By Stephanie Apstein
March 19, 2019

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.

Scout's Takes

A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Kansas City Royals

What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
 
I think the Salvador Perez injury kills them offensively and defensively. In their mind, they think they can be a .500 team. They have some decent players to build around but they have some holes. The bullpen is a big question, and I don’t know if they can piece together enough complementary pieces to be competitive.
 
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
 
This is a tough one, but it’s probably Jorge Soler. He’s struggled to stay on the field for 400-500 ABs a year and he needs to put together a full season. He’s still only 27, but he’s been a name on everybody’s lips for a long time and never translated his talent into consistent performance.
 
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
 
Brad Keller. This guy is a really good pitcher. He’s a mid-rotation guy who could throw No. 2 for a lot of teams. I think he opened some eyes because he has command of all of his pitches and isn’t scared to pitch inside with the fastball. He doesn’t have ‘wow’ stuff, but when you sequence pitches to play off one another the way he does, you can see his toughness and poise. The way he throws strikes and opens up the plate is really impressive.
 
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
 
Whit Merrifield. He’s everything you want in terms of talent combined with makeup, energy, and effort. Everything you hear about him is so positive. They extended him, but he still flies under the radar, hits all over the field. He’s not Jose Altuve, but he’s not that far behind him either. Watching this guy play, he has a love for the game, he probably feels loyal to the team which might be why he signed with them on such a team-friendly contract. You don’t see him swing and miss much, he drives the ball and he can stay back on 0-2 and go the other way. He’s great.
 
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
 
Adalberto Mondesi. He’s supremely talented, but there’s just such a wide variance in the Mondesi that shows up every day. He’s young so you think the maturation might get there because he’s got as much talent as any young player in the league.  I love the aggressiveness with young guys but you have to contain it and he can run into outs. Plus, he doesn’t have a plan at the plate and can be very easy to pitch to.
 
Who gets the most out of his talent?
 
Merrifield and Jake Junis. He’s another under-the-radar guy. Junis throws 94-96 with bowling ball sinkers and a good slider. Last year, he looked the part and carried himself extremely well. He doesn’t lack talent, but he’s a surprising guy to see come as far as he has. He’s a staple in their rotation.
 
Who gets the least out of his talent?
 
Soler and Alex Gordon. Given Gordon’s track record, pedigree and name, he’s just not the same player. The bat speed just isn’t there anymore. It was really bad last year and it’s a repeat performance this spring. My biggest problem is his inability to adjust as he’s gotten older; he has the same approach as he did 6-7 years ago. Still, when you’re in a rebuild you need that stable veteran presence, and Gordon gives that to them. That’s probably the only reason he’s still around.
 
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
 
It’s Keller. He’s got the ability to jam inside and a curveball, slider and changeup that are all advanced. It’s hands down on the best on the team.
 
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
 
Merrifield again and I don’t know that I have a backup. If Perez is healthy you have to throw him in here because of his ability to lead behind the plate and he’s such a smart hitter.
 
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
 
Mondesi has big raw power. You wouldn’t think that this lean, wiry and twitchy guy can drive it,  but his power is real. It’s not the loudest raw power of anybody in the game, but it’s super impressive.
 
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
 
Merrifield and Keller.
 
Name the guy (or guys) on this team that you would never want in your clubhouse.
 
Soler because you don’t know what you’re going to get every day. The lack of effort wears on a manager and teammates over 162 games.
 
Whose effort could use a jolt?
 
Soler and I’m not sure others because they have so many good makeup guys. I don’t want to pick on the guy. Soler really isn’t even a bad egg, he’s just a little lazier than others.
 
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
 
I’d take Junis or Keller on the mound. At the plate? Probably nobody that they have. Merrifield is applicable but I don’t want to list him for every positive. Junis and Keller’s poise and their stuff is really comfortable.
 
Who don’t you want in that situation?
 
Gordon just because of where he’s at physically. He looks worn out.

Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
 
Erick Mejia can really hit and play multiple positions up the middle, I think he’ll find his way in the lineup because they’ll need some offense. He’s not one of their huge prospects but he’s darn good. … These college picks like Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch aren’t far away and will be quick mover through the system. They were both very impressive when I saw them in the minors. Realistically there is no need to rush them so they don’t need to be there this year.
 
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
 
Probably not. I think he’s a great players manager and is great for what they’re doing with their current rebuild. But he’s a little wedded to old conventions. Even in 2014 and 2015, I think the game was totally different back then. You have to surround yourself with a lot of assistants with the right data so that the players guy can get the right info, but it becomes a hindrance when you’re not using it.
 
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
 
This year, if they get to .500 it’d be a victory for them and that’s about where they’re at. They’re in a rebuild and have a ton of high-impact prospects in the minors, so they should start to perform better around 2021. I think 2022 is realistic for when they should be competitive, but the whole division is rebuilding. This year hopefully they hover around .500 and get better over the next few years.
 
Emptying the notebook:

For them, I think that they’re going about it the right way, they have a good mix of relatively young players like Perez and Merrifield. That’s good core position player leadership and they have some intriguing young starters. It will be interesting to see how guys like Junis and Keller adjust after the league has seen them and if will they be able to stay ahead of the curve. They’re going about a rebuild the right way and I think that the future is bright for them. … Billy Hamilton can run and he can defend but he can’t get on base, that’s what hurt his value. ... It sounds like they’ll roll with Cam Gallagher at catcher, who doesn’t have a ton of big league experience. Being thrown into Perez’s shadow is not going to be easy for a rookie.

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