When the Royals opened the season on March 31, Mike Aviles was the starting third baseman and batting leadoff. Kila Ka'aihue hit fifth and started at first base. Matt Treanor was the catcher, and Chris Getz started at second base.
By August, the Royals' youth movement was in full bloom. Eric Hosmer was at first base, Johnny Giavotella at second base, Mike Moustakas at third base and Salvador Perez behind the plate. Hosmer was promoted May 6, Moustakas June 10, Giavotella Aug. 5 and Perez Aug. 10. Giavotella, 24, is the oldest of the quartet.
In addition, left-hander Danny Duffy, 22, joined the rotation May 18. The bullpen included rookies Aaron Crow (the Royals' lone All-Star Game representative), Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Nate Adcock and Louis Coleman.
By the time the season ended, Aviles was traded to the Red Sox, Ka'aihue to the Athletics and Treanor to the Rangers. Getz remained with the organization as a utility infielder.
The Royals fielded the youngest team in the majors in 2011, but the experience gained should lead to more victories in 2012, and team officials hope Kansas City will vault into playoff contention by 2013.
While the starting outfield of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur was a question mark entering the season, the group put up historic numbers. Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur became the first outfield trio to each record at least 40 doubles. Cabrera finished with a career-best 201 hits. Gordon and Cabrera each hit higher than .300. Gordon, who was converted from third base to left field in 2010, led big-league outfielders with a club-record 20 assists.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the lone infield constant, played Gold Glove-caliber defense, shoring up a porous defense from 2010. Hosmer, 21, is one of the best young players in the game -- offensively and defensively -- a superstar on the horizon.
While the bullpen was a strong suit, it often wore down, as the starters had difficulties pitching deep into games. Closer Joakim Soria, however, had an off year with seven blown saves in 35 opportunities, and he missed the final 2 1/2 weeks with a hamstring injury.
The rotation needs improvement in 2012 if the Royals are to make a quantum leap forward. Luke Hochevar, the first player picked in the 2006 draft, Felipe Paulino and Duffy all return. Veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, who led the team in victories for the second consecutive year, is a free agent, but the Royals would like to bring him back.
McClure lasted six seasons with the Royals. The staff's 2011 ERA was 4.44, which ranked 27th in baseball.
Two other unidentified Royals prospects in the instructional league were also cited for underage drinking with Starling.
"The players involved, which included Bubba Starling, put themselves in jeopardy by having a drink and not being of legal age," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It was not a good decision on their part. We're disappointed in their actions, and we'll deal with it internally."
BY THE NUMBERS: 31-24 -- The Royals' record when LHP Bruce Chen and RHP Luke Hochevar started. They went 40-67 when anybody else started.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We made progress defensively. We made progress offensively. We made progress on the bases. And in the month of September, we made progress on the pitching side, too. Every phase of our game (improved). We're coming to spring training next year in as good of shape as we have in a long time." -- Manager Ned Yost.
ROSTER REPORT The Royals are a young team -- the youngest in the majors in 2011 -- that should only get better in 2012. Kansas City has been rebuilding its farm system since Dayton Moore took over as general manager on June 8, 2006, and it is beginning to pay off with the arrivals of 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas, C Salvador Perez, 2B Johnny Giavotella and LHP Danny Duffy. The offense is potent, but the starting pitching is suspect. It will be difficult for OFs Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur to duplicate their 2011 offensive numbers. The Royals also had a healthy 2011 with few players landing on the disabled list.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Royals need starting pitching. Their starting lineup is set going into spring training. The bullpen is packed with power arms, although another left-hander to go along with Tim Collins would help. Kansas City may have to trade some of its young talent or one of its starting outfielders for a proven starting pitcher this offseason, as the free agent market for rotation candidates appears lacking.
FREE AGENTS: LHP Bruce Chen, LHP Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall.
Chen led the Royals in victories for the second straight year and is a clubhouse leader. He is 34 and is seeking a multiyear deal, which he was unable to get last offseason on the free agent market. The Royals want him back. Francis, who had shoulder surgery in 2009 and missed the season, did not miss a start in 2011, and he pitched better than his 6-16 record would indicate. If the Royals can bring back Chen, it is doubtful they would make an offer to Francis. Kendall missed the entire year after having a second shoulder operation, which makes it unlikely he will be able to catch in 2012. He is 37 and could have caught his last game. Even if Kendall does return next year, it won't be with the Royals, as they've turned over their backstop duties to 21-year-old Salvador Perez.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Luke Hochevar, RHP Felipe Paulino, RHP Joakim Soria, C Brayan Pena, CF Melky Cabrera, LF Alex Gordon, OF Mitch Maier, 2B Chris Getz.
There is a $6 million option for Soria, so expect the Royals to pick that up instead of the $750,000 buyout. Cabrera and Gordon had career years, and they could have bank-breaking salaries if they should go to arbitration hearings. The Royals likely will talk to Gordon about a multiyear contract during the offseason. Paulino turned around his career after the Royals picked him up in May from the Rockies. Hochevar, who was the Royals' Opening Day starter, went 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA in 31 starts, also his best numbers. He, too, is due for a nice raise. Pena, Maier and Getz are all reserves. The Royals will either sign the trio to what they want to pay them or likely non-tender them. They won't be going to arbitration with any of them.
IN LIMBO: CF Melky Cabrera, RHP Joakim Soria. Cabrera had a career year with 201 hits and a .305 average, but he could be trade bait for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher. The Royals have Lorenzo Cain, who was one of four players acquired from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade, waiting in the wings to play center field. Soria had only 10 blown saves in 132 opportunities entering this season, but he blew seven saves in 35 chances in 2011. He pitched so poorly in May that he was removed from the closer's role for a couple of weeks. Soria's 4.03 ERA was a career worst. The Royals could turn the closer's role over to RHP Greg Holland, RHP Aaron Crow or RHP Louis Coleman, all rookies in 2010, if Soria could be dealt for a dependable starting pitcher.
MEDICAL WATCH: C Jason Kendall (right shoulder surgery in September 2010 and in July 2011) was the lone Royal on the disabled list at the end of the season. He is likely out for most if not all of the 2012 season, and he is a free agent.