Kansas City Royals Preview
With the fourth team in the AL Central, I will be doing the Kansas City Royals. Before I go anywhere else with this article, I will quickly address the Yordano Ventura death. Losing a cornerstone pitcher is not an easy thing to overcome for a franchise, ask the Marlins, but it's even harder for the teammates to get through this (especially the ones he won a championship with). Ventura lives on with the Royals, as an ace, a teammate and a champion.
PROJECTED ROTATION: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Nathan Karns, Chris Young
Due to the death of Ventura, this rotation looks a lot more feasible to overcome than with him. Even when he did struggle, he was always a threat to pitch like an ace, and Nathan Karns, Chris Young and Mike Minor can't fill that void. Also, I find it odd and almost not a coincidence that they re-signed ace Danny Duffy to an extension less than a week before his death. As far as other contenders for a rotation spot, it's pretty much Mike Minor and prospects Matt Strahm and Kyle Zimmer, although they are all likely to head to the bullpen instead.
BULLPEN: Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Brian Flynn, Matt Strahm, Scott Alexander, Al Albuquerque, Mike Minor
Kelvin Herrera is the last member of that excellent big three in the bullpen, with Greg Holland and Wade Davis, and now the closer job is finally his to start the season. He will have eighth inning man Joakim Soria, who struggled at times last year but has plenty of experience, Brian Flynn and Matt Strahm to back him up, and the rest is pretty uncertain. Mike Minor is projected to be the long reliever, and Scott Alexander and Al Albuquerque have the most experience, so I'm penciling them in the bullpen. Keep an eye out for veteran non-roster invitees Chris Withrow and Brandon League as other potential arms in the pen.
CATCHERS: Salvador Perez, Drew Butera
The catching position is set as long as Salvador Perez is there, and he is one of the best backstops in the American League. He is joined by journeyman backup catcher Drew Butera, and together they give Ned Yost one less position to worry about. Cam Gallagher is the only other catcher who is on the 40-man roster, but I wouldn't expect him to make it on the team.
INFIELDERS: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield, Raul Mondesi
Mike Moustakas is going to return from injury this year, which will ultimately slide his temporary replacement Cheslor Cuthbert to the designated hitter role. Alcides Escobar has been their leadoff hitter for years, and Hosmer has hit cleanup for them a long time as well. After breaking out last season and pushing veteran Omar Infante out of town, Whit Merrifield is favored to win the second base job, while Raul Mondesi should earn a chance to stay on the big leagues this year. Christian Colon is their main competition for a roster spot, but due to the prospect status of Mondesi and the success Merrifield had, expect him to be the odd man out.
OUTFIELDERS: Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Jorge Soler, Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns
The starting outfield spots are pretty set, as Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon are more longtime Royal greats, and Jorge Soler has all the tools to stay a fixture in right field. Paulo Orlando came on strong last season as well, and he could wind up starting three times a week at various outfield positions as well as DH. Billy Burns is the de facto Jarrod Dyson replacement, as he is mostly speed and defense. Prospects Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier, and Bubba Starling all look to compete for jobs as well, along with ex-Arizona Diamondback Peter O'Brien.
PREDICTION: The Royals lost closer Wade Davis, starters Edinson Volquez and Ventura, and DH Kendrys Morales to other teams, and they were already on the down-swing last season. Their prospects aren't as good as they once were, and the pitching depth was scary thin prior to Ventura's death. That being said, they still have a lot of pieces from their two AL Pennant and one Championship team remaining, and I would not count this team out yet. Cleveland is by far the favorite in the division, but the Royals should have enough left to make them earn it. I'd say 81 wins, but don't be surprised if it is as high as 90 or as low as 68.