Kansas City Royals embrace veteran presence in clubhouse, hope to return to winning ways

Kansas City infielder Nick Pratto looks back during the Royals’ recent game against the A’s. The team overall is looking forward with the addition of veterans that could help the organization return to its winning ways. (Photo by Reece Andrews/Cronkite News)

SURPRISE – Baseball players spend the entire year training to improve various parts of their game. Fielding, baserunning and hitting are all things that can be taught but there is one trait that can’t be forced – experience.

That is something the Kansas City Royals recognized and focused on this offseason. The team signed a plethora of veteran talent including starting pitchers Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo, relief pitcher Will Smith, outfielder Hunter Renfroe and second baseman Adam Frazier.

Royals chairman and CEO John Sherman thinks the future is bright in Kansas City after what the front office did in the offseason.

“Time will tell but (I’m) pretty excited about the new faces and combined with our promising young core, we’ll kind of see where we are,” Sherman said. “(I’m) excited about the work J.J. (Picollo) and the front office has done.”

The young core is just as excited about the moves.

The offseason additions come in carrying a lot of postseason experience – most notably Smith, who has been a member of the last three World Series winning teams.

Royals pitcher Alec Marsh, who only debuted in June of last year, believes the large influx of veteran experience is going to be invaluable for everyone on the team.

“Experience is key, especially at this level,” Marsh said. “We all got the talent but when you start getting guys that have experience, been around for that long, guys like (Wacha and Lugo), Will Smith, they’ve been through a lot of teams and they’ve been on winning teams. They know what it takes, especially on the pitching side.”

The Royals have seen a shift in success in the years after their championship core dissipated. The team has finished below .500 every season since 2017. Much of the attention is now on the young group that the Royals have built through their farm system, with the face of that mindset being star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.

For prospects like catcher Carter Jensen, he makes sure he is following the veterans’ lead.

“They’re all really cool guys to have around, to let us pick their brains about different things, not even just pitchers but catchers also and even position players” Jensen said. “They’ve been great to be around so far and I’m excited for the future.”

While the veterans will definitely help in leading some of the younger talent on the team, manager Matt Quatraro said those players were brought in to be themselves – not to be coaches.

“A tremendous part of it was knowing who (the veterans) were as people, who they are as leaders,” Quatraro said. “But as we’ve said, we don’t sign players to come in and be coaches. They come in to play. This is their career. We know that they’ll lead because of who they are and what we know of them as people. We don’t ask them to do anything that’s outside of their character.”

The new offseason arrivals also brought along a greater set of expectations for the Royals. Quatraro felt the shift in expectations at a team meeting before the first full-squad practice in spring training.

He thinks the presence of the new players will help elevate everyone else on the team.

“A lot has been said in the media about the players we signed, but we’ve added a lot of infrastructure behind the scenes and that’s the challenge,” Quatraro said. “It’s a challenge to myself, everybody in here to get better mentally, physically, all those things and that goes for the players. So like you said, the tide raises all ships and that’s what we need.”

That energy can be felt everywhere in the clubhouse. The team has higher expectations than the Royals teams of the last few seasons and Marsh believes the team is ready to go compete for the American League Central title.

“These guys are eager. We’re ready to go,” Marsh said. “We have our eyes set on the division.”

James Lotts(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

James Lotts expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lotts interned for Times Media Group, where he has been published in a number of different newspapers and magazines in Arizona and Southern California.

Reece Andrews REES AN-drooz (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Reece Andrews expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Andrews has worked for the State Press and at WCSN. He has also been in Cronkite News Los Angeles.