The Kansas City Royals made one of the more improbable World Series runs in recent history last year as they reached the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Finishing above .500 for the second straight season, the Royals showed that you don’t need the best offense or pitching staff to make it to the October Classic, so long as you have a good approach at the plate, good defense, and a stellar bullpen that can shut games down after the starters put in their work.
The Royals have a different look this season as they lost their ace in James Shields and quality producers like Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. They brought in a number of veterans this offseason but it’s unclear how much guys like Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, and Alex Rios can contribute with their best days presumably behind them.
Can the Royals repeat or will they revert back to the sub-.500 club we’ve grown accustomed to since the 90s?
Batting Average: 4th
1B: Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales
Stifled by injury, most of Hosmer’s numbers fell off from career-best 2013 campaign. His .302 BA, .801 OPS, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 86 R, and 11 SB in 2013 turned into a .270 BA, .716 OPS, 9 HR, 58 RBI, 54 R, and 4 SB in 2014. If he can stay healthy this season, he’s a pretty good bet to bat in the high .200s while hitting double-digit home runs, driving in 70+, and scoring around 65 runs. He’s developed into a very good doubles hitter so even when the power isn’t there he can be highly productive, though not a top tier first baseman by any stretch.
Morales is expected to serve as the Royals’ every day DH but he’ll need to look a lot more like his 2013 self than his 2014 self to keep the job. In 156 games in 2013, Morales batted .277 with a .785 OPS, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 64 R, and 34 2B. Last season, he played just 98 games between the Twins and Mariners and batted a mere .218 with 8 HR, 42 RBI, 28 R, and 20 2B.
We can probably write off some of those issues on the fact that he remained a free agent for the first two months of the season. The 32-year-old has proven that he can consistently hit above .270 with 20+ HR and 70+ RBI. The Royals certainly hope to get numbers like that after giving him a one-year, $11 million deal this offseason.
Infante is reportedly already nursing an elbow injury after dealing with several injuries last season. Last year, the 33-year-old drove in a career-high 66 runs for the Royals but batted just .252 (his lowest since 2005) and put up a .632 OPS (lowest since 2005). He’s a solid singles hitter who rarely walks or strikes out but ultimately he’s here for his strong fielding. If his elbow is healthy, he should provide KC with good defense up the middle once again.
The Royals hope Colon can be their future at second, though he’s expected to play all around the infield this season. A former top prospect, Colon stole 16-26 bases per season in the minors with a career .283 BA and .732 OPS. Those are all solid numbers for a middle infielder who, like Infante, is primarily a singles hitter with a bit of occasional pop. He played a lot of shortstop in the minors but seems to have better defense at second.
3B: Mike Moustakas
Moustakas’ 2013 struggles extended into last season as his average and nearly every other number continued to drop. He batted just .212 with a .632 OPS, 15 HR, 54 RBI, 45 R, and 21 2B last season and while his glove is solid, he no longer resembles a starting-caliber third baseman like we saw just a couple seasons ago. Maybe Colon can be the future at third instead.
SS: Alcides Escobar
After a rough 2013, Escobar’s numbers last season improved across the board as he batted .285 with a .694 OPS, 50 RBI, a career-high 74 runs, a career-high 34 doubles, and 31 steals. If he can continue to hit for extra bases, Escobar can be a top tier shortstop, especially given his strong defense.
After posting averages of .331, .301, and .292 in his first three seasons, Perez’s BA dropped to .260 last season but he still managed to post career-highs in home runs (17), doubles (28), and runs (57). It’d be nice if he could get his average back up and walk more (read: ever) but he’s quickly established himself as an elite catcher capable of driving in 70+ runs with a great glove behind the plate.
Erik Kratz is your typical backup with a low average and a bit of pop. He may get more work this season with Perez expected to get more games at DH.
Alex Gordon reached the All-Star game for the second straight season last year and batted .266 with a .783 OPS, 19 HR, 74 RBI, 87 R, 34 2B, and 12 SB. This is right around what we can expect out of Gordon on an annual basis right now, along with a stellar glove.
Alex Rios lost all of his power in Texas last season as he hit just four home runs after crushing 18 the previous season. Though he batted .280, all of his other numbers have slipped in each of the last three seasons.
Can we expect him to rebound with the Royals? At 34, with a lot of miles behind him, odds are that he won’t.
Lorenzo Cain absolutely broke out last season as he batted .301 with a .751 OPS, 28 SB, 53 RBI, 55 R, and 29 2B. He seldom walks and strikes out more than you’d like but he has speed for days, is blossoming into a solid doubles-hitter, and owns a killer glove at center.
Jarrod Dyson has now stolen 30+ bases in three straight seasons as the Royals’ fourth outfielder. He’s not much of a bat and only hits singles when he does get opportunities but he gives the Royals great speed and defense off the bench.
Moises Sierra showed 20 HR and 20 SB potential in the Toronto farm system but has struggled in three partial seasons in the Bigs with the Blue Jays and White Sox. In 180 games, Sierra is batting just .243 with a .679 OPS, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 47 R, and 116 K to 30 BB. At 26, he may still develop into a serviceable bat but he’ll need to show a lot more than he has thus far.
Yordano Ventura posted a stellar rookie season as he won 14 games while putting up a 3.20 ERA and 1.30 WHIP and finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. His 159 K/69 BB rate should improve, and he keeps the ball in the park, making him for a strong fantasy baseball draft target set to potentially establish himself as one of the game’s top young arms this year.
Jason Vargas is a solid starter though probably not good enough to be the No. 2 guy on most teams. His 3.73 ERA and 1.27 WHIP last season are about what you can expect from him, along with a lot of base hits allowed and few strikeouts.
Edinson Volquez is coming off a superb year with the Pirates after posting horrendous numbers between 2010 and 2013. He looked a lot like his 2008 All-Star self as he won 13 games, while putting up a 3.04 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.
Of course, we’ve seen Pittsburgh do wonders with starters the last few years. Can Volquez repeat away from the Steel City? Probably not, given that he posted a 4.94 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over the previous four seasons with Cincy, San Diego, and the Dodgers. Can he still be serviceable? Probably.
Danny Duffy might be the second best pitcher on this staff after posting impressive numbers as a starter last year. In 24 starts, he posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while keeping the ball in the park. He’s been able to get his walk totals down, and will have to continue to work on his control to become a very strong presence in the rotation.
Jeremy Guthrie is decent backend starter. His 13 wins, 4.13 ERA, and 1.30 WHIP are usually as good as you’ll get out of a fifth starter. He’ll give you 200 innings but they’ll never be pretty as he gives up a ton of hits and too many home runs to be truly successful.
The Royals also signed Kris Medlen this offseason but he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 2013, Medlen was great with 15 wins, a 3.11 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 157 K to 47 BB.
They also brought in a number of guys like Joe Blanton, Brian Flynn, and Franklin Morales who can pitch out of the pen and make spot starts if need be.
Greg Holland may be the best closer in the league. Over the last two seasons, Holland has saved 93 games while blowing just five and posting a ridiculous 1.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 193 K to 38 BB. You won’t find a better closer.
Wade Davis struggled in his first season as a starter in KC in 2013, posting a 5.32 ERA. He most certainly found his niche in the bullpen last season as he won nine games in 71 appearances and posted a monstrous 1.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 109 K to 23 BB. As a middle reliever, he finished eighth in Cy Young voting. If he can replicate those numbers, the Royals may have the best 8-9 inning combo in the game.
Luke Hochevar put up similar numbers to Davis in 2013 as he owned a 5.73 ERA in 32 starts. Also like Davis, he found his role out of the pen and put up a 1.92 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 82 K/17 BB. If he can repeat that kind of production, the Royals may have the best 7-8-9 combo in the game.
Kelvin Herrera put up two strong seasons in 2012 and 2013 but matched numbers with Hochevar and Davis in 2014 as he posted a 1.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and didn’t give up a single home run. Look, the Royals may very well have the best pen in the entire league, period.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the Royals added Jason Frasor last season who instantly improved from a 3.34 ERA pitcher in Texas to a 1.53 ERA pitcher in 23 games for the Royals.
And, if that wasn’t enough, Brandon Finnegan, the Royals’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft, is already Major League-ready. He put up a 1.33 ERA in 27 minor league innings and a 1.29 ERA in seven Major League innings in September. In a bullpen filled with crazy ERAs, the 21-year-old rookie may find himself the best arm out of the pack.
Starting Pitching: C+ to B-