With full squad workouts officially beginning today for the KC Royals in Surprise, Arizona, now is a perfect time to take a look at how the Royals faired in MLB Network’s annual Top Ten Right Now. Five Royals cracked the lists, three of which cracked the top three at their respective position.
Let’s start at shortstop, where Alcides Escobar was one of the last players to report for camp. He came in looking much muscular and without his famous braces. After what I thought was WAY too many games in winter ball last season, Escobar decided to skip the annual tradition and rest up for the 162 game season. Hopefully, that will pay off on the offensive end of his game.
Too many times in 2013, Royals manager Ned Yost used Escobar at the top of the order and it failed miserably. Coming off a career-high .293 batting average in 2012, he dropped to just .234 (the worst every day hitter in baseball) in 2013 with a paltry .259 on-base percentage. He did lower his strikeouts from the year before (84, which was down from 100), but he only walked 19 times in more games (158).
Escobar has come into spring training preaching patience at the plate (last season he swung at 38.3% of pitches out of the strike zone), which if he succeeds, should move him up on the list from number ten. He already is one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. New second baseman Omar Infante claims he is the best defensive shortstop in the American League (though I am sure his old teammate Jose Iglesias would have something to say about that). Escobar did lead AL shortstops in ultimate zone rating and was a finalist for the Gold Glove (he dropped his errors to just 13).
Speaking of Infante, he made Brian Kenny’s list of second baseman at number ten. Bill James put him at number eight, while the “shredder” did not have him on the list. He has always been known as more of an offensive player, as he is a career .279 hitter and is coming off hitting .318 for the AL Central Champion Detroit Tigers. He also knows how to move runners over, which will fit right in with Yost’s approach to managing.
Infante is a guy that can play all over the field (he made the All-Star team as a utility fielder back in 2010 with Atlanta) and it was not until 2011 that he strictly played second base (though he did play six games at third base in 2012).
In two seasons with the Tigers, Infante averaged about 9.5 errors. In 2011 and 2012, he led the National League in range factor (4.97 and 5.14).
Left fielder Alex Gordon, he of two straight Gold Gloves, made the list at number three. Some do not like him this high on the list because of his lack of power (20 home runs and 80 RBIs in 633 at-bats). Alot of that has to do with Yost sticking him in the leadoff spot, which Gordon excelled out (and was the Royals best option). However, now Gordon can drop back into a more suitable spot for him, the middle of the order, now that the Royals acquired Nori Aoki to bat leadoff.
Gordon is an elite defender, racking up AL-leading 20, 17, and 17 outfield assists over the last three seasons. Teams have not realized that you should not run on him. He committed just one error in left field in 2013.
Salvador Perez was on the “shredder’s” list for catchers at number three and BK’s at number five. Behind the plate in 2013, he threw out 35% of base stealers. The Royals pitching staff led the AL in ERA. His defensive WAR was 2.2, which was fourth in the AL.
In his short Major League career (three seasons with one shortened due to the knee injury and one being a late season callup), Perez has hit .301 and hit double-digit homers the last two seasons (a career-high 13 in 2013). So really, 2013 was his first full big league season.
And 2013 was a banner season. He was named to the All-Star team and earned his first of probably many Gold Gloves. Perez is the key to what makes the pitching staff go.
With future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera off to retirement, the best closer in the AL is Greg Holland. He made the “shredder’s” list of relievers at number four, but BK had him at number two behind Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel. Holland was second in the AL in saves with 47 and was also named to his first All-Star team.
Holland had a miniscule 1.21 ERA in 2013, that coming off a miserable April (4.00 ERA). His strikeouts per nine innings has increased every season, up to a career-best 13.8 in 2013. He walked just 18 (with 108 strikeouts) in 67 innings. Opponents hit just .170 against him.
Just missing the cuts were centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and reigning Gold Glove winner at first base Eric Hosmer. The Royals have a great nucleus of players and if they could all put it together at the same time, 2014 could be a magical season.