As TSHQ continues our MLB preview, we return to the AL Central and check in with the Kansas City Royals. The Royals have long been more of a developmental Major League farm system. Players like Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Zach Greinke all made names for themselves in KC without much team success around them while on the Royals. Last season, the Royals surprised many with their offensive production, allowing them to climb out of last place and into fourth in the Central. After a few minor deals in the offseason, did the Royals do enough to make a push in 2012?
Projected Position Players
C – Salvador Perez (Backup: Brayan Pena)
1B – Eric Hosmer
2B – Johnny Giavotella (Chris Getz)
3B – Mike Moustakas
SS – Alcides Escobar (Yuniesky Betancourt)
LF – Alex Gordon (Mitch Maier)
CF – Lorenzo Cain (Jarrod Dyson)
RF – Jeff Francoeur (David Lough)
DH – Billy Butler
Eric Hosmer came up half way through last season and lived up to the hype. He belted 19 homeruns, drove in 78 RBI, scored 66 runs, and stole 11 bases while hitting .293. The 22 year old comes into his first full season with the expectations that those numbers will only grow drastically. After years of struggling at third, Alex Gordon flourished in his first season as a full time left fielder. He set career highs with 23 homeruns, 101 runs, 87 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and a .303 average. Gordon was also able to slug .502 while carrying an .879 OPS (also both career highs).
When Jeff Francoeur came up for the Atlanta Braves, he seemed like a rising star ready to set the majors on fire. After a disappointing 2008, he was shipped off to the Mets in the middle of the 2009 season. Since that time, Francoeur seem to struggle until was able to put together a steady season during his first year in KC. He chipped in 20 homeruns, 87 RBI, 77 runs, 22 stolen bases, and a .285 batting average. While Francoeur has been playing in the Bigs since 2005, he is only 28 and should be in position to continue to build on his recent success.
While the Royals can already hang their hat on their corner outfielders and their franchise first baseman, they are hopeful they have two additional stars in centerfield and their catcher. Salvador Perez only played in 39 games for KC last season but was able to impress in only 148 at bats. Perez held a .331 average while hitting three homeruns, driving in 21 runs and scoring an addition 20 runs. He will turn 22 in May and the Royals just inked their catcher to a five year deal worth $7 million. Royals 2011 first round draft pick (fifth overall selection) Bubba Starling hopes to be on the big league club sooner than later. After turning down a scholarship to play quarterback for the University of Nebraska, MLB.com likens Starling to Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs with plus power. Starling is only 19 and is probably two years from making a legitimate impact for this club but the Royals believe they have another star to pair with Hosmer and Perez for the future.
Defensively, it doesn’t get better than Alcides Escobar at short stop. The man is a magician with his glove work. Despite his impressive defense at short, he 25 year old is a bit of an offensive liability. While he was able to improve on his rookie average of .235 (.254 in ’11) and steal 16 more bases (26 in ’11) than he did in Milwaukee, his OBP remained under .300 for the second consecutive year. Escobar will be 25 this season and will need to make improvements at the dish in order to continue to grow as a player. While his average was .007 points below league average for short stops, he only struck out 73 times last season. This means that the majority of his outs were on balls he put in play, which means groundouts and fly outs. Escobar could improve on his hitting by taking more pitches and being a more selective hitter, rather than swinging at the first decent pitch he sees and hitting a weak grounder in the infield. This risk would lead to more strikeouts but it may be worth the payoff in terms of overall production.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in 2007. He was selected after the Rays took David Price and before players like Jason Heyward, Matt Wieters, J.P. Arencibia, Rick Porcello, and Madison Bumgarner. Those five players selected after Moustakas have all shown to be solid players at the Major League level even though they have struggled at points as well. In Moustakas first season, he hit .263 with five homers, 30 RBI, and scored 26 runs. The Royals have faith in their 23 year old at the hot corner and with no competition directly behind him, he will get a full season to play with this year. He was limited to 89 games last year and, barring injury, will get all 162 to try and improve this season. It is not dire that he improve leaps and bounds this year but he does need to add something to his game in his first full slate at third. He has plenty of protection around him and should be able to drive in plenty of runs assuming he can put his bat on the ball.
Projected Rotation and Bullpen
SP – Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, Aaron Crow, Jonathan Sanchez, Danny Duffy
RP – Tim Collins, Greg Holland, Blake Wood, Nate Adcock, Luis Mendoza, Jonathan Broxton
CL – Joakim Soria
Bruce Chen has posted back to back 12 win seasons for the Royals and has been the most consistent aspect of their rotation after starting only nine games back in 2009. After the Royals swapped Greinke for Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain prior to last season, Kansas City was left with no semblance of an ace for the time being. While Chen is far from an ace, he certainly carries his own going a combined 24-15 over the last two. Look for the 35 year old to continue his consistency in the middle of the rotation.
This offseason, the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for Jonathan Sanchez. The 29 year old Sanchez is coming off of one of his worst seasons in his career, going 4-7 in only 101 innings over 19 starts. Sanchez has only been a starter since 2008 but his previous low in wins was eight and his previous low in strikeouts was 157. Last season, his four wins were abysmal and his 101 strikeouts were uncharacteristic. The change of scenery should be more than enough to get Sanchez back to his 2010 form when he struck out a career high 205 with a career high 13 wins. The lefty battled injuries last season and with a healthy 2012 in front of him, expect for Sanchez to emerge as the temporary ace of this club.
Joakim Soria has been an All Star closer on a consistent basis for a few years now. Between 2008-2010, Soria saved 115 games for the Royals and struck out 206 batters in 186 innings. During that stretch, he blew nine total games, three each season. His highest ERA as a closer was 2.21. Last season, Soria went 5-5 with a 4.03 ERA while only managing 28 saves. He blew seven games for the Royals last season which prompted Aaron Crow to get a few save opportunities in the middle of the season. His struggles also prompted the Royals to sign former Dodgers oft-injured closer Jonathan Broxton as security in case Soria can not regain form.
In 2006, the Kansas City Royals held the first overall pick in the draft. Notable first round picks include: Evan Longoria (third), Brandon Morrow (fifth), Clayton Kershaw (seventh), Drew Stubbs (eighth), Tim Lincecum (10th), Max Scherzer (11th), Kyle Drabek (18th), Ian Kennedy (21st), Daniel Bard (28th), Joba Chamberlain (41), and Chris Perez (42). The Kansas City Royals, with the first overall selection, passed over even the likes over Andrew Miller, Tyler Colvin and Travis Snyder to land University of Tennessee starting pitcher, Luke Hochevar. 96 starts into his young career and Hochevar is 13 games under .500. He has allowed more hits than innings pitched and holds a career 5.29 ERA. The only positive I can find with Hochevar, he went 17-17 over the past two seasons (’10: 6-6; ’11: 11-11). Hochevar was the first overall pick in 2006. Evan Longoria has been to a world series. Clayton Kershaw has a CY Young under his belt. Tim Lincecum has a World Series title and a CY Young to his name. Kyle Drabek was traded for Roy Halladay. This first round held plenty of impact players and the Royals seemed to have sifted through plenty of perennial All Stars to find a bust. Hochevar will turn 29 in September. By his birthday, he will be over 100 starts. If he can’t lower his ERA and raise his total in the win column, he may have pitched himself out of a career.
The Royals are a highly likable organization. A young team with some serious prospects in their farm and on their major league club. They will not be in the basement for many more seasons as they continue to grow and develop, but for this season they will be at the bottom looking up. With the Indians and White Sox finishing above the Royals last season, there is a chance that Kansas City can climb as high as third this season assuming all goes according to plan. An incredibly outside chance they finish second if everything goes better than expected. The Central is a weak division outside of Detroit, and after seeing what Arizona did in a weak division last season, there is no reason to count this young club out. Anything is possible and the future is certainly bright in Kansas City. If they do struggle again this season and finish fourth or less, at least Hosmer will be a monster on fantasy rosters nationwide. (I feel like Walt Frazier with that last line).