Royals approach spring with uncommon confidence
Rotation upgrades and strong lineup bring back positive memories for Yost
KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Ned Yost sometimes harkens back to his days as an Atlanta coach. They were pretty good days because in Yost's 12-year stay on Bobby Cox's staff, the Braves won 11 division titles.
Now that general manager Dayton Moore has ambitiously rebuilt the Kansas City rotation by trading for righties James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis, as well as re-signing Jeremy Guthrie, 2013 also looks pretty good to Yost.
"I kind of get the sense, a little bit, of what is was like when we were in Atlanta," Yost said. "You walk through the clubhouse door every day knowing that you have a Greg Maddux, a John Smoltz, a Tom Glavine going to mound that day. And you just feel that, 'Hey, we've got a real chance to compete here today,' instead of walking through the clubhouse door, hoping that that guy's on his game, hoping that something good happens. I guess it's a feeling of confidence you have on a daily basis."
The pitching rotation was clearly seen as the weak spot for the Royals last year. Their starters ranked 11th among the 14 American League teams in ERA (5.01) and second-to-last in victories (47) and innings pitched (890).
So with the three new guys arriving, plus the strong-finishing Guthrie back, 2012's rotation leaders -- Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar -- are left to scrap over the No. 5 starting job.
Last year, after a 3-2 season start on the road, the Royals lost 12 games in a row. They never recovered.
"I honestly believe we're not going to see any big, long losing steaks this year because of the quality of the starting pitching we have," Yost said.
The new-look rotation, he figures, should also save wear and tear on what's been a very dependable bullpen.
"We're trying to build this staff around five guys that can give us 1,000 innings," Yost said.
And if any breakdowns occur, starting pitchers Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are due to return from Tommy John surgery around midseason.
The bullpen and the everyday lineup seem pretty well set as the opening of camp at Surprise, Ariz., approaches.
"We're set at a lot of different spots and that's really neat," Yost said. "I think it's really going to be interesting competition at second base between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella. Both guys are ready for the competition. Getz looks tremendous, healthy; he looks like he's added some bulk and is ready to go. Johnny is ready to break out and be the player he's always been in the Minor Leagues."
Also of interest: how new hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David implement Yost's desire to hike the home run total up this year.
Forgive Yost if he's feeling a bit smarter this year.
"You're always smarter when you have good starting pitchers," Yost said. "Bobby [Cox] always said, 'You're as smart as your starting pitcher that day.' "
Pitchers and catchers report
Monday, Feb. 11.
Full squad reports
Thursday, Feb. 14.
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Texas, at Surprise, Friday, Feb. 22, 2:05 p.m. CT.
Away vs. Chicago, Monday, April 1, 3:10 p.m. CT.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Is the front four of the rotation really etched in stone?
Club officials quickly assigned the No. 1 spot to Shields, with Santana, Davis and Guthrie immediately following, in no particular order but clearly pre-approved. That served two purposes – making the additions feel welcome and needed and lighting a fire under holdovers Chen, Hochevar and others to fight for a job. Barring injury, those front four are likely to come out of camp intact. The most vulnerable might be Davis, because he pitched only in relief last year. But management is counting on these moves to make a huge difference this year, so they're determined to give it a go.
2. Who'll be the second baseman?
This is a re-run of last year's tussle between defensively proficient Getz and the offensively inclined Giavotella. In the end, Giavotella was sent back to Triple-A and Getz, at least for a while, shared the job with infield backup Yuniesky Betancourt. As the season went on Getz was hurt, Betancourt was let go and Giavotella returned a couple times and finished the year in the job. Passing thought: could comeback-minded Miguel Tejada edge into the mix at age 38?
3. What kind of bench will be put together?
If the Royals really do turn into contenders, a strong supporting cast will be essential. If 11 pitchers are carried (although Ned Yost likes to have 12 most of the time), that leaves room for a second catcher, two backup infielders and two extra outfielders. Brett Hayes and George Kottaras are in the catching hunt. The loser in the Getz-Giavotella battle and ultra-versatile Irving Falu will be joined as infield contestants by right-handed power-hitting corner man Brandon Wood and the very interesting Tejada. Assuming Lorenzo Cain starts in center, super speedy Jarrod Dyson and long-time prospect David Lough get competition from incoming big league vets Endy Chavez, Xavier Nady and Willy Taveras, all non-roster players.
72-90, third in the AL Central.
Projected batting order
1. LF Alex Gordon:
.294 BA, .368 OBP, .455 SLG, 14 HR, 72 RBI in 2012
2. SS Alcides Escobar:
.293 BA, .331 OBP, .390 SLG, 5 HR, 52 RBI in 2012
3. 1B Eric Hosmer:
.232 BA, .304 OBP, .359 SLG, 14 HR, 60 RBI in 2012
4. DH Billy Butler:
.313 BA, .373 OBP, .510 SLG, 29 HR, 107 RBI in 2012
5. RF Jeff Francoeur:
.235 BA, .287 OBP, .378 SLG, 16 HR, 49 RBI in 2012
6. 3B Mike Moustakas:
.242 BA, .296 OBP, .412 SLG, 20 HR, 73 RBI in 2012
7. CF Lorenzo Cain:
.266 BA, .316 OBP, .419 SLG, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 2012
8. C Salvador Perez:
.301 BA, .328 OBP, .471 SLG, 11 HR, 39 RBI in 2012
9. 2B Chris Getz:
.275 BA, .312 OBP, .360 SLG, 0 HR, 17 RBI in 2012
1. James Shields, 15-10, 3.52 ERA in 2012
2. Jeremy Guthrie, 8-12, 4.76 ERA in 2012
3. Ervin Santana, 9-13, 5.16 ERA in 2012
4. Wade Davis, 3-0, 2.43 ERA in 2012
5. Bruce Chen, 11-14, 5.07 ERA in 2012 or Luke Hochevar, 8-16, 5.73 ERA in 2012
The new guys
Shields: This is the guy that triggered the trade of four prospects to the Rays. He's supposed to be the leader of the pitching staff on the mound and in the clubhouse. His credentials include a 31-22 record in the last two years, with a 3.15 ERA and 477 innings, along with three postseasons, including one World Series. A lot is riding on him.
Davis: Shields' co-pilot in the flight from Tampa Bay, Davis pitched exclusively in relief for the starter-rich Rays last year. But he's a starter in history and in heart. He made 29 starts each in 2010 and 2011 and went 12-10 and 11-10, respectively. He worked 184 innings in 2011 and feels he can do that again.
Santana: The Royals swooped in to trade for Santana before the Angels jettisoned him and his $13-million option. It cost the Royals $12 million of that salary plus Minor League reliever Brandon Sisk. They feel Santana can recapture what made him a 17-game winner in 2010 and twice a 16-game winner for L.A.
Tejada: When you bring in a former MVP and six-time All-Star with postseason experience who'll turn 39 in May, it's a sign you mean business. Tejada could be one of those popular, still-able veterans who could lend wisdom and calm to a largely young team that's expected to contend.
Hayes: If Salvador Perez catches the 140 or so games that Ned Yost envisions this year, there'll be little work for the backup. But Hayes got used to that with the Marlins. Last spring when Perez was hurt, the Royals had to scramble for catching, which is why they also have Kottaras, Manny Pina and Adam Moore on hand.
RHP Juan Gutierrez: A one-time closer for Arizona, Gutierrez was signed as a Minor League free agent over a year ago and quietly worked his way back from shoulder problems with three teams in the organization. He was terrific in the Venezuelan Winter League with a 0.66 ERA and 17 saves in 29 games.
RHP Guillermo Moscoso: Claimed off waivers from Colorado, he had a solid rookie season with Oakland in 2011 (8-10, 3.38 ERA in 23 games including 21 starts). He pitched mostly in relief last year for the Rockies (3-2, 6.12 ERA). At 29, he's a late bloomer with a live fastball.
LHP George Sherrill: An interesting non-roster signee, Sherrill is coming off Tommy John surgery last May 4 so it's questionable if he'd be ready to open the season. But he's a former All-Star with a 442-game relief background and he's been tough on left-handed batters. So he could be a situational lefty later on.
RHP Dan Wheeler: Wheeler, like Sherrill, is 35 with even more big league experience -- 13 years and 589 games. He started last season with Cleveland but got roughed up and was sent to Triple-A Columbus. He did better there, with a 3-3 record and a 2.32 ERA in 36 games.
Prospects to watch
2B-SS Christian Colon: A first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 2010 Draft, Colon has middle-infield promise -- probably more at second base now with Alcides Escobar entrenched at shortstop. Called up to Triple-A last August, he hit .412 in five games but then his season ended with a right eye injury, since healed.
RHP Yordano Ventura: With Jake Odorizzi traded, the pitching prospect focus centers on Ventura, whose physical growth is catching up with his always-powerful arm. Moving fast through the system, he'll get a look in Major League Spring Training as a rotation possibility in the near future.
Lough: At 27 and with three Triple-A seasons behind him, Lough is at a crossroads point in his career where he'd like to snag a Major League spot, even as a backup. A September callup last year, he debuted with a .237 mark in 20 games.
On the rebound
Hosmer: After a brilliant rookie season, Hosmer hit the second-year skids and never could quite get going. He opened the season at No. 3 in the order and finished in the No. 8 spot. He believes that a winter analyzing his swing with help from his brother Mike has brought some answers.
Francoeur: Following a productive bounce-back season in his first year with the Royals, Francoeur flamed out in 2012. He went from .285 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs to .235/16/49. He did keep throwing out baserunners, though, leading the Majors with 19 assists.
Cain: His turn as regular center fielder for 2012 ended in the fifth game, as he suffered the first of what turned out to be three leg injuries. Cain has shown that he can run, hit and field. Now he has to prove he can keep his legs healthy.
Hochevar: Although he was able to stay in the rotation all season, making 32 starts, his inconsistency led to an 8-16 record and a 5.73 ERA. That's one reason the Royals felt compelled to bring in new starters, pushing Hochevar into a battle just to keep a rotation spot.
Getz: Exhibiting new strength and some batting pop last spring got the Royals cranked up about Getz's possibilities. He shared the job with Betancourt for a while but kept getting nagged by injuries and played just 64 games. Needs to stay healthy to beat out Giavotella.
Seven players will leave camp to play in the World Baseball Classic:
Collins: USA. The top left-hander in the Royals' strong bullpen is their only U.S. representative.
Chen: China. This will take time away from his pursuit of landing the No. 5 rotation spot.
Perez: Venezuela. Injury-shortened regular season left him eager for winter ball and Classic action.
Herrera: Dominican Republic. Hard-throwing workhorse skipped winter ball so he should be well-rested.
RHP Luis Mendoza: Mexico. Fresh from a sterling MVP performance in the Caribbean Series, he should be game-ready and sharp.
Tejada: Dominican Republic. Veteran wants to show leadership in Classic while winning KC backup job.
Falu: Puerto Rico. He can hope missing camp time won't affect his bid for a reserve infield position.
RHP Joakim Soria: He missed 2012 because of Tommy John surgery, so the Royals passed on his $8-million option. Then the closer of five years signed a free-agent deal with Texas and will work his way back in a setup role.
RHP Jake Odorizzi: KC's top pitching prospect was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the package that netted Shields and Davis. After a 15-5 record and 3.03 ERA for the top two Minor League clubs, he made two starts for KC.
OF Wil Myers: Gone even before he wore a Kansas City uniform, Myers was a key part of the Tampa Bay deal. Pegged the fourth-best prospect nationally by MLB.com, had he stayed Myers might have been a candidate to be the Royals' center or right fielder.
RHP Vin Mazzaro: Obtained three seasons ago from Oakland for outfielder David DeJesus, Mazzaro never quite fit successfully as a reliever or starter. he was traded to Pittsburgh with first baseman Clint Robinson for two Minor League pitchers.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.