Roundtable: KC Royals’ most improved player in 2020

Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images /

The Kings of Kauffman crew gives their predictions for the KC Royals’ most improved player once the 2020 regular season begins.

Welcome to the first of many Kings of Kauffman roundtables. The site’s staff agreed that it would be a fun idea to chat about topics of choice, then share our thoughts with you. Today’s debate: Who will be the KC Royals’ most improved player in 2020? There are several candidates to choose from, and all four of this week’s roundtable participants picked someone different.

Shawn Bauman: Unfortunately, it is tough to pick which player might be most improved, as many players had disappointing seasons in 2019. After digging deep into metrics, I will put my money on Jakob Junis to have a nice rebound. He suffered from command issues that upped is BB/9 from 2.2 to 3.0, and that he needs to correct. His balls in play average jumped by .020, which indicates players just ‘hit ’em where they ain’t’ more than usual.

If Junis can return to his 2018 or better results, he should see a nice drop in ERA and an increase in wins. His ground ball to fly ball ratio increased, which indicates he is doing a good job staying down in the zone. In 2019, players made contact 1.3 percent less than in 2018. This leads me to believe he did a better job of mixing up his pitches to keep them off balance. If he cuts down on walks, look for a much better performance in 2020.

Mike Gillespie: Most improved player? Poor 2019 campaigns make Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, Ryan O’Hearn and Brad Keller top candidates. They have nowhere to go but up. Bubba’s my sentimental choice, but sentiment doesn’t hit. I have no real emotional investment, and less confidence, in Phillips. I’m unconvinced Keller will be a consistently good pitcher but hope I’m wrong.

That leaves O’Hearn as my choice. He had a decent 2018 and started to come around after a dismal months-long slump and trip to Omaha last season. Ryan McBroom should push him to improve and Mike Matheny‘s confidence in him won’t hurt. Trevor Rosenthal finishes second. A return to his Cardinal form would make for a great first KC Royals season.

David Scharff: It’s difficult to pick just one player but to answer the question, I’m going to jump on the way-too-early-to-make-any-judgments train and put my stock in Josh Staumont. Though FanGraphs’ depth chart predictions have him declining in most areas, I feel it’ll be the opposite. The six innings we got in spring training is admittedly a very small sample, but he showed something different.

He still gave up a few walks, but no runs and his improved control was a welcomed sight. His ability to keep the ball where he wanted it to keep a high strikeout rate (15 SO/9), while continuously throwing high 90’s and touching 100 mph without issue is something to be excited about. I think Staumont will continue this, refine as he goes, and make the case for most improved.

Jordan Foote: In January, I wrote about why second baseman Nicky Lopez was poised for a breakout season. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t pick him here. Lopez has always taken a bit of time to get adjusted at each level he gets promoted to. Last season was no different, as he slowly got better and better throughout the 2019 campaign after making his debut in May.

The speed and defense are going to be there. Hopefully, Lopez’s offseason muscle gain and increased confidence will lead to him putting more drive on the ball. That doesn’t have to result in home runs, though. Some more doubles — and potentially triples — will go a long way towards helping Lopez stick at the MLB level. Look for him to have a much better 2020.

Next. A short season could hurt slugger Jorge Soler. dark

Who do you think will be the most improved player for the KC Royals this season? Let us know in the comments below.