Inbox: How may KC's Opening Day lineup look?

Beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan answers fans' questions

January 30th, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- It has been a busy few days for the Royals, including another successful FanFest over the weekend, and a new four-year deal for super-utility man , a deal that removes any potential anxiety during his arbitration years.
With that in mind, let's get to this week's Inbox:

OK, if we asked manager Ned Yost this question, he would immediately roll his eyes because Spring Training is still two weeks away. But hey, projecting lineups and batting orders is the fun of the offseason, right?
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Here's my way-too-early projected lineup:
1. Whit Merrifield, 2B
2. , SS
3. , LF
4. , C
5. , DH
6. , 1B
7. , 3B
8, , RF
9. , CF
The right-field job comes down to , Soler, Phillips or . Phillips and Bonifacio still have options, so one of them will likely end up at Triple-A Omaha. But if the Royals stick to their 2019 motto of speed and defense, having Gordon, Hamilton and Phillips in the outfield will save a ton of runs defensively. Of course, Phillips really needs to improve offensively, and he knows that. But with Gordon, Hamilton and Phillips in the outfield, Statcast™ will be busy recording those Outs Above Average. (Yes, just like in 2014 and '15, defense matters.)

If you're a Royals fan, you should be hopeful about the extremely high ceiling of Mondesi, who could be a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who hits 30 home runs and steals 60-70 bases. We simply don't know how great Mondesi can be yet, but it will be amazing to watch his development. Second, if Soler can stay healthy, he might hit 30-plus home runs, as well. And third, this promises to be an action team with speed everywhere from Mondesi to Merrifield to Hamilton to , who will be a major weapon as a pinch-runner late in games.

Three concerns? The biggest concern is the bullpen after the Royals blew 51 leads in 2018. could emerge as a solid closer now that he enters Spring Training with that job description. and will improve. The second concern is whether veterans and can have bounce-back years. And thirdly, can this group piggyback that late-season success from '18 and inch closer to a .500 season? As longtime Kansas City fans know, it takes a winning mentality in the clubhouse, not just analytical numbers -- it was a huge step for the last group to evolve into a winning team in 2013 (you know now why general manager Dayton Moore got so emotional after that season) and then emerge as a World Series-contending club in '14 and '15.

I know both Rusty Kuntz and first-base coach Mitch Maier are eager to help coach and employ that speed with the addition of Hamilton and Gore. Spring Training should be fun for them.

I've said this before, but I think it is entirely possible that Richard Lovelady, who doesn't have to go on the 40-man roster until next fall, could force the Royals' hand ahead of infielder Nicky Lopez, whom the club loves, but also doesn't have to go on the 40-man until next fall. The reason is that Lovelady could win a job in the bullpen, as opposed to Lopez, whom the club will want to play every day once he gets the call. I asked Moore the other day what pitchers he thinks could be the next , or , and the one name he dropped was Lovelady. We'll see how it pans out in a few weeks. Kansas City is very high on both Lovelady and Lopez.

OK, getting this question a lot. If you've been a Royals fan for many years, try to think of the winning formula from 2013-15. Back then, Yost had an elite defense, an elite bullpen and elite speed, including late-inning weapons in (during the regular season) and Gore. I remember walk-off wins they pulled off without ever getting a hit. That is their identity -- speed, speed, speed. They are not the Red Sox, Dodgers, Astros or Yankees, teams with high OBPs and home run ratios. Gore will be that secret weapon in late innings. Kansas City was 19-30 in one-run games last year and many of those losses could have been turned around with a pinch-running talent like Gore in the late innings. He will be there this season. And the Royals have speed close to that in the Minors going forward.

As I have said before, I think most of that group will advance to Class A Advanced Wilmington this year. The Royals pushed the - group along at that pace as well. Kansas City's top Minor League pitching coach, Steve Luebber, has been transferred to Wilmington, so I would expect last year's top Draft picks, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, to be there as well.

That's a great question. This is indeed a big year for Dozier after he showed a lot of promise in the last few months in 2018. Yost raved about his improvement defensively at third base and Dozier needs to keep making those strides (I know some fans hate to hear about defense but that element is vital in Moore's mind). Dozier gained a lot of confidence at the plate as well. The Royals would love it if he evolved into an above-average defender because there are not a ton of options behind him.