Their manager, Trey Hillman, isn’t holding his team back on its optimism. The chatter among the Royals is a finish above .500 (Kansas City has accomplished that only once since 1994), and contention for the AL Central crown. Last year, the Royals were 75-87.
Kansas City is stocked with emerging talent, and some proven valuable veterans. But it has some holes to fill, and went about doing that in the offseason by bringing aboard Coco Crisp (from Boston), and Mike Jacobs (from Florida).
Crisp is a switch hitter, who will lead off and can steal bases. He will give the Royals speed at the top of the order as well as some solid range defensively. He’s a centerfielder, which means David DeJesus will move from center field to left field.
Jacobs will play first base, and since he caught in the minors, his defense is still a work in progress. But he was not added for his fielding. His lefthanded bat is what Royals general manager Dayton Moore was after. Right-handed pitching devoured Kansas City last season. The Royals were 39-63 when opponents started a right-handed hurler against them. Jacobs’ mission will be to try and help change that as last season with the Marlins he powered 32 home runs.
By adding Crisp and Jacobs to a lineup that also includes DeJesus, Jose Guillen, Mike Aviles, and Alex Gordon, the Royals are banking on boosting an offense that was 12th in the AL last season.
Gordon’s a key. He was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, but hasn’t yet lived up to expectations. Sometimes getting pinned with the superstar tag isn’t the best thing that can happen to a young player. But Gordon did improve last season, walking 25 more times in 50 fewer at-bats while also ripping opposing pitching over the final two months for a .525 slugging percentage. Steps forward, no doubt, and maybe this year major strides will follow for the 25-year-old.
Guillen will switch over to right field from left field. A switch that would make him a less volatile player is also needed. He led the Royals in runs batted in last season with 97, and while they need that production from him, they also need for him to become a leader on the team.
Guillen’s attitude has to change. He needs to take a leadership role rather than opening up his mouth and saying negative things. He needs to find positive things, and if I’m Hillman, I sit down with Guillen before the season starts and stress he must stay positive throughout the year. If he can do so, he’ll help his younger teammates mature rather than creating a distraction.
The Royals have more pieces in place than in previous years but they lack power even with Jacobs now in uniform. They’re a scrappy club that must do the little things well to score runs, like stealing bases, and making good use of the hit and run. They need to play solid fundamental baseball. Also, the Royals will not have a very strong bench so to compete for the playoffs they need to stay healthy.
The Royals have a formidable one-two punch at the top of their rotation with Gil Meche and Zack Greinke. Meche had been a little leery about being more aggressive inside, but he finally decided to pitch inside, and it’s made a difference. Last year he had a career season with 14 wins and 21 quality starts while winding up fifth in the AL with 183 strikeouts.
Meche has been a workhorse, and is proving he’s worth the five-year, $55 million deal the Royals gave him. He wants the ball every fifth day, and goes out and does a really good job of keeping his team in games. He pounds the strike zone from both sides of the plate, and is very consistent.
Greinke has come a long way since missing most of the 2006 season as he battled depression and social anxiety. He’s made a remarkable recovery. But his work on the mound is under the radar. Last season, he won 13 games, tied Meche for fifth in the AL in strikeouts, and was tenth in the league in ERA (3.47).
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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