Spring training is off and running, which means we still have a while before meaningful baseball games. Once we do get to April, these are the three things I think the Royals will need to do so that I can finally watch a playoff game.
1. At least one young gun
The largest problem as far as roster construction for this team is the starting rotation. James Shields at the front is the same as last year, but behind him there are going to be 3 aging back of the rotation guys and one question mark to begin the year. The fifth spot needs to be held down by one of the three young guns, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, or Kyle Zimmer, for at least 20 starts this season. It could be mix of the three, and they need to produce a sub-4 ERA so that all pitching spots are productive to make up for the lack of a second starter like Ervin Santana last year. In the best case scenario, two of them will contribute significantly by replacing, most likely, Bruce Chen. Duffy and Ventura are the likely guys here, but Zimmer could be a late summer shot in the arm.
2. Hitting growth
I am assuming Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are going to be themselves, but they need some other high level hitting around them. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and/or Salvador Perez need to start raking. Hosmer is going to, or at least in my mind he is. If he is the only one to take a step forward this year, then it needs to be a big one. Otherwise the other two need to start improving along with him. So, either three moderate improvements or one really large improvement is what I am looking for.
3. A quicker trigger
Last year Royals fans had to watch the aforementioned Moose and Alcides Escobar put up horrible numbers all year. Luckily, the issues at the beginning of last year in right field and second base have been taken care of, so there are only two with large questions going in this year. If those two struggle, something needs to be done sooner this time so that the team doesn’t dig a hole like they did in May last year. It looks like Danny Valencia is part of that giving a platoon option if Moustakas comes out of the gate slowly. The scarier one is Escobar, who does give a lot of value defensively, but there is nothing behind him right now as an every day option. Another year where he is a black hole in the lineup would be a major problem. Trading for someone that can play short stop would be a priority for me if I were Dayton Moore. On the bright side he should be entrenched in the 9th lineup slot where he is less of a liability than when Yost was slotting him second.
This team is set up to have a shot at the playoffs, but I really think these three things need to go right for that to happen. They are going to need at least a couple more wins than they had in 2013 to pull it off unless Cleveland and Detroit both struggle a lot, which I wouldn’t be counting on. Young arms, young bats, and a little less patience with players failing are what I think will give them a shot.