KANSAS CITY -- It's almost time for pitchers and catchers to report (Feb. 18). To get Royals fans into the spirit, we start our Spring Training preview series.
Today's first installment is called "On the Rebound," and it examines those Royals who will be looking to bounce back from disappointing or injury-filled seasons. Of course, when you're the World Series champs, it's not a long list.
Second baseman Omar Infante: While the Royals believed Infante's defense was as good as ever in 2015 -- and the Royals value defense above all else -- it was no secret they were disappointed with his offense. Infante hit .220 with a .552 OPS. Coaches privately complained that Infante got himself out too many times and became increasingly stubborn when it came to making adjustments. Opponents pitched him hard away and soft inside, and most of Infante's solid contact became harmless pull fouls.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore believes Infante never quite got over being hit in the face with a pitch in 2014. "It takes a year or so to overcome that mentally," Moore said.
Perhaps, then, Infante is poised for a bounceback season. He'll have to, because the Royals have opened up the competition for the second-base job between Infante and Christian Colon, one of the heroes from Game 5 of the World Series.
Left-hander Danny Duffy: The Royals keep waiting for Duffy to seize a spot in the rotation and keep it. Once again, the talented southpaw showed flashes in 2015 -- during one eight-game stretch in July and August, he went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA. But shortly thereafter, he lost his fastball command. Over six subsequent starts in August and September, he walked 13 hitters and gave up 35 hits and 18 runs in 30 innings. He was then moved to the bullpen, where he was dominant in six appearances, not allowing a run.
Certainly, whether Duffy ends up as a starter or a reliever is a win-win for the Royals. While the team would love to have an effective left-hander in the rotation, it could also use him as another power arm in the shutdown bullpen. But the preference for manager Ned Yost is that Duffy takes the next step and becomes a dominant lefty in the rotation -- one who could throw 180-200 innings.
Right-hander Ian Kennedy: It might be a stretch to suggest that Kennedy needs to have a bounceback year. But even he has admitted he wasn't especially satisfied with his 2015 season in San Diego. His ERA (4.28) wasn't awful and his WHIP (1.295) was respectable, and he also had an impressive 9.3 strikeouts/per nine innings ratio.
On the other hand, Kennedy allowed 31 home runs over 168 1/3 innings on the season while making his home at Petco Park, one of the most pitcher friendly parks in baseball. Among qualified starters, he was second-worst in home runs allowed per fly ball at 17.2 percent.
"I can do better," Kennedy said recently at the team's FanFest. "It wasn't the season I was hoping for."
The Royals gave Kennedy a five-year, $70 million deal, hoping that he can throw over 190 innings -- something he's done four times in his career.
"The truth is," Moore said, "we need our starters to go longer into games so we don't overwork our bullpen."
Right-hander Dillon Gee: Three seasons ago, Gee went 12-11 with a 3.62 ERA. Two seasons ago, he was the Mets' Opening Day starter.
But last season, Gee fell out of favor in the Mets' organization after struggling through seven starts (5.90 ERA) and was pushed aside as the Mets' crop of young, hard-throwing starters emerged.
The Royals are hoping that Gee, 29, still has something left in the tank, as he certainly has something to prove. He was signed to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite.
Left-hander Tim Collins: Collins is coming off Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and likely won't be available to pitch in the big leagues until May, as the Royals usually plan on 14 months for full Tommy John recovery. From 2011-13, Collins was a reasonably effective setup man in the bullpen, posting a 3.51 ERA while striking out 205 hitters over 190 innings. The Royals are short on left-handed relievers, so Collins could be valuable down the road.