2019 Kansas City Royals Season Preview

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Tell your friends: Baseball. Is. Back.

Happy Opening Day, everyone! I hope you’re able to find some time today to catch a game for the first time since last October. If you’re a Kansas City Royals fan, it’s been even longer. For a team that hadn’t experienced a 100+ loss season in over 10 years, 2018 was a year filled with growing pains. Young players finally got the chance to show what they could offer, while many veterans either departed via free agency or were traded midseason. Here’s a “Cliffs Notes” recap of how the Boys in Blue fared last season:

  • Team Record: 58-104
  • Best Player: Whit Merrifield (.304 BA, 12 HR, 45 SB)
  • HR Leader: Salvador Pérez (27)
  • Young Stud (Offense): Adalberto Mondesí (.276 BA, 14 HR, 32 SB in 75 G)
  • Young Stud (Pitching): Brad Keller (140.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 9-6 record)
  • Major Question Marks: Rotation, Bullpen
    • Danny Duffy: 8-12, 4.88 ERA
    • Jakob Junis: 9-12, 4.37 ERA
    • Ian Kennedy: 3-9, 4.66 ERA
    • Jason Hammel: 4-14, 6.02 ERA

As you can see, there were still some bright spots in what was a dark 2018 season overall. Whit Merrifield cemented his status as a franchise centerpiece, receiving a four-year, $16.25 million contract extension this offseason. The departure of longtime Royals SS Alcides Escobar and his significantly below-average bat should allow Mondesí to assume full-time work at short. Hammel no longer being with the team should naturally improve the rotation’s numbers a small bit. See, there’s hope! Kind of…

Key Departures: Escobar, Hammel, OF Brian Goodwin, UTIL Rosell Herrera, RP Brandon Maurer, RP Burch Smith, C Salvador Pérez (for the 2019 season only – Tommy John Surgery).

Key Additions: SP Homer Bailey, RP Brad Boxberger, RP Jake Diekman, UTIL Chris Owings, OF Billy Hamilton, C Martin Maldonado

Those are the main names to know. Of course, as with any offseason, plenty more moves were made than what I listed. All-in-all, those gains/losses are the highlights. Now that we know who’s coming in and who’s leaving, let’s talk about the rotation.

Rotation

Starting pitcher Danny Duffy is beginning the year rehabbing a shoulder injury and might not rejoin the rotation until late April. This means the Ned Yost will operate with a three-man rotation featuring Junis, Keller and Jorge Lopez. The young trio will get plenty of work early, with Bailey potentially joining them when needed. Expect Heath Fillmyer to fill in as the fifth starter if Duffy lags behind in rehab.

Junis is a candidate to bounce back after a ho-hum 2018. Keller, on the other hand, could see some regression after one of the better rookie seasons in all of baseball. Duffy’s injury-plagued past make him hard to rely on, but his recent deactivation of Twitter might spark a newfound desire to perform at a high level. Bailey is coming off a dreadful 2018, but hasn’t been able to pitch a full season at the MLB level in years. Maybe he has one more prime year left. The x-factors here are Lopez and Fillmyer. Both players are under 27 years of age (Lopez is 26, Fillmyer is 24) and have potential. Expect to see a lot of them this season.

Bullpen

Last year’s bullpen was… well… a train wreck. The team would have avoided 100 losses last year if the “pen” was even remotely close to average. The acquisitions of Diekman and Boxberger won’t make a tremendous difference alone but when combined with the potential emergence of longtime prospect Kyle Zimmer, it’s not hard to see improvement from the Royals’ relievers. I’m not predicting an average bullpen, but I’m predicting a better one than what was fielded in 2018.

Infield

As far as the lineup goes, the loss of Salvador Pérez is a tough one. Losing the face of your franchise to a season-ending injury in Spring Training is about as bad a start to the year as you can have. 2017 Gold Glove winner Martin Maldonado will serve behind the plate for this season. A lifetime .220 hitter with not much power in his bat, expect a slightly better version of Drew Butera. Great defense, but very minimal production at the plate.

At first base, expect Ryan O’Hearn to be the full-time starter. Clubbing 12 home runs and posting an impressive OPS of .950 in his rookie season, his raw power potential is immense. On the other corner of the infield, 27-year-old Hunter Dozier is entering a career-defining season. His 2018 numbers look rough (.229 BA, .673 OPS) but don’t paint the full picture. Raising those figures to .247 and .740, respectively, after the All-Star Break, perhaps the 6’4″ 3B can solidify his spot in 2019.

Up the middle, the exciting duo of Merrifield and Mondesí should be one of the strongest SS/2B combos in baseball. Two of the best baserunners in all of baseball, both could finish at or near the top of the MLB stolen base leaderboard this season. Keep an eye on Mondesí’s production in what is the most highly-anticipated season the Royals have had in regards to a young player. Merrifield will continue to produce, no matter how often or at what position he plays.

Outfield

Because Alex Gordon’s 2020 season comes at the cost of a $23 million mutual option, this could very well be the final season he plays with the Royals. A lifetime member of the team, expect Gordon to see plenty of time as the starting LF. His numbers rebounded a bit last year after a putrid 2017, but “Gordo” is well past his prime and will likely never be a league-average hitter again.

Centerfielder Billy Hamilton and his career .298 on-base percentage will patrol the middle part of the outfield this season. One of the fastest players in all of baseball, you’ll see a lot of stolen bases and amazing defensive plays. Gordon and Hamilton are two of the best defensive players at their positions.

About a month ago, I thought Brett Phillips would be holding down right field this year. Now, Phillips will begin the season in AAA and RF will be manned by Jorge Soler, in addition to utility man Chris Owings and (maybe) Merrifield in spurts. Newly signed Lucas Duda is now back with the team and will likely play DH, meaning Soler is shifted back into the outfield. Now 27 years old, it’s on Soler to stay healthy and showcase his tantalizing power this season.

Bench

Guys like Cam Gallagher, Terrance Gore, Frank Schwindel and Owings all bring different elements to the bench. Gallagher is an intriguing option at backup catcher. Gore is one of the fastest players in baseball. Schwindel has put up impressive minor league numbers and deserves a chance at MLB playing time. Owings can play just about anywhere. Keep an eye on Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio to receive promotions as the season goes on. Could we finally see the MLB debut of Bubba Starling? Who knows.

The Verdict

This year’s PECOTA projections have the Kansas City Royals pegged for a 73-89 record. This is without Salvador Pérez, which surprises me. Before his injury, I had the team at 72-90. Now that he’s out, my best guess is between 68-71 wins. Although I don’t see the team bottoming out like it did a year ago (27-68 before ASB), I’m not sure it’s quite the near-.500 team it was in the second half either (31-36). A .430 winning percentage would mean about 70 wins, which is what I’ll stick with.

Monitoring the development of young players such as Mondesí, O’Hearn, Dozier, Keller, Junis and Lopez is what this year is all about. Although Yost and GM Dayton Moore would love to be competitive in 2019, it’s almost certainly not going to happen. At least from a playoffs standpoint, that is. With that said, there are still plenty of reasons to watch this year’s Kansas City Royals. Youth. Defense. Speed. Expect to hear that a lot from the end of March-September.


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