What defined their 2019 campaign?
The behind-the-scenes part of the KC rebuild might be going well but the on-field product that follows it wasn’t kind to anyone involved with the team during the 2019 season. For the second straight year, the Royals lost 100+ games, improving by a single win compared to their 59-103 record in 2018. Kansas City has had just three seasons worse than their latest campaign – 2005 (56-106), 2004 and 2018 (58-104).
Despite that, Whit Merrifield was once again one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball with a batting average of .302. Jorge Soler, meanwhile, crushed Mike Moustakas‘s 2017 single-season homerun record, hitting 48 big flies. Both of them return for 2019 and are controllable at least until the conclusion of the 2021 MLB season.
The starting rotation’s 5.30 ERA was the 8th-worst in Major league Baseball. An example of their woes on the mound was the egregious campaign that Jacob Younis, starting team-high 31 games, had, posting a 9-14 record and 5.24 ERA. Brad Keller was the light at the end of the tunnel- yet, he continues to have the lowest K/9 (6.64) and the most BB/9 (3.81) out of the regular 2019 KC rotation. His saving grace was 0.82 allowed HR/9 in MLB’s most prolific homerun year in history.
Since this is the Royals, we also have to check in the Prospect Watch. Righty Brady Singer, a 2018 first-rounder and a former Florida product, posted a 3.47 ERA in 16 starts in AA, while 2019 second overall pick SS Bobby Witt Jr. batted .262 in the rookie Arizona League. The former is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and is projected by MLB Pipeline to be called up no later than 2020 – could he be a part of the rotation? This is surely one of the looming questions as the Royals carry their lengthy rebuild onto 2020.
The aftermath: Bringing in Rosenthal, Shipley, and Holland suggests intentions of improving the fourth-worst bullpen in MLB. While Holland virtually had a better 2019 than his previous 2018 performance, he still finished with a 4.54 ERA and didn’t live up to his 0.84 ERA in the second half of the 2018 season with Washington. Rosenthal and Shipley, meanwhile, both experienced downfalls in 2019 and will be looking to resurrect their value.
The Royals let Bonicafio (now with Tigers) and Cuthbert (White Sox), who have missed significant time during the past two years, go and signed former Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco to fill in the hole at third. His career-best 2016 season saw him hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 runs batted in.
One of the most important moves, though, was re-signing starting LF Alex Gordon to a new one-year deal worth $4 million.
Merrifield and Soler
If there even is a bright spot in the 2020 Kansas City Royals, it definitely is the top of the order in Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler. Both of them nearly or completely had career seasons last year and will be looking to build on that. The reason for that is the fact that they were completely healthy, to start with, with both of them playing in all 162 KC games.
As previously noted, Soler hit 48 homeruns to smash Mike Moustakas’s 38 from back in 2017. In addition, he also had 117 RBI, finishing inside the MLB top 10, just 9 behind leader Anthony Rendon. He also had 3.7 WAR, more than anyone except Merrifield, and even received an MVP vote.
Whit Merrifield led the majors in hits for the second year in a row and continues to be the most consistent contact hitter on the planet. As you’ll learn later, the Royals have done atrociously to make the most of his exceptional performance at the plate.
Projected one-through-five (RotoChamp): Duffy, Keller, Junis, Montgomery, Lopez
There isn’t much more to add to the prospect of where the ceiling of that group of starters is. Keller still has accuracy problems. Junis definitely has the biggest room for improvement after a gloomy 2019 campaign, while Danny Duffy posted numbers similar to Keller and had a 4-1 record after the All-Star break.
Mike Montgomery was acquired from the Cubs last summer and posted a 4.64 ERA in 13 starts, which is an encouragement for the Royals No. 4 starter.
New KC manager Mike Matheny is unlikely to go with Glenn Sparkman in the fifth spot instead of Jorge Lopez, despite him making 21 appearances as a reliever, compared to 18 as a starter on the mound in 2019.
The Royals offence was 19th when it comes to batting average. That is still in the bottom half but decent for KC standards. The Royals couldn’t exploit even that as they finished with the fourth-fewest RBI (655).
That seems like inconsistency for the ages with a leadoff such as Merrifield, who has the ability of constantly getting on base, and Jorge Soler, who was, in fact, one of the best situational hitters in all of baseball last year.
Franco’s track record doesn’t help either. The third baseman averaged .227 with runners in scoring position. As the offseason has wound down, the Royals lineup still hasn’t found answers to its lack of depth.
The Royals aren’t much different to last year.
Furthermore, they are like most losing teams we’ve seen in recent memory and all signs point to another wasted season of Merrifield’s career prime in Kansas City. The bullpen is just barely solid with Holland coming back to the team he had a 2.15 ERA with over three seasons and with Ian Kennedy coming off a good year as the closer but the rotation continues to be mediocre. KC’s lineup has a high ceiling but it’ll need a lot to make the most of the opportunities created.
Bear in mind that they’ll also have to play 57 games against three extremely good divisional opponents in Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, which makes it even more likely for them to underperform.
Best case: The Royals have it going offensively and the bullpen’s great. Keller and Duffy have solid seasons but the rotation is still dragging the team down as they come up short of the AL Wildcard in the 5-10 games-behind range.
Worst case: The bullpen, surprisingly but not sensationally, implodes and Soler doesn’t live up to his 2019 campaign. The Royals somehow find a way to finish below Detroit and rack up the second-worst record in the American League, behind only the Orioles.
Prediction: 66-96, 4th place in AL Central