The Kansas City Royals are excited about all the new faces (and arms) brought in over the long off-season. There is fresh hope bubbling from the fan base as Spring Training is set to open next week. Despite the hoopla, there are numerous questions surrounding this organization as they attempt to improve enough to challenge for the AL Central. Some of those questions do come from those exciting new names in the rotation. Here is Part 2 (Part 1 is here) of a list of things fans should be watchful of with the Royals as Spring Training moves forward.
5) Exactly who is going to fill the 5th spot in the rotation? There are three significant candidates to watch. Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and Luis Mendoza all have a shot but it wouldn’t be surprising if it isn’t Hochevar’s spot to lose. All three are much better suited in a competition for the number five slot in the rotation than the number one or two positions, as in previous seasons. Without a doubt, Hochevar has the best stuff of the three but he badly underperforms his skill set each season because he cracks under the pressure when men get on base. At his age, and with his experience, it is hard to believe he can improve in this area. Chen is a great guy, and helps keep the clubhouse loose. We all know how much Dayton Moore and Ned Yost love that but Chen isn’t going to blow anyone away from the mound. When he is on with his control, he can be very effective. As a back end option to the rotation, there could be worse choices. The intriguing candidate is Luis Mendoza. He pitched more consistently than either Hochevar or Chen in 2012 and has pitched well in some preliminary WBC games. He is a pitcher who seems to have made adjustments as he has gotten older and has improved his stats despite an unimpressive skill set. The Royals seem to like him as a long reliever so he may not get the opportunity he should. Will Smith could also be considered a long shot but things will have to terribly wrong for Smith to make the Opening Day roster as a starter.
4) Can Mike Moustakas take a positive step forward in his development? Moustakas played pretty well in the first half in 2012 but fell apart the second half. There have been rumors that the knee he hurt in July nagged him the rest of the season, sapped his power, and held down his production. He played a surprisingly terrific third base but he overall defensive numbers were marred by a late season groin injury that could have contributed to several errors at the end before he was shut down. If Moose can reach his power potential to hit around 25 home runs and maintain a batting average around .260-.270, he could be a very dangerous middle of the line-up player. The potential is there but Moose needs to get going in that direction. This Spring Training would be an excellent place to start.
3) Was Ervin Santana’s drop in velocity last year a fluke or a harbinger of things to come? Santana’s fastball velocity dropped nearly 2 mph from the beginning of the season to the end. If Santana can pitch as he did in 2010 and 2011, the Royals can look forward to some success. If Santana pitches like he did the first 4 months last year, it will be a disaster. Is his loss of velocity hiding an injury or causing a huge inflation of the number of home runs he allows? Are the issues that caused him to look awful most of last year fixable or is he going to turn into another Jonathan Sanchez? The Royals will be much more successful with a effective Ervin Santana in the middle of their rotation.
2) Can Wade Davis return to the rotation and be effective after spending a year in the bullpen? In two years as a starter for Tampa Bay, Davis put up rather pedestrian numbers but last year, in relief, his numbers were quite excellent. Is this a case a growth in understanding his skills and how to pitch, or just a natural improvement caused by only having to pitch an inning or two at a time? The Royals are counting on the former being the case. Davis has displayed the talent to become a number two type starter but is more likely to settle into the third or fourth spot in the rotation. If Davis reaches his ceiling, the Royals will be very happy indeed and fans should see some tangible results on the field. If Davis can become a strong middle of the rotation pitcher, the Royals have him under team control for five more years and Davis could be a rotation staple for years to come. If it turns out Davis is a poor starter but an excellent reliever, not all will be lost but the Royals won’t be better because of it. Keep track of Davis’ progress throughout Spring Training.
1) Can Eric Hosmer bounce back from a very disappointing sophomore season and become the hitter so many believe him capable of being? The Royals need Eric Hosmer to be a star. There is no way to soften that statement. For the next four years, a lot of the success expected of the Royals is tied up in this single statement and it can’t be over stressed. The Kansas City Royals need Eric Hosmer to be a star. He is the key to any offensive success the Royals hope to produce in the next few years. The clock is running. I think everyone understands that if Hosmer is the star everyone hopes he can become, he will be here no longer than four years. KC won’t be able to pay him what he will garner on the open market (they probably could, but won’t). The Royals have a tight 4 year window to become challengers, not only for the AL Central, but for the American League. Hosmer is not the only player KC needs to reach his potential sooner rather than later but he has the talent to be a star and the Royals cannot afford for him to fail. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are terrific players but they do not have the star potential of Hosmer. Salvador Perez has the chance to be the best catcher of his generation but it is tougher for a catcher to be a superstar because they can’t play as many games and the risk of injury is so much higher. The pitching is going to have to deliver for the Royals to compete. All of these things have to happen but Hosmer is the cornerstone. Hosmer does not need to reach his full potential in 2013 but he needs to take a giant leap forward in his development. We need to see that player we caught a glimpse of in 2011. If Eric Hosmer can reach his ceiling quickly, it will be a fun four years.
These are just a few things to watch for in Spring Training. It is always good not to judge too quickly, neither positively or negatively, on Spring Training performances. Watch for improvement. Watch for signs of injury. Watch for a glimmer of possibility that this player or that player has turned a corner. Most importantly, be excited. Baseball is back and there is hope once again in Kansas City.