SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Speed and defense. Speed and defense.
Those same characteristics that were the trademark of the 2014 and '15 World Series teams could be the hallmark of the '19 Royals. At least that has been the goal for general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost since '18 ended.
WHAT’S THE GOAL?
Moore doesn’t want to use the term rebuilding -- he made that clear at his end-of-the-season press conference last October after the Royals lost 104 games. Perhaps a better term is transition. Gone are almost all of the faces from those World Series teams -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, etc. The Royals and Moore now want to find out what players they can utilize going forward, such as Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Jorge López, Hunter Dozier, Ryan O'Hearn, Jorge Soler and so on. That would be the primary goal. But Moore, admittedly embarrassed by last season, wants to field a far more competitive team as well.
WHAT’S THE PLAN?
As Moore and Co. evaluate what they have going forward, the Royals want to inch toward being at least a .500 team again. To do so, Moore went out and got elite speed and defense in center fielder Billy Hamilton, as well as designated pinch-runner Terrance Gore, to complement Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield in the running game. Too many runs were given up and too many losses piled up last season with shoddy defense, especially in center field. Moore also went to work on improving the bullpen, which was one of the worst in the Majors in 2018. Moore re-signed Wily Peralta and signed free agents Jake Diekman and Brad Boxberger, hoping to secure the available victories that too often slipped away last season.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
For all the emphasis on speed, none of it matters if the Royals can’t get on base. That shouldn’t be a problem for table-setters Merrifield and Mondesi. But Hamilton has never been an on-base guy, and the Royals are hoping a new setting and some new voices around him will improve his offensive approach. This time last year, the Royals left Spring Training confident in a bullpen with Blaine Boyer, Brandon Maurer and Justin Grimm. That veteran trio was massively disappointing. Will this season’s batch of bullpen veterans be any different?
WHO MIGHT SURPRISE?
Soler has yet to play a full season with the Royals since being acquired from the Cubs for closer Wade Davis in December 2016. If healthy, the Royals are convinced he could be a 30-35-homer guy. Mondesi seems on the verge of stardom and could become a household name. Lopez nearly threw a perfect game toward the end of last season, and he has perhaps the highest ceiling of any Royals pitcher. Dozier and O’Hearn raised eyebrows with a strong final two months. And is this the year that Kyle Zimmer, who has been sharp this spring, stays healthy and makes his big league debut? Waiting in the wings at Triple-A Omaha are left-hander Richard Lovelady and Nicky Lopez, who can play anywhere in the infield. Both could make their debuts in '19.