Kansas City Royals 2013 Preview

The Royals have long been in the basement of the AL Central but with the Indians and Twins playing so poorly the Royals have actually jumped from a perennial fifth-place team to fourth-place in 2011 and third-place in 2012. Their 72 wins is their second-best win total in the last nine seasons and the team’s brass may be trying to finally make a run at that all-too-elusive 80 win mark. Though they did not sign a single free agent, the Royals have been busy retooling their entire rotation, adding James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Wade Davis through trades.

James Shields
Feb 21 2013 Surprise AZ USA Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields 33 poses for a picture during photo day at the Royals Spring Training Facility Jake Roth USA TODAY Sports

The pitching staff may be better than it was last season but it’s hardly one to be excited about. The team also did nothing to improve on their 20th ranked offense last season, hoping the prospects they have been bringing up every year finally hit their potential. It’s a strategy the Royals have employed far too often which has led to so many last place finishes. They probably won’t finish last this season but let’s take a look at what we can reasonably expect from a Royals’ team that finally increased its payroll from $64 million in 2012 to $75 million in 2013.

2012 Team Rankings:

Wins: 72

Runs: 20th Overall

Batting Average: 7th Overall

ERA: 23rd Overall

WHIP: 27th Overall

Catchers: Salvador Perez, George Kottaras – Grade: B

In his first 115 games in the majors, Perez is batting .311 with 14 homers, 60 RBI, 24 2B, and a .810 OPS. At 22, he is still developing his power but he looks like he could be a very solid catcher for a team that has rarely had any production out of the catcher position.

Kottaras was claimed off waivers from the A’s last season and is your typical backup catcher with a solid glove but little offensive production. In 249 career games over five years, Kottaras is batting .220 with a .732 OPS without much offensive stats to speak of.

First Base: Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler – Grade: B-

Hosmer took a massive step back in 2012 and suddenly reminds us of just about every Royals prospect ever. After putting up a .293 BA with 19 HR, 78 RBI, 27 2B, 11 SB, and a .800 OPS in 2011, Hosmer batted just .232 with 14 homers, 60 RBI, 65 R, 22 2B, and a .663 OPS – though he did steal 16 bases. Hosmer looked really good coming up and I’m surprised at his lack of production last year but I feel like it’s a problem with the Royals’ system more than him. I expect him to get that average up to at least .270 and drive in around 80 this year – or he could decline further, who knows.

Butler has already established himself as a very good DH and played the best ball of his six-year career last season. He batted .313 with career-highs in home runs (29), RBIs (107), and OPS (.882). He is typically around a 20 HR, 90 RBI guy which is more reasonable to expect but perhaps he has grown into a real power hitter.

Second Base: Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Irving Falu – Grade: D+

Getz has been up and down the last few years, due to both injuries and poor production. Last season he played just 64 games and put up a .275 BA, .672 OPS, and 9 SB. His glove and speed are the reason he is in the league but he isn’t much of a hitter. I don’t expect him to play all year, like he hasn’t in every year he has played, but he is typically a .250 hitter with 20+ SB but not much else.

Giovotella has looked great in the minors, batting over .320 with more than 70 RBI in each of his last two seasons but in his first 99 major league games he is batting just .242 with 36 RBI. He is only 25 but at this point he isn’t ready to take on a starting job – not that Chris Getz is much competition.

The 29-year-old Falu has been in the minors since 2003 and got his first taste of big league action as a September call up last year. He is a career .280 hitter in the minors with a .706 OPS so he is hardly a good minor league player and I don’t expect to hear much from him in the majors.

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar, Elliot Johnson, Irving Falu – Grade: B-

Escobar is a former top prospect who seemed to finally hit some of that potential last year as he batted .293 with 35 SB, 68 R, and a .721 OPS. He isn’t great by any stretch but he has the ability to steal 30+ and hit 30+ 2B every season if he can make decent contact.

Elliot Johnson is a career minor leaguer who played his first full major league season last year, batting .242 with 18 SB but not much else. His .621 career OPS is the reason he is a backup middle infielder at best.

Third Base: Mike Moustakas, Brandon Wood – Grade: B-

Moustakas struggled to get on base in 2012 with a .242 BA and .296 OBP but the 24-year-old third baseman showed some good pop with 20 HR and 73 RBI. He is a former top 10 prospect who projects as a .270-.280 hitter with the ability to hit 25+ HR and 100+ RBI but the Royals aren’t great at developing those kinds of players.

Brandon Wood is a former top five prospect who is a complete bust and didn’t even play in 2012. His career .186 BA and .513 OPS is all the more reason he should remain out of baseball.

Outfield: Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson – Grade: C+

After struggling his first four seasons in the league, Gordon has finally come into his own. Over his last two years he is batting .298 and averaging 18 HR, 80 RBI, 97 R, 14 SB, and a .850 OPS. Between he and Billy Butler, the Royals have all of two reliable offensive players.

In 2011, Francouer put up a completely uncharacteristic .285 BA, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 77 R, 22 SB, and .805 OPS. By far his best numbers since 2007. In 2012, he remembered he was Jeff Francouer and followed up his comeback year with a .235 BA, 16 HR, 49 RBI, 58 R, 4 SB, and .665 OPS. He is definitely the latter version year-to-year and I expect similar numbers once again in 2013 if the Royals can tolerate that all season long.

Cain is a good looking prospect with a good mix of pop and speed. In just 61 games last year, he batted .266 with 7 HR, 31 RBI, 27 R, and 10 SB. He has the potential to be a 20-20 guy if he can get that average closer to the .294 career BA he had in the minors.

Dyson was pretty quiet last year in every category except his 30 SB. He is a career .247 hitter with a .643 OPS which is where he will likely remain but he gives the Royals some great legs off the bench with potential to steal a ton of bases.

Starting Rotation: James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar – Grade: C+

After finishing toward the bottom of nearly every pitching category last year, the Royals are bringing in a completely rebuilt pitching rotation. The biggest acquisition the Royals made was James Shields and Wade Davis in return for top prospect Wil Myers. Shields is 31-22 over the last two seasons with a 3.15 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 14 CG, 6 SHO, and 8.5 SO/9. He is a reliable ace who has his off-moments but is a very reliable starter if he can keep the ball in the park.

Ervin Santana came over in return for prospect Brandon Sisk after a rough year with the Angels in which he went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and gave up a league-leading 39 home runs. The home runs were his only real problem as most of his other stats stayed in their usual vicinity. If he can keep the ball in the park, he should be closer to the Ervin we saw from 2010-2011 who went 28-22 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 1 HR/9, and 7 SO/9.

Guthrie struggled with the Rockies last season going 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA and 1.69 WHIP (giving up 21 HR in just 15 starts). The Royals got him in July in return for Jonathan Sanchez who was also struggling and Guthrie turned his season around going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. A more typical Jeremy Guthrie will have an ERA closer to the mid-4s and WHIP around 1.40 but he always gives up a lot of home runs and has only a career 2:1 SO:BB ratio.

Chen had done well in 2010 and 2011, going 24-15 with a 3.96 ERA and 1.34 WHIP but fell back to his usual self in 2012 as he went 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 33 HR allowed. I don’t think he goes back to an ERA under 4.00 and I think he could be on his way out after this year.

Davis was a great get for the Royals, possibly even better than James Shields. He was average in his two years as a starter, going 23-20 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.36 WHIP between 2010 and 2011 for the Rays. Last season he really turned it on coming out of the bullpen, putting up a 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 11 SO/9. He walks a ton of guys, 3.3 BB/9 in his career but with his strikeouts up the 27-year-old may finally be ready for a rotation spot.

Hochevar is another failed Royals prospect who has a career 5.39 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 128 games. Last season he went 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and gave up 27 HR, effectively playing himself out of the rotation. He will likely fill in if anyone gets hurt or plays like Luke Hochevar.

Bullpen: Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman – Grade: B

The bullpen is probably the one bright spot on the Royals, led by new closer Greg Holland who went 7-4 with 16 saves, a 2.96 ERA, and 12.2 SO/9. He did put up a 1.37 WHIP and blew four of his 20 save chances however so his future success isn’t exactly a definite.

Crow, Collins, and Coleman are all third-year players who put up ERAs in the mid-3.00s over the last two seasons and look like a solid bridge from the lousy rotation to Holland.

Herrera could be the best one of the group after he put up a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.2 SO/9, and a 3.6 SO:BB ratio in his first season in 2012.

Team Grade: C+

Fearless Prediction: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central

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