With nearly 10 inches of snow predicted for today, what better time to talk about the Kansas City Royals?
Manager Ned Yost announced this weekend that he’s pretty much determined the team’s batting order for what hopefully will be a 2014 playoff season.
Newcomer Norichika Aoki, who will play right field, gives the Royals a prototype leadoff hitter after being acquired from Milwaukee. He slaps the ball around, draws a lot of walks and seldom strikes out. He seems to be a natural fit.
Ditto for second base newcomer Omar Infante in the all-important No. 2 hole. If Aoki, who has totaled 50 steals the last two years, can approach his usual frequency of getting on, Infante will find a way to get him over. The Royals may have overpaid some for him, but he’s a proven veteran and steadying influence.
Then the Royals trot out the heavy artillery. First baseman Eric Hosmer will hit third, DH Billy Butler returns at the cleanup spot, Alex Gordon slides down to No. 5 and provides Gold Glove defense in left field and rising star Salvy Perez will hit sixth and perhaps become the best catcher in the game.
Rounding out the order are third baseman Mike Moustakas at No. 7, injury-prone center fielder Lorenzo Cain hitting eighth and shortstop Alcides Escobar hitting ninth, where he should be most comfortable.
Not a bad lineup.
I have no doubts about the two newcomers at the top. The Royals are banking that the Hosmer of the last four months is the Hosmer they’ll get from now on, not the singles hitter that evoked such wrath from the fans in April and June, punching singles to left field.
Butler is going to be motivated after lumbering his way to a poor season — by his standards — that included hitting into countless doubleplays. Gordon should thrive at No. 5 and Perez, honest-to-God, could be a future Hall of Famer, he’s that good.
Moustakas is the wild card. Supposedly he’s dedicated himself in the offseason by getting into shape. I really believe this is a make-or-break year for him, because he can’t keep lugging out a .240 average and mediocre powers numbers for a position that begs for it. If he continues to struggle, the Royals may decide to move him and plug in newcomer Danny Valencia, an under-the-radar move I found to be quite shrewd.
I just don’t see it with Cain. He can’t stay healthy and for somebody so muscular, he doesn’t hit a lot of homers. Escobar was, in a word, horrible offensively last year, but he’s not in the lineup for his bat. He does, however, need to return to his 2012 form when he was an All-Star in the making. He might start with better body language.
You have to wonder what the Royals are going to do with Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell. My guess is that “Speed Do” gets the axe. Dyson teases the Royals with his speed, then frustrates them with his lack of concentration. Maxwell has some pop and can play all three outfield spots.
The rest of the bench will be developed in spring. I was a bit surprised when KC designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment, but he carries too high of a price tag for a spare part. He was going to be the Royals’ starter at second before they picked up Infante.
KC is probably done tinkering with its pitching, swapping out Ervin Santana for Jason Vargas. With Vargas and Bruce Chen in the rotation, the Royals have one too many soft tossers for my taste. James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie should be a solid 1-2. Shields is in his walk year and he’s determined to impress somebody to get a big contract. There’s a logjam for the No. 5 spot, with Danny Duffy the big hope, provided he can find a way to control his pitch count. Wade Davis and perhaps Luke Hochevar could challenge, though Hochevar has found his niche as a reliever and could flame out again as a starter.
The bullpen will be one of the best in the game, provided the youngsters continue to improve and Greg Holland can approach last year’s mindboggling season.
I saw one early projection on the Royals that they’ll take a step back and go 77-85 this year, as the belief is the pitching overachieved last year and their young hitters are never going to reach the heights predicted for them.
Some experts believe Cleveland might actually be the team to beat in the AL Central this year, as Detroit lost some valuable players after last season, most notably Prince Fielder and Doug Fister. The window is starting to close for the Tigers, though I still pick them to prevail.