The Kansas City Royals got off to a very good start in 2009. After 46 games last season, they had a record of 23-23, placing them second in the ultra-competitive American League Central.
Despite a horrible finish, the Royals were able to hang their hat on Zack Greinke. Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA. He struck out 242 hitters and walked only 51 in 229.1 innings pitched.
With any type of run support, the 26-year-old Greinke would have easily won more than 20 games. The Royals' offense will be key in 2010 if he wants to compete again for another Cy Young Award.
While Greinke was the team's brightest star in 2009, he wasn't their only star. Closer Joakim Soria continued to establish himself as one of the best in the game. He converted 30 of 33 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.21 ERA. In 53 innings, he struck out 69 and walked only 16, giving up a .219 batting average to his opponents.
There was debate over the winter about the merits of trading Greinke, Soria, or both of them. Obviously the Royals could receive a lot of talent in return, but the team needs to keep both for the time being if for no other reason than to show their fan base they aren't a total feeder team to the large market clubs.
As noted earlier, the Royals didn't have much of an offense in 2009.
The lone bright spot at the plate for the team was Billy Butler. Butler, who won't turn 24 until the middle of April, established himself as one of the premiere young offensive players in the game.
Butler hit .301 with 21 home runs and 93 RBI in 159 games. He also showed continued discipline at the plate walking 58, giving him an on-base percentage of .362. It's important for him to continue to show that patience since he will be pitched around many times in the upcoming season.
The Royals added several veterans in the winter in hopes of providing a spark to their younger players, as well as to add some depth to the roster. Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednik, and Rick Ankiel will all step in as new starters for the team. Each will be a great presence in the locker room, but won't be as valuable to the team on the field.
The most important thing for the Royals to compete in 2010 and beyond will be their young players both currently on the roster and still in the minors.
Both Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar should be making significant contributions to the team.
Gordon struggled so much that the Royals actually sent him back to the minors last year. As a former first round pick, his success is vital to the long-term prosperity of the team. It will truly be a make-or-break year for Gordon this season.
Hochevar was dominant for Triple-A Omaha last year before joining the Royals. He went 7-13 with a 6.55 ERA in 25 starts for Kansas City. While he'll never be a dominant No. 1 starter like Greinke, there's no reason he can't be a reliable No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He showed that type of reliability by throwing two complete games including one shutout last season.
The Royals are in the middle of the pack as far as organizational depth goes.
Top hitting prospects Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer both struggled in the Carolina League last season. Both are still young enough to rebound and become good major league players.
Unfortunately for the Royals, none of their top prospects are above Double-A at the moment. In addition to Moustakas and Hosmer, the team is hoping for big seasons from pitchers Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, and Tim Melville, as well as hitting prospects Wil Myers and Jeff Bianchi.
Fans of the Royals have waited many years for a winner to return to their city. Although they saw glimpses of hope in 2009, nothing more developed. Unfortunately, fans should expect about the same in 2010.
Zack Greinke will continue to be ranked as one of the top pitchers in the game, but without any offense, there's only so much he can do on his own.
At least Kansas City still leads in one race: having the best barbecue in all the land.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.
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