The 2012 Kansas City Royals are Primed for a Breakout Season

The Kansas City Royals were at one time the class of the American League. They were established as a premiere team that was built with homegrown talent, sprinkled with free agents that made the team contenders year after year. However, for the last 15-plus years they turned into a laughing stock, basically a minor league feeder team for contenders looking year after year for a vital piece to a playoff puzzle.

That’s the sad reality of who the Kansas City Royals became. Since 1995, the Royals enjoyed just one winning season, 2003, and were almost certain locks to finish dead last in the AL Central before the season began. Luckily, both for the Royals’ organization and their fans, that is no longer the case.

2012 has brought with it a new, fresh attitude for the team. No longer are they expected to be playing for pride by July 1 or selling off good young talent at the trade deadline. No, the 2012 Royals have a legitimate shot at being significant. Not only that, they could and should compete for a playoff spot, not just in 2012 but for the foreseeable future. An atmosphere of winning has been building throughout the organization, and the Royals have the players in place to make their own mark in team history.

As is the case with most teams, success doesn’t start on the field. Rather it begins in the front office where GM Dayton Moore has started signing many of his young players to long-term deals, proving both he and the organization are willing to invest in the team now, and not just five years from now.

Joakim Soria

Joakim Soria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although knee surgery will keep him off the field for most of the 2012 season, catcher Salvador Perez was inked to a deal that could keep him in Kansas City through the 2019 season, a move that wouldn’t have been made by the front office even a few years ago. Also signed long-term is shortstop Alcides Escobar, who could stay with the Royals through the 2017 season. Add in Billy Butler and Joakim Soria, who are also under contract for a few more years, and the Royals have a nice foundation going forward. The real test will come in trying to sign slugger Alex Gordon, along with fellow young stars Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Additionally, the Royals also boast one of the best minor league systems in the game, seemingly with no end in sight of talented pitchers and position players ready to make it to the majors in the next couple of seasons.

The position players are much further along than the pitching, and as was the case in 2011, Gordon and company will be expected to shoulder the load. There’s no reason to think they aren’t up to the challenge, though. They were sixth in the American League in runs per game with 4.51, and fourth with a team batting average of .275. They did not hit many home runs (129), but that number could increase dramatically as many of the young sluggers grow into their full major league potential.

Despite the lack of prodigious power, the Royals have a great balance of power and speed in their lineup.

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alcides Escobar is entering his third season as a full-time starting shortstop. He’s already shown flashes of greatness defensively that most knew he possessed. If he can continue improving his plate discipline, he has the ability to be a very good top-of-the-order hitter with potential to steal 40-plus bases. For now, though, he’ll be at the bottom of the order until he can show he is a more mature hitter. Along with Escobar, Lorenzo Cain came to the Royals in the Zack Greinke trade before the start of last season. He spent most of the season at Omaha, but he looks to be the team’s starting center fielder, at least until Bubba Starling is ready to take his place. He could be a similar player to Escobar, only with the ability to hit many more home runs.

Alex Gordon finally began to show promise on the potential that caused the Royals to draft him second overall in the 2005 draft, ahead of Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Andrew McCutchen. He finished 2011 hitting .303 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI. With the talent around him continuing to improve, a 30-home run, 100 RBI season should be easily attainable for the former University of Nebraska player.

Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas may not get as many headlines as Gordon, but none are any less important to the Royals line-up than the left fielder. Butler can easily be relied upon to hit .295, with 20 home runs, and drive in at least 90 runs. He’s a consistent enough hitter that the Royals should never go into a prolonged slump as a team. Hosmer took the league by storm last year after debuting in early May. His .293 average with 19 home runs and 78 RBI was good for third in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Manager Ned Yost has been quoted several times saying that Hosmer is a “future perennial All-Star player.” Moustakas struggled in his rookie year, hitting .263 and lacking the power that he displayed coming up through the minor leagues. He’s struggled thus far in Spring Training as well, but he doesn’t need to be counted on to carry the offense, so hopefully he can relax and regain the form he showed in 2010 when he hit 36 home runs and drove in 124 runs in just 118 games between Double and Triple A.

Even with the addition of Jonathan Sanchez from the Giants in the Melky Cabrera trade, the Royals are still lacking a complete starting rotation. Neither Sanchez or Luke Hochevar are great top-of-the-rotation choices, but they’ll have to serve as such until some of the Royals’ prospects fulfill their potential, or the team becomes active in the trade market again. Because of the potent line-up, the rotation which includes Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy, does not need to be dominant. Consistent quality starts from the group would be enough to get the Royals to their very good bullpen and outstanding closer, Joakim Soria.

Soria will be joined by former Dodgers’ closer, Jonathan Broxton, who will be looking to regain the form that saw him save 36 games for the Dodgers in 2009. Lefties Jose Mijares and Tim Collins will balance out the bullpen and along with Aaron Crow and Vin Mazzaro, the Royals should have a deep bullpen that can shorten games for the starting staff.

The Royals will have a chance early in the season to show whether or not they’ll be contenders in 2012. 10 of their first 16 games are against the Angels, Tigers, and Blue Jays, all of whom are expected to be in the hunt for the playoffs this year. Having a 10-game home stand in the middle of April should allow the team to build momentum quickly, which would only add to the excitement in Kansas City and bolster the team’s chances of adding to the weakened pitching staff.

It is indeed a new day in the history of the Kansas City Royals. Will the team that is currently assembled reach the heights of the teams in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in a World Series championship in 1985?  For most baseball fans, the instant reaction would be “No way.” Given the overall decline of the AL Central in the past year, however, no one should be surprised if the Royals finish with a winning record in 2012 and even compete with the Detroit Tigers for the division crown.

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