The first spring training game for the Kansas City Royals was not exactly a thing of beauty. The Royals and Rangers played an 11-7 opener with four errors committed by each team. However, the weather was so nice that although the players were unable to catch the ball consistently, at least it wasn’t unlikely fans would catch a cold, either.
Of course, spring training is all about all of the players, old and new, learning to acclimate once again. The 2014 season holds high hopes for the Royals, faithful so even a poor spring opener did not do much to dampen the mood. The game program at the ball park was full of pictures of the team’s three Gold Glove winners – Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez – in addition to a huge promotion of pitching mainstays James Shields and Jeff Holland.
I cannot help but wonder if we as fans should not take it a little slower, back off of our high expectations and not put the cart before the horse. On paper the 2014 team has much more potential with its young talent. Hosmer and Perez now have another year of major league experience under their belts. Starting pitcher James Shields is a stopper, the bullpen has depth and on the back end the closer is strong.
That being said, it is time for the guys with five years of experience to step up to the plate, so to speak. Mike Moustakas has to hit at least .280 with 20-plus home runs and at least 80 RBIs. The excuse of being young will not continue to fly. For the Royals to have a chance at the playoffs, Moose will need to deliver. Alcides Escobar needs to improve his on-base percentage and be willing to take a few pitches. He is a tremendous defensive player and can run the bases. He envisions himself as Babe Ruth, when in reality he just needs to play to his own strength offensively. He would be a perfect No. 9 hitter.
The addition of Norichika Aoki to the lineup places the team in a position to have two leadoff hitters batting in the ninth and first positions in the order. That sets the table for the middle of the lineup. The new second baseman, Omar Infante, looks like the first legitimate second baseman the team has had since Frank White. He will be an excellent No. 2 guy in the order.
The next three spots will be a key ingredient of the success of the team in 2014. Hosmer needs to be as good as he was last season. The biggest question mark of all is Billy Butler. Can he live up to all of the hype he has received through his years in Kansas City? He has only driven in 100 runs once in his career and he did not hit the 20 home run mark last year. He has consistently hit into double plays, which has stopped everything on the base paths. The time has come for Billy to put up!
Salvador Perez is a super star in the making. His offensive numbers should continue to improve every year. The hype about him being the best defensive catcher in baseball holds true. He is a young Johnny Bench. Alex Gordon is the best defensive outfielder in the American League. He can throw all kinds of leather at every team in the league. His arm is his strongest weapon in the arsenal. He, just like Butler, needs to put up some consistent offensive numbers in the .280 to .290 range, 25 home runs and 80-90 RBIs. Lorenzo Cain is a great athlete with a lot of potential – he just needs to stay healthy. He begins every season strong on defense and offense but injuries stop him cold. He needs to stand the test of time this season.
The 2014 team has much more depth than recent teams. In the infield Danny Valencia and Pedro Ciriaco will add offense and speed. Justin Maxwell will add much needed power. The only position lacking depth is catcher. Backups Brett Hayes and Francisco Pena neither have dependable offense or defense. It could present a real problem for the Royals should Perez suffer an injury.
The starting pitching rotation should be above average with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and probably Bruce Chen. I am glad the organization did not spend mega bucks on Ervin Santana. We have some strong arms who can get the job done. Hopefully either Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy will win the fifth man position in the rotation.
The bullpen could be nails again with Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, Francisley Bueno, Wade Davis, Donnie Joseph and John Lamb. Greg Holland is a bulldog as a closer. If he stays focused he should have another great year.
The entire group needs to come into the 2014 season as hungry dogs. It would be a shame to see all of the hype about their potential affect team chemistry. The Royals have the tools to win the division and make the playoffs for the first time in 29 years but they could also finish last in the division. It is fine to look good on paper in February and March but a championship is won with attitude and a will to win.
• NFL draft talk is flowing fast and furious. The talk is that the Chiefs will pick a wide receiver with their first pick. It may be the way to go but a five-technique in their three-man defensive front may also be an alternative. Tyson Jackson will be a free agent and the Chiefs may be able to pick up a quality receiver later in the draft.
• It is questionable that Johnny Manziel has the character and leadership qualities to be a top gun in the NFL. He was great to watch in college, though. He is a deal.
• LeBron James does not like taking a back seat to anyone, even Kevin Durant.
• It has been many moons since Tiger won a major. Can he do it in 2014?
• My quote this week is from former NFL coaching great Chuck Knox: “One of the most important qualities for any young athlete is the ability to believe in oneself. If you have confidence in yourself, in your teammates and in your coach, you will succeed.”
Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 5-6 p.m. every Thursday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org