The Kansas City Royals recently completed one of the worst campaigns in franchise history. They finished 56-106.
Key injuries derailed their season early. The Royals were without core players like Vinnie Pasquantino, Daniel Lynch IV and Kris Bubic for most of the year.
Yet a few KC players stood out. And the Royals will soon honor a couple of them with their 2023 player and pitcher of the year awards, as well as the recipient of this year’s “special achievement award.”
Each year, The Star helps decide the recipients of these special honors through balloting conducted among media in Kansas City. Here is how I voted in all three categories — top player, top pitcher and special achievement — this postseason.
Les Milgram Player of the Year
There wasn’t much hesitation in making this selection. I voted for Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.
Witt put together a historic campaign. He carried the Royals’ offense for long stretches and vastly improved as a shortstop. He hit .276 with 30 home runs, 96 RBIs and 49 steals. He also posted a 4.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and led Major League Baseball with 11 triples.
Witt is the first Royals player to achieve a 30-30 season. His 49 steals ranked fourth in the majors.
A lot of this can be attributed to adjustments Witt made during the course of the season. He showed improved plate discipline and cut down on his strikeouts. He also registered a 45.6% hard-hit rate, and that led to increased power production.
Witt found his stride midway through the season. He settled into the No. 2 spot in the Royals’ lineup and was rewarded with a special year.
Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year
Where would the Royals be without Cole Ragans? I voted for the talented pitcher here because of what he meant to the starting rotation.
The Royals needed a front-line starter and Ragans fit the bill. He arrived from the Texas Rangers in the Aroldis Chapman trade. He made a few starts at Triple-A Omaha and was called up after All-Star Break.
He made a strong first impression.
Ragans showed an electric fastball that averaged 96.5 mph this season. He also mixed in four more pitches, including a sharp slider and changeup.
Ragans posted a 3.47 ERA in 38 appearances. But his numbers with the Royals were elite in 12 starts. He went 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 89 strikeouts following the trade.
In August, Ragans was named the American League Pitcher of the Month. He allowed seven earned runs and made four starts with at least nine strikeouts during that span.
The Royals love Ragans’ tenacious mentality and leadership. He could be primed to start on opening day 2024 and build on his 2023 campaign.
Joe Burke Special Achievement Award
I wrestled with this selection. There were several moments that deserved recognition throughout the season.
Zack Greinke struck out his 1,000th unique batter against the Milwaukee Brewers. Salvador Perez caught his 10,000th inning.
But my pick for this award — special achievement — is once again Witt. He had his jersey sent to Cooperstown this season. He became the first MLB player to record at least 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases in consecutive seasons to begin a career. Then came the 30-30 milestone.
Making major-league history is something that should be recognized in a major way.