For years we have heard how deep and talented the Kansas City Royals farm system was. In 2011 that young talent started to boil over at the major league level.
Now for the first time in a long time, people are excited about baseball again in Kansas City.
Eric Hosmer is one of the reasons for the renewed optimism. The young first baseman emerged last season and put himself in American League Rookie of the Year consideration, while former prospect Alex Gordon started to realize the potential that once made him the second overall pick.
Those two combined with another burgeoning start in Mike Moustakas, plus the fact that the team went 15-10 down the stretch and finished out of last place in the American League Central has people in Kansas City thinking the future is now.
Still, though, there is work to be done, as despite the strong finish the team finished 20 games below .500 at 71-91.
Kansas City did not do much of adding pieces this offseason, but did bolster its starting rotation. In addition to re-signing reliable left-hander Bruce Chen, the team went out and acquired another lefty in Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Sanchez gives the Royals a dependable No. 2 behind Luke Hochevar and one with a postseason track record. However, Sanchez struggled in 19 starts last season, going 4-7 with a 4.26 earned run average
The pieces are in place and it won't be long before the Royals are contending for a division title.
Kansas City, though, got some bad news late in spring training when it was learned that closer Joakim Soria would be lost for the season.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Kansas City Royals, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (71-91) - Fourth Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Jonathan Sanchez (LHP), Jonathan Broxton (RHP), Yunesky Betancourt (SS)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Melky Cabrera (OF), Jeff Francis (RHP), Jason Kendall (C)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Alex Gordon (LF); Chris Getz (2B); Eric Hosmer (1B); Billy Butler (DH); Mike Moustakas (3B); Jeff Francoeur (RF); Lorenzo Cain (CF); Humberto Quintero (C); Alcides Escobar (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Luke Hochevar (RHP); Jonathan Sanchez (LHP); Bruce Chen (LHP); Felipe Paulino (RHP); Danny Duffy (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Jonathan Broxton (RHP)
MANAGER: Ned Yost
CAN MIKE MOUSTAKAS BE THIS YEAR'S ERIC HOSMER?
We have been hearing for years how deep the Kansas City Royals were at the minor league level. Last season that talent started to emerge for the big league club, as first baseman Eric Hosmer shined upon being called up.
Hosmer came up in early May and immediately made an impact. He swatted 19 home runs while driving in 78 runs and finishing first among AL rookies in runs (66) and hits (153), while batting .293. He also collected 27 doubles, making him the 27th player in history to hit at least 17 home runs and 24 doubles at the age of 21.
That, though, was not the case with another one its heralded prospects, third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, appeared in 89 games for the Royals and managed just a .263 average, while hitting five home runs and driving in 30 runs.
Maybe this is the year the 23-year-old slugger.
Some numbers suggest that. In his first 53 games, Moustakas had a .182 average with one homer and 11 RBI. But from Aug. 17 on, he hit .379 with four homers and 19 RBI over his final 36 games.
HOW WILL THE ROYALS HANDLE THE LOSS OF JOAKIM SORIA?
The Royals found themselves in the loss column before they even left Surprise, Arizona when late in camp the team learned that closer Joakim Soria would need the dreaded Tommy John surgery and will be lost for the season.
So, how do you replace a two-time All-Star, who has saved 160 games for you since 2007?
Well the team does have former closer Jonathan Broxton on the roster and he figures to get the first crack at filling the void left by Soria. Broxton, of course, was a two-time All-Star for the Los Angeles Dodgers and saved 84 games for them in seven years.
However, Broxton appeared in just 14 games for the Dodgers last season because of an elbow injury that eventually required surgery to shave a bone spur and remove loose bodies. He had struggled mightily, though, prior to being shelved.
Right-handers Greg Holland and Aaron Crow, who replaced Soria as the Royals' closer for a brief period last season, are also possibilities should Broxton fail.
IS LUKE HOCHEVAR AN ACE?
The Royals desperately needed a No. 1 pitcher last season. Over the second half of the year, it looked as if they found one in right-hander Luke Hochevar.
Heading into last year's All-Star break Hochevar was 5-8 with a 5.46 ERA. But, in 12 second half starts he started to resemble the pitcher who was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, posting a 6-3 mark to go along with a 3.52 ERA. He also pitched at least six innings 11 times and held opponents to a .222 average.
It was the first season that the 28-year-old hurler did not spend any time in Triple-A, but after making 31 starts and closing in on 200 innings pitched he was shut down by manager Ned Yost.
This year, Hochevar should be able to take another step and if he does, the Royals may as well.
X-FACTOR: LORENZO CAIN: Everyone knows how good Hosmer is and most assume Moustakas will take a giant step forward this year. But, the jury is still out on new center fielder Lorenzo Cain, a big part of the deal from Milwaukee that sent former ace Zack Greinke to the Brewers. He's taking over for the departed Melky Cabrera, who last year had 201 hits, a .305 average, 87 RBI and 13 outfield assists. Cain, though, was tremendous himself at Triple-A, batting .312 with 51 extra-base hits, 81 RBI. He also stole 16 bases. Obviously he now must do it at the big league level.
After 100-loss season after 100-loss season, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for the Kansas City Royals. Eric Hosmer is the real deal and it is starting to look like Gordon has put it all together. Now they need Moustakas to follow suit. That and another solid year from Luke Hochevar could make this a .500 team. Last year may have been the year that the turnaround started, but this will be the season that the rest of the league takes notice. Next year is the year they will contend for a division title.