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Kansas City Royals: Who Cares Who The 5th Starter Is On Opening Day

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Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The big question surrounding the Kansas City Royals as we entered Spring Training was, who will be the Royals fifth starter? Tom Barkwell over at our sister site, Kings of Kaufman, posted a lengthy article just yesterday on the topic.

What nobody seems to understand however, is that the answer to that question really is irrelevant. Who cares who the opening day 5th starter is? Really.

Now you may be wondering why I would say such a thing. It’s not because I have issues with Tom Barkwell (for what it’s worth, I’ve never met him but I’m sure he’s a great American), no, the answer is really quite simple. The opening day 5th starter is not going to be the 5th starter by the time June rolls around, maybe even sooner.

In fact, I would wager that with the exception of James Shields, none of the Royals opening day starters will be slotted in the rotation where they are projected to be when camp breaks. As things stand, the likely rotation when the Royals break camp would appear to shake out as follows…

James Shields, Jeremy GuthrieJason VargasBruce Chen, and one of either Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, or Yordano Ventura.

Many think Ventura will be the guy but my money is on Hochevar. Royals manager Ned Yost likes his veterans, and Hochevar needs another shot at the rotation with all the success he had last year.

If nothing else, the Royals need to take one final stab at justifying selecting Hochevar with the number one overall selection in 2006 and then resigning him this season for that $5M price-tag, so I think Hochevar gets the early nod.

Still, no matter how you slice it, that rotation does not exactly instill fear in the opposition. By no means is it a rotation worthy of a playoff berth, let alone a division title.

Now here’s the fun part…almost none of that rotation will hold up. By the time June rolls around the Royals starting rotation will look like this…

James Shields, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Luke HochevarJeremy Guthrie.

That’s right Royals fans, both Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are going to break out this season and will both post 14 to 16 wins. Luke Hochevar is going to realize the promise that made him the number one overall pick in the draft back in 2006, also posting 13 to 15 wins.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (41) Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Combined, the trio will have us all experiencing flashbacks to the Golden Age of Royals baseball and helping the Royals lay claim to the best pitching staff in the division, and one of the best in baseball. Think I’m smoking something inappropriate (except of course in Colorado and California)?

Consider the following. Danny Duffy was on the cusp of a breakout season in 2012 before tearing up his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery early in 2012. Up until that point in the year, he had gone 2W-2L with a 3.90 ERA. Slightly better than league average, but definitely trending up.

In fact, USA Today ran a story after the injury calling Duffy the team’s best starter. Former Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland was quoted on as saying the following about Duffy just after facing him early in 2012,

"I might be going out on a limb, but I believe this with all my heart: I think he has a chance to be a star. Duffy, I really like him a lot. He’s got a lot of potential, and you’ll never know if it will play for sure. But he’s a baby left-hander who’s really, really good."

His history throughout the minor leagues has been one of success, even dominance, at each stop from rookie ball to AAA. He took his lumps in 2011, posting a 4-8 record with a 5.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.61 across 20 starts for the Royals. Like any rookie, he had a lot to learn, but he appeared to have started to really put things together prior to his elbow injury.

History tells us it takes just over a year to get back to 100% physically following Tommy John surgery, and there is additional time required, which varies by individual, before a pitcher’s command returns. Duffy is in that window.

In his initial return to the squad last season, he made five starts posting a 1.85 ERA, before being shut down for the last three weeks due to arm inflammation. The bottom line however, is that he’s young (25 yrs. old), he’s hungry, and he’s ready to take a prominent role in the Royals rotation.