The Kansas City Royals finished the 2013 spring training with a record of 25-7, and fans were excited to see the potential of the young guns on this team.
By the end of the 2013 season, the Royals had a record of 86-76, and if it wasn't for an epic 10-game winning streak from the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City would have finished right behind the Detroit Tigers for second place in the American League Central. Furthermore, they even could have won a wild-card spot.
This season, Kansas City returns for another shot at the playoffs, and the chances are definitely greater.
After adding right fielder Norichika Aoki and the ever-so-reliable Omar Infante at second base, Kansas City's lineup is now very dangerous.
Aoki brings a great bat to the lineup, coming off a season with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he batted .286 in 155 games. With Infante, the Royals are getting a guy who batted .318 in 118 games with the Detroit Tigers in 2013, and he has proven that he is a great major league player.
Add those two to a lineup that already consists of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, and you can see why there is reason to believe 2014 will be the season the Royals breakthrough.
Butler has been a staple in the Royals lineup ever since he came up, owning a career batting average of .298 with 118 home runs in seven seasons with Kansas City. Butler has been so reliable for the Royals, playing all 162 games in 2013 and missing only one game in 2012. Expect him to be extremely determined to take his team to the playoffs, as they now have a legitimate shot in 2014.
In 138 games in 2013, young catcher Salvador Perez proved he deserved the starting catcher role, batting .292 with 13 home runs. In 253 career games, Perez owns a .301 batting average, which is very impressive for a catcher.
James Shields sits atop the starting rotation for Kansas City in 2014. In 34 games started in 2013, Shields went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA.
After Shields, the Royals have Jeremy Guthrie, who won 15 games for Kansas City in 2013. Although his 4.04 ERA in 2013 could have people questioning his effectiveness, he continues to win ballgames, which is a huge plus for that rotation.
The third slot in the rotation belongs to Jason Vargas, who pitched in only 24 games in 2013, piling up a record of 9-8 on the year. The Royals signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal during the offseason because they felt he has the stuff to win ballgames for them. A bounce-back year for Vargas will give the Royals a great shot at making the playoffs.
Next, the Royals have 15-year veteran starter Bruce Chen, who bounced back in 2013 after a rough 2012 season. In 15 games started and 34 games pitched overall, Chen went 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA for the Royals, helping them come just shy of the playoffs.
The fifth spot in the rotation will likely go to Yordano Ventura, who is a top prospect for Kansas City. In 2012, he was the starting pitcher for Team World in the MLB Futures Game on All-Star Weekend.
In five minor league seasons, Ventura owns a strikeout-to-walk ratio of an outstanding 9.9. His ability to strike batters out has stood out to the organization, and he is only 23 years old—he has his whole career ahead of him. If he performs in 2014, the Royals will have a pretty stable rotation, backed by a lineup full of young, talented hitters.
While they will have to compete with the Detroit Tigers in the NL Central, there is plenty of reason to believe the Royals will finish with a better record in 2014 than the Cleveland Indians, who surged ahead of them in the standings at the end of last season. If all goes according to plan for the Royals, we will see them competing with Detroit for the division title in September.
So as the 2014 season quickly approaches, the Royals are excited to get it under way and to pursue the organization's first playoff birth in 29 years. With added experience and a few heavy bats in the lineup, there is reason to be excited if you are a fan of the Royals.
*Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference.