Feb 24, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals infielderMike Moustakas
poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
For several years now prognosticators have waited for the Kansas City Royals to turn the corner. Until last year, the Royals hadn’t had a winning season since 2003–and their 86 wins in 2013 were the franchise’s most since 1989. Because of those three decades of incompetence, Kansas City has stock piled high draft picks and has had one of the best farm systems in baseball for better than a decade.
Yet that high-ranking has yet to filter into results for the big league club. KC has the longest active postseason drought not only of baseball–but of all the four major professional sports (28 years–1985 World Series victory).
Will this finally be the year that KC competes for and nabs a playoff spot? Let’s ask the authorities on all things Kansas City Royals, our friends at Kings of Kauffman. Answering our questions today is the site’s co-editor, Hunter Samuels.
I personally believe they will be the Detroit Tigers biggest competitors in the American League Central this year, but Fangraphs disagrees, predicting another third place finish for Kansas City and a return under .500 at 80-82.
MCB: How have the Royals being faring this spring?
KOK: Overall, the Royals’ spring training record isn’t too impressive. However, there are certainly some bright spots, particularly in the lineup. Most of the starters are hitting well, and some bench players like Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson also have been racking up some impressive stats at the plate. The rotation has performed very nicely as well, with only Jeremy Guthrie struggling to prevent runs from scoring.
MCB: Which Royals players have stood out and/or have surprised? Who has disappointed?
KOK: Without question, there are two players who’ve opened the most eyes so far: Mike Moustakas and Yordano Ventura. Moustakas is coming off a terrible season that led him to be sent to Venezuela for winter ball, where he worked with Royals’ hitting coach Pedro Grifol on retooling his swing. Moose lost a bit of weight and came to camp looked quite fit, as well, and all of that work seems to have paid off, as he’s hitting .486/.558/.943, with 4 home runs in 43 plate appearances. Granted, Moustakas crushed pitching last year in spring training, too, so it remains to be seen if his adjustments will translate to the regular season, but his stance, swing, and approach are all visibly different from last year. The Royals are hoping they lead to different results.
Ventura has locked up the final spot in the Royals’ rotation (although he’ll be slotted third, behind Jason Vargas but ahead of Guthrie) because he has simply been dominant in his 15.1 innings. He’s walked just 1 while striking out 15 batters, and his stuff has been as advertised: triple digit heat, a hammer curve, and a changeup that has been much more consistent. Ventura’s performance may be helping Royals fans forget about losing Ervin Santana this offseason.
On the disappointing side, it has to be Alcides Escobar, although not all of it is his fault. He missed some time early on for the birth of his child, and he’s now been dealing with a shoulder issue that forced him to receive a cortisone shot last week. The team says he should be back by the weekend, but that date has already been pushed back twice, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the injury is more serious than we’ve been told.
MCB: Do you think there will be a surprise veteran cut before Opening Day? If so, who?
Sep 2, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcherDanny Duffy
(41) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
KOK: Oddly enough, the Royals’ roster is basically set. The only spot still yet to be officially determined is the final spot in the bullpen, which will likely go to Francisley Bueno, who is without options. Donnie Joseph and Danny Duffy are said to be in competition for that roster spot, but the Royals prefer to keep their inventory of arms, so I’d expect both of them to open the year at AAA Omaha.
MCB: Is there a prospect that won’t be on KC’s Opening Day roster, but will join the big league club at some point this season?
KOK: While the Royals’ farm system does have quite a bit of talent, there isn’t a ton of it at the upper levels of the minors right now. One player to watch in the second half, though, will be Kyle Zimmer. The team’s top prospect has been dealing with some injury problems that have delayed the start of his throwing program, but he will likely start the year at AA Northwest Arkansas, with an eye on a major league debut sometime later in the summer. He’s got electric stuff, so as long as his arm is healthy, he should be able to make an impact right away.
MCB: Where do you see the Royals finishing in the division this year? Will they challenge for first, grab a wild-card spot, or regress from last season’s progress?
KOK: Even though the Royals did a good job of improving the lineup this winter, I’m not sure their rotation will be good enough this season. I think the team will finish with an 87-75 record, good enough for 2nd in the division, behind the Tigers. They should be in the Wild Card hunt all year long, but ultimately, I think they’ll finish about 4 or 5 games back in that race.
Come back tomorrow and Thursday for previews of the Twins and White Sox respectively.
View our Indians preview from Monday.