The Kansas City Royals Won't Be Good, But They Are Improving

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2018 record: 58-104, last in AL Central

SI’s 2019 predicted record: 68-94

Projected lineup

SS Adalberto Mondesi

2B Whit Merrifield

LF Alex Gordon

RF Jorge Soler

1B Ryan O’Hearn

3B Hunter Dozier

DH Lucas Duda

C Martin Maldonado

CF Billy Hamilton

Bench

C Cam Gallagher

INF Humberto Arteaga

OF Terrance Gore

Projected Rotation

RH Brad Keller

RH Jakob Junis

RH Jorge López

SP Homer Bailey

Bullpen

RHP Brad Boxberger (closer)

RHP Wily Peralta

LHP Jake Diekman

RHP Kevin McCarthy

RHP Ian Kennedy

Injured list: LHP Danny Duffy, C Sal Perez (out for season)

Movin On Up! Adalberto Mondesi’s volatility drives scouts crazy, but they continue to lust after his tools. He has top-end speed and hit 14 home runs in 291 plate appearances—a 28-homer full-season pace. He also struck out 26.5% of the time last year and walked only 3.8%; you can’t steal first. But he has reportedly looked more focused this spring. If he can put it all together, he could be a star.

Sell! Danny Duffy struggled mightily last year. His 4.88 ERA was probably better than it should have been—between his 20.4 K% and 10.1 BB%, he had an xFIP of 4.92. He missed 10 days with a left-shoulder impingement, then sat out most of September. His fastball was sitting at 94 mph before the injury; afterward, it averaged 90. And he’s 30. Duffy is penciled in as the ace of this team. It could be a long season.

Appreciate this man! You don’t need to appreciate any of these men. Instead, appreciate their legs. The Royals employ the 10th-fastest man in baseball (Adalberto Mondesi, who averages 29.9 feet/second when it counts, according to MLB’s Statcast), the fifth-fastest man in baseball (Billy Hamilton, 30.1) and a man so fast that Statcast doesn’t even track him, because he plays primarily as a pinch runner and therefore does not amass enough plate appearances (Terrance Gore). Kansas City also employs perhaps the best pitcher-tendency-reader in the game, special assistant Rusty Kuntz. Everyone else in baseball is trying to hit the ball over the fence. Give the Royals credit for zigging. 

A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: It’s going to be a long year or three in Kansas City, where the heroes of the 2015 champions have declined (Alex Gordon), moved on (Lorenzo Cain), or are injured (Salvador Perez). One bright spot, for a team that has struggled to develop its own starters, should be right-hander Jakob Junis. Junis, 26, has thrown 275 innings with a 4.35 ERA for the Royals the last two seasons, leaning hard on a slider that he threw close to 40% of the time in 2018. Junis has been working this spring on improving his change-up to give him a better option against left-handed batters, who have hit .278 and struck out just 18% of the time against him over two years (as opposed to .251 and 23% for righties). A third pitch could also help Junis solve the problems he’s had the third time through the order, when he’s been hammered (.303/.354/.534 so far in his career).

MLB.tv Rating: 5.5

This will likely not be a good team, but it will be a somewhat watchable one, mostly on account of that speed. This number took a hit when Kansas City lost All-Star catcher Salvador Pérez to Tommy John surgery—as did the team’s likely win total—but the division is the weakest in the game, so the Royals have a chance to keep it close with a hot start.

Keep an Eye On… Nicky Lopez is going to be one of Ned Yost’s favorite players when he gets to the majors—a gritty, high-contact infielder who scouts love. He’d probably be the first man up if one of Whit Merrifield or Adalberto Mondesi gets hurt. Kelvin Gutierrez, snagged from Washington in last year’s Kelvin Herrera trade, has the tools to be a major league regular at third base and might reach Kansas City late in the season if he can handle his first taste of Triple A. A second-round pick out of a New York high school in 2014, Scott Blewett is a strike-throwing machine who eats innings and profiles as a mid-rotation arm. Richard Lovelady could be an impact relief arm from the left side, featuring a nasty 97-mph fastball and swing-and-miss slider, for a bullpen that desperately needs one.