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Complete Kansas City Royals 2014 Season Preview

Bill Ivie JrContributor IIIMarch 27, 2014

Complete Kansas City Royals 2014 Season Preview

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Royals are putting the finishing touches on spring training and gearing up for the 2014 season.  The climate around the team has changed and the expectations to win are growing.

    The Royals have not reached the postseason since their last World Series victory in 1985.  Prior to last season, they had not posted a winning record since 2003.  The 1994 season was the last time the Royals were able to post a winning record in two consecutive seasons.

    They hope to change all of that this year.

    General manager Dayton Moore has been patient with a farm system that is now boiling over with talent.  He has successfully ventured into the free-agent pool to find complementary pieces to the home-grown talent.

    Manager Ned Yost takes the helm again in 2014.  He will look to shake the stigma of falling just short in his career.  He has helped build the Milwaukee Brewers, and now the Royals, into contenders.  In 2014, he will look to reach the postseason and prove that he can take the next step and help a team he developed win on the October stage.

    Ultimately, 2014 will be a key year for the franchise.  Here's a complete look at what the 2014 season holds for the Royals.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and MLB.com and are current through March 25.

Spring Training Recap

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Spring training is traditionally a time to get a sneak peek at the young prospects, a time for veterans to work on key parts of their game and a time for players to all get ready for the grind of the season.  It is not a time to project how well a team will do based on their win-loss record.

    That's good news for the Royals, because they have lost more frequently than they have won.  

    Having won only 11 of their first 26 games, the team will point to other factors to show their success.  While analyzing statistics for spring training can be futile, a few do tend to jump out.

     

    Mike Moustakas has found his stroke

    The Royals' third baseman has, until this point, been the prospect who couldn't figure out how to hit at the major league level.  If spring can give even a little insight to the upcoming season, the "Moose" is about to break out.  

    Four home runs, 17 runs batted in, a .431 batting average and an amazing 1.316 OPS have turned heads this spring.  Moose is a key component to the future of the franchise.  If he can carry his production into the season, this lineup looks much better than it has in a long time.

     

    Without Moustakas, everyone would be talking about Sal Perez

    The Royals catcher is another key part to the offense.  His work behind the plate has garnered him plenty of attention over the last few seasons.  The team has been patient with Perez on the offensive side of the ball.  It appears that patience could be paying off.

    Perez has struck out a bit more than many would hope.  Despite that, he has also hit four home runs, driven in 11 runners, posted a .388 average and a 1.112 OPS.  Indeed, if Moose was not as impressive, Perez would be gaining a lot more attention.

     

    James Shields continues to lead the staff

    Much can be said about the performance of various members of the pitching staff.  The ace of the staff put in his work and showed that he is still the top guy in the rotation.  

    Shields put together six starts that produced a WHIP below one (0.89).  He surrendered more runs than would normally be acceptable, but when it came down to it, he showed control and poise on the mound.

    Spring was productive for the Royals but it did not come without its share of concerns, either.  All things considered, the team is likely ready for Opening Day. 

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Spring training is quickly winding down.  Teams now start looking to Opening Day and the 2014 season.  One of the major goals of any team coming out of spring training is to simply be healthy.  

    The Royals may not reach that goal.

    Luke Hochevar is gone for the year

    Hochevar was slated to enter the season as a part of the Kansas City rotation.  After throwing two innings in one game, he left with elbow discomfort.  A short time later, it was confirmed that Tommy John surgery would bring his season to an end.

     

    Omar Infante continues to fight elbow discomfort

    Infante was one of the biggest additions to the team coming into spring training.  Since then, he has only managed to appear in eight games, and his status to begin the season is in question.

    General manager Dayton Moore shared some thoughts on Infante's condition with Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star:

    I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent at this point. It’s just day to day really. We’ve got to trust the player in this situation. But from my conversations with (trainer) Nick Kenney and our medical team, it’s not a long-term concern.

    It would not be surprising to see Infante miss the first few days of the season.  It seems that it may not be a long-lasting issue.  Time will tell how it effects him throughout the season.

     

    Louis Coleman may miss Opening Day

    Coleman figures into the Royals' plans in the bullpen this season.  A bruised finger may delay the impact he will have immediately.  Dick Kaegel of MLB.com spoke with manager Ned Yost about the injury:

    "It's been dogging him.  It's getting better, but there's still some swelling in there. There's still a bone bruise in that finger. Actually, the last time he pitched, it felt as good as it did all spring long, but he couldn't command the ball."

    The injury would force the situation of a short bullpen to start the season.  If Infante is not healthy by Opening Day, the roster situation gets a bit more messy.  

    The Royals have done a good job avoiding a lot of major injuries.  Nagging injuries may slow them coming into the season.  Remaining healthy beyond that will be key to their success.

Lineup Preview

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup

    1. Norichika Aoki, RF
    2. Omar Infante, 2B
    3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
    4. Billy Butler, DH
    5. Alex Gordon, LF
    6. Salvador Perez, C
    7. Mike Moustakas, 3B
    8. Lorenzo Cain, CF
    9. Alcides Escobar, SS

    Bench

    • Danny Valencia
    • Justin Maxwell
    • Jarrod Dyson
    • Brett Hayes

    The additions of Aoki and Infante to the lineup has greatly improved the potential in 2014.  Hitting both of them at the top of the order allows Gordon to slide into a run-producing role lower in the lineup.  

    This lineup will likely change over time.  If Moustakas continues to hit, he may find himself hitting much higher in the order.  In addition, if Butler cannot produce the way he has in the past, he may find himself hitting much lower.  Everyone else seems to project in their respective spots for most of the season.

    The bench seems to be fairly solid.  Hayes provides necessary backup for Perez.  Valencia figures to see time in various infield positions.  Maxwell and Dyson provide solid backup options in the outfield.  The bench may be one of the strengths of this team.

    The lineup is a strong point going into the 2014 season.  If the pitching should falter, the Royals will need it.

Rotation Preview

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation

    • James Shields
    • Jeremy Guthrie
    • Jason Vargas
    • Yordano Ventura
    • Bruce Chen

    Shields is the ace of this staff and will lead them into 2014.  More than any other player on the roster, the season depends on his continued success.

    Guthrie and Vargas are both workhorse style pitchers that will give plenty of quality outings while compiling a lot of innings.  Guthrie has earned the respect of many in Kansas City.  Vargas was signed this offseason to provide stability to the rotation going forward.  There is no reason to believe that he won't do just that.

    Ventura was the most impressive pitcher in camp, showcasing powerful and dominant stuff.  A young fireballer capable of hitting well over 100 miles per hour, Ventura is an early pick for Rookie of the Year.

    Chen returns to the rotation this year after a solid spring and a new contract.  He looks to be the stable pitcher he has been throughout his career.

    The rotation is not especially strong.  If they can remain healthy and pitch to their potential, they will find times of dominance this season.  The larger concern may be if the team can avoid the losing streaks that have plagued the team in the last few seasons.  

    Shields is the type of pitcher that can put a stop to losing streaks.  He is going to need consistent production behind him if the Royals are going to win.

Bullpen Preview

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected Bullpen

    • Greg Holland
    • Louis Coleman
    • Aaron Crow
    • Tim Collins
    • Wade Davis
    • Kelvin Herrera
    • Francisley Bueno

    Holland, the Royals' all-star closer, returns to the lead the bullpen.  He saved 47 games in 50 chances last season.  There is no concern with the back of the bullpen entering 2014.

    Getting the ball to Holland should be fairly familiar as well.  Collins, Herrera, Crow and Coleman were all capable relievers in 2014 and formed a good bridge from starter to closer.  Consistency will be key, as always, and these four relievers provide just that.

    Bueno had a short stint in the majors last season.  It seems to have been enough to convince the team that he belongs in the bullpen going forward.

    Davis may be the wild card of the entire bunch.  He has stated in the past that he prefers to start.  It does not appear that his results support that preference.  He has found success in the past out of the bullpen.  If he wants to succeed in a Royals uniform, he will need to figure out how to do that again.

    The bullpen may not receive a ton of work this season with Jason Vargas, James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie consuming innings through the summer.  When they do receive the call, they will likely be ready and capable of closing down the game.

Prospects to Watch

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Royals continue to have a great farm system.  The team will continue to grow talent in the farm system that can benefit the major league team in the future.  The 2014 season promises to give a peek at a few key prospects and the future in Kansas City.

     

    Kyle Zimmer - Pitcher

    Zimmer is one of the top prospects in the organization and could find himself in Kansas City in 2014.  The timetable may be aggressive, but the Royals' first-round pick in the 2012 draft is capable of making the jump.

    He has yet to pitch above Double-A in his career, but he has shown an impressive amount of control to this point.  He does a good job of keeping runners off base, while racking up strikeouts and being incredibly stingy with walks.  He will likely open the season at Triple-A Omaha and could find himself in Kansas City in the late summer.

     

    Jorge Bonifacio - Outfielder

    Bonifacio will also open the season at Triple-A Omaha, his first time at that level of play.  His brief showcase in major league spring training this year was not impressive but did show some talent.  

    One of the top prospects in the organization, he is also mired in one of the deepest positions for the Royals in 2014.  It may take some some injuries to get him there, but Bonifacio could find some major league time before the end of the 2014 season.  Most likely, expect to see him get some time during September call-ups to gain experience and help the team rest other outfielders down the stretch.

Breakout Candidates

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Every successful baseball season can look back and find a breakout season or two that got the team there.  Projecting those seasons ahead of time is a bit harder.

    All signs are pointing to Mike Moustakas breaking out in 2014.  Moose has struggled to find his stroke in his two seasons at the big league level.  However, he seems to be poised to break out and be the hitter the team needs this season.  He may be the easiest player in the lineup to project for a big year.

    On the mound, rookie Yordano Ventura could be on the verge of an outstanding season.  He put together an impressive spring in beating out Danny Duffy for the final spot in the rotation.  They young man will rack up strikeouts throughout the season.  If he can stay on top of his control and stay healthy, the sky may be the limit for the young hurler.

    A few breakout seasons could be the difference between another 86-win season and a trip to the postseason.

Top Keys to Success

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Royals have a lot of potential and a few players that can break out.  In order to succeed in 2014, there are a few keys beyond breakouts and prospects.

     

    The veterans have to perform

    The prospects and breakout candidates aside, the Royals need production from the guys that have produced in the past.  Alex Gordon needs to continue to be the leader on and off the field.  Billy Butler needs to produce offensively.  Eric Hosmer needs to continue to find the success he discovered at the end of the 2013 season.  

    Those three hitters are one key to the team's success this season.  If one should falter and other players are not stepping up as they are expected to, the lineup goes from impressive to mild quickly.  The Royals are going to need to score runs to win games and these three hitters are key to the run production of this team.

     

    The starting pitching needs to control innings

    The starters need to keep the ball late into ball games on a regular basis.  While the bullpen has found success, they are more successful when they are not overexposed.  

    James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas are all capable of drawing a lot of innings.  One of the keys to the season is going to be those three doing what they do best: Go deep into ball games frequently.

     

    The team may need a solid utility infielder

    The depth in the outfield is outstanding.  The depth in the infield is not so much.

    Behind Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar in the middle infield is Danny Valencia, a player that has never played either position consistently in his professional career.  General manager Dayton Moore may need to examine the market and see if he can find a veteran utility infielder to provide some security on the infield.

    Those three factors can help the Royals reach the playoffs for the first time in almost 30 years.

     

Previewing Kansas City Royals' Opening Series

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Royals will open the season with a trip to Detroit to take on their division rivals, the Tigers.  Not only will they take on a division rival to start the season, they will take on the team many are choosing as their favorite to win the division in 2014.

    Projected Starting Pitching

    • James Shields (KC) - Justin Verlander (DET)
    • Jason Vargas (KC) - Max Scherzer (DET)
    • Yordano Ventura (KC) - Anibal Sanchez (DET)

    Shields starts his second consecutive Opening Day for the Royals, while Verlander throws his seventh consecutive Opening Day start for the Tigers.  The Tigers will counter the Royals' newly acquired pitcher in Vargas with their own Cy Young Award winner with Scherzer.  Finally, rookie Ventura will make his 2014 debut against the always steady Sanchez.

    The look of the pitching matchup through the first series is a good measuring stick for the two organizations entering 2014.  The Tigers throw one of the most dominant pitchers of the last five years, follow him up with a Cy Young winner and finish it off with a consistent performer.  Meanwhile, the Royals throw an ace that is most known for being the "other" dominant pitcher, a lefty that was signed primarily for his ability to pitch deep into ball games and a rookie that they hope can live up to the hype.

    Games are played on the field and not on paper for a reason.  Anything can happen on any given day, and the Royals know that they enter each of these games with a solid chance to win.  They will need to live up to potential to get there.  

    The team has a real chance to send a message early in the season with the opening series against the Tigers.  Taking two of the three games will prove that they are ready to compete for the division crown.

2014 Kansas City Royals Season Outlook

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    The Royals are on the verge of a breakout season that finally moves them from a weak team to a playoff-caliber team.  They have made the additions that they needed to complement the players that they have developed themselves.

    When the curtain closes on the 2014 season, don't be surprised if the Royals haven't found a way to sneak into the postseason.  The pitching is just good enough to get them there.  The lineup is more than capable of putting together some wins.

    Final Prediction: 90-72, Tied for first in the American League Central

    Postseason: The Royals win the wild-card game but lose in the division series

     

    Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com
    Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season

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