Spring is in the air. The birds are chirping, the flowers blooming and the World Champion Kansas City Royals are ready to unleash hell on Major League Baseball to defend the crown.
The Royals open the season at Kauffman Stadium in MLB’s opening game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball against the New York Mets. According to the New York media, the Royals will be looking to retaliate for Noah Syndergaard’s pitch that nearly took Alcides Escobar’s head off. What a crock of shit! The Royals retaliation was beating their ass four games to one in the World Series. They’re trying to manufacture a story to sell newspapers, plain and simple. Ned Yost had the best response to the story, “Some buffoon writes something and you guys are gonna jump like little monkeys in a cage for peanut.”
The lineup will be the exact as most of last year’s through the first seven spots:
- Escobar- the magic elixir, keep 1st pitch swinging (if it’s a strike)
- Moose- needs a repeat of last year, keep going the other way
- Cain- potential superstar, stay healthy
- Hosmer- potential perennial all-star, keep banging that ball (and Kacie)
- Morales- key cog in lineup, keep mashing
- Gordon- rock solid vet
- Perez- clubhouse heart and soul, keep the Gatorade flowing
Fan favorite (eye roll) Omar Infante will return to 2nd base instead of Ben Zobrist and with Jarrod Dyson set to open the season on the DL, right field will most likely be Paulo Orlando or Reymond Fuentes. Fuentes, (left-handed) the second cousin of former Royals great Carlos Beltran, has turned heads this spring with his hot hitting. He was acquired last off-season and spent the bulk of the year in Omaha, batting .308 with a .360 OBP and .422 SLG. The 25 year-old appears certain to make the club out of Spring Training and may be set for significant playing time in right. The book on him is that he’s a contact/ speed/ defense guy so he’ll fit right in.
Another hitter that turned heads this Spring was 27 year-old Whit Merrifield. Merrifield has been in the organization since 2010 and has a very streaky offensive record. He’s also a speed/ defense guy who is Desi Relaford versatile. He can pretty much play every position but catcher. The fact the he’s not on the 40-man roster could be what costs him making the club. Speedster Terrence Gore, who is on the 40-man, could also be in line to break camp with the big club. Whether Orlando, Fuentes, Dyson or Merrifield gets the bulk of right field chances, it’s safe to say it will be an improvement over last year. Oh, Alex Rios is still a free agent, if that tells you anything.
On the bench will be 2nd base/ utilty man/ World Series hero Christian Colon, two of the previously mentioned outfielders and most likely catcher Drew Butera. Tony Cruz is still in the race for the backup catcher but is currently not on the 40-man roster. It would be nice to see Butera or Cruz get a game or two per week to keep Salvy fresh. Whether Colon ends up having a future as an everyday player doesn’t matter. He’ll always be remembered in KC folklore because of his World Series clinching hit.
The skipper has named his starters in the following order:
- Edinson Volquez
- Ian Kennedy
- Yordano Ventura
- Chris Young
- Kris Medlen
The Royals proved the last few years, you can win with mediocre starting pitching as long as they keep you in the game and get it to one of the best bullpens to shut the door. Volquez has really come into his own as a pitcher the last couple of seasons. Between him and Young the Royals will get solid innings. As much as I disliked the Kennedy signing, in terms of money with his track record, I’m willing to give Dayton Moore the benefit of the doubt and put Kennedy in the same category. He’ll give the club much-needed innings while keeping us in the game.
Ventura and Medlen are the two x-factors that could make or break the staff. Yordano’s case is well documented. All the talent to be great if he could only keep a cool head or figure it all out. Hopefully he worked this Spring on adding a bit more movement to his fastball. He could easily be the team’s best starter or possibly the worst. Time will tell.
Medlen, who has flown mostly under the radar this Spring, should be fully healthy this year. His stats have not been great, but none of the pitchers are in Spring Training. I am quietly optimistic that Medlen will have a bounce back season. He may not be the club’s best pitcher for the whole season but I think he may be the best pitcher on the staff by the second half. If I had to predict a dark horse for team pitcher of the year, it’s Medlen.
It’s hard to predict that one of the best bullpens of the modern era will improve but they should be dominant. They may even be deeper this year. Wade F. Davis will have a full season as closer. Luke Hochevar will be fully healthy to start the year. Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria will likely assume the setup man roles in the 7th and 8th innings. Soria is reportedly throwing harder than ever this Spring. Danny Duffy, Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang will also provide bullpen depth, all with the ability to start games should anyone falter or land on the disabled list. Wang could be this year’s version of Ryan Madson, having not pitched in the majors since 2013. He wasn’t even supposed to be on the roster but appears to have pitched his way onto the club. Reuniting with his former pitching coach Dave Eiland appears to be helping rejuvenate the veteran’s career and may have all Royals fans doing the Wang Chung this season.
Other candidates we could see at some point this season in the pen include top prospects Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte, along with lefty prospects Scott Alexander and Brian Flynn. In the second half we could also see free agent signing Mike Minor. Minor, former starter for the Atlanta Braves, is coming off shoulder surgery. He will likely be eased back, similar to Kris Medlen last season.
The Royals win 100 games and sweep through the playoffs to win back-to-back World Series titles. Am I right?! That’s the fan feeling throughout Kansas City. I’m not going to get that far ahead of myself. We should be favorites, in the Central division anyway. It’s hard to tell who our toughest competition will come from, most likely Cleveland or Detroit. Chicago, with all their clubhouse problems, may be the least likely. I’m predicting that the Royals win 92 games and win the Central by five games or more. Then in October, anything is possible, as we can all attest.