The Kansas City Royals have had a less than satisfying year. However, there are some aspects about this year that fans should be happy about. Here’s the positives the team can carry into 2018.
This year was the swan song for the core of the Kansas City Royals. Therefore, the expectations were high. Everyone was back, healthy and primed for a playoff push. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the Royals are going to finish short of expectation.
To look at the positives of the disappointing year, the Kansas City Royals do have some exciting pieces for the future.
The rotation seemed to be set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel and Nate Karns when the year started. It wasn’t a flashy starting rotation, but it was a rotation that had an opportunity to be successful enough to get the Kansas City Royals to the playoffs. So the idea of seeing Jake Junis this year was not in the minds of the Royals.
When injury hit the rotation with Karns and Kennedy, the Royals had to quickly find a pitcher to fill in. Enter Junis.
April 12 opened the door for Junis. Despite the multiple call-ups and being optioned back to Omaha, he has made the most of his opportunity. As a starter, Junis finished 2017 with a 4.16 ERA and a 7-3 record. However, over his last 10 starts, he has a 3.75 ERA and a 6-1 record.
Probably the most exciting part about Junis—besides his composure every game—is his command. He had 85 strikeouts to just 27 walks over his 105 1/3 innings pitched. That is extremely impressive for a rookie.
Junis has solidified himself as a starter next year. Whether he becomes a top-of-the-rotation guy depends on how he learns from this year, but—as of right now—he is the team’s fourth starter.
With Paulo Orlando being the fourth outfielder and Jorge Soler as the starting right fielder, Jorge Bonifacio didn’t seem to have a spot on the 25-man roster. But with Orlando and Soler both struggling and dealing with injuries, Bonifacio was called upon.
The 24-year-old had success in the minors, so it was only a matter of time before he made his appearance. Some thought it wouldn’t come until 2018, though. His hard work last offseason paid off. On April 21, he got his chance.
Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping, the fact that the Kansas City Royals seemingly found their everyday right fielder is something to celebrate. Bonifacio’s .975 fielding percentage is a “down grade” compared to previous years, but he has shown he is a capable outfielder.
His hitting and power is something to watch. In his first year with the team he has a .253 batting average, 17 home runs and 33 total extra-base hits.
The Royals seemingly have found their everyday right fielder for 2018 and on. Based off of what we have seen in his first year seeing big league pitching, fans and coaches should be excited to see how he matures.
I am fully aware that he hasn’t pitched since May 19. I am fully aware that the biggest issue with Karns is his inability to stay healthy. However, if we look beyond the exterior, which is hard sometimes, Karns showed the promise Kansas City Royals coaches were hoping for.
With that being said, April was a rough start. He posted a 6.26 ERA over 23 innings and five appearances. That isn’t something to celebrate or be optimistic about. However, May was a different story. Before his injury, Karns had posted a 2.01 ERA and a 2-0 record over four starts. He also struck out 32 batters while only walking four.
If his most recent surgery goes as successfully as the Kansas City Royals front office is hoping, Karns can be a great addition to the rotation.
Of all players outside of the team’s core four, Whit Merrifield has to be the one you are most excited about.
In 2016, Merrifield got his chance to show everyone who he was. Unfortunately for him, he was competing against Raul Mondesi for the starting second base position. With Dayton Moore and Ned Yost insistent that Mondesi could translate his abilities to MLB, Merrifield was the odd man out. Luckily, if you can say that, Mondesi struggled. This opened the door for Merrifield to get his second chance.
Merrifield never looked back. Since being called up on April 18, he has solidified himself as the Kansas City Royals everyday second baseman from this point forward. Hitting .289 and knocking 19 home runs, it’s hard to imagine him not retaining his job next year.
The new side of Merrifield that everyone is getting to see—and get excited about—is his base-running abilities. Currently, Merrifield is first in the American League and fourth in MLB in stolen bases, swiping 34 bags.
Merrifield is quickly becoming a fan favorite, and it is easy to see why. With his personality and play, Merrifield is finding himself sitting at the table of the players that make up the new team’s core.
This one shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Yost announced that he was coming back next year, I know I took a sigh of relief. It’s one thing to have to find new players to fill in a chunk of your positions; it’s another to have to find a new manager. It is really hard to do both at the same time.
Yost brings a calming sense to the team. He is a manager that believes in his guys, always has their backs and knows how to light a fire under someone if he feels they need it. He has also done a great job allowing his fellow coaches to do what they do best.
Throughout all the “#Yosted” days of 2013 and parts of 2014, Yost never lost the respect of his players. Yost will go down as the best Kansas City Royals manager in franchise history, and the No. 3 might be a number that is later retired.
Although it may be only for one more year, having Yost back is a big deal. I know I will take Yost every year until he feels it is time to hang up the cleats.
In a year full of disappointments and sad feelings, especially now that the era most of us grew up with and fell in love with is ending, it is important to find the positives. These players are most likely going to be part of the new core or players we see for the next couple of years.
I know I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do in the future.