Kansas City Royals

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Overview (Present Rank: 18th | Future Rank: 27th)

After reaching the playoff six times in nine years, George Brett and the Royals finally won the franchise’s first World Series in their seventh attempt in 1985. Embarrassingly, it took Kansas City 29 whole years to play important games in October again. After coming up short in 2014, Alex Gordon and company rallied to win it all in just their second playoff appearance this time around.

The reigning World Champs have good players all across the diamond, with a great young nucleus mostly consisting of homegrown talent. Their recent success can be directly correlated to their dominant bullpen which has started new trends across the league. Teams are making high-leverage relievers a much bigger priority after witnessing the Royals win back-to-back American League pennants. KC’s biggest challenge going forward will be trying to keep their premier talent in Kansas City for the long haul.

 

*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.

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Catcher (Present Rank: 5th | Future Rank: 3rd)

The American League’s best defensive catcher, Salvador Perez, helped Kansas City win their first World Championship in 30 years. The reigning three-time Gold Glover is no slouch at the plate either with his 21 homers in 2015 as evidence. Perez isn’t the best at getting on-base as he’s failed to surpass the .300 mark in each of the last two seasons, but his power keeps his OPS around or above the .700 marker. At $2MM, Perez is the best bargain compared to all other backstops. His extension gets more expensive in the later years of course, but his salary peaks at $14.2MM in 2020 and 2021 before he enters the free agent market at age-31.

Their backup catcher, Drew Butera is one of the worst hitters in Major League history. That’s not exaggeration either. Fangraphs’ advanced statistic wOBA (weighted on-base average) stands as a good tool to recognize how much a player contributes to scoring runs. Anything below .300 is poor and below .290 as awful. Butera currently resides at .229, which is just abysmal. For comparison, Perez (a defensive first catcher like Butera) resides at .318. Butera might be able to do his job behind the plate, but when he steps in the batter’s box, the pitcher knows he has a huge advantage.

While Perez is locked up for the next six years, the Royals still have one of their top prospects coming up through the ranks at the catcher position. Chase Vallot displayed a great amount of power at a very young age, something only elite prospects typically do. His 13 home runs (in 80 games) last year were the 10th most among 18 year-olds in Single-A over the past decade. Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, and Bryce Harper were three of the names to hit more. Other than his power, Vallot doesn’t possess any standout tool. He’s got a solid arm behind the plate, but will need to drastically improve his receiving and blocking skills to stick at the position.

Future Outlook: Perez now, Perez in the future

Salvador Perez is one of the best overall catchers in all of baseball. He provides slightly above-average offensive production that he pairs with elite defensive abilities. Any pitcher on the mound is elevated by Perez’ game managing ability. Considering he’s locked up for the next six years, the Royals don’t need to be looking at potential replacements. If they were, they might have something in 19 year-old Chase Vallot. Of course, he’ll need to go through a lot of development before teams can consider him a starting-caliber backstop, but he’s on the right path.

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First Base (Present Rank: 7th | Future Rank: 26th)

One of the most iconic moments from the 2015 World Series was in the series-clinching Game 5 when Eric Hosmer slid head first into home to tie the game at 2-2 in the ninth inning. The Royals would go on to score 5 runs in the 12th inning, and the rest is history. After an on-and-off start to his career, it appears the 26 year-old is on the brink of becoming one of MLB’s elite players. Like Perez, Hosmer has won a Gold Glove in each of the last three years. At the plate, his .297 batting average was fifth among first baseman with at least 350 at-bats. As he enters his prime, he’s sure to earn a nine-digit contract when he hits the market in two years.

Fortunately for the small market Royals, they might not have to hand out their first nine-digit contract to get quality production at first base in return. That’s because they have another slugging first baseman quickly progressing through their minor league system. Ryan O’Hearn will have to keep hitting if he ever wants a spot on a Major League roster as his poor athleticism prevents him from being a decent runner or fielder. However, the guy can flat out rake as his 27 bombs over 127 games last year showed. As he gets more disciplined at the plate, he could be a middle-of-the-order bat for a contending team.

Future Outlook: Hosmer’s got two years left

Eric Hosmer is arguably the face of the franchise right now. His evolution from top draft pick to top prospect to top first baseman will drive up the price for the Scott Boras client when he reaches free agency after the 2017 season. Ryan O’Hearn may never be the fielder Hosmer is, but his bat could help Royals fans eventually forget about Hosmer. Hosmer’s departure is almost inevitable at this point assuming he can stay healthy these two years. A stop-gap solution for 2018 might make sense as O’Hearn likely won’t be Major League ready until 2019.

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Second Base (Present Rank: 30th | Future Rank: 27th)

The weakest position for the reigning champs offensively is undoubtedly second base. Omar Infante’s lackluster .239/.268/.329 performance since signing his 4yr/$30MM contract has caused a dilemma in Kansas City’s front office. They enjoy having the slick fielding 34 year-old manning the right side of the infield, but cringe every time he steps up to the plate. His current work is a far cry from his career year just two years ago when he batted .318/.345/.450. Nevertheless, Infante is getting old and continuously deals with injuries. He’ll never go back to the .300+ averages, but the Royals can’t get out of his contract until after 2017 where they hold a $10MM option for 2018.

With Infante’s sudden decline, the Royals are looking anywhere for a suitable replacement. Last year they dabbled with former No. 4 overall pick, Christian Colon, but he failed to meet expectations. The Royals passed on Matt Harvey to select Colon that high in 2010. Now they’re hoping Colon can do anything to make selecting him over the perennial Cy Young candidate not look like an absolute failure. After trying to figure things out in Triple-A for the fourth straight year, Colon finally had a solid debut by batting .290/.356/.336 over 43 games. Don’t expect the 26 year-old to sustain that type of success as his .344 BABIP is sure to decrease along with his overall production. For the fans who remember Johnny Giavotella (many don’t), Colon is a younger, higher drafted version of him. Aka not the solution to Kansas City’s second base problems.

As Colon tries to find his place on the team, Ramon Torres’ role seems pretty clear. Torres can field both middle infield positions, can put good contact on the ball, but lacks power to be an above-average hitter. Essentially, he’s Colon but four years younger and without the top prospect profile backing him.

Future Outlook: Upgrades needed

Infante’s offensive production has completely fallen off a cliff since posting career high numbers in his contract year before signing with the Royals. With a need for reinforcements, Christian Colon’s prospect pedigree makes him an intriguing candidate. However, at this point he’s nothing more than a utility player like the younger Roman Torres. They’re stuck with the Infante/Colon pairing for the next two years, but can use resources to acquire a Major League asset after the 2017 season. In the meantime, they should make second base a priority in the draft and international market considering Torres is their only second base minor leaguer with a chance at cracking the big league roster.

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Shortstop (Present Rank: 18th | Future Rank: 22nd)

The Royals have become a perennial contender because of their bullpen, speed, and defense. Alcides Escobar may not pitch in the later innings, but he’s a perfect representation for the Royals’ other two strategies. Escobar’s 105 stolen bases over the last four seasons are the third most among all shortstops. He was finally recognized for his terrific defense with his first Gold Glove and All-Star appearance in 2015. Escobar regularly takes at-bats in the leadoff spot despite his poor .298 OBP. His inability to generate walks will always keep that number low, but Escobar’s defense and speed keeps him in the lineup.

As Escobar inches closer to free agency in November, 2017, the Royals are hoping Raul Mondesi, the team’s No.1 prospect (according to Baseball America) can turn his potential into production and emerge as the next starting shortstop in KC. Mondesi has all the tools the Royals look for in a potential infielder. He’s very fast (19 SB’s in 81 games in 2015), and is already a plus defender at only 20 years old. Kansas City has been very aggressive with Mondesi thus far giving him a full season at Double-A when he was mostly 19 years old. He has potential with the bat, but an Alcides Escobar-esque stat line may be as good as it gets with a little more power.

Kansas City has another young shortstop in their farm system with the raw tools that could lead to success. Marten Gasparini was one of the rare international amateur free agent signings out of Italy when he was 16 years old. He is still adjusting to the American culture and American pitching, but could evolve into a productive shortstop. His bat might prevent him from being anything more than a bench player though.

Future Outlook: Escobar to Mondesi could be a smooth transition

Alcides Escobar is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. With guys like Andrelton Simmons, Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford, and now Francisco Lindor all in the league, that’s a testament to Escobar’s polished glove. While he leaves a lot to be desired at the plate, his speed makes him an adequate table setter at the leadoff position. Mondesi on the other hand has very similar raw tools as Escobar, but he’s just that: raw. He needs more development, and might not be ready by the time Escobar departs in free agency. General Manager Dayton Moore might need to get another stop-gap solution for 2018, this time at shortstop. If Mondesi keeps progressing as expected, Moore could have a slightly better version of Escobar for much cheaper and with a higher ceiling.

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Third Base (Present Rank: 23rd | Future Rank: 23rd)

The Royals finished in last place while failing to win 70 games for four consecutive seasons. The silver lining there was they received a top-three draft pick in the ‘05, ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08 drafts. They used those picks on Alex Gordon (All-Star outfielder), Luke Hochevar (middle reliever), Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer (star first baseman). After much hype in the minors, Moustakas struggled during his first four Major League seasons.

In 2015, Moustakas finally put it all together by hitting .284/.348/.470 on his way to his first All-Star game thanks to his stellar play on both sides of the ball. Always known as a great defender with a lot of power, the difference in Moustakas’ 2015 season was the development of his hit tool. After teams shifted regularly on the pull-heavy Moustakas, he finally broke through by dramatically decreasing his pull percentage from 50.5% to 39.2%. By spraying the ball around the field, Moustakas saw his BABIP rise to a career high .294 which fueled his excellent season in 2015. If he can stay away from his pulling habits, he could be one of the best third baseman in baseball, now both offensively and defensively.

The Royals have two young third basemen down in their farm system. On one side there’s Hunter Dozier. The No. 8 overall pick in 2013 has struggled in his year and a half in Double-A, and will now be forced to start the season there again at 24 years old. Baseball Prospectus has ranked him as their No. 96 and No. 95 prospect going into 2014 and 2015, and now believes he’s Kansas City’s tenth best prospect. Some believe Dozier has tried to do much at the plate so far in his professional career, but his talent could lead to an eventual starting role.

On the other side, there’s Cheslor Cuthbert. Cuthbert doesn’t have the same prospect pedigree as Dozier, and already made his Major League debut last season. However, he has the arm and physical tools of a solid third baseman, despite having the lackluster range of a first baseman. He played well in Triple-A as a 22 year-old that led to his MLB promotion. Cuthbert’s lack of range makes third base an unlikely landing spot, but he doesn’t have the power to be a first baseman either. Cuthbert will likely settle in as a corner infield bench player when it’s all said and done. If he can improve his range or power, he could carve himself a starting role.

Future Outlook: Moustakas finally broke out, but hits free agency in two years

After being the No. 2 overall pick in 2007 (behind David Price), Moustakas had lofty expectations surrounding him throughout his professional career. He finally broke out in 2015 which led to him receiving the 21st most MVP votes in the American League. As Moustakas is finally figuring things out, free agency is only two years away. The Royals could insert Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier into the starting role by 2018, but neither project to even be an average starter. Dayton Moore might need to go outside the organization to find their next third baseman if they fail to resign the flashy 27 year-old.

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Outfield (Present Rank: 26th | Future Rank: 30th)

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The Royals resigned Alex Gordon to the largest contract in franchise history this past offseason. Gordon’s 4yr/$72MM contract also includes a $23MM mutual option for 2020 when he’ll be 36 years old. Gordon has been one of the most underrated players in the game in the 2010’s, but the Royals’ recent rise to success has helped shine the spotlight on the four-time Gold Glover. Afterall, it was Gordon’s ninth inning home run that extended Game 1 of the World Series which the Royals eventually won in the 14th inning. Gordon was a catalyst time and time again for the eventual 2015 world champions. He showed slight signs of slowing down in 2015 as he got deeper into his thirties. He’s still one of, if not the best overall left fielder in the game heading into 2016.

Statistically, Alex Gordon wasn’t even the best outfielder for the Royals last season. That title belongs to Lorenzo Cain, the second runner-up in MVP voting last year behind Donaldson and Trout. Cain originally became a Royal in the Zack Greinke trade that also brought Alcides Escobar over the Mississippi River. While he’s yet to win a Gold Glove (key word: yet), defensive metrics say he’s one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Pairing that with a .307/.361/.477 batting line, and a championship ring, it’s easy to see why voters were so fond of Cain. Cain turns 30 in mid-April, and like almost all of the other key Royals players will hit free agency after the 2017 season. Until then, he’ll keep giving Kansas City all five tools as one of the premier players in the game.

Manning right field will be speedster, Jarrod Dyson. Dyson has swiped at least 25 bases in each of the last four seasons. As a natural center fielder, he’ll have to adjust to right field since Cain has center locked down. His defense and speed gets him on the field, but his poor hitting makes Manager Ned Yost think twice about inserting him into the lineup. A career .255/.320/.343 hitter, Yost can expect something like that in 2016 as well. Dyson was one of the best fourth outfielders in the league last year, especially considering the amount of time Cain regularly needs rest. Now the everyday right fielder, Dyson’s value is now as a low-end starter, at least at the plate.

Filling in for Dyson in the fourth outfielder role will be some sort of combination of Reymond Fuentes and Paulo Orlando. Fuentes has more potential of the two as a former first round pick in 2010 (by Boston). Orlando has more experience, as he filled the role for most of the second half last season. After Fuentes’ terrific season in Triple-A last season, some believe he could overtake Dyson for a starting role if he establishes himself in 2016. Orlando will likely never be more than a reserve outfielder on the border of a Major League roster spot.

Jorge Bonifacio is another future fourth outfielder. Sure, he was a top-100 prospect heading into the 2014 season, but he’s regressed since then despite his power finally coming around. He just doesn’t have the hit tool to survive against Major League pitching. His raw power and strong arm will gives him a chance to prove that distinction wrong as he gets more seasoning.

The Royals’ best outfield prospect is unquestionably Bubba Starling. The fifth overall pick in 2011 impressed Royals scouts with his overall athleticism and the potential of a five-tool player. Starling is already demonstrating his plus speed, and excellent fielding abilities. His bat finally started to come around last year as he had a .785 OPS between High-A and Double-A, and performed well in the Arizona Fall League. Now that he’s 23 years old, the Royals will be looking for Starling to contribute to the big league club soon. When Cain departs in free agency, center field will be Starling’s to lose.

The Royals have a lot of younger guys just scratching the surface in the minors. Players like Brandon Downes, Ben Johnson, Elier Hernandez, Alfredo Escalera, Anderson Miller, Seuly Matias, Amalani Fukofuka could all earn themselves a Major League roster spot some day, but will need to seriously develop their game between now and then.

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Future Outlook: The present is much brighter than the future

Currently, the Royals employ two of the best outfielders in the game, both offensively and defensively. Jarrod Dyson gives Kansas City a third excellent defensive outfielder as well. Unfortunately, Gordon is already 32 years old, Lorenzo Cain is just two years from free agency, and even Dyson is too. Bubba Starling was once seen as a future impact player, but his inability to hit minor league pitching makes it hard to believe he can do better against Major League pitching. Dayton Moore will have his work cut out for him in providing Kansas City with an effective outfield once Cain and Dyson depart in free agency and Gordon continues to age.

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Designated Hitter (Present Rank: 12th | Future Rank: 14th)

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Kendrys Morales has had quite an unique career. In 2009, Morales emerged as one of the game’s best young players when he hit 34 homers to go along with 108 RBI’s and a .306 batting average at 26 years old. Then 2010 happened. The year he broke his leg celebrating a walk-off home run. He ended up missing the 2011 season and never seemed like the same player after that. In 2015, he bounced back, drove in 106 runs, and helped lead Kansas City to their first World Championship since the George Brett days. It’s hard to expect Morales to repeat his 2015 performance, but he’ll still be a top-5/top-7 DH in the league. He’s almost a lock for 20-25 homers if he can stay healthy. With an $11MM mutual option for 2017, it’s likely 2016 will be the last time he rocks Royal blue.

If/when Morales leaves, Dayton Moore will do what he does best. Find a player who is undervalued, or coming off of a down season, and get the best out of him. That’s what he did when Billy Butler left for Oakland before last season. He signed Morales to a 2yr/$17MM deal that’s already been worth it in just the first year. Right now, things look very bleak at DH if Morales leaves because of the Royals’ lack of depth offensively.

Future Outlook: If Morales leaves, expect some Moore magic

Kendrys Morales got his career back on track in Kansas City last year and had one of the best seasons of his career. However, with an $11MM mutual option looming, it’s likely that 2016 will be his last in Kansas City. Dayton Moore has proved he can find gems though. If Morales demands a hefty contract, expect Moore to do what he does and find someone for a fraction of the price that provides equivalent production.

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Left-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 11th | Future Rank: 26th)

Danny Duffy was arguably the Royals best left-handed starting pitcher last season. In 24 starts, he posted a 4.35 ERA, 1.434 WHIP, and an embarrassing 1.76 SO/BB ratio. That goes to show you how weak the Royals’ lefty starters were overall. However, when Ned Yost started using Duffy out of the bullpen, he upped his average fastball from 94 MPH to 96. The transition resulted in 8.1 scoreless frames that he paired with a 0.720 WHIP, and a 6.00 SO/BB ratio. Sure the sample size is small, but Duffy might just be the next failed starter turned dominant reliever in KC.

Had Jason Vargas not sustained an injury midseason, he surely would have been KC’s best lefty starter. However, the baseball gods had other plans. Vargas’ torn UCL led to Tommy John surgery that he likely won’t recover from until late-2016. He’s still owed $16.5MM over the next two years regardless of if he pitches or not. It wasn’t like Vargas was the ace the Royals wish they had though. He has built a reputation as an innings eater in the No.3/No.4 spot in the rotation. It remains to be seen how he will perform post-surgery.

Another injured pitcher the Royals will stash on the 60-day Disabled List to begin the season is Mike Minor. Unlike Vargas, the Royals knew Minor was injured when they signed him. Also unlike Vargas, Minor is expected to return before the All-Star break. Minor has shown flashes of being the ace-caliber pitcher the Braves had in mind when they selected him seventh overall in the 2009 draft. However, he’s mostly been a low-end pitcher in his Major League career thus far as he’s failed to meet expectations. After missing the entire 2015 season, it’s hard to see him being anything more than No. 5 starter for a contending team like the Royals.

Down in the minors, the Royals have three southpaws with a real chance at cracking the big league rotation in the future. Matt Strahm was a 22nd round pick, Garrett Davila was taken in the fourth round less than a year ago, and Foster Griffin was a first round selection in 2014.

Foster Griffin struggled in his first full season, but he has all the tools to succeed when he makes it to the show. Griffin’s fastball sits in the low-90’s, but he commands it well. His changeup projects to be a plus pitch, while his curveball improved as the season went on. If Griffin keeps developing, he could hit his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.

The Royals think they got a steal with their fourth round pick when they selected Davila out of high school. He was hitting mid-90’s with his fastball in his senior season, and has added 25 pounds to his frame since then. He has some projectability with a nice, smooth delivery. There’s a learning curve expected with Davilla, but he has a higher floor than most players drafted out of high school. He could eventually reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter once the 2020’s come around.

Matt Strahm is the most polished prospect of the three. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, he bounced back in a big way last year. While his results aren’t that impressive considering he was 23 years old pitching in Single-A and High-A ball, it’s always promising when a pitcher is successful after a major surgery like that. His fastball-curveball combo will get him to the Majors. His changeup is the key to his development. If he can improve his changeup enough to contain right-handed hitters, Strahm could settle in as a backend starter, but if he can’t, his two pitches will help him be effective in a middle relief role.

Eric Skoglund also gets praise from evaluators around the league, mostly because of his lanky 6’7” frame. Skoglund has yet to show he has the stuff of a Major League pitcher, and until he does, it’s hard to see him carve out a role on a Major League rotation.

Future Outlook: Nothing too special

With Danny Duffy likely making a full-time transition to the bullpen, Jason Vargas still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and with no frontline starters in the farm system, the Royals don’t have anything too special in this category. Strahm, Davilla, and Griffin could each reach their ceiling as mid-rotation starters, but each of them still have a ways to go, and they are more likely to end up as borderline starters/middle relievers. Good thing the Royals have more promising young pitchers that throw from the right side.

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Right-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 25th | Future Rank: 14th)

It all starts with Yordano Ventura. After a solid debut that saw him post a 3.20 ERA over 183 innings in 2014, many expected more from the 24 year-old in 2015. Instead, he finished the year with a 4.08 ERA, albeit with much better peripherals (3.57 FIP, 8.6 SO/9, 52.2 GB%). The Dominican Republic native received some Pedro Martinez comparisons when he was coming up through the minors as a top prospect thanks to his electric fastball and devastating curve. Before his slightly disappointing 2015, the Royals locked Ventura up through 2019 with two $12MM team options for 2020 and 2021. Ventura has flashed that ace caliber stuff in his young career. It’s only a matter of time before he puts it all together and becomes that dominant frontline starter the Royals have been looking for since trading Zack Greinke away in 2010.

Despite Ventura’s frontline ability, Edinson Volquez will likely be the Opening Day starter for the Blue Crew. After a great comeback season in Pittsburgh, Volquez inked a 2yr/$20MM deal with KC that includes a $10MM option for next year. The 32 year-old threw a career-high 200.1 innings last year with impressive results. After hearing of his father’s death just hours before Game 1 of the World Series, the biggest game he’s ever pitched in, Volquez went out and limited the surging Mets offense to three runs over 6 innings leading to KC’s first win in the series. Composure is certainly not one of Volquez’ weaknesses.

After losing Johnny Cueto to San Francisco over the offseason, Dayton Moore knew he had to do something to counteract that. He went out and signed Ian Kennedy to what would have been the biggest contract in franchise history if he hadn’t already locked up Alex Gordon for $2MM more. Kennedy’s 5yr/$70MM contract also includes an opt out clause after 2017 that would rid Kansas City of the remaining three years and $43MM left. Considering Kennedy’s age (31) and inconsistencies, that opt-out may never be triggered. Kennedy’s been all over the place in recent years, but when he’s on top of his game like he was for most of the 2011 season, the results can be excellent (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 198 SO’s, 55 BB’s in 222 IP).

Ned Yost will likely look toward Chris Young to eat some innings again this year. Young provided Kansas City with an effective 123.1 innings last year. He started 18 games, and appeared in 16 more as a reliever as he fluctuated between the two roles throughout the course of the season. Still, it’s hard to rely on a soon-to-be 37 year-old that throws an 87 MPH fastball to Major League hitters. One thing working for him is his extremely high flyball percentage (57.9%) which works well when he has Gordon, Cain, and Dyson covering all the gaps in Kauffman Stadium.

Other than Mike Minor, the Royals took a flyer on another injury prone pitcher from Atlanta. This time, it’s Kris Medlen who they handed the ball to for 58 innings last year. Medlen flashed the dominant stuff the Braves were used to early in his career, but overall the results varied in Medlen’s comeback campaign. While he’s slated to start the season in the rotation, his results in the bullpen (2.51 ERA, 1.047 WHIP, 8.8 SO/9) were much better than when starting games (4.50 ERA, 1.341 WHIP, 5.3 SO/9). After Medlen’s $5MM salary expires, both parties will have to decide if they want to exercise their side of the $10MM mutual option for 2017.

If multiple starters were to go down with injuries, the Royals are well prepared with an exorbitant amount of depth. Besides the five starters, Duffy, Minor (after May), and Vargas (after July), Yost could also turn to Dillon Gee to start some games. Besides a career year in 2013, Gee has never owned an ERA below 4.00 or pitched over 161 innings in a single season. With 105 starts over the last five years though Gee has the experience to step into the rotation at any time.

The Royals have numerous righties with promising futures. The two closest to the bigs are Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer. However, both look to have very different futures ahead of them. Both flash elite stuff, and fangraphs even ranked the two pitchers as Kansas City’s two best prospects. However, Almonte’s lack of command and inconsistent curveball make a role as a setup man or closer more likely. Zimmer on the other hand controls four pitches that all have a chance to be above average with his fastball touching mid-90’s on occasion. His lethal curveball could elevate him to being a frontline starter as long as he can avoid the injuries that has plagued his young, professional career.

The next best starter the Royals have stashed in the minors is their most recent first round pick. Technically they had two first round picks in 2015 that they used on high school pitchers Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson. Russell (21st overall) was already touching 98 MPH as an 18 year-old. His quick arm action could lead to injury problems later down the road, but if he can stay healthy the Royals could be looking at a future legitimate frontline starter.

Watson, the 33rd overall pick, has the lower ceiling of the two, but is more likely to reach it. He got his fastball up to mid-90’s that he pairs with a promising slider. Watson repeats his delivery easily, allowing him to fill the strike zone early and often. If he can develop his changeup into at least an average Major League offering, Watson could become a mid-rotation starter for Kansas City some day.

Since returning from Tommy John surgery, Alec Mills has pitched effectively over the last two seasons. He doesn’t have overpowering pitches, but he keeps the ball in the strike zone making his stuff play up. His fastball sits in the mid/low-90’s but it looks faster because he hides it well in his delivery. If he can develop any of his offspeed pitches more, he’ll be regular in the rotation with a ceiling of a No. 3 starter.

Scott Blewett, Jake Junis, Pedro Fernandez, and Yunior Marte make the honorable mention list here. A lot of scouts like Blewitt’s 6’6” frame and mid-90’s velocity, but the flatness in his fastball and lack of command make it hard to project whether or not he’ll land a spot in the rotation some day. The others would only be a No. 5 starter if they max out their potential.

Future Outlook: Ventura leads the way, with more to come

As things currently stand, the Royals will head into the 2016 season with a rotation full of righties. Ventura is an ace in the making who could be dominant for the next 5-10 years. As Kyle Zimmer keeps developing, he could evolve into a complimentary No. 2 starter. Alec Mills, Ashe Russell, and Nolan Watson all have the stuff to be solid mid-rotation starters or better if they keep progressing on the right path. Ian Kennedy is now locked up for the next five years assuming he doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause after the 2017 season. Right now, the Royals have an average rotation. If Zimmer, Mills, Russell, and Watson keep doing their thing, it could get a lot better down the road.

KEY | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | DH | PIT | LHP | RHP | PEN | OVERALL

Bullpen (Present Rank: 8th | Future Rank: 12th)

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Known as one of the best bullpens in recent history, the injuries to Greg Holland and Tim Collins combined with the departures of Ryan Madsen and Franklin Morales has experts thinking a decline is in order. Regardless, they still have one of the best closers in the game in Wade Davis. As the only player remaining in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade from a few years back, he makes Odorizzi’s emergence in Tampa Bay not as painful for Royals fans. After making the full-time transition to the bullpen, Davis has a 0.97 ERA, 0.818 WHIP, 12.1 SO/9, 2.8 BB/9, and a 1.72 FIP over the last two years. That’s about as good as it gets.

Kelvin Herrera has come into his own, flaunting a 2.06 ERA over 140 innings in the last two seasons. He’s only 26 years old, and just earned his first All-Star bid last year giving reason to believe he’s only going to get better. Radar guns showed 98 MPH on his fastball last year making him the fastest pitcher in Kansas City’s organization. He’s not due for free agency until after 2018, and could emerge as one of the better relief pitchers on the market by then.

With Holland going down, Dayton Moore didn’t hesitate to add another closing type reliever to their bullpen. This time he went with Joakim Soria, a man who began his career in Kansas City. After selecting him in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, Soria collected 160 saves over five seasons before moving on to the Rangers. He hasn’t had as many opportunities to close games recently, but he’s still been a very effective setup man that can step up into the closer role if they need him to.

While Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas are all becoming successful Major Leaguers, KC’s 2006 first overall pick owns a 5.44 ERA as a starter in his Major League career. Luke Hochevar was very disappointing no matter what angle you are looking at it. Then, Ned Yost started using the now 32 year-old out of the bullpen and the results were the complete opposite as he finished the 2013 season with a 1.92 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and a 4.82 K/BB ratio. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, Hochevar showed some rust in 2015. On the last year of his 2yr/$10MM deal, he’ll be pitching for his next contract in 2016. Unless of course, the Royals and Hochevar’s camp both decide to exercise their side of his $7MM mutual option for 2017 (Dayton Moore really likes mutual options).

Tim Collins’ second Tommy John surgery hurts, but the Royals are expecting him back in full health for the 2017 season. With free agency looming, Collins will hope to produce something similar to his career 3.54 ERA and 9.4 K/9 rates. After not pitching in the majors since 2013, Kansas City is hoping the 36 year-old Chien Ming-Wang can help do some damage in the crowded KC bullpen.

Scott Alexander got his first taste of big league action in 2015 throwing six innings of 4.50 run ball. Alexander will never be the closer/setup man in the back of the bullpen, but he could be their lefty specialist.

The farm system doesn’t offer much from a relief standpoint. Strahm and Almonte could be contributors if starting doesn’t pan out for them. Other than that, the Royals have two guys to look out for: Josh Staumont and Luke Farrell. Both players are also considered starters right now, but have a repertoire that fits much better in a bullpen role.

Staumont was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft, and can already touch 102 MPH in short stints. If he can get his command under control, Staumont could be an elite closer. Luke Farrell put up some solid numbers in High-A and Double-A as the son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell. Farrell doesn’t have the stuff to be an effective starter, but his solid command could help him be a productive middle reliever.

Future Outlook: Is this the same Royals bullpen we’ve come to know?

Over the last few seasons, the Royals have had the best bullpen in baseball. Their recent success has put their bullpen in the spotlight, and other teams are starting to follow the trend. Unfortunately for Kansas City, they’ve been decimated by injuries and departures and could see a decline in their future bullpen performance. With a lack of arms in the minors, Dayton Moore will have to continuously scour over the market to fill up the rest of the ‘pen. When Wade Davis hits free agency in a year, there will be a big hole at the closer role. Josh Staumont and his electrifying fastball might take over the role someday. A trio of him, Davis, and Almonte could be one of the league’s best in the early 2020’s.

KEY | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | DH | PIT | LHP | RHP | PEN | OVERALL

OVERALL OUTLOOK: They won it while they could

The Royals are coming off back-to-back American League pennants. With a lineup full of solid hitters and Gold Glovers everywhere, the Royals should continue to be one of the best teams in the league. However, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar, and Jarrod Dyson are all scheduled to hit the free agent market after the 2017 season. Not to mention Alex Gordon isn’t getting any younger. Sure, Kansas City will bring one, maybe two of those players back, but the cap-strapped Royals aren’t going to be winning many bidding wars these days. It's also hard to imagine Kansas City coming close to the success they experienced last year without a true ace atop of the rotation.

Yordano Ventura has the stuff, but he must put it all together to keep Kansas City's hopes of a repeat alive. Continuity counts for something and the culture Ned Yost has engraved in Kansas City should keep Royals fans excited about the direction of this team as they certainly have the ability to win over the next two years and hit the rare three-peat, but after 2017, it’s possible the Royals could blow the whole thing up and start another rebuild that originally led them to contention in the first place.

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