The defending World Series champs had high hopes entering the 2016 season with their eyes set on making it to baseball’s biggest stage for the third season in a row. Well, that wasn’t at all the case, as the Kansas City Royals finished 81-81, 13 ½ games out of the American League Central, and eight games out of a wild-card spot.
Ned Yost’s team still has plenty of talent, however, and as long as their core guys can put together solid bounce-back seasons, the Royals should be in contention for a playoff spot once again. Their lineup remains very similar to what it has been the past few seasons, with a couple additions. Here’s how I think it will look come Opening Day.
- Alcides Escobar SS: The 30-year-old shortstop will be leading off to start the season for the third straight time. Escobar has been the definition of consistent with the Royals, as he has averaged 155 games played over the last seven seasons. He has been everything a manager could want in a leadoff hitter. In 2016, Escobar slashed .261/.292/.350 with 17 stolen bases, and even mixed in a career-high seven homers. In 2015 he was named an All-Star and won a Gold Glove, an ALCS MVP award, and a World Series ring. He didn’t quite repeat his success in 2016, but he continued to get on base and keep pitchers on their toes, which is exactly what you want in a leadoff hitter.
- Lorenzo Cain CF: Cain and Escobar have had a history together, and I see them as two very similar players. This is far from a bad thing, as two consistent guys at the top of the order will do wonders in setting the tone for the rest of the order. Cain earned some MVP consideration in 2015 after batting .307 with 16 homers and 28 stolen bases. He played in just 103 games in 2016, and while he still posted a .287 average with nine homers and 14 stolen bases, his season was ultimately a disappointment. After making it to the World Series in 2014 and 2015, 2016 was a forgettable year for the Royals. However the talent is still there, and if Escobar and Cain can repeat what they did in 2015, the Royals could reestablish themselves as one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.
- Mike Moustakas 3B: Moose’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster the past few seasons, and if it was up to him, the 2016 season would be completely thrown out the window. Moustakas had a horrendous season in 2014, batting just .214 but put together an impressive bounce back season in 2015. He hit .284 with 22 homers and 82 RBI, was walking more, and striking out less than he has earlier in his career. He picked up right where he left off to start the 2016 season before going down due to a torn ACL which required surgery. Now almost eight months removed from surgery, Moose is ready to make an impact from the middle of the order. With the on-base abilities of Cain and Escobar in front of him, Moustakas should see plenty of RBI chances batting from the third spot in the lineup.
- Eric Hosmer 1B: The MVP of the 2016 MLB All-Star Game was also the MVP of the Royals in 2016. Kansas City’s homegrown star will bat cleanup in 2017, coming off a year with career highs in homers, 25, and RBI, 104. His strikeout numbers spiked a bit and his average dipped, but like everyone else on the Royals, these can be attributed to an off year. With Moustakas back in the lineup, and a little protection in the newly acquired Jorge Soler, Hosmer should be in line for even more RBI chances. If there’s anyone Ned Yost wants in those situations it’s Eric Hosmer.
- Jorge Soler RF: Among a lineup of familiar faces, Soler could be the surprise of the year for the Royals. The Cubs traded Soler to the Royals for Wade Davis, a swap that made sense for both teams. The 24-year-old has a ton of potential, but a crowded outfield in Chicago had left him without many opportunities to establish himself. Well, the Royals have provided him with that opportunity, and 2017 should be the first time we see what the Cuban can do in a full season. Even in his limited appearances, Soler collected 27 homers over 211 games in three seasons. He has a ton of power and should see plenty of chances to put that power on display while hitting from the number five spot.
- Salvador Perez C: The 26-year-old catcher added a fourth straight Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger to his trophy case in 2016. He earned All-Star honors for the fourth straight season, and while his average was done, nearly every other offensive category was right on par for Perez. He struck out 119 times, a career high, but made up for it by walking more, 22 times, and homering more, also 22 times, both of which were career highs. Perez’s consistency behind and at the plate has made him one of the top catchers in the game, and he’ll take his spot at sixth in the batting order, where he will be sure to find some RBI chances.
7. Brandon Moss DH: Moss has bounced around the major leagues the past decade, and has found his seventh home with the Kansas City Royals. The 33-year-old has versatility, as he has played first base, the corner outfield spots, and could also provide as a left-handed DH. Moss has a fair share of power, average 28 long balls over the past five seasons. Last season with the Cardinals he homered 28 times and knocked in 67 runs in 128 games. He strikes out a ton, as a guy with his kind of power usually does, but his on-base potential and undeniable power could make him a valuable pick up for the Royals in 2017.
8. Alex Gordon LF: Gordon played in his tenth season with the Royals in 2016, and put together another average season by his standards. Gordon has always had a reputation of being a solid left-fielder, but that’s not to say he can’t swing the bat. He owns a career .264 average, and a nice combination of power and speed, with 151 homers and 89 stolen bases in his career. The trend across the Royals lineup continues with Gordon, who’s batting average was way lower than it was in 2016. He hit .220 last season but hit 17 homers in 128 games. He averaged 156 games played from 2011 to 2014 but has dealt with a slew of injuries over the past two seasons. His performance was noticeably better when he was healthy, and if he can stay healthy in 2017 he could provide a serious boost to the offense from the number eight spot.
9. Raul Mondesi 2B: The 21-year-old will compete for the starting second base job in spring training, and I think he will beat out the competition. Before a PED suspension in early 2016, Mondesi showed a combination of power and speed that is rare for players with his body type. His first cup of tea in the majors didn’t go as planned, batting just .185 in 47 games, but his nine stolen bases in ten tries showed that he has the ability to steal bases at a major league level. Mondesi started 2016 as the top prospect in the Royals farm system, and he’ll get a chance to prove himself in 2017. His speed could be a valuable asset at the bottom of the order, as he could have opposing pitchers on their toes when the top of the order comes around.
If the Royals want to put themselves back in playoff contention in 2017 it’s going to take bounceback seasons from nearly every player in their lineup. They have a chance to start fresh when the season begins on April 3rd against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.