You don’t have to look far to find someone or even a large group of someones who think the Royals will be bad this year. They’ve all got solid enough reasoning, too. But you don’t have to look too far for reasons why the Royals might not be so bad, either. This Royals team has something that most of the Royals teams many of us watched while growing up did not have - a recent history of being winners.
The Royals have a real shot at a sneaky good rotation this season. There’s more than a little talent in that group. Danny Duffy will headline the rotation. He has spent most of the last four years showing everyone why the Royals thought so highly of him and there’s reason to believe he can be even better than he has been. Ian Kennedy will be the number two guy and he looked terrific last season with a 3.03 ERA before a leg injury sent him to the disabled list and then limited his effectiveness for the remainder of the season.
Nate Karns looked brilliant in stretches before he likewise suffered an injury that ended his season. Jason Hammel has a long history of being right around 2 fWAR - including last year - even though it doesn’t seem like he should be able to. And while the Royals won’t have first-half Jason Vargas leading the way for them they will have 25-year-old Jake Junis filling in the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Junis didn’t have terrific numbers overall last season, but when he finally stuck in the rotation from August on he had a 3.63 ERA with a 3.43 FIP that said he wasn’t particularly lucky. He limited walks and home runs terrifically, and he’s had a terrific spring which saw him walk only one while striking out 20 in only 14.1 innings. Neither one of those would necessarily mean much on their own, but put together and you might think he could be a dark horse candidate to be a very good starter.
The Royals should also have more depth, this season than they did last year. Newly acquired Trevor Oaks projects very well while Miguel Almonte had a great spring as well. Eric Skoglund looked pretty good and is still young enough that he might rebound from a poor debut, last season. Clay Buchholz has been known to be pretty darn good when he’s healthy, too. The biggest question about the rotation is injuries and the best answer to that question will always be prayers to the deity or deities of your choice but after that comes depth.
The biggest questions for the Royals roster during spring training were always about who would be in the bullpen. At the start of spring training only Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Maurer, and Wily Peralta appeared to have spots locked down. Kelvin was bad last year, but hopefully he’ll have figured out what went wrong and revert back to supreme dominance. Maurer was bad for the Royals but also has a history of pitching very well through some scary peripherals so there’s reason to think he might rebound, as well. Wily Peralta has looked terrible this spring but he might just still be adjusting, the Royals have a good history of converting starters into lights-out relievers, and he can be the long guy in blowouts if worse comes to worst.
Through various signings and performances, the rest of the ‘pen seems to have come into focus. Justin Grimm got a guaranteed deal, so he’s in. He was pretty bad last year but before that he was quite solid for a while and the Royals must think they know what happened. Blaine Boyer appears to have pitched himself into replacing someone on the 40-man, which is a good sign about how impressed the Royals are by him. Brian Flynn pitched pretty well and has leverage enough without options to earn a roster spot as well. Brad Keller was almost drafted by the Royals and has been terrific this spring and might have earned a spot even if he didn’t need to be kept on the big league roster. Tim Hill has a very interesting delivery and seems like he should at least be successful as a LOOGY out of the pen and might be worth more. Eric Skoglund is rumored to be starting the year in the bullpen, but if that’s the case he’ll likely be demoted to AAA so Jake Junis can take over the final rotation spot within a week or two.
And, just like with the rotation, there are guys in the minors chomping at the bit to show their stuff if anyone at the big league level dares to falter. Richard Lovelady, Kevin Lenik, Glenn Sparkman, Scott Barlow, and Kevin McCarthy are all young guys who’ve shown enough to think they could be at least good and a couple of them might even be great.
There are a lot of people poo-pooing this Royals lineup but what if I phrased it like this:
- .355 career OBP
- League-leader in stolen bases with a batting average over .280
- Franchise-record single-season home run record-holder
- A hitter with seven straight years of more home runs than the previous season
- A first baseman with numbers pretty similar to Eric Hosmer
- A young Jermaine Dye
- Future Royals Hall-of-Famer and Gold Glover
- 2015 ALCS MVP
- Good defender with speed
That’s not a terrible sounding lineup, right? There’s definitely some promise there. Some of those guys are prone to slumps, but they can all absolutely set the world on fire other times. And the Royals have some promising guys waiting in the minors to fill most of those spots if someone falters. Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O’Hearn are all so close to the big leagues that they are salivating over it. A hot start in the minors with a little slump from the wrong person in the big league lineup and suddenly they’ll have their shot to show the world what they can do. Don’t forget that number-nine hitter is almost guaranteed to be replaced at mid-season by Jorge Bonifacio, too.
A lot of people fondly remember the 2014 team for their playoff run but seem to forget just how forgettable that team was, during the regular season. Yeah, they absolutely had some guys turn it on for the post-season on the national stage and showed what they could do but up until that point they seemed like a rather mediocre team that no one thought could win even a single playoff game, much less take the World Series all the way to Game 7. So if the team was that meh, how did they get to the post-season in the first place? Crazy good health.
That team only saw two position players miss significant time due to injury: Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. Cain was replaced by the ever-underappreciated Jarrod Dyson and Eric Hosmer’s absence saw Billy Butler step up and produce a whole bunch of quality at-bats for the duration. On the pitching staff, only 11 starts were made by someone outside of the top five guys. The biggest roadblock for the success of the current Royals roster is whether the players can remain healthy, but the 2014 team showed a team can be nearly perfectly healthy over an entire season. Maybe it’s not likely that this team will go through the entire season without suffering serious injuries, but it’s definitely not impossible either.
If you squint just a little bit, you can see how this team might sneak into the post-season again. It won’t take everything going right just a lot of things going right. And that can be said for almost every post-season team that has ever existed. So if you want to believe this team can be good, I say go for it. What do you have to lose?