2013 Record: 86-76 (3rd Place AL Central, 7 GB)
Last year’s Royals were the best Kansas City has seen in a decade, racking up their first winning season since 2003. The 86 games they won were their highest win total since 1985, when the Royals won their first and only World Series. The team hasn’t seen playoffs since ’85, but hope to be back there soon.
The Royals are young and growing, but have a few things to fix before they can contend in the playoffs. They lack power behind the plate, and need more home run production. Their leading home run hitter last year was Alex Gordon, who hit a meager 20 homeruns all season.
RF Norichika Aoki (1yr/$1.95 mil)
IF Omar Infante (4 yrs/$30.25 mil)
The Royals didn’t make too many moves in the offseason, but the veterans they picked up should help the lineup quite a bit. The average age on the team is currently 27.3-years-old, so the team could use some seasoned vets to guide the young players.
The first veteran is 32-year-old Norichika Aoki, who hit .296 with a .367 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot last year for the Brewers, and he gets walked more than he strikes out. Aoki only hit 8 homeruns last year, but he’s a contact hitter. He should be able to spark some offense simply by getting on base.
The other addition is another 32-year-old, infielder Omar Infante. Infante is also not a huge homerun hitter, hitting 12 and 10 homeruns in the last two respective seasons. Infante did, however, hit .318 in Detroit last year with a .345 OBP, and only struck out 44 times in 476 plate appearances. Although not a power hitter, Infante, much like Aoki, will get on base and create opportunities for the Royals to score. Both Aoki and Infante add value to the lineup as contact hitters, in turn creating more offensive production for Kansas City.
SP Ervin Santana was second on the team only to James Shields in strikeouts last year, getting 161 batters to take a seat in 211 innings. Although Santana only brought home 9 wins last year, his 3.24 ERA and team-leading 1.14 WHIP will definitely be missed. The Royals didn’t bring in any new starters, so the young rotation will have to make up for the loss of Santana.
RP Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow and will have Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, March 18th. Hochevar was a great set up man, posting an ERA of 1.93 and a .83 WHIP in just over 70 innings last season. The Royals will surely miss Hochevar this season, but the rest of the bullpen is still the best in the AL. The Royals bullpen had an ERA of 2.55, and the Rangers, the second best bullpen, had a 2.91 ERA, so it’ll be interesting to see if Kansas City can maintain such a low ERA without Hochevar.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1B Eric Hosmer provided some offense last year, hitting .302 with 17 HRs and 79 RBI. He needs to step up further in order for the Royals to take their team to the next level. Luckily for the Royals, he’s only 24-years-old this year, so there’s plenty of time for him to develop as a player. He’s been putting in a lot of time in his indoor batting cage with his brother Mike and Major Leaguer Mike Napoli. Hosmer should be more confident in the box, and hopefully his work in his Florida-home batting cage translates to his production behind the plate.
Closer Greg Holland has been one of the best closers in all of baseball over the last 3 years. He had 47 saves in 61 innings last year with a 1.21 ERA and 103 strikeouts. Holland should still be as dominant as he has been, and should round out the best pitching staff in the AL. Striking out nearly 2 out of every 3 batters he sees, Holland should continue to win games for the Royals, helping them out on the defensive side of the plate.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
Behind Shields, the Royals’ rotation should be as follows: LHP Jason Vargas, LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Jeremy Guthrie and RHP Yordano Ventura. LHP Danny Duff may step in to the 5 spot depending on how the rest of the pitchers throw, and the Royals could use another quality starter. Kansas City was 5th in the AL for ERA, which is great, but they still need a replacement for Santana.
The team is still young all around, and has players with potential to break out and become stars. Although that may not happen this year, the Royals still have something to look forward in the future. For this season, the Royals should remain in 3rd in the AL Central unless they acquire a big bat to throw in the lineup.