The Kansas City Royals are among the most popular teams training in Arizona. They are drawing big crowds both at home in Surprise and on the road. Wherever the Royals play the stands are a sea of blue. That’s what happens to winning teams. And the Royals do, indeed win. Their brand of baseball is comprised of solid enough pitching, timely hitting, good fundamental defense and speed that puts pressure on the opposing defense. Lots and lots of speed. The Royals score runs and prevent runs-the two basic components of winning baseball.
Gone from their World Championship team are top notch players like pitcher Johnny Cueto, outfielder Alex Rios and the super versatile Ben Zobrist.
Pitchers Ian Kennedy, Mike Minor and Joakim Soria join the club to help bolster the pitching staff.
Much has to happen for the Royals to return to their lofty position atop the world of baseball. As is always the case, teams always gun for the big guys. And the Royals are now the big guys.
The nucleus of the club is still in place. After being patient for years and waiting for Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to fulfill their potential, the Royals are now experiencing the type of production those three can provide. And they’ve been doing it now for the past few years. That trio holds a boatload of RBIs and runs scored in their control. With Lorenzo Cain added to that threesome making it four stellar players at the top of the lineup, the Royals remain dangerous once again.
We may not have yet seen the best of Cain. He can do it all. He hits for average, his power continues to increase, he runs well enough to steal bases and he plays outstanding defense in center field. He may even add a few more home runs to increase from the 16 he belted last year. Cain stole 28 bases in 2016. If he has his legs and doesn’t encounter hamstring issues, he could easily top 30.
Paulo Orlando may be a strange name to many. He is targeted to split playing time with the very speedy Jarod Dyson once Dyson returns from injury. That could be as soon as the last week of Spring Training. With spotty playing time last year, Dyson stole 26 bases. That should increase this year. And it should add even more pressure to the opposing pitcher.
Orlando, the right-handed hitting side of the Dyson/Orlando platoon is a good player with an average skill set. Without one glaring tool to anchor his game, Orlando is a steady and reliable outfielder with a bat that should hover around .275. I think both Dyson and Orlando will eventually make way for former first round athlete Bubba Starling, who is improving his contact rate and plate discipline every time I see him. But Starling’s time is in the future, not just yet.
Actually, add Reymond Fuentes to the mix for an outfield position in competition with Dyson and Orlando. Fuentes was drafted by the Red Sox and traded to the Padres. He’s now in the outfield mix with the Royals. A left-handed hitter, Fuentes also brings more speed and a barrel of the bat hitting approach. So he, Orlando and Dyson may all be seeking big league playing time in the outfield. One outfield role remains to be filled as Gordon will patrol left and Cain is a mainstay in center.
Kendrys Morales is getting playing time at first base, as he did in the game I scouted against Cleveland this week. Morales will serve as the primary DH, but he could spell Hosmer at first, opening a spot for Fuentes as the DH.
While there are lots of mix and match opportunities for the Royals, the key to their success will be the play of the defense and their pitching.
Alcedes Escobar is about as sure-handed a shortstop as there is in the game. From the first time I saw him as a raw prospect years ago in the Arizona Fall League, Escobar has always made the routine play with ease and made the difficult play look simple as well. He is just a solid, consistent shortstop with enough pop in his bat to be dangerous as well as having the requisite Royals trademark quality-base stealing type speed.
Omar Infante returns at second base, with the good-hitting and solid fielding Christian Colon waiting in the wings. Colon has always hit. There is no reason that can’t continue if he sticks with the parent club all year. Switch-hitting Raul Mondesi is still very young, but he represents the future in the Royals infield.
The Royals have made it a plan for their starting pitcher to keep the club in the game for six innings and turn everything over to a World Class bullpen. To beat the Royals, a team has to jump on the starter and pile on for inning after inning. If that doesn’t happen, the opposition will be treated to a heavy dose of a bullpen that is anchored at the back end by closer Wade Davis. At this point in time he may be the best in the business. Set-up man Luke Hochevar is another pitcher who found great success pitching in late innings for the Royals.
The beautiful house of cards built by the Kansas City front office may come collapsing down if the starting pitching runs in to repetitive hiccups. Ian Kennedy should really help fill the roll vacated by Johnny Cueto. He can be very good. Especially when he pitches inside. If he stays away from hitters and avoids the inside of the plate he can quickly lose his fastball command. The ball sails on him and he gets lit up.
Rotation partners of Kennedy include the returning Edinson Volquez who is now another year older, righty Yordano Ventura, and others who might include Chris Young, Kris Medlen and more. Kyle Zimmer is a prospect with promise who has had shoulder issues. He may be able to help at some point in the season. Lefties Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy add depth for either the rotation or the pen, depending upon need.
But whatever combination of starters makes the rotation, we aren’t talking New York Mets pitching here. The starters just have to carry the baton to the bullpen for success to be realized. They can do that. Without much doubt.
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Tomorrow: Milwaukee Brewers
That’s it. I’m done. For now.