The Kansas City Royals pulled off one of the more improbable stories last season, not just making the postseason, but the way they made it to the World Series. Their incredible comeback in the eighth inning of the Wild Card matchup against the Oakland Athletics was one of the more incredible postseason games we have seen in years and was the best-played Wild Card play-in game to date. The Royals tied the game up in the ninth and after giving up a run in the top of the twelfth, scored two in the bottom of the inning to walk off. The Royals swept the LA Angels in just as improbable fashion before sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS to get to the World Series.
The Royals lost an exciting World Series to the Giants, which came down to the last inning of the last game. The 2014 Royals won 89 games, an increase in three from the season win total of a year before. While some look at the Royals as a Cinderella story, I look at it more of a team having their moment. The Royals’ time has become now and did at the time of the Wil Myers for James Shields trade. GM Dayton Moore knew he could not wait forever and sell his franchise and fans on “prospects” each year. Because of that, he has developed a young team and made them about the now. Other rebuilding teams never get to experience the now because they get obsessed with having young players. The best teams win, not the youngest teams. The best teams are usually a combination of young and veteran players. That would best describe the 2014 Royals, a team that won their first AL Pennant since 1985 and their third in their franchise history.
Shields (14-8, 3.21, 34 starts) left to sign a free agent deal with the San Diego Padres. The Royals signed RHP Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.01, 31 starts) from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is coming off his best season since his All-Star Rookie season of 2008. Volquez has the distinction of being the only pitcher in the modern baseball era to have different seasons of leading the league in earned runs allowed (108 in 2013), walks (105 in 2012), wild pitches (15 in 2014) and hit by pitches (14 in 2008). Though Volquez cannot be expected to replace Shields at the top of the rotation, he can be a solid three if the three and two are ready to become a two and one.
RHP Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20, 30 starts) is the most dynamic pitcher on this staff and will be given the chance to be the ace at age 24. LHP Danny Duffy (9-12, 2.53, 25 starts) is another homegrown pitcher the Royals look to as a leader. After Volquez should be LHP Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71, 30 starts) and RHP Jeremy Guthrie (13-11, 4.13, 32 starts). RHP Chris Young (12-9, 3.65, 29 starts) comes over from Seattle after a very good 2014 as insurance if somebody were to get hurt. Joe Blanton is also in camp trying to make a comeback after taking the 2014 season off. Maybe the Royals see Kris Medlen this season, returning from his second Tommy John surgery.
The Royals biggest strength was without a doubt their bullpen, led by closer Greg Holland (1-3, 46 saves, 90 Ks in just over 62 IP). RHPs Wade Davis (9-2, 1.00, 109 Ks in 72 IP) and Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 1.41, 70 games) helped make this the best bullpen in all of MLB. Former number one overall draft pick (2006) Luke Hochevar (5-2, 1.92, 58 games, 82 Ks in just over 70 IP in 2013) returns after missing all of 2014 because of Tommy John surgery. 2014 first-round draft pick Brandon Finnegan made as many appearances in the postseason last year as he did in the regular season. While he pitched great in the regular season (1.29 ERA), he struggled in the postseason (10.50 ERA). LHP Tim Collins looks like he will have TJ himself, giving an opportunity to free agent LHP Franklin Morales. RHP Jason Frasor (4-1, 2.66, 61 games) rounds out what could once again be the most dominant bullpen in the sport.
The Royals signed RF Alex Rios (.280, 4, 54) from the Texas Rangers to replace OF Nori Aoki (.285, 1, 43). Both players had 17 SB last season and Rios is a better power hitter than he showed last season. The Royals also signed DH Kendrys Morales (.218, 8, 42) from the Mariners though the switch hitter finished with over 20 HR each of the prior two seasons. He replaces the popular Billy Butler (.271, 9, 66), who after a down season himself left to sign a three year deal with the Athletics. The rest of the lineup remains intact, led by 1B Eric Hosmer (.270, 9, 58), LF Alex Gordon (.266, 9, 74) and C Salvador Perez (.260, 17, 70). The Royals fleeced the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade, getting SS Alcides Escobar (.285, 3, 50, 31 SB) and CF Lorenzo Cain (.301, 5, 53, 28 SB). Cain’s defense was on display in the entire 2014 postseason. Veteran Omar Infante (.252, 6, 66) is at 2B and LH hitting 3B Mike Moustakas (.212, 15, 54) looks to live up to expectations. If Moustakas does not get off to a good start, look for the Royals to go with 2010 first-round draft pick (fourth overall) Christian Colon, who should be able to outproduce Moustakas’ 2014 campaign.
OF Jarrod Dyson and speedster Terrance Gore lead the Royals bench. Colon should make the team, even if he does not beat out Moustakas. Erik Kratz will be Perez’s backup. Among the Royals’ top younger players, outside of Colon and Finnegan, are 2–year-old OF Raul Mondesi, RHP Kyle Zimmer and LHP Sean Manaea. Manaea slid in the 2013 draft, but looks like quite a find and a pitcher who will be helping the Royals in 2015, if needed. 3B Hunter Dozier may also be ready to make his big league debut this season.
In spite of the offensive upgrades and the projected breakouts of Ventura and Duffy, I think the Royals will drop a couple games from last season. Vegas was a little harder on KC, putting their O/U at 79 1/2. I went with the over, but cautiously at 85-77, 2nd place in the AL Central. I think this team can win more and right now is without a doubt a postseason team in the American League.