Posted on March 5, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Heading into the 2019 season, the Kansas City Royals are very much a rebuilding team. Just a few years after their World Series title in 2015, the Royals finished 2018 last in the AL Central with a record of 58-104. Can they get out of the AL Central basement and take a step forward in 2019 or will they need to take another step back before they can start moving forward?
Starting pitching is definitely an area where Kansas City has a lot of room for improvement. Even ace Danny Duffy had a down season in 2018, going 8-12 with a 4.88 ERA. Of course, there’s reason to believe he’ll bounce back in 2019. Meanwhile, young pitchers Jakob Junis and Brad Keller both showed promise last season. Junis proved he can at least be a durable innings eater while Keller, who was also outstanding out of the bullpen, was 8-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts. The Royals are hopeful those two can become reliable mainstays in the rotation behind Duffy.
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Kansas City is also confident that Ian Kennedy can continue to be a competent back-end starter. An oblique problem limited him to just 20 starts last year. But Kennedy made at least 30 starts the previous eight seasons, so he should at least be a durable innings eater. The Royals are also taking a chance on Homer Bailey, who signed a minor league deal with the team in February. Bailey has been held back by injury in recent years, but when healthy, he’s at least a solid mid-rotation starter, so he’s worth the risk for a rebuilding team like Kansas City.
Finally, the Royals will look to work some more of their younger pitchers into the rotation as the season moves along. Eric Skoglund, Heath Fillmyer, and Jorge Lopez all made starts last year and will likely get another chance at some point in 2019. They will also provide depth in case Kennedy and Bailey have health issues. Unfortunately, most of Kansas City’s top pitching prospects are a couple of years away from the majors.
After years of having an elite bullpen that carried the team, the Royals had a disastrous bullpen in 2018. However, they addressed that problem this winter by signing Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman. Both are proven relievers who should help bring some stability to Kansas City’s bullpen. Boxberger, in particular, has experience as a closer, which should prove useful. However, the Royals may want to stick with Wily Peralta in that role. Peralta was 14 for 14 in save situations last season, taking over the job after Kelvin Herrera was traded away.
Beyond the trio of Peralta, Boxberger, and Diekman, Kevin McCarthy has become a dependable reliever the past couple of seasons. Lefties Tim Hill and Brian Flynn also figure to hold down jobs in the Kansas City bullpen after solid campaigns in 2018. The likes of Jake Newberry, Josh Staumont, Richard Lovelady, and Trevor Oaks will also get a chance to see if any of them have a future helping the Royals out of the bullpen.
Scoring runs was a big problem for the Royals last season, but there may be some reasons to be optimistic about improvement in that area this year. Of course, the only player Kansas City can rely on could be second baseman Whit Merrifield. He was the only regular in their lineup with an OPS over .800 in 2018.
On the bright side, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi finally started to come around offensively the second half of last season in addition to being outstanding defensively. The club also has high hopes for DH Jorge Soler, who was having a good season in 2018 before being sidelined by a broken toe in mid-June. Unfortunately, the Royals will miss the power and defense provided by catcher Salvador Perez, who is set to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery.
One key for the Royals will be getting more out of Alex Gordon, who has had an OPS under .700 in three straight seasons. The Royals also have high hopes for first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, third baseman Hunter Dozier, and right fielder Jorge Bonifacio. All three have flashed potential and will now have a chance to put it all together as everyday players in 2019. Outfielder Brett Phillips is another player to watch this year, even if he requires a little more seasoning in the minors at the start of the season.
Finally, the Royals made some intriguing additions to the periphery of their team this winter. They signed speedster Billy Hamilton, who at least gives them a strong defensive player in center field and a reason not to rush Phillips to the majors if he’s not ready. The club also brought in Chris Owings as a versatile utility player in case one of their young infielders struggle. Brian Goodwin also remains as a competent fourth outfielder.
The Royals are definitely poised to take a step forward in 2019. Their young players are a little older and the periphery of their roster was improved over the winter. Obviously, the jury is still out on many of their young players, but they’ve improved their bullpen and have enough established veterans to possibly surprise some people in what is admittedly the weakest division in baseball. Look for the Royals to finish 68-94, which is a 10-win improvement from last year. If nothing else, that should be enough to avoid another last-place finish.