2014 MLB PREVIEW: KANSAS CITY ROYALS
February 18, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Things are beginning to look up for the Kansas City Royals and their fans who have suffered losing baseball for too long. 86 wins in 2013 was a sign that the Royals are heading in the right direction. The 86 wins are the most for a Kansas City team since 1989 and 2014 may be the year they finally get back to the playoffs.
Manager Ned Yost had the Royals playing exceptional baseball over their final two thirds of the season going 63-44. They also had three AL All-Stars, all products of their own organization. General Manager Dayton Moore is a former Atlanta GM and knows what it takes to build a winner from within.
If Kansas City is to make a serious run in 2014, they will have to count on strong pitching. James Shields (13-9 3.15), Jeremy Guthrie (15-12 4.04) and Jason Vargas (9-8 4.02 with LAA) will need to carry the load. The trio will need to work a combined 600 innings if they plan on winning more than 86 games. Shields has one of the games’ best change-ups and pitched a league high 228.2 innings in 2013. Guthrie will use four pitches to make sure hitters have weak contact with the baseball. When Guthrie and Shields are on the mound the Royals are winning games (40-27 in 2013).
Vargas will replace Ervin Santana, who left as a free-agent. Vargas is able to move the ball around and can change speeds with the best of them. After Shields, Guthrie and Vargas, there are questions. Left hander Danny Duffy and Right hander Yordano Ventura will look to finish the rotation. Duffy is coming back from Tommy John surgery and still throws in the mid-90’s. Ventura is small (5-11 167) but can also throw in the mid-90’s. Both will need better command if they plan on staying in the rotation in 2014. If Duffy and Ventura falter, Luke Hochevar may be ready to take a starting spot. Hochevar was excellent as a reliever last season after struggling as a starter in previous years. Wade Davis made 24 starts in 2013 and may get a long look this spring.
Part of Kansas City’s success in 2013 was because of their excellent bullpen. The Royals were led by Greg Holland who had a fast ball that hit the mid to upper 90’s and he combined that speed with a hard slider. Holland saved 47 games in 50 opportunities. Holland and the KC bullpen amassed 461.2 innings in 2013. Aaron Crow has a 94-mph fastball and a great slider. Crow will need to throw a lot if he is stay sharp. Kelvin Herrera is one of baseball’s hardest throwers but needs better command if he is take his game to another level. If Hochevar doesn’t get a starting spot, he will continue to be one of baseball’s better middle relievers. Hochevar averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings because of his cutter.
One of Kansas City’s most important players is little known catcher Salvador Perez. Perez does everything well, including hitting for average (.292), power (13 HR) and he loves to hit left-handed pitching. Perez has an excellent arm and will sacrifice his body to block pitches behind the plate. Perez is a tireless receiver catching 1,115 innings in 2013. Brett Hayes will be the back-up to Perez. It might be a good idea to give Perez a breather more often.
Eric Hosmer is becoming a household name in Kansas City. The Royals first baseman hit .300 for the first time in 2013 and added 17 HR’s and 79 RBI. Hosmer is an excellent fastball hitter and will continue to get better the more playing time he gets. Third baseman Mike Moustakas needs to pick it up before the Royals consider him a bust. Moustakas hit only 12 HR’s with 42 RBI and a .364 slugging percentage in 2013. His batting average with runners in scoring position was a robust .173. Moustakas was continually overpowered by fastballs in 2013 and looked nothing like the #2 overall selection in the 2007 MLB draft.
2B Omar Infante should be a staple for years to come for the Royals after coming over from Detroit. Infante is good at everything (.318 10 HR 51 RBI), and is one of the most underrated players in baseball. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is an excellent defensive player but isn’t a great hitter (.234 4 HR 52 RBI).
The Royals have a true lead-off hitter in OF Norichika Aoki. Aoki hit .286 in Milwaukee last season but more importantly, he stole bases and he drives the ball in the gaps for extra bases. Aoki also had a .726 OPS and plays excellent defense. Aoki is a definite upgrade from 2013 when Kansas City’s lead-off hitters had a .246 BA and a .690 OPS. Alex Gordon struggled in 2013 hitting .265 with 20 HR and 81 RBI. His 27 doubles were down from 2012 (51) and he continues to struggle against breaking pitches. CF Lorenzo Cain is excellent defensively but is a liability at the plate (.251 4 HR 46 RBI). Jarrod Dyson may get playing time because of his speed.
Kansas City has the pieces to be a good baseball team in 2014. They have done in the right way by producing home grown talent. They have drafted better and have reached in the international talent pool. Ned Yost is an excellent manager who stayed calm when things weren’t going well. Some think Yost over manages his teams but he has them winning baseball games again.