Kansas City Royals' Underachievers Are Key to 2014 Success
The Kansas City Royals found themselves playing meaningful baseball games in September of the 2013 season. If they plan to build on that success and find their way to the playoffs, four players will need to step out of the shadow of doubt this season.
The team's designated hitter, Billy Butler, regressed in 2013. One of their prized prospects, Mike Moustakas, has yet to realize the potential that brought him to the major league roster. Two players that were acquired in a trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, will be key to the continued success of the Royals.
As the 2014 season draws closer, the Royals continue to create buzz. As these four players look to break out of the stigma each of them has created, they hold the keys to the success of the franchise.
All statistics in this article are from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Billy Butler Must Return to Form
Billy Butler has become one of the Royals' most well-liked figures. A young man who shows respect for those around him, works hard to contribute to his community and provides leadership, Butler has been a key component for many years.
Just when the team seemed to be ready to win, however, Butler's potent bat saw a significant decline.
Butler produced career lows for a full season in hits, runs, doubles and batting average, and matched his career low with 15 home runs in 2013. He grounded into 28 double plays, leading the American League. The fearsome run-producer in the middle of the Royals lineup suddenly did not provide the protection needed by the hitters surrounding him.
While it may not be fair to expect Butler to produce what he did in 2012, a production level closer to his average season would be a significant improvement for the team. The addition of Norichi Aoki in right field will allow Alex Gordon to slide lower in the lineup. With a few more strong bats around him, Butler should benefit.
If the Royals expect to win, they need Butler to help provide the protection the other bats need as well.
Mike Moustakas Needs to Live Up to Expectations
In 2013, Mike Moustakas found himself mired in the dreaded "sophomore slump," which plagues many second-year players. He battled through it but simply could not show consistent signs of the hitter the Royals expected him to be.
This offseason, Moustakas went to Venezuela to play winter ball and work closely with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol. The results from that trip are yet to be realized, but it appears that "Moose" is a much more confident player this spring. Grifol shared his thoughts with Dick Kaegel of MLB.com:
He feels good mentally, because he played winter ball and he had success and we were able to get the work done. He's had early success here which he feels really good about.
One of the key changes, as Kaegel summarizes in his article, is the young hitter's willingness to drive the ball to all fields. Should Moose continue to do so, he could become a formidable hitter in the Royals lineup this season.
That is something they desperately need.
Alcides Escobar Has to Perform Offensively as Well
The 2010 trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers brought an exciting young shortstop to Kansas City. Defensively speaking, Alcides Escobar has been worth every bit of the hype.
The Royals need to see some offensive production from the young man, however. In 2012, he showed that he was quite capable of that, posting a .293 batting average and finding himself frequently at the top of the batting order by season's end. He failed to repeat that success in 2013, his average dropping to .234 with an embarrassing .259 on base percentage. The Royals know that Escobar can do far better.
Escobar's glove will keep him on the field. The Royals know that they can afford to receive less production from one position as long as he is providing strong defense. With a few spots in the lineup remaining question marks, it becomes a bit harder to justify the lack of production, however.
The lack of depth in the middle infield, as pointed out by Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, provides little competition for Escobar at shortstop. General manager Dayton Moore shared that sentiment with McCullough. "It’s not ideal not to have a backup middle infielder on the team," Moore said. "However, I do anticipate (Omar) Infante and Escobar in the lineup most days."
If the rest of the lineup is playing to its potential, Escobar's lack of offensive production will not be as concerning. If not, don't be surprised to hear the Royals shopping for middle infield help throughout the 2014 season.
Lorenzo Cain's Health Is a Concern
The same trade that brought Alcides Escobar to Kansas City also brought center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Already turning heads with his speed and defense in Milwaukee, Royals fans were excited to see Cain arrive. That excitement tempered quickly as Cain struggled to stay on the field.
Cain found himself playing a career-best 115 games in 2013 and produced a defensive season that earned him a top-three finish for a Gold Glove award. While his batting average slipped from earlier seasons, he began to utilize his speed to generate extra-base hits.
The Royals would love for Cain's production to increase. Ultimately, they would be thrilled if he could figure out how to be on the field for 150+ games in 2014. The best thing Cain can do to help the team continue to climb the ladder of success is to simply stay healthy.
A healthy Lorenzo Cain could provide a healthy pennant race for the Royals.
The Royals Have a Great Chance to Be Successful This Season
The pitching will need some help, but offensive improvements from the four athletes listed here will go a long way to help the team achieve success in 2014.
Kansas City has been an underachieving team for a considerable amount of time. But the Royals are poised to break free of that mold this year.
To do so, they need the underachievers on the roster to show what they are capable of.
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