For a team coming off its eighth straight losing season, the Royals have generated a surprising amount of excitement this offseason.
The seeds of the anticipation for the 2012 campaign were sown in 2011, when the team gave regular roles to rookies Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Johnny Giavotella. A collective surge in production for the outfield of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur didn't hurt either.
While the Royals' young lineup started to attract some notoriety last season, the pitching staff compiled the fourth-highest ERA (4.45) in the majors. The front office made a few offseason moves to address the team's pitching woes. They moved Cabrera to the Giants, acquiring lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who could quickly become the team's best starting pitcher, and they re-signed Bruce Chen, who was last season's most effective starter. Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares were signed to bolster the bullpen. Joakim Soria, coming off his worst season as a major leaguer, will once again assume the closer's role.
The offense will have much the same look that it had at the end of last season, but the Royals will have to fill the hole in center field left by the departure of Cabrera. Lorenzo Cain, who got a brief look last fall, will get his first chance to be an everyday center fielder. Though the lineup hasn't changed much this offseason, it could be more productive this year if Hosmer, Moustakas and Giavotella can continue to develop in their sophomore seasons. However, the Royals will also have to rely on Gordon and Francoeur repeating their surprising success from 2011.
The young Royals are certainly a team on the rise, and they could break their string of losing seasons this year. With even more prospects -- including Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi -- on the way, it may not be long before the Royals find themselves in the thick of contention on an annual basis.
Bounce-back ... Jonathan Sanchez, SP
While Soria also gets the "bounce-back" label, no one is due for a more dramatic turnaround than Sanchez. His 2011 season was derailed first by poor control and then by disabled list stints for biceps and ankle injuries. Though Sanchez fell out of favor with the Giants organization, he had been as reliable as ever through early June last year. Though he has never been very adept at throwing strikes, he induces enough swings-and-misses to be valuable to standard mixed league owners. Sanchez will also get the benefit of playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park, just as he did in San Francisco.
Rotisserie gem ... Lorenzo Cain, OF
Cain finally showed some home run power in his first full season at Triple-A last year, but even if that doesn't translate to the majors right away, he is a worthy Rotisserie target. With good gap power and decent contact skills, Cain could toy with a .300 batting average. Though his minor league stolen base totals weren't gaudy, Royals manager Ned Yost likes to have his players run, so 25-30 steals are not out of the question. While Cain is strictly an AL-only option in Head-to-Head formats, he is a viable No. 5 outfielder for mixed Rotisserie leagues.
One-hit wonder ... Jeff Francoeur, OF
It's probably not fair to call Francoeur a "one-hit wonder" since he fared well in his early years with the Braves. Still, 2011 was a career year and entering his late 20s, one might be tempted to think that it was a breakout. However, Francoeur's improved batting average (.285) and run-production stats (77 runs, 87 RBI) were helped by a .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) -- a mark that doesn't square up for a player who pops out a lot and is a below-average line drive hitter. Even if he manages to be a 20-20 player again, Francoeur will have a hard time matching last season's production. He profiles more as a low-end No. 3 Fantasy outfielder than the No. 2 outfielder that he looked like last year.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Alex Gordon||LF||1||Luke Hochevar||RH|
|2||Johnny Giavotella||2B||2||Jonathan Sanchez||LH|
|3||Billy Butler||DH||3||Bruce Chen||LH|
|4||Eric Hosmer||1B||4||Felipe Paulino||RH|
|5||Jeff Francoeur||RF||5||Aaron Crow||RH|
|6||Mike Moustakas||3B||Alt||Danny Duffy||LH|
|7||Lorenzo Cain||CF|| |
|8||Salvador Perez||C||CL||Joakim Soria||RH|
|9||Alcides Escobar||SS||SU||Jonathan Broxton||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Greg Holland||RH|
|R||Chris Getz||INF||RP||Louis Coleman||RH|
|R||Yuniesky Betancourt||SS||RP||Jose Mijares||LH|
|The former catcher disappointed in his first go-around at Double-A, but a good Arizona Fall League campaign and sharp batting eye bode well for a turnaround.|
|Montgomery is much better than his 5.32 ERA from Triple-A would indicate. Could figure into the Royals' rotation sometime in 2012.|
|Odorizzi struggled after his promotion to Double-A, though park factors likely played a role. A long shot to contribute this year, he should be a target in long-term keeper leagues.|
|4||Bubba Starling||19||OF||DNP||Class A|
|The athletic prospect was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft. Though he is probably several years away, Starling is still a top keeper target in long-term leagues.|
|5||Cheslor Cuthbert||19||3B||Class A||Class A|
|Another long-term keeper league target, Cuthbert played extremely well as an 18-year-old in A-ball.|
|Best of the rest: John Lamb, SP; Kelvin Herrera, RP; Jason Adam, SP; Chris Dwyer, SP; Yordano Ventura, SP; Christian Colon, SS; Elier Hernandez, OF; Brett Eibner, OF; Bryan Brickhouse, SP; Kyle Smith, SP; Jorge Bonifacio, OF; Cam Gallagher, C; Clint Robinson, 1B; Timothy Melville, SP; Brian Fletcher, OF.|