One of the biggest surprises of 2013 was how poorly the Kansas City Royals offense performed. Billy Butler had a down year. Mike Moustakas refuses to figure it out at the big league level. Lorenzo Cain finally logged a significant number of at-bats but didn’t live up to the hype. 2nd base was a disaster no matter who they plugged in. There is simply too much talent here for this to persist.
GM Dayton Moore turned in a relatively uninspiring but quietly effective offseason. The additions of Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante will help revitalize the top of the Royals’ lineup if that’s where they’re slotted. Jason Vargas won’t be sexy, but he’ll pile up the innings and by season’s end will have been worth the investment. Bringing back Bruce Chen will help bridge the gap as youngsters Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer become fully ready. And a defense that led the majors a year ago in defensive runs saved will be back to aid a mediocre starting rotation.
The strength of the Royals team remains their bullpen. I’d put the talent and arsenal of Greg Holland & Co. up against any other 7-man unit in the business. If James Shields can pave the way for the starting rotation and Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez can lead an offensive renaissance then it’s going to be good times in Kansas City all summer long.
Best Case Scenario for 2014
A 1st place finish might not be expected but if things break just right for Kansas City then they have the talent to shock the AL Central. Detroit lacks depth, Cleveland’s pitching staff is much less of a known quantity than KC’s, and the White Sox and Twins still have a ways to go. Most experts will likely pick them to finish 3rd. I’ve got them 2nd and if the Tigers get nipped by the injury bug then look out, it could be playoffs at long last for the Royals and their loyal fans.
Most Important Royals
Hosmer’s resurgence after George Brett became hitting coach provided a monster sigh of relief for the organization, but he needs Billy Butler to be in on the party. Now, to be fair, most MLB players would kill to have a .289/.374/.447 slash line with 15 homers and 82 RBI’s, but Ned Yost needs more out of Butler. He needs the guy who has shown 40+ doubles talent and the guy who threatened 30 homers in 2012. KC finished last in the American League and 28th in all of baseball in homers a year ago with just 112. They were also 23rd in doubles. Butler is the most likely candidate to turn those two stats on their head.
This could be James Shields’ last season in Kansas City, and both he and the Royals need it to be a big one. If he can put together a dominant season and let Jeremy Guthrie, Vargas, Chen, and probably Danny Duffy come along for the ride then the Royals will be pennant contenders for longer than usual. Shields is the key though. His first year in KC was stellar but the Royals could really use him to put forth a truly dominant season like he did in 2011 for the Rays. If he does that, then all bets are off in the AL Central.
Potential Breakout Players
If he doesn’t figure it out soon, then Mike Moustakas might be looking at a different career path than what he originally expected when he was obliterating minor league pitching a few short years ago. Moose’s batting average and on-base skills have diminished in each of his three seasons in the big leagues culminating with an ugly .233/.287/.364 slash line in 2013. A .196 batting average against left-handed pitching really jumps off the stat sheet. He isn’t overly prone to the strikeout but is a stranger to the free pass. He has only walked 93 times in 374 games played at the major league level. If Brett can get Moustakas to enact a more disciplined approach that allows him to attack the pitches he is best equipped to hit, then the Royals might finally see that elite power bat they thought they had all along. At age 25, the time has to be soon, if ever. A .260 average, .320 on-base %, and 50 extra-base hits would be a boon for the Royals’ lineup.
On the bump, Danny Duffy seems destined to earn a starting job out of camp. The talented 25-year old lefty returned from Tommy John surgery last August after missing the better part of two seasons. In five late season starts he was 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA. If he can command the strike zone with consistency it will allow his lethal arsenal to keep hitters guessing. And if he can do that, we’re looking at a double-digit winner with 150+ K’s. Pair a breakout season from Duffy with an ace like Shields and solid offerings from Guthrie, Vargas, and Chen and suddenly Ned Yost’s rotation looks formidable.
Worst Case Scenario
None of the young guys like Ventura, Zimmer, or Duffy step up in the rotation, Vargas and Chen are below average and the offense continues to struggle to find the gaps. If all of those things happen then a 4th place finish behind the White Sox, Indians, and Tigers could be in the making.
Areas of Concern
Like a succulent rack of ribs, Kansas City has been slow-cooking their organization up to this moment. Their young core experienced great minor league success but as of yet that hasn’t translated to the win column in the big leagues. At some point the hope of potential and up-and-coming statuses must be cast aside and the team just needs to win, period. With guys like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and James Shields around this seems doable. Recently added Omar Infante comes from a winning culture as well. But can Yost get these guys over the mental hump of being the ‘lowly Royals’, the dregs of the AL Central? I think he can, but if this team underperforms yet again, then heads will roll in KC.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2013
Most of the offense would fit neatly into this category, but Alcides Escobar had a surprising breakout campaign at the plate in 2012 only to regress dramatically in ’13. In a nearly identical number of at-bats (605 in ’12 to 607 in ’13) his average dropped 59 points to .234, his on-base % collapsed from .331 to .259 and his slugging % dropped 90 points down to .300 as he tallied 14 less extra-base hits. Escobar may not be the final stat line of either one of those seasons but somewhere in between would suit the Royals just fine. His glove is elite but the bat must be serviceable. If Yost can get a bounce back season out of Escobar and Lorenzo Cain finally realizes something close to his 20/20 potential at the major league level, the Royals will be on their way.
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