Royals set out to make strides this season

March 8th, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Expectations are greater than you might think for the 2020 Royals.

Even after consecutive 100-plus-loss seasons, the Royals believe they are on the verge of taking a significant step forward.

Both general manager Dayton Moore and new manager Mike Matheny routinely cringe whenever the term “rebuilding” is attached to this team.

“We can’t even be thinking in those terms,” Moore said. “We are done with that. We have an obligation to win as many games as possible. There is an expectation for these players to perform and to win. That’s what we’re here for.

What’s the goal?

The Royals have been targeting 2021 as the season when they believe they can become competitive in the American League Central again. Getting All-Star and AL Gold Glove Award-winning catcher back, and signing free-agent third baseman , certainly lengthens the lineup and gives the Royals a fighting chance to make the big improvement they’re coveting.

The organization believes a fresh voice in Matheny, who replaced the newly retired Ned Yost, is the jolt the Royals need to inch toward 70-plus wins.

How do they get there?

First, they must stay healthy. Shortstop and budding star (shoulder surgery last fall) has yet to play a Cactus League game but is still expected to be ready for Opening Day. Perez missed all of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery and needs to once again serve as a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

Second, the Royals need players such as Franco to have a bounce-back season, and for players such as second baseman Nicky Lopez and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn to break out.

Third, the bullpen, second worst (5.20 ERA) in the AL last season, needs to stop coughing up potential victories, something that demoralized last year's team.

Fourth, the Royals’ Fab Four pitching prospects -- Brady Singer (No. 2 Royals prospect per MLB Pipeline), Daniel Lynch (No. 3), Jackson Kowar (No. 4) and Kris Bubic (No. 6) need to continue to make developmental strides so they are ready to contribute significantly in the Majors by 2021. Singer and Kowar likely will make their debuts this season.

What could go wrong?

If the Royals’ rotation -- , , , Mike Montgomery, mystery fifth starter -- doesn’t hold its own, that would likely send the club tumbling toward another 100-loss season simply because there is precious little starting depth. To be competitive in 2021, this year’s team needs a confidence-building season. A shaky rotation, even with an improved bullpen, would harpoon that.

Non-roster invites and have had excellent springs, and Rosenthal, if he continues his strong command, could be the steal ($2 million base) of the offseason. He has been hitting 101-102 mph with his fastball. Right-hander , who made his MLB debut last season, also has been hitting 102 mph with command this spring. That trio could be a huge boost to the bullpen.