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 after noon 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 here and Jacob’s here.
Unlike some of my esteemed colleagues, I am old enough to remember the glory days of our boys in blue. I was a sophomore in college when the Royals won the 1985 World Series. I watched game 7 in the manager’s office of the grocery store I worked in on a old black and white television set on which we used to watch training videos. I had to sit inches from the screen with one hand holding a wire coat hanger in place to serve as an antenna and my other hand constantly turning the tuning knob to alleviate as much of the static and screen “snow” as possible. At times I could only make out ghostly shadows of the players. To this day, I remember Andy Van Slyke‘s fly ball nestling into Daryl Motley’s glove for the final out and Brett Saberhagan leaping high into the air in celebration. Typing that last sentence, even now, nearly 28 years later, gave me chills and brought the tiniest tears to my eyes ( I am not exaggerating).
For the first time in a very long time, I truly, truly believe the Royals can compete for a playoff spot. Of course, I want to to believe. I long to believe it can happen, with all my baseball loving heart and soul. The Royals have had one of their more active off seasons in a long time, and whether you support the major moves General Manager Dayton Moore made or not, it was nice to be included in the Hot Stove conversations. For the record, I was at the time, and I am now, fully behind the acquiring of James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana via trades, plus acquiring Jeremy Guthrie through free agency. I strongly believe Kansas City HAD to make these moves to have even a snowballs chance in purgatory of competing. I totally understand the cost, and I know all the arguments against, but regardless of how this season turns out, I believe Dayton Moore did what was necessary.
I will proceed from here to my predictions. I will go position by position, and I will end with a summary of what I think will happen in the end. These are only my opinions (and, in some cases, hopes) but I am trying to be as realistic as possible. This is tough for me sometimes because am absolutely a homer and I am proud of it!
Catcher: Salvador Perez will make strides toward becoming one of the premier catchers of this generation. The 22-year old becomes the on-field general, taking charge of his staff, and rallying his teammates with his skills and enthusiasm. At the plate, he will continue to have success. His average will not stay above .300 but his power will continue to grow and surprise. He will hit 15-20 home runs with more than his fair share of doubles. He will make the All-Star Game but will suffer through some summer slumps due to overuse. Manager Ned Yost will get him rest in the dogs days and he will finish strong in September.
First Base: Eric Hosmer will continue to struggle with his power in April and May but his batting average won’t be as hideous as last season. He will warm up with the weather and as he gains confidence, his natural talent will shine through and he will start to drive the ball. The Royals will work on his positioning, which helps his defense overall. He will finish right around .280 and will get up around 20 home runs.
Second Base: Scrappy Chris Getz continues to do what he does. He hustles, steals bases, and plays passable defense. As usual, he hurts himself diving for a ball or sliding into second. Instead of bringing up Johnny Giavotella, the Royals call up Christian Colon, who proves to be a serviceable second baseman with little flash. This is a position the Royals constantly look to upgrade but never seem to figure out how.
Shortstop: Slick fielding shortstop Alcides Escobar continues to wow us with his glove, range, and arm, and keeps improving with the stick. While he doesn’t provide many home runs, he hits more and more line drives and steals more than his share of bases. He will break the 80 runs scored mark before the season ends by getting on for the big boys.
Third Base: The Moose gets loose on 2013. Mike Moustakas will solve his problem of hitting pop-ups to infielders and will start getting more good wood on the ball. Moose won’t see a big jump in his average but his OBP will improve due to his increased patience. Moustakas will challenge the 30-home run mark and will be in the running for the team leader in dingers. He will continue his sparkling defense and will team up with Escobar to be one of the best left side infield tandems in the Majors.
Left Field: Two-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon will continue to supply fantastic defense in the outfield. Not only does he read balls well and make spectacular plays, he features one of the strongest, most accurate arms in baseball. At the plate, he has grown into a fine lead off option, even if he isn’t what most would consider a traditional one. His patience continues to improve and if his spring is any indication, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gordon creep over the 20 home run mark. If the long balls don’t come, he will continue to be one of the most prolific doubles hitter in the league. As the Royals’ wins total increases, so will Gordon’s league wide recognition and appreciation.
Center Field: Health has always been an issue with Lorenzo Cain but finally stays off the medical roles for most of the season. He will accumulate more than 500 at bats, and he will turn that into a 20/20 season. He defense will give the Royals two outstanding fielders roaming the Kaufman Stadium outfield. If Cain’s can keep off the DL, he is a prime breakout candidate.
Right Field: Kansas City will finally realize what everyone already knows – Jeff Francoeur is a replacement level player at best. When Frenchy falters, the Royals will be forced to start Jarrod Dyson some in center, moving Cain to right. When David Lough performs well in AAA, he will get the call to play some right field. If the Royals are contending for a playoff spot after the All-Star Game, the Royals will gamble and trade for a solid major league right fielder for the stretch run.
Designated Hitter: The torch has been passed. Billy Butler is the league’s best DH. Butler will show his 29 home runs in 2012 was not a fluke and he will better that number in 2013. Combined with Mike Moustakas, the Royals will have their best power tandem in their history. His steadying presence in the middle of the order will allow some of the young bats around him to develop and have success.
Starting Rotation: James Shields will earn his status as the staff ace. He will lead by his example on the mound and with his presence in the clubhouse. Ervin Santana will have a decent but inconsistent season. He is the most likely of the starters to break down over the long season. If Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino return to full strength by mid-July, Santana could be prime trade bait to improve the team in other areas. Jeremy Guthrie performs more like his 2012 Royal self than his 2012 Rockies alter ego. Wade Davis proves to be a gem, pitching more like a #2 than a #4. The fifth spot will be fluid though the first 2 or 3 months. Luis Mendoza will start off as the guy, but Bruce Chen will also gets some starts. Duffy or Paulino could take this spot later in the season. Do not be surprised if Yordano Ventura opens enough eyes for the Royals to give him a shot if any injuries stack up on the Royals’ rotation.
Bullpen: Displaced starters Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen prove to be better options in relief than Nathan Adcock and Everett Teaford from a year ago. Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland prove to be an effective one-two punch at the end. If anyone falters in the pen, Kansas City has a real depth in this area in the minors. Bullpens in general are volatile by nature, but this depth keeps the Royals’ relief corp a strength throughout the season.
Possible Worries: Things can unravel if the KC youth on offense stalls in its development. The organization is not deep with ready talent in the upper minors if injuries start to stack up on offense. Two or three key injuries could bury this team. Starting pitching is always a worry and the Royals invested a lot in this rotation. If these guys get hurt or pitch to their downside instead of their upside, things will get rough. If Holland doesn’t prove up to the task of closing every day, or if Herrera’s workload in 2012 causes issues this season, the team’s bullpen depth may get tested.
Season Summary: After decades of futility and frustration, things finally go the Royals’ way in 2013. Youth improves and the pitching holds up. The Royals battle throughout the season and are still in contention late. Kansas City is able to make some mid-season moves to improve the roster enough that the Royals will make their first post season in nearly 30 years. As a wild card, they will be unable to make a deep playoff run but it will be a huge step in the right decision. Fans will flock to the ball park to support their team, breathing new life into the team and the city. It will be an exciting time and there will be a whole lot of bloggers who will have to acknowledge that trading a handfuls of prospects (none of whom are on a major league roster) for legitimate major league starting pitchers, wasn’t so stupid after all.