Like every year during the Royals Golden Age other than 2015, Vegas and any other notable outlet, has projected the Royals to finish in third or fourth place in the AL Central and below .500. Despite that, let’s make no mistake about, the Royals are contenders in 2017.
After the Royals traded Wade Davis, we wondered if the Window to Win was still open. Then, Yordano Ventura tragically died and something happened – its like the Royals decided it was time to go all in. They signed Brandon Moss and former Cubs pitchers Jason Hammel and Travis Wood. They’re going for it!
All part of the original core, Eric Hosmer, Mike Mosutakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar could be gone after this year, but even if none of them return, the Royals are in much better shape in 2018 then we all anticipated at this time a year ago. But, for now, in their last year together, the Royals are primed to contend.
Last year was a disaster for the Royals. Everything that could go wrong, did. But, despite it all – they still went 81-81. That speaks volumes about the fight and character of this team. They’re winners. And, it matters. The Royals will put up a fight this season.
And, with the Cleveland Indians as one of the favorites to win the AL, they’ll have an uphill battle within the division. But, the Twins are terrible, and are not ready to win, despite some promising young talent. The White Sox are in full on rebuild and could trade away any pieces they have (Jose Abreu, David Robertson, Todd Frazier) in-season. This leaves the Royals and Tigers battling it out for second place, and we thing it’ll go to the Royals, with am 85-77 record, which will have them right there at the end in the Wild Card hunt.
Oh, and we project this team to make 198 trips to DONG TOWN this year, which will easily shatter the team homerun record by 32. So, there’s that. May be safe to take the under on that…
Does this group have another run in them? It starts today in Minnesota. How will it end?
Opening Day Lineup
LF Alex Gordon
2016: .220/.312/.380, 17 HR, 40 RBI, 62 R, 8 SB, 148 K, 52 BB
2017 Projection: .263/.350/.406, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 74 R, 10 SB, 173 K, 70 BB
Outlook: Gordon, in the first year of a new 4-year, $72 million deal, had a disastrous 2016, where he hit just .220/.312/.380 with a horrendous strikeout rate while playing 128 games after playing just 105 the year before. He never did seem to recover from the wrist injury, seeing his contact rate drop to 67%, well below his career norm (76%), but his line drive rate and BABIP indicated that he did hit into some bad luck. He still managed to hit 17 HR. His track record indicates he’s in line for a bounce-back season in 2017. Gordo is slated to hit leadoff this season, where he has historically fared well, with a career line of .277/.352/.449 in 320 games. Even in a down year last year, he still demonstrated the best ability to draw walks of any Royals hitter.
3B Mike Moustakas
2016: .240/.301/.500, 7 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R, 0 SB, 13 K, 9 BB
2017 Projection: .268/.329/.462, 24 HR, 75 RBI, 65 R, 1 SB, 78 K, 39 BB
Outlook: Moose still has a lot to prove. Entering a contract year, he is also coming off a torn ACL that ended his season in May and has only produced one good year in his career – his last full season in 2015 (.284/.348/.470, 22 HR, 82 RBI). Last year he was on pace for 42 HR with 7 in 113 plate appearances, and while he likely wouldn’t have got there, maybe he would have hit 30. If anyone on the roster can get to 30 this year, it’s him. Of course, he is only a career .248 hitter, but, with his low strikeout rate, added pop, and improved approach, there’s reason to believe that the 2015 numbers are his new baseline. Still only a career .234./.290/.381 hitter against left-handed pitching. It might not be a bad idea for Ned to sit Moose against the tougher lefties.
CF Lorenzo Cain
2016: .287/.339/.408, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 56 R, 14 SB, 84 K, 31 BB
2017 Projection: .290/.337/.424, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 85 R, 24 SB, 123 K, 41 BB
Outlook: After finishing third in the AL MVP race in 2015, Cain took a step back in 2016, where the familiar theme of injuries (hamstring and thumb injuries) came back to strike Cain, who played just 103 games – the fewest since 2011. On the wrong side of 30 and never playing more than 140 games, it’s naïve to expect LoCain to play a full slate of games in 2017. I stand by my take that Cain’s peak is Torii Hunter-light, but is 2015 going to be that career year for Cain, or can we see something similar in 2017, who is also in a contract year?
1B Eric Hosmer
2016: .266/.328/.433, 25 HR, 104 RBI, 80 R, 5 SB, 132 K, 57 BB
2017 Projection: .286/.339/.448, 24 HR, 99 RBI, 83 R, 5 SB 131 K, 54 BB
Outlook: The first-time All-Star (where he won the MVP) set career-high’s in HR (25) and RBI (104), but it still seemed underwhelming as he posted his lowest AVG (.266) since 2012, his flyball % remained a low 25% and he struck out a career-worst 20% of the time. Entering a contract year, it’s a big year for Hosmer, even though I contend that 25 HR is about as good as it’s going to get for him. Expect his average to approach career norms (.277) and slightly less power – as he won’t have to swing out of his shoes to carry the team this year (here’s to hoping anyway)…
C Salvador Perez
2016: .247/.288/.438, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 57 R, 0 SB, 119 BB, 22 BB
2017 Projection: .250/.284/.441, 24 HR, 69 RBI, 58 R, 1 SB, 129 K, 20 BB
Outlook: The Silver Slugger Award winner in 2016, Perez still saw a decline in AVG (.247) resulted from a disconcerting decline in contact rate, the skill Perez relies on most for production as he rarely walks and in recent years has carried a below-average BABIP. A notoriously free-swinger, he swung a major league-leading 42 percent of the time at non-strikes in 2016 – most notably breaking pitches and offspeed stuff, resulting in a massive boost to his strikeout rate. Part of that was his seemingly deliberately shifting his launch angle, sacrificing batting average for more power and he surpassed the 20-homer plateau for the second straight season, enjoying an increase in isolated power for the third consecutive year. He’ll continue to play more than most at the position, so the HR totals can continue to increase, but maybe Drew Butera can play more behind the dish with the potential of some available AB at DH for Perez? Perez survived a scare in a “collision” at the plate with Butera in the WBC – and it reminded us that Salvy is likely the toughest player to replace on the roster.
DH Brandon Moss
2016: .225/.300/.484, 28 HR, 67 RBI, 66 R, 1 SB, 141 K, 39 BB
2017 Projection: .231/.313/.440, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 67 R, 1 SB, 193 K, 40 BB
Outlook: Moss is not the typical Dayton Moore/Ned Yost-type player, featuring a low contact rate (a career-worst 30.4 strikeout rate in 2016) and his third straight season hitting below .250 (his AVG has dropped every year since posting a .291 mark in 2012). But, the Royals needed to replace Kendrys Morales power (30 HR) somehow, and Moss offers plenty of that. He’s hit 123 over the last five seasons (24.6 per) as a semi-regular and he is a .309/.338/.515 lifetime hitter (68 AB) at the K. He also offers the Royals some flexibility, where he can play both corner outfield spots and 1B, in case it’s needed – and a MUCH better skill level than his predecessor. Dude is strong and showcased his ability to hit the long ball by mashing one out of Surprise Stadium in the spring – the same day Gordon also accomplished the feat.
RF Jorge Soler
2016: .238/.333/.436, 12 HR, 31 RBI, 37 R, 1 SB, 66 K, 31 BB (86 games)
2017 Projection: .259/.324./.426, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 60 R, 2 SB, 125 K, 41 BB
Outlook: The return piece for Wade Davis, Soler, still just 24, was often the odd man out in a crowded Cubs outfield. But, he will get every chance in 2017 and the Royals hope the former No. 12 prospect cashes in on his immense power potential. In 139 less AB in 2016 than 2015, he posted a career-best in HR (12), while raising his isolated power from .137 to .198 and improving his strikeout and walk rates. He started spring 5-41 (.122) with 15 strikeout, but then hit homers in three of four games before going down with a Grade 1 Oblique strain, which landed him on the 10-day DL to start the season. His high strikeout rate will make him a batting-average risk and leave him susceptible to streakiness, but at year’s end he could get to the .260-25 numbers scouts were hoping for in either of the previous two years.
Also, what happens, however, if he’s hovering around the Mendoza line by Memorial Day?
With Soler out, Paulo Orlando will take over the duties in right. He established a career year in 2016, hitting .302, but at Age 30 and success that was propped by an unsustainable .380 BABIP, completely unsupported by an average line-drive rate and low hard-hit percentage, gaining about 15 more groundball hits than expected as compared to league BABIP on grounders, a repeat is questionable, and the Royals didn’t seem to believe in it, either, as they went outside the organization for a starting right fielder. When Soler is fully healthy, Orlando will head back to a fourth outfielder/late-inning replacement this season.
2016: .302/.329/.405, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 52 R, 14 SB, 105 K, 13 BB
2017 Projection: .281/.306/.381, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 44 R, 13 SB, 97 K, 12 BB
SS Alcides Escobar
2016: .261/.292/.350, 7 HR, 55 RBI, 57 R, 17 SB, 96 , 27 BB
2017 Projection: .251/.287/.301, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 57 RBI, 15 SB, 97, 26 BB
Outlook: While it’s pretty much settled that Escobar is the not the Royals answer at the top of the order (let’s hope Yost knows what we have known for YEARS now) with an abysmal career .297 OBP and indication that his legs are slowing (34 combined steals the last two years after averaging 28.5 from 2011-14), and he regressed somewhat in terms of both his contact rate and plate discipline, things that hint he’s on the wrong side of the aging curve. But, his glove and durability (162 games played in two of the last three seasons) will keep him on the field. He hit a career-high 7 HR this year and told the press he can hit 15 this year. I’ll take that bet. But, what if…
2B Raul Mondesi
2016: .185/.231/.281, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 16 R,97 SB, 48 K, 6 BB
2017 Projection: .246/.296/.379, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 70 R, 21 SB, 142 K, 30 BB
Outlook: On the outside looking in on the so-called 4-man competition at second base, the Royals top prospect, hit is way into the job with a strong spring, although only two of his hits came against what one would label, “Major League pitching.” He was expected to start the season in Omaha to fine-tune his offense and plate discipline after hitting .185/.231/.281 in 47 games down the stretch last season. Projected long term at shortstop, due to his slick glove, he is currently blocked there by Escobar. He did display a combination of speed (9/10 SB in 149 plate appearances in MLB, 24/25 in in 231 plate appearances across three minor league levels) and power (.469 SLUG) that he hadn’t yet shown in his profile before, last year. After the trade of trade of Dyson to Seattle, some inside the organization said that they were willing to live with Mondesi “learning on the job” because of the need for speed. A potential future leadoff or No. 3 hitter, expect some struggles from the youngster. But, don’t get it twisted, if he struggles – or if he is even demoted – his ceiling is still high.
C Drew Butera
2016: .285/.328/.480, 4 HR, 6 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB, 36 K, 8 BB
2017 Projection: .250/.301/.399, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 21 R, 0 SB, 44 K, 10 BB
Outlook: After posting his best offensive season of his career, the solid defensive backstop returned to KC for two more years ($3.8M). He made the best of his limited playing time (133 PA) behind the All-Star Perez, posting a .285/.328/.480 slash with 4 HR, 16 RBI in his first MLB season with an AVG above .200. 15 of his 35 hits went for extra bases. And, hands down, best hair on the team. What more can you ask from your backup catcher?
3B Cheslor Cuthbert
2016: .274/.318/.413, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 49 R, 2 SB, 96 K, 32 BB
2017 Projection: .265/.312/.404, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 31 R, 2 SB, 62 K, 20 BB
Outlook: He took the 3B job after Moustakas went down, and ran with it hitting .274/.318/.413 with 12 homers, 46 RBI, but finished the season with a 20-for-96 (.208) stretch over the final 30 games. Blocked at 3B by Moose, he doesn’t really have anywhere, but they’ll find a way to play him, because he can’t sit up here and rot. I suggest playing him against lefties – even if it’s instead of Moose. We’ll see what Ned decides to do.
The battle between Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon for the final roster spot came down to the final day. Merrifield, another rookie who splashed onto the scene in 2016, hit .283/.323/.392 with two homers and eight steals in 81 games last year, was the better choice due to his ability to play all over the field, which SHOULD have ensured him a spot on the roster, but unlike Colon, he has options remaining. Therefore a dilemma for the Royals – don’t keep Colon and risk losing him through the waiver process, or keeping the player who is less valuable? The Royals tried, and failed to trade Colon, therefore, the decision was made for the Royals, because, options.
Colon in 2016: .231/.294/.293, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 13 R, 0 SB, 31 K, 11 BB
2017 projection: .248/.306/.319, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 27 R, 4 SB, 45 K, 18 BB
Colon, the 27-year-old, has some huge postseason moments in his career, but, at this point, seems destined to a career as a utility man. He hit just .231/.294/.293 – yes an OBP higher than his SLUG – in 2016 and has a career SLUG of just .338. He stayed back in Kansas City this offseason to mirror Alex Gordon’s workout and diet, so maybe it will pay dividends and all of a sudden comes together like the Royals envisioned when they drafted him fourth overall in 2010.
OF Terrance Gore
We’re not going to waste time attempting to project Gore. He is here for one reason – Ned’s need for speed. Speed. Lots of it. Fastest guy in ALL OF BASEBALL – a skill that has earned him late-season call-ups to serve as a pinch-runner the past three seasons, where he has 19 steals despite just nine major league plate appearances over that stretch. That could be enough to make the roster, but it’s essentially a wasted roster spot since Gore can barely hit in the minors, and likely will NEVER be able to hit at the MLB level. His offensive game has thus far been completely one dimensional, as he has never hit a home run as a professional and hit just .233 for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Still, with 44 steals after reaching base just 83 times, Gore is a huge threat on the bases every time he gets on. His speed also makes him a defensive asset.
That said, here we are again, with Gore making the roster in consecutive years, thanks to an injury to Jorge Soler. Won’t be here long. It begs us to ask, why not keep Merrifield, who we projected Merrifield as the Opening Day second baseman, instead, and make a decision between him and Colon, later? Due to his versatility, he will be back at some point in 2017. He hit .339/.356/.496 through 27 games and earned the name “2-hit Whit” thanks to 24 multi-hit games in his first 42 games, but slowed down drastically with a .170/.241/.245 July earned him a demotion. He finished strong after his September return, hitting .307/.360/.416.
Merrifield’s 2016: .283/.323/.392, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 44 R, 8 SB, 72 K, 19 BB
2017 Projection: .250/.292/.354, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 8 SB, 30 R, 48 K, 13 BB
Others to watch:
OF Billy Burns
2016: .235/.271/.296, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 39 R, 17 SB, 37 K, 10 BB
2017 Projection: .254/.293/.324, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 10 R, 5 SB, 11 K, 5 BB
Outlook: I once thought Burns would make the roster when Dyson was traded as he is Dyson 2.0-lite, but with other roster needs, he entered camp on the outside looking in. He had a 75-point drop off in BABIP from 2015 to 2016 cratered Burns’ batting average. The good news is that his batted ball numbers didn’t change too much between seasons, so the drop-off may be more due to bad luck. An injury away from a recall. Why not Burns instead of Gore?
OF Peter O’Brien
2016: .141/.179/.391, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB, 27 K, 3 BB
2017 Projection: .217/.242/.500, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 10 R, 0 SB. 20 K, 2 BB
Outlook: O’Brien, a man without a true position and incredible power, couldn’t even hit his way on to the roster after mashing 7 DONGS to lead the team down in Arizona. Could have been a nice right-handed hitter in a DH platoon with Moss, but as is/was the case with others, there simply wasn’t roster space. His power (6 HR in 36 MLB games/79 plate appearances, where he’s hit a HR every 4 games in the minors, on average hitting no less than 22 in any of the last four years, including 34 in 2014) can play anywhere, but he swings and misses at a high rate, striking out in 40% of his MLB AB, with a .176/.179/.391 slash. I liken him to Cerrano in “Major League” mashing fastballs until Harris starts throwing the curve. He’ll look great in an Omaha uniform, stirring up the storm. Like Burns, an injury away from recall. And, we’ll ask again, why not this guy instead of Gore?
OF/3B Hunter Dozier
2016: .211/.286/.263, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB, 8 K, 2 BB
2017 Projection: .229/.289/.317, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB, 10 K, 3 BB
Outlook: His re-emergence as a prospect is an excellent story, as it seemed reasonable to write him off a year ago after he looked incapable of handling Double-A pitching. Obviously a recently turned 25-year-old posting a .864 OPS with 15 home runs over 103 games in the Pacific Coast League doesn’t mean he won’t end up settling in as a AAAA hitter long term. But, it is a sight far more encouraging than when he posted an OPS under .625 across 192 games at Double-A between 2014 and 2015. The Royals began transitioning him to the outfield at Triple-A, and when he got a cup of coffee with the big league club in September, all six of his starts came in right field, where he finished with a .211/.286/.263 slash. As we entered the offseason, I thought it was possible Dozier could sneak onto the roster as a DH/OF type, but with the roster moves, it was clear that he was not going to make the roster, barring an amazing spring with a wrath of injuries. Now, he’s the one with an injury, place on the 60-day DL with an oblique strain.
2016: 42 G, 26 GS, 197.2 IP, 12-3, 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HLD, 163 K, 42 BB
2017 projection: 33 GS, 195 IP, 14-7, 3.26 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 191 K, 55 BB
Outlook: Duffy went from the bullpen to breakout season, to team USA and 2017 Opening Day starter. He slowed down some in September, thanks to 9 HR in just 36 innings, but, as a whole, in 26 starts, he was exceptional. His 20% K-BB% ranked eighth among qualified starters last season, ahead of pitchers like Corey Kluber, Chris Archer and David Price posted and he posted career-bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, and swinging-strike rate, though some of his control gains with the fastball seemed to come at the expense of his command with the pitch yielding career-worsts in home run rate and hard-contact rate. He struck out 16 and allowed one hit in eight innings in one of the best starts in Royals history in Tampa on Aug. 1. He parlayed the 12-3, 3.51 ERA season into a new 5-year, $65 million contract this offseason. He has not proven he can log 200 innings, but the Royals are counting on it in 2017.
2016: 33 GS, 195.2 IP, 11-13, 3.68 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 188 K, 61 BB
2017 projection: 33 GS, 186.2 IP, 12-11, 4.02 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 185 K, 64 BB
Outlook: If he can repeat what he did in 2016 – his first year of his five-year, $70 million deal, where he compiled a 3.68 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 195.2 innings, the Royals will be happy. There are some reasons for concern as he finished with a HR/9 rate north of 1.5 as he was absolutely crushed on the road (21 homers allowed in 108.2 innings) and his groundball rate sunk to 33.2 percent while his flyball and hard-hit rates jumped considerably – his hard-hit rate was the fourth-worst among qualifiers and has four straight years without a winning record. But, he has proven durable, making 30-plus starts in seven straight seasons. His 22.5 percent strikeout rate was strong and his ratios were plenty useful last season, even with all the homeruns. Although normally meaningless, Kennedy did put together a strong spring, not allowing a run until his final spring start.
2016: 30 GS, 166.2 IP, 15-10, 3.83 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 144 K, 53 BB
2017 projection: 31 GS, 171 IP, 12-10, 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 147 K, 50 BB
Outlook: He has produced three straight seasons with a sub-4 ERA (3-year average of 3.68 with a 1.16 WHIP), sporting a 3.83 ERA and 15 wins for the 2016 World Series-winning Cubs last season. An injury in September basically ended his season, and at 34 years of age, he has yet to throw more than 180 innings in a season. The Royals will need at least 180 out of him to compete in 2017 and his value will hinge on the health of his arm, although his new home park of Kauffman Stadium doesn’t play too well to the longball, which could help the righty put a dent in his career 1.1 HR/9. From 2014-16, he had a 2.84 ERA before July 1, but 4.74 from that date forward.
2016: 3 GS, 12 IP, 0-0, 2.25 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 11 K, 3 BB
2017 projection: 27 GS, 125 IP 7-7, 4.36 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 93 K, 4 BB
Outlook: After a lengthy recovery from a July 2015 Tommy John surgery, Vargy flashed promise for the final year of his 4-year deal in 2017 with three strong September starts (2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 12 innings). However, his 86.6 mph average fastball velocity was a 1.5 mph drop from his efforts in 2015, a red flag that his stuff might be diminished by surgery. That might be an overblown concern, as Vargas’ game has always been more about mixing pitches, including a particularly strong changeup. If he is able to show his old stuff, it could be another passable season for an extreme flyball pitcher throwing in front of an elite outfield defense. Vargas has posted an ERA+ above 100 in all three of his years with Kansas City after doing it only once in his first eight years in the league. Royals hope he can regain this old form, and be a solid No. 4 in the rotation and they can get their money’s worth from the southpaw, who, if he makes it through a full season, will have pitched 2.5 years for the Royals.
2016: 22 G, 15 GS, 94.1 IP, 6-2, 5.15 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 101 K, 45 BB
2017 projection: 27 GS, 142 IP, 8-5, 4.30 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 130 K, 54 BB
Outlook: He came over to Kansas City in the Jarrod Dyson trade. He hasn’t yet hit arbitration yet and won’t enter free agency until 2021. The right-hander has a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and touches 98. 2016 was his worst year, a WHIP over 1.40 and a 5.15 ERA in 22 games (15 starts), posting a 6-2 record; but a bad back could be attributed to that. He also struggled in part to a lack of control (4.3 BB/9) and a .327 BABIP, but he also posted a career-best 10.9% swing rate. But, in his career, spanning 265 innings, he has 250 strikeouts, a 4.41 ERA, 1.364 WHIP and a 14-9 record over 54 games (46 starts). His season came to an end abruptly in late July due to a back injury. Karns’ strikeout ability was as good as advertised (9.6 K/9) and he showed flashes of excellence, but his inconsistency and lack of control could keep him from becoming a reliable starter in the big leagues, long term.
2016: 72 G, 72 IP, 2-6, 2.75 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 12 SV, 25 HLD, 86, 12 BB
2017 projection: 62 G, 63.2 IP, 1-4, 2.69 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 33 SV, 73 K, 15 BB
Outlook: Herrera really took off as the closer after the Wade Davis DL stints, managing 11 saves in the 45 days Davis was disabled – that’s a 40-save full-season pace with a 2.95 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, and over the course of the full year, an increased emphasis on his breaking pitches fueled his career-high 30.4 percent strikeout rate. But, he really hit a wall in September (1-2, 8.18 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 1 SV). For the fourth straight season, he registered at least 20 holds (26), joining Tony Watson as the only relievers to accomplish the feat. He did it while combining a return to a double-digit strikeout rate with a precipitous drop in walks. He also threw fewer fastballs, dropping from 75% to 60%, while introducing a plus slider to his arsenal. It has to make you wonder if all the wear and tear from all the innings he’s thrown over the last three years will make his the next arm injury candidate? If he can avoid injury, he will be one of the league’s best closers.
2016: 70 G, 66.2 IP, 5-8, 4.05 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 1 SV, 21 HLD, 69 K, 27 BB
2017 projection: 70 G, 66 IP, 3-4, 3.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 4 SV, 28 HLD, 65 K, 24 BB
Outlook: Soria was the whipping boy last year, and rightfully so as he finished the season with career highs in ERA (4.05), FIP (4.36) and WHIP (1.46), and he needed extra rest between appearances as the season winded down, all while Yost continued to use him in a setup role, despite his struggles. Anyone could have done what he was doing, but, Yost’s likes his experiences, and will trust him again in 2018 to bridge to Herrera, sharing the role with Matt Strahm, based on matchups. Soria’s velocity was the best it has been (92.5 mph) in his career and with two years still remaining on his deal, Soria will likely have to earn back his late-inning role. And, on the wrong side of 30, and with two Tommy John surgeries under his belt, he is not only an injury risk, but there’s also no guarantee that he’ll return to the guy the Royals thought they were signing. It would be sad if this is now the new Soria, tarnishing our memory of the old Soria from his first stint in KC. Good news for Royals fans, he was a really good relief pitcher as recently as 2015, and after an offseason working with Super Dave Eiland, and tweaking his delivery (follow through) this spring, Soria, like Gordon, is a good bounce back candidate. If he can return to his career norms (2.76 ERA, 1.113 WHIP), then he’ll be fine in that role – but still not what you’re used to in that role, thanks to the likes of Herrera and Wade Davis. But, the bullpen can’t be historic forever – as we saw in 2016; but it can still be good. Fans shouldn’t expect Soria to be the guy he was when he was the dominant closer here in his first stint, because that’s not who he was. But, he can still be good.
2016: 21 G, 22 IP, 2-2, 1.23 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 0 SV, 6 HLD, 30 K, 11 BB
2017 projection: 62 G, 7 GS, 96 IP, 6-6, 2.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1 SV, 14 HLD, 112 K, 35 BB
Outlook: Since claiming he was in the running for the rotation earlier in the winter, Yost pretty much confirmed that Strahm will be given the Danny Duffy treatment (bullpen), where Eiland can work his magic, despite stretching him out in camp, just in case. Yost commented about how much relieving helped Duffy, also a southpaw, develop into one of the top pitchers on the Kansas City staff. Given Kyle Zimmer’s recurring shoulder issues, Strahm turned into the Royals top-pitching prospect prior to his call up at the end of July. However, he had so much success as a reliever following his promotion that the Royals, who have Strahm under team control for the next six seasons, may simply see an elite late-inning arm, for now, where he’ll be paired with Soria for late-inning set-up duties. Among relievers that threw 20-plus innings last year, Strahm ranked fifth in ERA (1.23), eighth in FIP (2.06) and 16th in strikeout rate (34.1%). The move to the bullpen certainly allowed his stuff to play up, as he was comfortably sitting in the mid-90s and touching 97 mph with his fastball in relief after sitting at 91-92 mph as a starter. Not surprisingly, his changeup and curveball both play quite nicely off 95 from the left side. His floor has been established as a shutdown setup man. Whether the Royals decide to get greedy and attempt to turn Strahm into a mid-rotation arm is to be determined, and something that certainly won’t come this year, barring the Royals are way out of it.
2017 Projection: 60 G, 60.1 IP, 2-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1 SV, 2 HLD, 52 K, 22 BB
Outlook: Signed by the Royals to a two-year deal last February, there were hopes that after rehabbing, he could join the staff mid-season and maybe help the rotation down the stretch, but he never made it to the 25-man roster, mustering a 6.23 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Omaha before being shutdown for the season. He struggled with walks (4.4 BB/9) and was susceptible to the long ball (1.82 HR/9) during his time in the Pacific Coast League. In an attempt to protect him and get something out of him, the 29-year-old will try and re-invent himself as a relief pitcher as tossing 50-60 innings could keep him healthy. He hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2014. He looked good in his conversion to reliever in camp. Can he maintain it?
2016: 77 G, 61 IP, 4-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0 SV, 12 HLD, 47 K, 24 BB
2017 Projection: 61 G, 56.2 IP, 3-2, 3.85 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 1 SV, 4 HLD, 52 K, 22 BB
Outlook: Relegated to bullpen work in most of 2015 and all of 2016 and in his last full season as a starter, he finished with a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, so the left-hander seemed destined for the bullpen, despite being Yost saying he was part of the No. 5 starter race. At face value, Wood’s 2.95 ERA and 1.13 WHIP look strong, but there are reasons to believe he may experience some regression in the future, as he held a relatively low strikeout rate of 6.93 K/9 and high 3.54 BB/9 walk rate to go along with 1.2 home runs allowed per nine innings. These numbers were reflected in his high 4.59 FIP in 2014. Seems perfect in the situational lefty role.
2016: 50 G, 44.2 IP, 2-0, 3.43 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 0 SV, 7 HLD, 34 K, 16 BB
2017 Projection: 55 G, 47 IP, 3-2, 3.3 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 33 K, 18 BB
Outlook: 2016 was somewhat of a resurrection year for the submarine-style Australian reliever. Moylan, who was a dependable option for Yost, appeared in 50 games throughout the season, third highest in the Kansas City bullpen, finishing 2-0 to go along with his 3.43 ERA and 1.30 WHIP despite relatively low strikeout (6.85 K/9) and walk (3.22 BB/9) rates. His 47 innings pitched were his highest since 2010, as he appeared in just 29 innings from 2011 to 2015 and he breaks camp with the big club for the first time since 2011. He averages just 90.1 mph with his fastball to go along with his low strikeout totals, but his success comes primarily due to his strong 2.96 groundball to flyball ratio. He did not appear in many high-leverage situations for the Royals, recording seven holds on the season with no saves. After making the 25-man after coming to camp on a minor league deal, expect a similar role.
2016: 34 G, 13 GS, 88.7 IP, 3-9, 6.19 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 1 SV, 1 HLD, 95 K, 49 BB
2017 Projection: 45 G, 71 IP, 4-3, 4.87 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 1 SV, 0 HLD, 61 K, 30 BB
Outlook: Much like Bruce Chen did, Young fell off the starting pitching cliff last year as a troubling GB/FB ratio and lack of velocity finally caught up to him, as he put up a 6.19 ERA and 1.66 WHIP on the season. The 6-10 right-hander finished the season on the DL after undergoing surgery on his bilateral core and right-side adductor in mid-October. He allowed a startling 2.8 home runs per nine innings due to his .70 GB/FB ratio and severe lack of velocity, hitting an average of about 88 on the radar gun with his fastball. The 37-year-old improved his numbers as a relief pitcher, finishing with a 4.13 ERA in 23 appearances, contrasting starkly with his 7.39 ERA in 13 starts. He will be best suited as the long-man in the pen.
Some others to watch this season:
2017 Projection: 22 G, 22 IP, 1-1, 2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HLD, 26 K, 5 BB
Outlook: He did not make a start before May because of a shoulder problem that surfaced in spring training and he did not make a start after May because of shoulder fatigue. He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in July – a procedure that essentially ended Chris Carpenter’s career and was one of the final straws before Josh Beckett was forced into early retirement. Perhaps no pitching injury has been as consistently limiting in recent years as Zimmer’s ailing right shoulder. He has only logged 74.1 innings since the start of 2014 and only 67.1 innings above High-A. There is no denying that he still has frontline stuff, as he logged a 2.30 ERA and 88:30 K:BB since the start of 2014, however, his inability to overcome the shoulder issue and this subsequent surgery overshadow all of the potential he demonstrates when he toes the rubber. We projected him to make the roster because it was, “we have to get something out of him before he gets hurt again” time, and we could see him If he makes it through 2017 healthy, he could slide into the rotation, likely in Vargas’ spot for 2018. A big IF.
2017 Projection: 5 G, 1 GS, 12 IP, 0-1, 4.80 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 17 K, 9 BB
Outlook: He has an 80-grade fastball with his triple-digit heat and a plus curveball, shaky command, no reliable third pitch and while he has not pitched in Triple-A yet, his stuff his good enough that he could skip a level and likely thrive as a power arm in the ‘pen, like Strahm last year. In addition to having two monster pitches, he has a starter’s body and is entering his age-23 season while already having 50.1 innings at Double-A under his belt. If his changeup can become at all serviceable and he can develop fringe-average command, Staumont could be a front half of the rotation starter. He showed some encouraging signs down the stretch, posting a 1.84 ERA and 49:10 K:BB in 29.1 innings over his final five starts – two of which came in the Texas League playoffs. He has a bright future.
2016: 17 G, 19 IP, 0-0, 3.32 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 16 K, 7 BB
2017 Projection: 22 G, 22 IP, 2-2, 3.89 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 16 K, 9 BB
Outlook: Another southpaw reliever, there was just no room for him on the roster. He spent time between Omaha and the parent club in 2016, posting a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings. Beyond the peripherals, lefties were able to hit for a .286 batting average against him while righties hit .343. Additionally, because Alexander relies much more on getting groundballs than missing bats, he likely be confined to mostly low-leverage situations while fluctuating between to the majors and the minors.
2016: 36 G, 1 GS, 55.1 IP, 1-2, 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 0 SV, 2 HLD, 44 K, 23 BB
2017 Projection: 18 G, 30 IP, 1-1, 3.05 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HLD, 28 K, 14 BB
Outlook: Another lefty, he had a chance to make the team out of camp after posting a 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 55.1 IP in 2016, but he fell through his barn roof, suffering some broken ribs, in Oklahoma prior to report date, derailing that. Prior to last season, he had allowed 24 runs in 25 innings, so 2016 may come off as too good to be true. In addition, he isn’t prone to retiring batters by way of the strikeout, as he posted a mediocre K-rate of 19.9 percent. Control wasn’t his forte either, for more than 10% of the batters he faced wound up reaching base via a walk. Rather, he relied on his fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup pitch arsenal to keep hitters on their toes. As a result, Flynn rode a 2.22 GB/FB to quietly being the fourth-most-used reliever. However, he was seldom used in high-leverage situations, registering just two holds. If he pitches in MLB in 2017, expect much of the same.
2017 Projection: 7 G, 3 GS, 21 IP, 0-3, 4.76 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 25 K, 11 BB
Outlook: The Royals are high on the 2011 29th round pick. Currently, he is a starter, but his long-term projection is the back end of the bullpen. He posted a 3.25 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A NW Arkansas, but struggled at Omaha upon promotion.
2016: 10 G, 8.1 IP, 1-0, 6.48 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 7 K, 5 BB
2017 Projection: 18 G, 18 IP, 1-1, 3.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 15 K, 9 BB
Outlook: Another homegrown arm (16th round pick), he debuted as a September call-up last season, going up two levels in 2016. After promotion to Omaha, his walk rate doubled from 2.11 BB/9 to 4.35 BB/9, while his home run rate increased from 0.78 K/9 to 1.08 K/9, but his ERA dropped to from 3.12 to 2.97, which is a strong ERA considering it was his first shot at AAA. He also recorded 16 total saves in 2016.
2017 Projection: 12 G, 14.2 IP, 0-0, 5.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 15 K, 8 BB
Outlook: Lost out to Peter Moylan for the final bullpen spot, he had a great spring after a strong 2016 in NW Arkansas (5-7, 2.45 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, 9.8 K/9). The Royals like the 25-year old power arm, who spent time as a reliever and starter through his slow climb in the minors.
2016: 6 G, 5.1 IP, 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 5 K, 4 BB
2017 Projection: 12 G, 10 IP, 1-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD, 8 K, 3 BB
Outlook: Injuries have derailed his career and he hasn’t shown major league effectiveness since receiving Tommy John surgery in April 2014. He has shown top-shelf bullpen stuff in the past, it’s just a question if he will ever be able to find that stuff again. He was unimpressive in the MLB last season, allowing four runs over just 5.1 innings (six games) with Detroit, however, his career ERA and WHIP in the majors are 3.82 and 1.44, respectively. While these aren’t phenomenal marks, he has a history of MLB success. After submitting an uninspiring 3.95 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 43.1 innings with Toledo, Parnell will need to show dramatic improvement for Triple-A Omaha before the Royals consider adding him to the 40-man roster.
2016: 40 G, 37.1 IP, 2-3, 3.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 0 SV, 12 HLD, 40 K, 9 BB
2017 Projection: 15 G, 15 IP, 1-1, 3.68 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 0 SV, 3 HLD, 15 K, 4 BB
Outlook: Let’s not forget Papa Hoch. The Royals reportedly have interest in bringing Hochevar back, but for significantly less than the $7 million he would have been due under the option, which the Royals rightfully declined, as the top pick in the 2006 first-year player draft has significant health concerns. He’s had Tommy John surgery and missed the final two months of 2016 after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery, which he is still recovering from. The failed starting pitcher has pitched well out of the bullpen in recent seasons, and if the bullpen needs help later in the year, they could turn to an old friend to bolster it, sometime later in the season.
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