We begin a series of roundtable discussions leading up to the season. Our first question to writers is - whhat are you most interested in seeing from the Royals this season?
Alex Duvall: The thing I’m most interested in seeing this season is the Royals gamble on speed and defense. The Royals have really invested in this idea that the market undervalues speed, undervalues defense. Well we’re gonna find out if they’re right in 2019. If the team goes out and loses 100 games again, there is certainly going to be questions aimed at the front office and their ability to see this rebuild through. If they’re right, they could very well change the way teams build their rosters, again.
Martin Maldonado is a close second that I want to mention briefly. I think catchers are wildly underrated, from defense to leadership to handling a pitching staff, and I want to see if the Royals can be the same without their World Series MVP on the field all year.
Matthew LaMar: I’m most interested in seeing the inexperienced, home-grown guys take the next step. I would like nothing more than to see Kyle Zimmer and Bubba Starling on the team and succeeding, both because it would be great for them personally and because the Royals are going to need some significant out-of-nowhere production if they want to be any good in the next five years.
Jesse Anderson: Not seeing Lucas Duda on the 25 man roster?
Not losing 100 games while improving their farm system and hopefully having a few emerging all-star players. I’m very bullish on Mondesi, (Jorge) Lopez and Keller. I think Keller’s upside is basically Dallas Keuchel (who himself is actually massively overrated), Lopez has STUFF but his command is a problem.
Mondesi. I see so many possible outcomes for him. Replacement level to MVP and anything in between. I’m betting on a 4 WAR season from him, but anything from 1-6 WAR wouldn’t surprise me, and -1 to 8 WAR both seem within the realm of possibility.
Ryan Heffernon: I am interested to see how last year’s surprises respond in 2019. Nobody saw Ryan O’Hearn coming, but was it a complete fluke? Brian Bannister’s rookie year was pretty phenomenal and out of nowhere, but he never got close to that kind of production again. Will that be true of Brad Keller?
I am also excited to see what Kyle Zimmer can do. Just seeing him in a Royals uniform would be pretty incredible. But what an incredible story it would be if he became a productive bullpen arm after everything he has been through in his career.
Shaun Newkirk: The focal point has to be answering if players can live up to their 2018’s. Adalberto Mondesi, seeing if he’s the 2016-2017 version of himself or the 2018, or likely somewhere in between. Will Ryan O’Hearn continue to smash the ball over a full season? Brad Keller was good when he was moved to the rotation but is he Dillon Gee or Kyle Hendricks?
sterlingice: I am genuinely curious how this chaos-on-the-basepaths thing works for the whole season. With lackluster OBPs, I think it will probably do what we expect it to: make things fun for a few games and infuriating the rest (i.e. when the team scores 2 or fewer because there’s just not enough offensive talent on the team). Is there anything to the idea of putting pressure on pitchers to get the hitters better pitches or counts? As it’s a lost season, go experiment! I’ve always stated that, in a rebuild, MLB playing time is the greatest asset you have. Maybe experimenting with tactics from speed to openers to weird defensive formations is another undervalued one.
I don’t think it’s “Process 2.0”, as some have claimed. You wouldn’t telegraph your new processes when you know your team isn’t ready and waste the “element of surprise” in a copycat league. Even if you think you can steal 8-10 wins above your projection, you don’t do that in a year when you’re expected to only win about 70 games. However, this feels more like a more off the wall idea to just try on the cheap. It might work well beyond what you expect and you have a flukish 2003-esque season. It might get some butts in the seats. It might fail miserably and help secure a better 2020 draft pick. It might help young pitchers develop with Hamilton’s defense. It doesn’t really cost a lot: Terrance Gore on the 25-man isn’t really blocking anyone unless you wanted Bonifacio (HAH!) or Phillips to be a late inning defensive replacement.
Hokius: If I had my way I’d probably see them win 100 games and go back to the World Series. That probably isn’t going to happen. So I guess what I’d really like to see is some other unanticipated stuff that seems a bit more likely.
I’d like to see Danny Duffy have an entirely healthy season - at least once he’s back from the injured list. I’d like to see Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, and Hunter Dozier match or exceed their best moments from last year. I’d like to see Jake Diekman and Brad Boxberger pitch well enough and have enough teams desperate for relief pitching that they get flipped for some more really good prospects. And, even if they aren’t technically Royals yet, I’d like to see the guys in the minors do well enough that the farm system can be ranked at least in the middle of the pack by next year.
Josh Keiser: I’m most interested in seeing if Mondesi can maintain the great second half he had last year. Knowing that the steals rate he put up is most likely not gonna happen, I’m still excited to see how many he puts up. The projection machines have him stealing somewhere between 34-50 bags. Honestly I’d take the over. Last year he hit for a .276 average and I’d be surprised to see it that high again. But he also put up a 3.8% BB rate and I think that increases. In spring training, he has 5 walks in 49 ABs and is showing a more patient approach. The more he’s getting free passes, the more chaos he can cause on the base paths. With his 5 tool skill set, I think his ceiling is MVP contention. I don’t know if that happens in his age-23 season, but if he manages to improve on his performance last year, he could be there before we know it.
Max Rieper: Two word- Adalberto Mondesi. The ball just jumps off his bat and he may be the best base-stealer in baseball. It is a rare power-speed combination we haven’t seen in Kansas City since Carlos Beltran. But there are major red flags to his game - namely his durability and his plate discipline. He seemed to make some strides last year in being more patient, so I’ll be very interested in seeing if that carries over into this season or if pitchers figure him out. If he is able to increase his walk rate even modestly he could be a crazy valuable player.
What about you? What are you most interested in seeing from the Royals this season?