Kody Clawson | February 27th, 2020
2019 was mostly a season to forget for the Kansas City Royals, going 59-103. The season started on a sour note, seeing star catcher Salvador Perez lost for the year to Tommy John surgery after damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm was discovered. Also, longtime manager Ned Yost, the manager who took the Royals to two straight World Series appearances, retired at the end of the season.
However, not all was a loss. Young hitters like Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier developed into stars for the team, while players like Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi continued to show their skills. There’s not a whole lot of change to the roster (third baseman Maikel Franco is the only notable free-agent acquisition), so it’s hard to see what change will come under new manager Mike Matheny. Another rebuilding season might be in order.
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C: Salvador Perez
1B: Ryan O’Hearn/Ryan McBroom
2B: Nicky Lopez
SS: Adalberto Mondesi
3B: Maikel Franco
If you ask Salvador Perez, he’s catching all 162 games. If you ask anyone else, he’ll probably at least play some games at DH, and that’s fine. Having Sal catch games for these pitchers while hitting in the heart of this order should help this team dramatically. Ryan O’Hearn is the probable starter at first base, or at least is manager Mike Matheny’s preference there, but we’ll see if he can hold off Ryan McBroom, who the Royals acquired from the Yankees late last year.
Nicky Lopez is young and struggled in the majors last year, but he showed an interesting skill set in the minors that should hopefully start to prove itself in the majors. Adalberto Mondesi is a potential star in the making at shortstop if he can stay on the field all season. New free agent acquisition Maikel Franco will hold the hot corner for as long as he can provide value. I still think he has the tools to break out and become a valuable third baseman, but Kauffman is a tough place to do that, at least power-wise. It is encouraging that Royals coaches are working with him to put more loft in his swing.
LF: Alex Gordon
CF: Whit Merrifield
RF: Hunter Dozier
DH: Jorge Soler
Gordo’s back! Returning to man left field, Alex Gordon gives the Royals a stable force for the defense while providing some OBP juice. That’s about all the 36-year-old outfielder provides at this point, but for the Royals to give a little more time for some of their outfield prospects to develop, that’s enough.
Whit Merrifield will man center field, and while at first glance that may seem like a stretch defensively, he’s been a net positive there in the 47 games he’s played there as far as Ultimate Zone Rating (a defensive metric provided by Fangraphs) is concerned.
Hunter Dozier showed some major strides in development last season, both offensively and defensively, seeming to find more of a home in right field while settling in at the plate quite nicely. If he can keep the gains he made at the dish last season, we could be looking at another cornerstone player to build around with him.
Speaking of keeping the gains, Jorge Soler showed the star hitter upside everyone thought he had in Chicago before being traded to Kansas City for Wade Davis three seasons ago. While another 48 might be a pipe dream, returning back down to the 35-40 range that most projection systems have him at on Fangraphs wouldn’t be all that bad.
There’s a lot of same old, same old, with the Royals rotation this season. Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller, and Mike Montgomery will front the rotation. The fifth spot is possibly the most interesting battle in camp. With old friends like Eric Skoglund, Glenn Sparkman, and Jorge Lopez as the veteran options, the likelihood of one of those getting the nod is very high.
And yet, there’s a strong chance one of the young guns could come out and steal that fifth spot, the most likely to be Brady Singer. Drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Singer accumulated 138 strikeouts over 148.1 innings with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.187 WHIP over two levels last season, his first in professional baseball. It included 90.2 innings in AA, so it might make sense for him to go back down to AA or AAA. But, if he pitches lights out in spring training, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he breaks camp with the team.
Stephen Woods, Jr.
Ian Kennedy is a solid, if not spectacular closer for the Royals. He pitched well in the role last year, striking out 73 batters in 63 innings and garnering a 3.41 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP while accumulating 30 saves. Scott Barlow and Tim Hill are the most likely guys to set Kennedy up, unless old friend Greg Holland rekindles some sort of resurgence.
Josh Staumont and Trevor Rosenthal have been throwing fire in the spring, so they might end up being interesting pieces in the bullpen as well. Assuming he doesn’t crack the rotation, Jesse Hahn as a reliever could be interesting, with a fastball that averaged 95.1 MPH and a lot more emphasis on his slider. And then there’s Rule 5 pick Stephen Woods, Jr., who may become an interesting long reliever/swingman candidate.
Player(s) to Watch
I am fully on the Nicky Lopez bandwagon, and you’re all open to hop on. I think he has the kind of hit tool and plate discipline that can develop into a solid hitter once he taps into some power. He has supposedly added muscle to his frame this offseason, so it looks like he is willing to put in the work to change and develop.
Also, the injury rebounds should be interesting with this team. A full season of Adalberto Mondesi and Salvador Perez should provide enough juice to this lineup to make it interesting, if not exciting.
ZiPS projects the Royals for 70 wins, while Fangraphs has 72. I’m optimistic about this lineup, but also realistic about the limitations of the rotation. I’ll still project them for over, but not by much. I think 75 wins is a realistic goal for this team. What will be even more important for this team than the win total will be the development of a young core for this organization to build around for the future. This team is beginning to make strides in their development, but they’re still a long way away from contention. Here’s to hoping they take a big step forward this season.
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