I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here. I am actually setting the stage for some really great news for those proud KC fans. Here it comes… You guys are going to be good. The 1980’s were a long time ago, but be ready to welcome in a new era.
Since the ’94 strike, the Royals have had one winning season, and have averaged 94 losses per year. However, the team that won 56 games in 2005 and last season won 75 is one of those franchises - like the Reds and Giants - that have been designated as this spring's fair-haired risers.
They have been put in the best division for it too. Nobody knows who will take the AL Central crown. All of the teams could be really good, but could also bite the dust. Most are picking the Indians to represent the Central come October, but all five teams could prove their selves worthy.
So let’s break it down starting with their rotation.
We all remember when Zach Greinke was labeled as the one destined to revive Kansas City. He came up, everyone was ready for dominance, and he was a total bust. You can’t argue that. At first, it looked as if he was baseball’s Ryan Leaf. Don’t be fooled though. Last year Greinke surprised most when he logged in an impressive 13-10 record, with a 3.47 ERA, and nearly 190 strikeouts. Some predict him to take home the AL Cy Young award. He is that good and has even more potential (only 25 years old).
Looking at the 2-5 spots in the rotation, we have Gil Meche, Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, and Luke Hochevar.
Gil Meche is coming off another solid year. Meche was a great wingman to Greinke and notched another sub-4 ERA season. Kyle Davies may be one of the most underrated baseball players out there. If he pitches like he was toward the end of last year, we are looking at another 10-15 win guy. Hochevar reminds me of Greinke with a little less hype. The former #1 pick was rushed to the show too quickly and is now struggling, but do not doubt his sick potential. I say Bannister will get the #5 spot, but it is actually a toss up between Sidney Ponson, Horacio Ramirez, and Bannister. All three of the guys are pretty sub-par, so it is possible that there could be a midseason call up for this position. Maybe Daniel Cortes?
There is little debate as to how the bullpen looks. When you have one of the best closers in the MLB shutting the door in the 9th, you are typically going to be AOK. They also have solid relievers in Farnsworth and Ron Mahay to set it up for Soria. Everybody knows how up and down the ‘pen is year in and year out, but do not expect any real problems here.
The infield is where the Royals will be tried. The will make it or break it with their infield (we will throw catcher in there too). It is full of players who are young, maturing, and possibly ready to explode. The perfect example: Mike Aviles. Last year he came out of nowhere and stunned anyone who actually followed the Royals. In his rookie campaign, he put together a .325 average, to compliment 10 homers and 50+ RBIs. The other highlight of this group would be Alex Gordon. The Nebraska prodigy was, also, forced into the MLB by a bad team, and it hurt him. This could be the year he plays up to par. The other infielders include Mike Jacobs at first, Mark Teahan at second, and Olivo behind the plate.
There is no risk out in the outfield. It is fairly straight forward, and we should know what to expect… but who knows. The three vets that make up the outfield positions include the all-noble Coco Crisp, Jose Guillen, and David DeJesus.
Crisp, brought in from Boston, will finally get his shot at playing every day. He is going to steal all kinds of bases, has a .300 average to boot, and will provide excitement in center. Despite Guillen’s huge decline in the later part of the ’08 season, he still hit 20 homers and almost 100 RBIs on the year. Most say he will be a bust, but anything close to last year’s numbers is great. DeJesus is not the best hitter, not the biggest power threat, nor the fastest kid in the playground. Yet, when you put it all together, you get a guy who is going to be contributing in every category and likely to play all 162 games. Solid players.
The most important factor leading to KC’s possible success lies in the hands of a few players. Gentlemen by the names of Gordon, Aviles, and also Teahan. All, besides Aviles, have been hit and miss. Again, it is all due to the impatience of the organization and bringing them up way too early.
Teahen has also been the focus of a major experiment. He's been playing second base after a career at third and in the outfield. I still think he will be fine. His play with a bat in his hands is what makes people excited. He definitely has it in him to bat .275+, when adding 15+ homeruns, and 75+ RBIs. Best case senerio would be .300, 20, and 90.
Within the AL Central, the Twins, Indians and White Sox are all capable of winning 90 games, but they have some things that will worry some. The Tigers are very hard to read, but could also surprise people with all that offensive firepower.
So if the bullpen holds, they find two starters out of the Brian Bannister/Sidney Ponson/Horacio Ramirez group, and Gordon, Aviles, and Teahen indeed play at the level they should, the Royals can contend and bring life back to a Middle American franchise with a proud tradition worth revisiting.
Jay’s Prediction: 84-78, 2-3 spot in the AL Central