It’s Opening Day! Not only will we all get a fix of real, meaningful baseball today but we will also feature our last set of KC Kingdom predictions. Staff writer Jacob Meysenburg, and co-editors Ben Nielsen and Joel Wagler, will each present their take on the upcoming season for the Royals. These will be posted separately throughout the morning and early afternoon and will be written in the unique style of each person. We hope you have as much reading them as we have had putting them together. You can find Ben’s piece here and Joel’s here.
Expect consistent production from Alex Gordon. Somewhere around .300/.370/.470 sounds right. There are a few big questions relating to the Royals outfield. Will Lorenzo Cain stay healthy? Can Cain produce at his healthy 2012 levels? Which Jeff Francoeur will show up?
Aside from last year, Cain hasn’t had significant injury problems. He played in 134 games in 2011 and 127 games in 2012 (keeping in mind that minor league seasons are shorter than major league seasons.) We’ll have to wait and see, but the Royals shouldn’t worry about having to find a replacement for an injured Cain. If he can perform like he did last year, Cain will be a valuable part of this team. Cain’s offense last year was right around league average at .266/.316/.419. Coupled with great defense and above average baserunning, however, makes Cain an above average major leager. It’s cool to think that the Royals have a player who is legitimately above average and he takes a back seat to many other players on this team.
The Francoeur question is one that’s hard to find an answer to. I don’t think he will perform as horribly as last year. Frenchy looked slow on defense and that speed isn’t likely to come back, but he still has a rocket arm which will help to nullify some of the negative aspects of his defense. I’m utterly confused by Francoeur’s batting line. The more I look at it, the more I begin to think that 2011 was an anomaly. There are signs of hope, however. Frenchy swung through fewer pitches last year than at any other point in his career. I know that hard to believe but his swinging strike percentage was a career low 10.3%. Now, this doesn’t mean that the contact Francoeur was making was good contact, but it showed that maybe Francoeur was laying off pitches that weren’t hittable. I haven’t looked at the data on this, but we could possibly see more walks from Frenchy this year.
THE INFIELD (AND BILLY)
Everyone who follows the Royals knows that Billy Butler is a good hitter. Last season, Butler set a career high with 29 home runs. While his home runs increased, his doubles decreased. This is a tradeoff that everyone (except AL pitchers) was happy to make. Was Butler’s power surge real or just a case of Butler getting hot? Historically speaking, Butler has been streaky in terms of home run power. He’ll go a long time between homers then uncork a bunch of them. This wasn’t the case in 2012. Thanks to Baseball Reference we can see Butler’s month-by-month home run distribution.
As you can see, Butler was incredibly consistent in his month-by-month totals last year. Butler has always had the ability to hit for power and he has now learned to use it consistently.
If Eric Hosmer can bounce back to his 2011 levels, that would be great. What the Royals really need is for Hosmer to exceed that production. A big season from their slugging first baseman would go a long ways towards making the Royals contenders. Next to Hosmer is Chris Getz. Most of you already know how I feel about Getz playing second base for the Royals, but I do wish him good health and I hope that he produces at the plate this year. This side of the infield needs to really step up for the Royals to contend.
Across from these two are a couple of players who will swallow much of what comes to the left side of the infield. Defensively speaking, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar form the best left side of an infield in the AL Central. Moustakas is hoping to regain the form he had early last season when he hit 13 homers before the calendar turned to July. An injury sapped Moose’s strength, but he could approach the high twenties in home runs this year. Escobar showed that he wasn’t a one trick pony last year by hitting like everyone thought he would when he was coming up with the Brewers.
Rounding out the infield is catcher Salvador Perez. Defensively, Perez is Molina-esque. Offensively, Perez has showed good power potential to go along with elite contact skills. Don’t expect Perez to walk a ton, but don’t expect him to strike out either. When Perez makes contact it is usually hard (Career 25.8% Line Drive%; League Average is around 20%) so his high average should keep him on base enough.
This was the Royals biggest offseason area of concern. They shored it up by bringing aboard James Shields, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie. Many are skeptical of the Royals depth behind Shields but there is reason for optimism. Santana’s home run problems last year were certainly an anomaly and he has had a history of being a good starting pitcher. Wade Davis certainly has the stuff to be a competent major league starter. I know that when I used the word “stuff” the Royals Blog-o-sphere rolled their collective eyes because, after all, Luke Hochevar had stuff and so did Kyle Davies. These are legitimate causes for concern but I’m willing to see what happens with a pitcher that the Rays developed given their history of pitcher development. Aside from the Colorado debacle, Guthrie has been a consistently average innings eater over the last several years and there is no reason that cannot continue this year.
Headlined by Greg Holland, the Royals bullpen is one of the strongest in the American League. I don’t agree with the decision to keep J.C. Gutierrez on the 25 man roster, but it’s a testament to your bullpen’s depth when you can keep arms like Donnie Joseph, Dan Wheeler, and a proven reliever in Louis Coleman in Omaha. Expect this young bullpen to hold leads for 2013 and many years to come.
This is the best Royals team we have seen in a long time. The 2013 incarceration of the Royals is probably the best Royals team since the 1989 Royals went 92-70. It’s been a long time since exciting baseball was played at Kauffman stadium. I personally believe that the team will finish with a record of 88-74. That’s a big improvement on last year’s 72 wins but the Royals extreme youth and offseason activity will make it possible.