Growing up as a fan of the annual division-dweller Royals, it always felt like a World Series championship from my team of rooting interest felt improbable. That all changed after a run in 2014 that had me watching World Series games as a fan for the first time ever. Coming so close and losing made 2015 all the better.
A boat-race through the American League and an eventual parade at the end of the season made it feel like for a moment that things as a Royals fan were never going to be bad again. All the memories of 100-loss teams, Ken Harvey, Mark Redman, and Aaron Crow as All-Star representatives, and acquiring Yuniesky Betancourt not once, but twice, were all momentarily washed away.
Well, long story short, it didn’t take too long for me to be reminded of those days. And to be honest, after all the initial joy from that World Series victory subsided, the possibility of being a very bad baseball team after 2017 crept into my mind. With a combination of subpar drafting, a less than ideal run of player development, and a few bad personnel moves mixed in (the Ian Kennedy signing, a disastrous trade with the Padres, poor outcomes after trading Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson), this came to fruition on Opening Day of 2018. After the season, we were looking at the finished product of a 58-104 team.
Watching the Royals more than any other team, I can firmly break last season into two different timeframes. Before the trade deadline and after. Before the trade deadline for the most part was miserable. Watching Ned Yost run out one of the worst everyday players in baseball without conviction was tough. Injuries to a few bright spots such as Nate Karns, Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, and Danny Duffy was adding injury to insult. And the bullpen, my gosh the bullpen, marked by a trio of Justin Grimm, Brandon Maurer, and Blaine Boyer that combined for a 9.73 ERA, 7.11 FIP, and -2.2 fWAR in the first half made things even more frustrating. It was pre-2012 all over again.
But surprisingly, even after they traded three of their best players in Mike Moustakas, Jon Jay, and Kelvin Herrera, this team became somewhat entertaining. After the aforementioned trades and a relegation to the bench for Alcides Escobar and Lucas Duda, some of the younger players shined. Adalberto Mondesi played near an MVP-level throughout the second half of the season (2.4 fWAR in the second half ranked sixth among American League hitters) and Ryan O’Hearn had one of the best starts to a career power-wise in the history of baseball. Rule 5 standout Brad Keller continued to shine and Jorge Lopez came three outs away from a perfect game.
There is no measurable evidence that suggests the Royals will be a good baseball team in 2019. Expecting contention would be foolish, there’s just too many holes on the roster. There’s still question marks on the corner-infield spots, the whole outfield isn’t very good at that hitting thing, the rotation is subpar, and the bullpen has potential to be one of the worst in baseball.
Yet, speaking to entertainment purposes, there’s reason to believe that this team will be more comparable to last year’s second half team than the first half one. They’re freakishly fast, as the top three projections for stolen bases per Steamer600 all play for the Royals (Mondesi, Terrance Gore, Billy Hamilton). This doesn’t even mention the reigning AL-stolen base champ Whit Merrifield. So yeah, expect plenty of stolen bases. The outfield defense should be superb with the gloves of Alex Gordon, Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, and Hamilton.
There are plenty of players with intrigue that will most likely have a chance to showcase it throughout the season, as is the case with many rebuilding teams. Former top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer could make his long awaited debut after a successful training stint with Driveline Baseball. Jorge Lopez has plus offerings, with the ability to harness them in both the rotation and bullpen. Ryan O’Hearn will look to continue his two-month hot streak.
Don’t expect much noise in the standings with this Royals team. The offense will be a pity to watch at times, as OBP doesn’t appear to be their strong suit. When times are right though, the offense could be a blast to watch, with a likely consecutive batting trio of Billy Hamilton, Adalberto Mondesi, and Whit Merrifield. All in all, there may not be a more fun bad team out there than the 2019 Royals.