KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The biggest changes to the Kansas City Royals since the end of last season happened far away from the field.
Now, the new-look organization wants to see some change on the field.
After the Royals were sold by to Kansas City businessman John Sherman, and Mike Matheny was hired to replace retired manager Ned Yost, the club heads to spring training with a fresh new feel. And that's a good thing given the Royals eclipsed 100 losses for the second consecutive year as they undergo a massive rebuilding project.
“We like our team. It's a fun team and a good group,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “There’s a lot to be excited about. The new ownership, as we’ve talked about, is very encouraging and exciting. We can’t wait. I’m heading down to spring training two weeks earlier than I ever have before.”
The Royals went through significant growing pains last season, but part of that was because so many young position players were getting hard-fought experience. Among them were third baseman-turned-outfielder Hunter Dozier, slick-fielding second baseman Nicky Lopez and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, one of the best talents to come through in years.
What was missing was the pitching, and it still won't be there most of this season. But with a full rotation worth of young arms in the pipeline, some of whom could arrive by September, there is optimism even in that department.
“I heard it early on that these guys are hungry. They want to be pushed,” Matheny said. “I think they’re very grateful for how well Ned protected this group. But I think they’re ready for another expectation. Be careful what you wish for. Let’s put it out there. Let’s go. Let’s chase excellence.”
Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona on Feb. 12.
The biggest changes came at the top, where David Glass — who died in January after a long illness — passed along the franchise to Sherman. The businessman was a partial owner of the Cleveland Indians and now, along with a group of local investors, the lifelong baseball fan has the opportunity run a big league team.
Matheny was the other big change. His managerial career spiraled downhill with the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent time on self-betterment during a year working as an adviser to the Royals, and one of his first orders of business was to meet with every player on the team before the season.
“Our young group of core players are excited about him being our manager,” Royals outfielder Bubba Starling said. “We can’t wait to see what he has to offer to us and we can’t wait to play behind him.”
ROOKIES TO WATCH
There are a handful of position players worth monitoring in the minors, but the arms will capture most of the attention. The quartet of Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic are the future of the Royals rotation.
“ They’re all they’re made up to be. We’re ready for them, ready to see what they can do,” Royals outfielder Whit Merrifield said. “I hope they’re preparing to come to spring and fight for a job.”
Just about every position is set heading into spring training. Alex Gordon will join Merrifield and Dozier in the outfield with Starling providing depth. Jorge Soler will be back as an outfielder and designated hitter. Maikel Franco takes over at third base with Mondesi, Lopez and first baseman Ryan O'Hearn finishing off the infield. Salvador Perez will be back behind the plate after missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery.
Four spots in the starting rotation are likely set with Brad Keller and Danny Duffy joining Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery, but the fifth spot is up for grabs. The Royals also need some bullpen arms to lock down jobs after the entire relief corps — except closer Ian Kennedy — struggling last season.
What fans can look forward to in spring training? How about sunshine and warmth after a cold, snowy winter in Kansas City. The Royals fully realize that this is likely going to be another year of growth, and that makes taking a lot of lumps. So fans are best off enjoying the weather, the scenery and the games rather than fretting too much over wins and losses.