In Season of Despair, Royals find hope in rookies

Alex Burbidge, Reporter

In the 2018 season, the Kansas City Royals finished with a disappointing but unsurprising record of 58-104. Sparked by a late-season surge in which they played .500 baseball, they managed to turn what would have been a disastrous season into one that has placed a sense of hope in many fans.
This hope comes from the next generation of Royals. Gone are the days of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Loreno Cain; soon it will be time for Ryan O’Hearn, first baseman; Brad Keller, pitcher; and Adalberto Mondesi, shortstop. Dayton Moore, Royals general manager, believes that a core led by these three players will contribute towards bringing home the franchise’s third World Series championship.
Ryan O’Hearn showed excellent promise during his cup of coffee stint in the Major Leagues. While only sporting a batting average of .262, he showcased the power he’s known for, swatting 13 home runs at the Major League level. Though he had only 149 at-bats in 2018, O’Hearn will most likely be the Royals’ Opening Day first baseman and if he can keep up his pace from the previous year, he will be a star for many years to come. Reports have surfaced that the Royals are interested in signing veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was released from the New York Mets mid-season last year. If they do sign Gonzalez, that would take significant playing time away from O’Hearn, as both are left-handed hitters and wouldn’t play on a platoon basis, but rather who is swinging a hot bat at the time.
Taking chances on players like Brad Keller are what rebuilding teams like the Royals should do; drafted in the Rule V Draft by the Cincinnati Reds and immediately traded to the Royals, Keller was required to stay on the Major League roster for the entire year. He didn’t disappoint and was the Royals’ bona fide ace once he was moved into the starting rotation. With a 3.08 ERA and surprisingly low 0.4 home runs allowed per nine innings, Keller was arguably the biggest surprise of the season for the Royals.
Adalberto Mondesi, once heralded as the Royals’ No. 1 prospect, disappointed at the Major League level during his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, hitting a combined .181/.226/.271 in 2016 and 2017. However, he excelled during the 2018 season, flashing both the speed and power that was talked about as he progressed through the Royals’ system. In not even a half season, Mondesi hit 14 home runs and stole 32 bases, showcasing a combination of speed and power that hasn’t been seen in Kansas City since the days of Bo Jackson.
Though they are still in the low Minor Leagues, the future of Kansas City baseball also lies in the hands of Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch, pitchers. Singer and Lynch, teammates at the University of Florida, were two of three first round picks the Royals had during the 2018 MLB Draft. Both were immediately ranked as the #1 and #4 prospects in the entire organization, respectively.
Though Singer did not pitch in the system during the 2018 season, Kowar did and he pitched well in his first season as a professional. Pitching to a 3.42 ERA, his fastball is ranked as the second-best in the organization, only to Josh Staumont, who is in Triple-A. The third first round pick the Royals had was Lynch. He also pitched during the 2018 season for Burlington and Lexington, and excelled with a 1.58 ERA between the two levels.
On Jan. 16, Eric Skoglund, pitcher, was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Skoglund was supposed to be in the running for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, but his suspension now makes the frontrunner for the competition Jorge Lopez, who pitched one of the greatest games in Royals history when he threw eight perfect innings and came three outs away from the 24th perfect game in Major League history. However, he regressed after that, pitching a combined 5.1 innings and allowing a whopping 10 runs to score during the rest of the season, good for a 16.88 ERA.
Improving the bullpen performance is another place where the Royals have to go back to their fundamentals, as in 2018 the pitching staff allowed over five runs per game, which was the second-worst mark in the big leagues. Building around Kevin McCarthy should be the top priority; anchoring the bullpen for the past three years, he will be put in either a big setup role or possibly even be a closer. With a 3.23 ERA over two full seasons at the Major League level, McCarthy is projected by Baseball Reference to do much of the same in 2019.
Tim Hill is looking to have a bounce-back season in the Major Leagues. In his rookie campaign, Hill led the Royals with 70 games pitched. However, he had a 4.31 ERA and pitched only 45.2 innings, finishing towards the middle of the pack in both categories. Being a submarine lefty, he will be a valuable left-handed specialist for any team and should be kept around to see if he can transition into a more prominent role and eclipse the 70 innings pitched mark.
The 2019 season will be another losing year for the Royals, though they can make it a progressive year by continuing to rebuild. Getting highly ranked draft picks is what rebuilding teams should do, and if the team’s sixth 100-loss season is needed to get it, then it needs to happen. If they keep on doing what they did in 2018, they will be a dark horse candidate for the 2021 playoffs, and surely, if everything goes as planned, they will be back in the playoff picture by 2022 or 2023.