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Thursday March 13, 2008 9:18 pm

Team Preview: Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals will have to prove their worth in 2008. New no-nonsense manager Trey Hillman said earlier this off-season, “I do know this, you cannot win a championship without the expectation of winning it.” Though a championship in this decade isn’t realistic for Kansas City, 2008 may present the team with its first opportunity to finish at .500 or above since 2003.

Starting Rotation: The rotation isn’t bad. Ace Gil Meche had a good 2007, striking out 156 batters with a 3.67 ERA. Brian Bannister isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but managed to win 12 games last season for a team that won only 69 games. Zack Greinke isn’t in a high pressure situation, being 3rd in the rotation, so has the potential for a breakout season. Greinke’s alway shad the talent to succeed, he struck out 106 batters in 122 innings last season. Kyle Davies is a very good young pitcher, he’s better than his 2007 numbers show (7-15, 6.09 ERA). Still just 24 years old, the best may be yet to come for Davies. Brett Tomko will start the season as the 5th man in the rotation, but young phenom Luke Hochevar could give Tomko a run for his money by mid-season.

Bullpen: The Royals found a good young closer last season in Joakim Soria. He saved 17 games last season striking out 75 batters in 69 innings. Underrated set-up man Joel Peralta should continue to be solid in 2008. He threw 87.2 innings last season in relief. Besides off-season signing Ron Mahay, there’s no roster sports set in stone for the Royals relievers.

Starting Lineup: The power will come from Jose Guillen, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon this season. Gordon disappointed last season, but with more experience in the league, 25 home runs for Gordon in 2008 isn’t out of the question. Center fielder David DeJesus should get on base more often to be a more effective lead-off hitter. John Buck isn’t a good average hitter, though he hit 18 home runs last season. New signing Miguel Olivo should eat into his playing time. Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek will need to produce another solid offensive season, he’s hit over .290 since 2003. Other than perhaps Guillen or Gordon, there’s nobody really frightening for pitchers in this lineup.

Bench: Speedy Joey Gathright is a terrific 4th outfielder. The 5th outfielder spot is up for grabs. Shane Costa may wind up winning it, if Kansas City has no problem with 2 left handed hitting outfielders off the bench. Ryan Shealy could be an option if the Royals can put up with his abysmal defense in the outfield. Former Tampa Bay Ray Damon Hollins has been solid so far in spring training. Right hand hitting Justin Huber could provide very good power off the bench, and compete for the starting first base job. Switch hitter Alberto Callaspo will likely back up the middle infield.

Overall: The Royals did improve by signing Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo. They provide power and decent defense, and should help the club win some close games. However I don’t think the Royals’ prospects are quite ready to help the team out yet. Within a couple of years Luke Hochevar could be a certified ace on this club, but he needs more minor league seasoning. I expect the Royals to finish in 4th place in the AL Central this season, ahead of the Chicago White Sox.



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