Royals head southwest to gear up for 2015 season
SURPRISE, Arizona - It is appropriate the Kansas City Royals' spring training home is Surprise, Arizona. In 2014 the Royals surprised everyone and made it all the way to the World Series. The 2015 incarnation of the Kansas City club will not be sneaking up on the baseball world this season.
2014 was a whirlwind season for the Royals. Kansas City broke a 29-year drought and returned to the MLB playoffs. But they didn't stop there, forcing a decisive World Series game 7 against San Francisco before falling to the Giants.
The 2015 Royals return mostly intact, but there are a few changes that fans should take note of.
Around the infield, the club returns all starters from a year ago.
Salvador Perez returns as the starter behind the plate for the Royals. Perez was an American League All-Star for the second time in his career, and also claimed his second Rawlings Gold Glove award in 2014. Erik Kratz will likely serve as Perez's backup once again this season.
Eric Hosmer will man first base for Kansas City for the fifth straight season. Hosmer captured his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2014. At the plate, he had what was considered a down season when compared to the first three years of his career. Hosmer batted a respectable .270, but lacked power and tallied only 9 home runs during the 2014 campaign.
Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar will be the men up the middle for the Royals at second base and shortstop, respectively. Orlando Calixte, Christian Colon, Ryan Jackson and top prospect Raul Mondesi are expected to compete for backup spots in the middle infield.
At the hot corner, Mike Moustakas comes into 2015 off of a postseason where he blasted 5 home runs. However, despte a stellar playoff run, the regular season was not kind to Moustakas. The man affectionately called "Moose" barely hit over the Mendoza Line and was even demoted to AAA at one point last season. Non-roster invitee Ryan Roberts has played third base previously in his career and is a player to watch as the roster starts to take shape.
One of the new faces in Royals camp is Kendrys Morales. Morales signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the club over the offseason. He is expected to replace long-time fan favorite Billy Butler in the designated hitter slot for Kansas City. Butler signed a three-year contract with the Oakland Athletics in November.
In the outfield, a new face will join two of the most important cogs in last season's A.L. pennant run.
Veteran Alex Rios signed a one-year, $11 million deal in December after playing for the Texas Rangers in 2014. Rios is a two-time All-Star, and owns a .278 lifetime batting average.
Center field will be patrolled by 2014 ALCS MVP, Lorenzo Cain. Cain hit .333 in the 2014 playoffs and made multiple highlight reel catches in center, as well as stealing 28 bags during the regular season.
Alex Gordon will enter his ninth year with the Royals and his sixth as a left fielder. In left field, Gordon has won four Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and blossomed into a leader on the team.
Speedsters Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore headline the reserves in the outfield. 2011 fifth-overall pick Bubba Starling has also been invited to camp.
The pitching staff remains mostly intact as well, but there is one major change at the top of the rotation.
James Shields signed a four-year deal with San Diego, leaving the Royals without a bonafide ace.
Young flamethrower Yordano Ventura seems primed to take over the top spot in the rotation. Ventura was 1-0 in the 2014 World Series with a 1.46 ERA in 2 games started.
The rest of the rotation returns right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, as well as lefties Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas. Newcomers Kris Medlen, Edinson Volquez and Joe Blanton will all compete for the fifth rotation spot.
The bullpen will be anchored by the HGH trio - Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland. The three relievers helped push the Royals to the World Series, shutting games down from the sixth inning on.
Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Brandon Finnegan, Brian Flynn, Jason Frasor, Luke Hochevar, Casey Coleman and Ryan Madson are all options to claim the remaining spots in the pen.
Manager Ned Yost enters his sixth season as the Kansas City skipper. Yost finished third in 2014 A.L. Manager of the Year voting and was rewarded with a contract extension through 2016 in the offseason.
While the majority of the Royals roster remains the same, the changes that did occur could determine whether Kansas City fans see the postseason for a second straight year.
The Royals begin their season on April 3 against Houston.