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The most important players to the future of the Royals

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I believe that children are our future.

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Over the last four seasons, the Royals have won 351 games, more than any other American League team except the Indians (who have won 352). The Royals have won two pennants and a championship with a core the organization consciously developed together, hoping they would build the trust and camaraderie that would allow them to become winners.

But in some ways, that era is soon coming to a close. Gone already are players like Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Jarrod Dyson. Free agency for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain looms. While the Royals will retain some of their stars - Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon - it will be up to the next generation of Royals stars to keep the team competitive. Who are the most important components of the next great Royals team?

Raúl Mondesí

The talent for Mondesí has been undeniable. The young switch-hitter has plus power for an infielder, outstanding speed, and a solid glove. He has ranked at or near the top of Royals prospect lists for years. He has been compared to Elvis Andrus, who currently has a $100 million contract.

The problem for Mondesí has been he has failed to put together solid numbers for an entire season. His career minor league line is an underwhelming .249/.297/.378. Last year was the first in which he posted a .750 OPS or better for a full season. His plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired with a strikeout rate over 25% with a walk rate of just 6%. He was also obviously overwhelmed in 47 games with the Royals last year, hitting just .185, and striking out nearly a third of the time.

In fairness, he has been very young for each level (a questionable development strategy by the Royals) and his hitting numbers did improve last year in a second tour in AA Northwest Arkansas. He has had a strong spring, although there are many reasons to be skeptical of spring training performance.

The Royals don’t necessarily need Mondesí to be a hitting star. If he can play great defense, exhibit great speed with smart baserunning, and flash a bit of power here and there, that will a very valuable asset to have at the shortstop position long-term. But he will have to improve his plate discipline or risk being exposed by Major League pitchers that know he will chase a bad pitch.

Jorge Soler

Soler was the sole return for All-Star closer Wade Davis last winter which already puts a big target on his back with Royals fans. He has struggled mightily this spring, which is a bit of a concern, but any alarm bells should probably hold off until the games actually matter.

The Royals targeted Soler because he not only shows terrific upside as a former top prospect, but he is Major League-ready, having played 211 games at the big league level already with the Cubs. Soler has shown good power, but has not exploded quite yet the way some scouts thought he might. Standing at an imposing 6’4’’, Soler looks like he is capable of 30+ home run power, even in Kauffman Stadium. He also draws a good amount of walks, with a career MLB walk-rate of 9%, and could very well be the Royals’ second-most patient hitter after Alex Gordon.

Soler suffers from defensive lapses, which the Royals hope he can fix under the tutelage of coach Rusty Kuntz. The club will be counting on his power potential, and if any of the current middle-of-the-order hitters - Hosmer, Moustakas, or Cain - depart, Soler will have to shoulder much of the load to make up their power production. Soler is signed through the 2020 season, which hopefully gives him plenty of time to swat homers at Kauffman Stadium and win games over the next four seasons.

Matt Strahm

It is no secret that Dayton Moore has struggled to develop starting pitchers, with Danny Duffy being the only crown jewel currently in the system. Matt Strahm is the next great hope for the Royals, although he will likely spend most of this season in the bullpen.

The Royals have had to spend a lot - both in money and in trade assets - to put together a rotation due to their inability to develop many starters. If Matt Strahm can be even a solid #3-type starter, that could save the Royals a lot in resources that they can use in other areas. With Danny Duffy already locked up through 2021, Strahm could settle into the rotation without any pressure of having to be a frontline guy. The 25-year old left-hander already has a starting pitcher arsenal, with a solid fastball that works in the mid-90s, a curveball, and a change up that has improved and could be his key to success.

The worry is that if Strahm has a lot of success as a reliever in 2017, the Royals may be tempted to leave him there. Kelvin Herrera will be a free agent after the 2018 season, and the Royals may want to see what they can get from him in a trade this year, either at mid-summer or after the season. If they do, Strahm would be a logical replacement at closer. But he could be more valuable as a starter, particularly with his repertoire. The Royals say they are committed to Strahm as a starter long-term, and he could be one of the keys to their future success.

Others: Josh Staumont has a high ceiling as a frontline-type pitcher if he can ever harness his 100 mph fastball and throw strikes, but his future may be as a shutdown closer. Kyle Zimmer has perhaps the highest ceiling of any Royals pitcher, but with under 100 innings pitched the last three seasons combined, he is not a player the Royals can count on right now due to his health. Hunter Dozier was the best hitter in the Royals organization last year, but finds himself blocked at many positions. He may not have a superstar ceiling, but he could be a solid regular. Ryan O’Hearn and Peter O’Brien are both power-hitting first basemen that could be called upon to replace Eric Hosmer if he departs next season.