Five Items To Keep an Eye on for the 2018 Royals

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Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With Opening Day just a hop, skip and a jump away, it is a great time to look back on the 2017 Kansas City Royals squad and see how this season might develop differently. There was some good, bad and ugly with last year’s Royals and very rarely in baseball do things shake out the way they did the previous season. With that said, here are some items of note to keep an eye on as you get ready to make the Royals a part of your daily schedule.

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Bouncing Back

One of the key elements of the 2017 team was the number of down years that appeared to fill up the roster. Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Jorge Soler, Jason Hammel and Kelvin Herrera are just a few names that under-performed last year and are looking to “bounce back” this year and perform closer to the norm.

Most would take a league average hitting season from Gordon while Soler needs to just be the run producer the Royals thought they were acquiring when they traded Wade Davis to the Cubs. Kennedy would do well to keep the ball in the park a bit more (I would love to say keep the ball on the ground, but we just know that won’t happen) while also staying healthy.

Hammel’s ratio of baserunners allowed last year far exceeded the innings he was compiling, as he tossed 180 innings, giving up 209 hits and 48 walks. Limiting runners on base would go a long way toward improvement on his 2017 numbers that were less than desirable.

Herrera would do good to re-discover his curveball and use his cutter a bit less this year. It would also help him to throw more first pitch strikes, as that number took a dip this past year (60.6%, down from 64.7% in 2016). It felt like he was always pitching from behind in 2017 and throwing that first pitch strike could alleviate some of the other issues he dealt with last season, like walks and home runs.

Now the likelihood that all of these players produce like they have in the past is probably slim and none. But if the Royals can get a couple to improve or even put together solid seasons, it could go a long way toward helping some of the lackluster play we are sure to see at points this season.

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Credit: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Merrifield’s Regression?

I don’t know if anyone would have predicted the season that Whit Merrifield had in 2017, maybe not even Whit himself. Merrifield, like many players around the league, started putting the ball in the air more and was rewarded with a 19 home run, 78 RBI season to go along with a .172 ISO and a .332 wOBA.

Now the bigger question remains…can he repeat it? I have my doubts, especially since teams will focus more on him this season than they did last year. The key might just be whether or not he is able to keep the ball in the air. Last year his fly ball rate held at 40.5% (it sat at 29.8% during his stint in KC back in 2016) and throughout his minor league career he was able to hit fly balls in the upper 30’s/lower 40 % range.

Luckily, Whit has already gotten farther than many expected in the first place so it feels weird to doubt him now. It is going to be interesting to see how he adjusts to any changes he sees this year from opposing pitchers. This will go a long way to figuring out whether or not he is able to repeat a stellar 2017.

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Credit: MLB.com

A Healthy Rotation

The Royals rotation last year felt like a revolving door for a good chunk of the season. Danny Duffy procured two stints on the disabled list, Ian Kennedy spent a portion of the year hurt and Nate Karns didn’t pitch in a game after May 19th. Add in the struggle of keeping a consistent pitcher in the 5th spot in the rotation and you can understand why the team continues to go after guys like Clay Buchholz and Ricky Nolasco to add depth.

While no one is really expecting this team to contend, how they perform will depend a lot on the health of the rotation. If Duffy, Kennedy and Karns are able to stay healthy this year, that would allow guys like Trevor Oaks and Andres Machado to continue to mature down in the minor leagues.

Last year the Royals were forced to use Onelki Garcia, Luke Farrell and even Travis Wood for five starts when all three should have never started a game. A healthy rotation would put less stress on the bullpen while also giving the team a strength that was evident in the early parts of 2017. For the Royals to not be basement dwellers this season, they need their starters to post more time on the mound than in the trainer’s room.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

The Kids Are Alright

While the Royals front office has moved away from a complete rebuild, the template for this Kansas City team is still one of beginning the process of evaluating what some of their prospects are capable of at the major league level. In that regard, this season could very well shine a light onto who stays in the organization and who might not be a part of the Royals future.

Whether it is a Richard Lovelady or Kyle Zimmer in the bullpen, a Bubba Starling in the outfield, or a Hunter Dozier or Adalberto Mondesi in the infield, by the end of the season there should be a nice influx of younger talent on the roster. The interesting aspect of this whole process (yeah, I just said it) is not always what the numbers will tell us about their performance. Even if they face some adversity, the best thing for them and the future of this organization is allowing them to go out everyday and try to improve.

Dayton Moore has mentioned numerous times that a big part of the Royals championship team weren’t the players who were highly touted prospects, but the ones who flew under the radar and turned out to be big contributors to Kansas City’s playoff runs. The only way to find out what they have is to let them play. While the veterans will steer the ship to begin the year, it could be the youth movement manning the deck by the time September rolls around.

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The Coaching Carousel

Finally, quite possibly the biggest change on this Royals team this year will be the addition of new coaches to help manager Ned Yost throughout the season. Terry Bradshaw, Cal Eldred and Vance Wilson were added to the coaching staff at the end of last season while Mitch Maier will continue his role as the first base coach that he assumed late in the 2017 campaign.

While on the surface the coaches might not be an exciting part of the “New” Royals, it very well could end up being a window into what we should expect from the team past this upcoming year. There is a good chance Ned Yost will retire after 2018 and the changes this coaching staff make this year could give us an idea of what the focus will be on for 2019 and beyond.

During the team’s infamous playoff runs in 2014 and 2015, it was well-known that the Royals were a team who focused on putting the ball in play while forcing the opposing defense to make the plays. The team was also known for their defense and while they didn’t shift as much as some other teams (I’m looking at you, Houston and Tampa Bay), there was a certain pattern to what they were trying to accomplish.

Will Bradshaw change the hitting approach? Does Eldred have some tricks up his sleeve that oppose what former pitching coach Dave Eiland would have done? Will Dale Sveum moving from hitting coach to bench coach effect any tactical decisions?

These are all questions that will be interesting to follow and see if there are noticeable differences from the previous coaching staffs. Baseball is a constantly evolving sport that has modified itself on a consistent basis. There is a high probability that the new Royals coaches could zig where the old regime would have zagged. To me, this will be one of the more intriguing plot lines to follow during this 2018 campaign.

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Credit: Associated Press

While I’m sure I missed a few, these are the most obvious areas to keep an eye on for this upcoming season. Some will be good, some will be bad while others will just stay the same. The one constant will be the questions that will be added as the season progresses. The most important part will be how everything shapes up starting on March 29th. Change will be inevitable.

Royals Sign Grimm, Buchholz; Trade Gaviglio to Toronto

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Credit: Nancy Lane

The Kansas City Royals have continued their thrifty ways during Spring Training, as the team made a number of notable moves centered around their pitching staff this week, as the team signed former Cubs reliever Justin Grimm who will be added to their bullpen. Then on Monday, the team came to an agreement with Clay Buchholz on a minor league deal, as the former All-Star will begin the year down in the minors. Then on Wednesday, the Royals made a trade:

So as Opening Day looms, Kansas City has shuffled some of the cards with their pitching staff. All three moves have a certain significance, so lets start with the Grimm signing.

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Grimm signed a one-year deal with Kansas City for $1.25 million. Grimm was cut the week before by Chicago and the Royals made room on their roster for him by designating Gaviglio for assignment. Grimm is coming off of a lackluster season in 2017, throwing 55.1 innings for the Cubs, posting an ERA of 5.53, a WHIP of 1.34 and -0.4 fWAR. Grimm struggled with the longball in 2017, as he gave up 12 home runs in those 55 innings, which gave him a 1.95 HR/9 ratio, the highest of his career. Grimm is another power arm for the Kansas City bullpen, as he had a 25.4% strike out rate in 2017 and over his career has averaged a 24% K rate.  He has also dealt with control issues throughout his career, averaging a 9.6% walk rate and an 11.6% rate last year. Grimm will be entering his age 29 season and could be a nice arm for Kansas City to use in a set-up role if he can lessen some of his control issues.

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Kansas City also brought former Boston starter Clay Buchholz into the fold this week, bringing him in on a minor league deal. Buchholz only appeared in two games for Philadelphia last year, as he dealt with a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. Buchholz is only two years removed from a 2.7 WAR season, as he did that for Boston back in 2015, with an ERA+ of 132 and a 2.68 FIP, but he also only threw 113 innings that season. In fact injuries have been a big part of his downfall over the years, as he has only posted three seasons of 150 innings or more in his 11 year career. So where does Buchholz fit in for Kansas City? More than likely he will begin the year down in Omaha and get his feet underneath him before there is even talk of him making the trek to the big league club. His velocity will be interesting to track, since over the last few years he has seen a small decline on his fastball, which was down to 91 MPH in 2017. More than anything, Buchholz will be insurance for the Royals rotation, just as Ricky Nolasco was signed for. While Buchholz is intriguing because of his success in the past, he is also entering his age 33 season and is probably on the decline portion of his career. That being said, he might still have a few bullets left in his arm and on a minor league deal he is well worth the bargain.

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Credit: Getty Images

Finally, the Royals dealt right-hander Sam Gaviglio on Wednesday, as he went to Toronto for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Gaviglio had a very brief career in Kansas City, as he was acquired late in the 2017 campaign and only appeared in four games for the Royals. In that short span, he had a 3.00 ERA, 4.24 FIP and 0.2 WAR over 12 innings. Gaviglio at best was going to be a long reliever/spot starter in 2018 for Kansas City and was probably ticketed for Omaha to start the season. The Royals have added a decent amount of depth for their starting rotation this offseason, which probably made Gaviglio expendable this spring. This move probably has very little effect on Kansas City, as his spot can be filled pretty easily within the Kansas City organization.

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With the Grimm signing being the only move really affecting the main roster, it is evident the Royals are gearing up to set their roster before next Thursday. It also shows the team is constantly evaluating and not standing pat with what they have. It’s possible we won’t ever see Buchholz in KC and Grimm could be a plus or a bust for the pen. At the very least it shows Dayton Moore knows how important pitching depth is for any team during the long baseball season. There are no issues from me with any of the moves and hopefully at least one pans out. If not there is nothing really lost. If anything, this shows the team that talent is constantly being scouted and as much as some fans would prefer the Royals tank this year, if it happens it won’t be because of a lack of trying on the front office’s part.

Royals Sign Nolasco; Dayton Begins Crusade Against Porn

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Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the other day when I said if the Kansas City Royals go out and sign another veteran that I would be back? Well, it happened. The Royals on Wednesday went out and signed right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco to a minor league deal. Here is how the numbers shake out:

It also appears as if Nolasco has an opt out clause in his contract scheduled for March 24. I initially groaned when I heard of the signing, but I fully realize why it happened. The move feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the Jesse Hahn injury and allows the team to add some depth to the pitching staff. Nolasco started 33 games last year for the Angels, throwing 181 innings, posting a 4.92 ERA, 1.453 WHIP and an 18.2% strike out rate. He did see a higher soft-hit rate last year as well as a slight uptick in velocity across the board. Nolasco actually had a modicum of success during his 11 games in Los Angeles in 2016 and it appears he was throwing his slider less last year and throwing a split-fingered fastball more often, leading to mixed results. While it is easy to categorize this as a bad signing, there is also a chance that nothing will happen with it. If the Royals don’t feel they need him to start the year, they can stow him away on the Omaha roster in case of a rainy day (that is if he would accept the move to the minors). He could also just opt out of the deal on the 24th and be done with it. If Nolasco ends up starting more than ten games then it is apparent the Royals season has fallen off the tracks and things are not going good. Personally, I’m not a fan of the signing but I understand the need for depth and this is a low-cost deal that might not even be necessary. If you are unsure of Nolasco and what he can bring to the table, don’t have a discussion with any Twins fans; my friends up in Minnesota have already been laughing and pointing at the Royals move from afar.

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Credit: fightthenewdrug.org

But while the Nolasco news ran amok last night, the news that really caught my eye was how the Royals were the “First MLB team to take a stand against porn” and had players and coaches attend an anti-porn workshop this past weekend. Now, for some of us Royals fans this wasn’t a big surprise, since General Manager Dayton Moore discussed the “dangers of porn” all the way back in August when star pitcher Danny Duffy had been arrested for a DUI. In fact it gave us this weird answer from Moore that started out discussing drinking and driving:

We’ve done a lot of leadership stuff with our players. Very transparent about things that happen in our game, not only with drugs and alcohol. We talk about pornography, and the effects of what that does to the minds of players and the distractions, and how that leads to abuse of—domestic abuse—to abuse of women. How it impacts relationships—we talk about a lot of things. And I don’t mind sharing with you.

At the time it felt a bit out of left field, but most of us in the Kansas City area are aware Moore is a very religious man and has always been very vocal about his faith. Still…I laughed when I first saw the story of the workshop because it felt like such a Moore thing to have his players and coaches do. But then I realized it was a big deal that probably shouldn’t be glossed over.

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Credit: fightthenewdrug.org

While I’m sure Moore’s intentions are in the right place, it also feels like he is overstepping some bounds with this. Now I don’t know if this was a mandatory workshop or not, but it sure does feel that way:

 And this past weekend, those goals became reality at our groundbreaking spring training presentation event where over 200 Royals players, coaches, trainers, and staff attended.

Having that large of the organization together sure feels a bit mandatory. But even if it wasn’t, it might be something that players would still feel obligated to attend. We’ve known for a long time that Moore has treated this team like they are family and that is something as a fan that I have always appreciated about him. It creates a sense of  trust and over the years they have handled some tough situations, such as players who have stepped away from the game for a bit (Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy and Ashe Russell come to mind). This is good for the organization as a whole…but this feels different and a bit more invasive.

The one thing any employer should probably never do is mix religion and the workplace. This country is one where we are allowed certain freedoms and one of those is freedom of religion. This also means people from all walks of life have different beliefs built into their life. Pushing one’s set beliefs on another would not only be uncomfortable but also make them conflicted. To give you an idea, here is what they talked about at the anti-porn workshop:

In FTND’s awareness-raising presentation to the players, we specifically focused on how porn can impact a consumer’s overall well-being, which in turn can affect productivity, work performance, and personal image. Seeing as they are all constantly in the spotlight, and setting an example for those who look to them for inspiration, this issue is something that can greatly impact not only their careers, but their lives.

Sure sounds like a segment’s beliefs being pushed onto the players. I’m sure some agreed with what was being discussed, but I’m also sure there were some that felt this was a giant waste of time. We’ve all had jobs where we were supposed to attend meetings that either didn’t pertain to us or were talking about something that didn’t matter. But those meetings were normally based on something at least somewhat connected to your work. This instead feels like a boss wanting his employees to believe in the same ideology he believes in. It’s preaching and most people don’t like to be preached to, especially at work. Once again, while I think Moore’s heart is in the right place, his way of going about it is crossing a line.

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Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Maybe the most bothersome part of the whole thing is that Moore has hitched his horse to porn when the issue he should probably address to his players is drinking and driving. We already mentioned the Danny Duffy DUI last year, and just barely over a year ago they lost Yordano Ventura to an automobile accident that may or may not have been alcohol related (the toxicology reports have never been released). While Moore might consider porn to be an evil to fight against, drinking and driving has affected his own team and can easily result in a loss of life. The fact that I am reporting on an anti-porn meeting and not a drunk driving one makes me feel like the organization is pushing their own agenda. Or do they not want to hear complaints from any of their alcohol sponsors? Or even lose some of those sponsorships? Talking about the effects of drinking and driving seems like a better way to send a good message while not alienating players or other employees who feel they are being talked down to.

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Credit: Cliff Owen (AP)

Look…we all know the Royals are a faith-based organization. For years they have held a “Faith and Family Night” at Kauffman Stadium and that’s perfectly fine. Everyone can have their own belief system and you don’t have anyone’s toes getting stepped on. But preaching the dangers of pornography to a bunch of grown men is shaming them for what they might (or might not) do in the privacy of their own home. It’s not like Dayton is worried that his players are going to all of a sudden start turning up with wrist injuries or sore groins. No, he would like them to all be on the same page when it comes to his beliefs. These are adults who can make their own choices and are fully capable of making those decisions. Support them, get to know them and their family and even embrace who they are as human beings. But also let them decide what is pure and what is evil. I guess he should just…trust the process.

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