What happened in 2019?
What was set to be a tough season got off to a terrible start in spring training when the Kansas City Royals lost their workaholic catcher, Salvador Perez, for the season after Tommy John surgery.
The season itself started brightly enough with a series win over the Chicago White Sox, but that was followed by nine consecutive defeats, which set the tone of the rest of the year. In the end, the Royals suffered their second straight 100-loss season, finishing fourth in the lightweight AL Central.
Bizarrely, for the team that was expected to create havoc on the base paths with talk of 200-stolen base potential, it was the homer-hitting exploits of Jorge Soler that kept Royals fans involved until the final week of the season. The 27-year-old’s 48 home runs destroyed the franchise’s record and clinched the AL home run champion title ahead of Mike Trout.
Whit Merrifield was a deserved All-Star in a season which saw him lead MLB with 206 hits. In comparison to his two previous seasons, when he swiped 79 bags, the 31-year-old’s threat on the base paths dried up with just 20 stolen bases in 30 attempts. He remains one of the most underpaid players in the game as the Royals are paying him $14.5 million for the next three seasons. That’s not each year, that’s a combined total. Plus, they have a club option for 2023. Low-cost, productive and versatile, Merrifield is the team’s biggest trade chip.
A shoulder injury affected the 24-year-old from July onwards, and despite his OPS slipping by 100 points in the second half, he was still worth 2.4 WAR. Mondesi is the best defensive player on the Royals’ roster, and he offers the most dynamic threat on the basepaths, possibly in the whole of MLB.
If he recovers fully from offseason shoulder surgery and can recapture the power he flashed in 2018, the second baseman has a realistic chance of 25 home runs and 50 stolen bases. If not, he will continue as a sub-.300 OBP infield version of Billy Hamilton.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Ground-ball pitcher, Brad Keller, made improvements throughout the season, compiling a decent stretch in his nine starts after the All-Star break of 3.62 ERA. The 24-year-old has the opportunity to establish himself as the ace of the staff.
(2) New manager, Mike Matheny, is the only manager in history to reach the playoffs in his first four seasons. It seems unlikely Kansas City will be playing in October, but the franchise is definitely on the rise. They only have $2.75 million on the books for 2022, which is when top prospect and future face of the franchise, Bobby Witt Jr. (a shortstop with comps to Troy Tulowitzki) should reach the big leagues.
(3) Few could have predicted that former first-rounder Hunter Dozier, who posted .673 OPS in the majors in 2018, would explode with a sensational 26 home run, .870 OPS season. It will be fun to watch the late-developer bloom into a stud.
(4) Despite leading the AL with 178 strikeouts last season, Jorge Soler made considerable improvements to his plate discipline in the second half by doubling his walk rate and cutting down on his strikeouts. His .411 OBP and .665 SLG after the All-Star break suggests his 2020 at-bats will be “must watch” viewing.
(5) Regardless of two straight 100-loss seasons, the Royals can console themselves with the knowledge that they have won the World Series more recently than the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Shirey/Jonathan Daniel (Getty Images)
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps
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