Kansas City Royals 2004 Preview

Two years ago, Royals fans could not have imagined contending for the AL Central in their wildest dreams. Oh what a difference a year makes. Coming off of a terrible 2002 campaign, 2003 was somewhat of a miracle. Much of the credit goes to manager Tony Pena, who took a declining franchise and turned them into contenders overnight. There are also many players who deserve credit - all of whom will be returning for the 2004 season plus some others to make K.C. a force to be reckoned with.

The Kansas City outfield is loaded with talent. Aaron Guiel will be the starter in leftfield. He is coming off of an above average 2003 which saw him hit .277 with 15 homeruns. Rising star Carlos Beltran will be a mainstay in center for many years to come. He was the only Royal to hit the century mark in runs batted in last year. Former Tiger Juan Gonzalez will get the nod in right field if he can fend off the injury bug. If Gonzalez can return to the form that made him a MVP early in his career, there may be no stopping Kansas City. Matt Stairs and youngsters Alexis Gomez and Dee Brown will all see time in the outfield as well.

The infield appears to be set going into Spring Training. Joe Randa will handle the hot corner. Randa hit .291 last season and hopes to continue hitting for average. Angel Berroa appears to be a star in the making and will be the everyday shortstop. He is coming off a rookie season that has Royals fans excited about his potential. The other half of the double play combo will be veteran Desi Relaford. All-star Mike Sweeney will anchor the infield at first base. Ken Harvey will back up Sweeney and will also see time at designated hitter. Thirty eight year old Benito Santiago will start behind the dish. Kelly Stinnett also figures to see a lot of time at catcher.

The Royals starting rotation is the biggest question mark heading into 2004. Brian Anderson will get the nod on opening day. Anderson finished up last season with a 3.78 earned run average. Lefty Darrell May figures to be next in the rotation. Bounced back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen last year, May will be a starter in 2004. The rest of the rotation is somewhat up in the air. There are six pitchers who will battle for spots three through five. Veteran Kevin Appier will be a steal if he can crack the rotation. The Anaheim Angels are paying a majority of his salary this year. Jeremy Affeldt will have a spot if he can stay away from the blisters that plagued him in 2003. The other contenders are Miguel Asencio, Jimmy Gobble, Chris George, and Kyle Snyder. The Royals bolstered the bullpen in the off season by acquiring Curtis Leskanic and Scott Sullivan. Added to DJ Carrasco and Jason Grimsley, the bullpen will be a strong point for the Kansas City. Mike MacDougal had an impressive rookie season and became the closer. Look for him to pick up where he left off and have another solid season.

Overall, the Kansas City Royals are much improved from the team that contended for a division title in 2003. The only significant losses were Raul Ibanez and Brent Mayne. The acquisitions of Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago immediately fill the holes created by those losses. The Royals have more depth than anyone in the AL Central, and should have enough firepower to take the division.

Prediction: 93-69 1st Place in the American League Central Division

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