In October 2018, many questions surrounded the Kansas City Royals franchise and the direction of the future. Only three years removed from a World Series title in 2015, the Royals found themselves with triple-digit losses at the end of the season. 104 losses to be exact, the second most in franchise history. General Manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost needed to agree on a plan to attack the 2019 season to avoid the cellar in the AL Central. The decision was to go back to the philosophy that brought K.C. the World Series. Defense and speed.
Moore said that the Royals “want to make sure we strike out less (and) we get on base more so we can utilize that speed and that aggressiveness. That will be a focus.” The 2019 Royals lineup will not win games with power at the plate and with the long ball. Instead, look for the Royals to be disciplined at the plate and aggressive on the base paths.
The ability to manufacture runs starts at the top of the lineup with defending AL leader in hits (192 hits and 45 stolen bases), second baseman Whit Merrifield and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (32 stolen bases). Merrifield will look to bolster his worth (four year- $16.25 Million) as the leadoff man for the Royals. The Royals have seen enough of Mondesi and they are ready to insert him as the shortstop of the future. Mondesi already has his place in the record books by being only the fourth American League player since 1900 to swipe over 30 stolen bases in less than 75 games (or less). His unique blend of speed, power, and grace and is a future superstar for years to come. What these two lack in power can be made up in excitement as the lineup rolls over in the late innings. This talented and speedy duo at the top of the lineup will be looked upon to be catalysts and to challenge opposing pitchers.
Veteran outfielder Alex Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez anchor the middle of the lineup and look to benefit by receiving more fastballs with baserunners aboard. Gordon could be in his final season as a member of the Royals and will be looked upon as a leader in the outfield with his six gold gloves. Six time All-Star Perez is unquestionably the heart and soul of the franchise and the clubhouse leader. The return of designated hitter/outfielder Jorge Soler to the lineup could be the wildcard for the Royals. If Soler can build off of his early 2018 success and be a source of power in the middle of the lineup, the Royals have the potential to score runs.
At the Corners
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn expects to begin his first full season at the Major League level. O’Hearn will need to improve his ability to hit lefties after a disappointing sample size against southpaws in 2018. Until then, look for Yost to platoon O’Hearn with third baseman/first baseman Hunter Dozier in the lineup. Dozier is coming off a sub-par 2018 (.229 AVG) and will look to find a groove in the bottom third of the lineup. The offensive production from O’Hearn and Dozier will undoubtedly be a major question mark in the 2019 season.
Outfielders Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton join the Royals and both are looking for a fresh start in K.C. Both players came into the league as huge prospects only to be humbled by mediocrity at the plate. Now is a chance for redemption. Hamilton has jaw-dropping speed (59 SB in 2017 and 58 in 2016), that can impact a game. However, his batting average has tumbled through the years and the strikeouts have piled up. Offensively Hamilton is not an asset if he doesn’t have the ability to get on base at the number nine slot of the lineup. Yost and the Royals hope to correct this for 2019 and plan to spread him out all over the field. Owings is looking to recover from an abysmal 2018 in which he only he slashed .206 BA in 281 at-bats. He has the potential to be a super utility player if he can get the bat revved up. Outfielder Brett Phillips returns to the outfield for the Royals after last year’s trade from Milwaukee. Phillips is a talented defensive outfielder who seems to be the front-runner in right field. However, he needs to decrease his strikeout rate that reached an inexcusable 41.5 percent last year. Phillips’ defense gives him a slight edge over Jorge Bonifacio and Brian Goodwin but this is a battle to keep an eye throughout Spring Training.
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The names in the starting rotation for the Royals will not strike fear in opposing hitters. One bright spot heading into 2019 is right-hander Brad Keller (nine wins, 3.08 ERA and 1.30 WHIP) who is expected to enter his first full season in the rotation. Keller has the tools to be a dominant force in the rotation and build on his 20 starts from last season. The other youngster Jake Junis looks to put together a consistent season and put the months of June and July of 2018 behind him, which saw him lose seven consecutive games. Veterans Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy are coming off disappointing seasons and round out the top four slots of the rotation. Duffy went from a key pawn as a trade candidate in 2018 to a southpaw looking to bounce back and solidify his role at the top of the rotation. Yost and Moore have wavered on moving 34-year-old Kennedy and his large contract to the bullpen. The fifth starter is up for grabs between Jorge Lopez, Heath Fillmyer, Scott Barlow, and perhaps first-round selection Brady Singer later in the year.
The Royals bullpen had the dubious honor of finishing with the highest ERA (5.04) in the American League in 2018. After a 104-loss season, a change in the bullpen brigade was a necessity. Moore and Yost have shuffled the deck in the pen and brought in some young hurlers such as Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis who look to make an immediate impact. Despite going 14 for 14 in save opportunities in 2018, don’t be surprised if Wily Peralta is not the chosen closer for the Royals. The additions of Brad Boxberger (former All-Star), Jake Diekman, Drew Storen along with Tim Hill could be in the mix for save opportunities.
Get ready for some defensive highlights as Gordon and Hamilton roam the outfield. Grab some snacks and watch the Royals wreak havoc on the base paths. Prepare for the emergence of Brad Keller and Sam McWilliams on the mound. There’s something to be excited about in Kansas City, but the final step might be a couple of years away.
Record Prediction: 71-91
Team MVP: Adalberto Mondesi