Kansas City Royals season preview

With the Preseason in full swing, Diamond Hoggers will attempt to forecast several aspects of each team in baseball. Before Opening day we plan to have a pretty good outline of what you’ll be seeing in 2007. Today we take our hacks at the Kansas City Royals:

Predicted Finish: 68-94, Last in AL Central

Projected Stats: Gordon (24 HR, 81 RBI), Sweeney (.300, 29 HR, 90 RBI), Teahen (.290, 14 HR, 70 RBI), LaRue (.240, 17 HR, 48 RBI), Grudzielanek (.275, 14 HR, 60 RBI), Meche (12-10, 4.05 ERA)

Biggest Storyline: How long can this team keep their head above water? Will Ryan Shealy develop into the next Ryan Howard type player? Can the Royals manage a 75 win season in the best division in baseball? It will also be interesting to see what prospects develop from this team, but then again if anyone good develops they’ll virtually leave Kansas City as soon as they’re eligible for a bigger market team.

Strengths: The Royals still do not have the talent to compete with the other teams in the AL Central, but they have made some significant upgrades to their pitching staff, which is a step in the right direction. The Royals shipped out underperforming young relievers Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, and Runelvys Hernandez. Their new closer is Octavio Dotel, who has yet to show that he recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2005. Last year he was pretty inconsistent, but it will be nearly impossible to do worse than last year’s closer Ambiorix Burgos. Signing David Riske to be their new setup man was a good move in that he will bring some good experience to a bullpen that has lacked a veteran presence with some talent for many years. The player to watch, though, is Joakim Soria. He has absolutely torn up the Mexican Pacific League, a winter ball league. In fact, he notched a perfect game last winter, and has a great reputation as a strike thrower. That reputation alone will give him a great chance to make the team after the 2006 Royals’ bullpen gave up the most walks in the league.

Weaknesses: There are many. The Royals have heavily invested in Gil Meche, who they are counting on to be their staff ace. Meche certainly has gobs of potential, but he never really has lived up to expectations. Only one time in his career has he won more than 11 games, and for a staff ace, that is not so good. And given the Royals track record with talented pitchers that just end up underachieving, you have to have your doubts about whether or not they will be able to get him to produce at the level a staff ace needs to be at.

The catching core in K.C. is nothing to write home about. Jason LaRue can handle a pitching staff well, but he is not a great offensive threat. Last year he battled injuries and only managed to post a .194 batting average, which is just flat bad, injuries or no. To me, LaRue seems better suited to be a quality backup catcher. Angel Berroa was positively terrible last year. His career has just completely fallen apart, and this could be his last chance. Last year’s .234 batting average is going to have to improve, especially since his defense isn’t going to keep him in the lineup. The fixture of the Royals for the past five or six years definitely is Mike Sweeney. He was named captain of the team, but has not produced well in a while. Sweeney has been plagued by injuries, and has just not been putting up the numbers the Royals need from him. He says that he’s healthy and that he has gotten into better playing shape, but the Royals have certainly heard that one before.

Maybe there isn’t much for Royals fans to look forward to, but certainly there is some rich history to look back on.