After many key transactions this offseason, Kansas City currently owns a roster that potentially holds more talent than last year’s team. With that being said, there are question marks regarding the health and consistent play of some of the organization’s new key acquisitions.
The consistency of James Shields is something that is hard to replicate in the game of baseball today. With so many players falling victim to Tommy John Surgery, Shields’ ability to throw 200+ innings year after year is something that is sought after by every organization in baseball. Therefore, the Royals will need someone to step in and become the new ace of the rotation.
Luckily the Boys In Blue have a pitcher with the nickname “Ace.” Part of the reason Yordano Ventura earned the nickname was because his last name matched the name of a popular pet detective movie character. The other reason is because during the end of his 2014 campaign, he pitched like one.
It’s hard to expect Ventura to throw the amount of innings Shields typically does. With that being said, “Ace” definitely has a much higher ceiling level than “Big Game” James has. In fact, Ventura threw the hardest average fastball among MLB starters last season. He also throws a nasty curveball that reaches speeds in the upper 80s. “Ace” ended his rookie season (2014) with the same amount of wins and a slightly better ERA than Shields.
In the postseason, Ventura finished with a superb ERA of 2.52 in his four starts. Shields fizzled out, finishing the postseason with a 6.12 ERA over five starts. Although Ventura is young, he has already proven that he can handle filling the shoes of the club’s top of the rotation pitcher.
Edinson Volquez joins the Royals coming off the best year of his career. In fact, Volquez’ 2014 regular season numbers were better than any starting pitcher that made Kansas City’s playoff rotation.
With a record of 13-7 and a 3.04 ERA, Volquez earned a start for the Pittsburgh Pirates in their 2014 National League Wild Card Game.
It’s hard to predict how Volquez will perform in 2015 because he has had his rough patches in the past. In 2010, he was suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drugs. Later that season, Volquez was sent straight down to play A ball after a string of bad outings. The 31-year- old was also traded three times during the past three seasons.
Will the Royals get the Volquez who has a career 4.44 ERA or the guy who showed major improvement last season? Right now it’s hard saying, but expect Volquez to make a strong push for the number two spot in the rotation come time the opening day roster is announced.
Kansas City is certainly taking a gamble on the right arm of Kris Medlen. The Royals shelled out $8.5 million to bring in the 29-year-old, who is still rehabbing from his second career Tommy John Surgery. With Medlen expected to return in June at the earliest, Kansas City will only get a year and a half at best out of the former Braves pitcher before his contract expires.
On the other hand, if Medlen is able to join the Royals rotation at regular form, he will be a major steal. Medlen has shown signs of being a Cy Young caliber pitcher when wealthy. In 2012, Medlen was a perfect 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts.
There are a lot of “ifs” when you look at Kansas City’s projected 2015 starting rotation. There is no doubt the Royals will have a stacked pitching staff “if” injury-prone players like Medlen and Danny Duffy are able to stay healthy. Here’s a look at what Kansas City’s starting rotation may look like after the 2015 All-Star break:
1. Yordano Ventura
2. Danny Duffy
3. Edinson Volquez
4. Jason Vargas
5. Kris Medlen
Shifting gears to the offensive side, Kansas City really didn’t lose any key contributors from last season’s run to the World Series.
From 2009-2013, Billy Butler was an offensive threat that consistently found ways to produce runs. During that span an average season for Butler looked like (20 HR, 91 RBI, .302 BA). But in 2014, Butler’s numbers declined significantly (9 HR, 66 RBI, .271 BA).
During this offseason, Butler just wasn’t worth his asking price. Therefore, the Royals were forced to go elsewhere to find a new designated hitter. Kansas City decided to bring in 31-year- old Kendrys Morales.
Morales showed signs of being one of the best hitters in the game in 2009 when he hit 34 HR, drove in 108, and batted .306. After a freak injury in 2010, Morales hasn’t really been able to reach the level of play he once possessed. Since his injury, Morales has failed to have a season in which he hit more than 23 HR, 80 RBI and bat better than .277. The Royals are certainly taking a chance on Morales.
Although Raul Ibanez didn’t help the team much physically, his role as a leader, teacher, and motivator play huge dividends in the mental success of the team last season. His clubhouse presence will be hard to replace.
Maybe Kansas City will find some veteran leadership from the experienced Alex Rios. The 33- year-old has spent 11 seasons in the big leagues. Maybe he will provide some key advice for the talented young players on the team.
Rios doesn’t quite possess the outfield speed that Nori Aoki brought to the team, but Rios is certainly an upgrade on the offensive side. His career marks of 165 HR and 762 RBI are both tops among any member on Kansas City’s current roster. In fact, just three seasons ago, Rios was 15th in the AL MVP voting after a season in which he finished with 184 hits and a slugging percentage of .516.
Kansas City’s explosive bullpen didn’t change a whole lot over the offseason. They traded Aaron Crow, who struggled mightily since making the All-Star team his rookie year (2011).
The Royals will get Luke Hochevar back after signing him to a two year contract. Hochevar is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
The success of Kansas City’s upcoming season will be heavily determined by the performance of their starting pitching staff. If these talented hurlers are able to stay healthy and pitch to their capability, this team will make another run to the postseason.