Believe it or not, real, actual baseball is right around the corner. The spring games have already started, and Opening Day is just over a month away. After a few months of watching a lukewarm stove, its time to catch up with what’s going on around the division. I sent some questions around to folks from our sister sites in the SB Nation network for the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, and Cleveland Indians. They were kind enough to answer the questions, and we’ll run one team each day this week. Assume any editing mistakes are mine. And with no further ado, it’s time to pass the microphone to...
Kansas City: Max Rieper, Manager, Royals Review
What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?
The player to keep an eye on with the Royals is Adalberto Mondesi. He has been their top prospect for some time, but initially struggled when he first came up. Last year the club brought him up mid-season and he responded with a fantastic second half, smacking 12 home runs and finishing eighth in baseball in steals with 32. He also brings great defense and was worth 3.2 WAR in essentially half a season. He is really the only player in the organization with elite upside and could be an MVP candidate if it all comes together for him. He fits well into the new team identity of being elite on the basepaths. The Royals could very well have the top three leaders in stolen bases this year between Mondesi, last year’s stolen base champ Whit Merrifield, and new centerfielder Billy Hamilton. And all three might be slower than pinch-runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore, who the club brought back on a Major League deal. Stolen bases have fallen out of fashion, but the Royals are going to try to bring them back.
Other storylines will include how the farm system improves, what the Royals do with the #2 overall pick in the draft, and whether Ned Yost decides to retire at the end of the year.
What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?
I think the team is probably about done, although it never hurts to bring in more pitchers. They have added a few relievers at the outset of camp like Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, and Drew Storen. They have two young pitchers battling for the final rotation spot in Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me to see them add another veteran to the mix. There is also the potential that starter Ian Kennedy moves to the bullpen, which could open up another rotation spot.
What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?
The team is coming off a dismal 104-loss season, but they finished strong, winning 20 of their final 34 games, mostly due to playing a younger lineup. So you will see a much younger lineup out there, with Mondesi at shortstop instead of Alcides Escobar, slugger Ryan O’Hearn at first instead of Lucas Duda, Hunter Dozier at third instead of Mike Moustakas, and either Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, or Jorge Bonifacio in right field instead of Jon Jay. While last year they were playing with a lot of “stop gap” players, this year the team will try to sort out which players will actually be part of the next good Royals team.
How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?
Last year was rough, but not totally unexpected considering how the farm system had hollowed out. Years of poor drafts had left the Royals without any players to replace the core of the team that won a championship. But because of the way the team played down the stretch, relying on younger players, there is a lot more optimism out of the fan base than you might typically see after a 104-loss season. I think Royals fans are just looking for progress, primarily from the younger players, while still realizing that the team will likely be battling the Tigers for the cellar in the Central.
Who do you think will win the division, and why?
The Indians still look like the team to beat, even if they didn’t have a very impressive off-season. Their pitching is very hard to beat and they seem to do a great job of getting talent from their farm system to replace losses. I think the Twins could make a run at them, but was a bit surprised they didn’t make more of a splash in free agency to supplement the roster. A good off-season could have made them the favorites in my mind.