while leading the majors with 11 triples.
Witt credited his turnaround to several factors. He admittedly put too much pressure on himself early in the season but settled into a rhythm in the second half.
“I think the biggest thing was really just learning that pressure is a privilege,” Witt said. “Just going in each and every night not trying to put all the pressure on me. Whenever there is pressure, you’re able to go out there and do something.”
The pressure was redirected into on-field success. As a result, Witt became the fourth MLB player with at least 30 home runs, 30 steals and 10 triples in a season. He joined Ken Williams (1922), Willie Mays (1957) and Jimmy Rollins (2007).
“Last year, I did the same thing putting too much pressure (on myself),” Witt said. “I was supposed to be the guy to help the team turn it around with this rebuild, (as) they call it. Then, this year the same thing. ...
“It’s just going out there and being Junior. I tell myself, off the field I’m Bobby. When I get to the field, I’m Junior. Then, I go out there and be myself and go try to help the team.”
Witt helped solidify the Royals’ offense this season. KC also got a much-needed lift from Ragans after he arrived from the Rangers.
Ragans quickly fortified the Royals’ starting rotation. He made his franchise debut against the Tampa Bay Rays after the All-Star Break. He allowed one earned run across five innings in the July 15 start before being sent back to Triple-A Omaha.
A few weeks later, Ragans made a spot start against the New York Mets. He pitched six scoreless innings and recorded eight strikeouts. It was a pivotal outing as Ragans found his stride with the Royals.
From there, Ragans produced a 1.72 ERA in August and solidified his place as the Royals’ ace in the starting rotation.
“I felt like I found a little groove during that game (against the Mets) and kind of ran with it a little bit throughout the month of August,” Ragans said. “I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the guys.”
Ragans went 5-2 and recorded 89 strikeouts in 12 starts with the Royals. He also produced six starts with at least eight or more strikeouts.
This offseason, Ragans has already started working to streamline his overall game. He continues to work with Tread Athletics in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. He also plans to build on small adjustments made throughout the season.
“It’s just little things that are going to help me in the long run, help me throughout an outing and get deeper into games,” Ragans said. “Just pitch selection, sequencing and all that kind of stuff.”
The Royals head into a crucial offseason with the desire to improve. Both Witt and Ragans will hold key roles heading into 2024. Each has stated their goal is to help KC win more games.
While they individually produced stellar seasons, it will be a team effort in getting the Royals back in playoff contention. Witt said producing the turnaround the organization desires begins with trust.
“You’ve just got to buy in from yourself and prepare each and every day,” Witt said. “Hold yourself accountable and then just kind of go up, have a good routine and just go out there and try to perform.”