Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
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Jeff Herr: What to Watch for This Royals Season
by Jeff Herr,posted Apr 9 2012 2:33PM
Well, I’m going to get it out of the way and say that after opening weekend, we don’t know much more about the Royals than we did 3 days ago. That said, there was much encouragement to be had after opening weekend giving us much to look forward to the rest of the way.
Bruce Chen, after a slow spring, looks to have picked up right where he left off last year. This looked to be the type of roster ready to light up a pitcher like Chen. A lefty with an 87 MPH fastball pitching against stud right handed power hitters like Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo didn’t appear to be a great matchup. No matter, Chen had one of his best starts as a Royal. He only lasted six innings but it was a fantastic six. Chen didn’t look afraid or overmatched against some of the best hitters in the league. It’s only the first start, but definitely an encouraging sign.
After Chen’s great start, both Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez followed suit. Hochever went 6.1 innings and Sanchez went five both only giving up two runs. Neither looked “great” but both showed flashes and Hochevar continued doing what made his second half of the season last year successful (mainly pitching inside and using his slider effectively). After three games, we know that if the starting pitching keeps up, the Royals can compete with just about anybody.
While the first three starts from the rotations were good, the real star of the show was the offense. The Royals weren’t able to muster a run in game one, but that was against Jared Weaver who is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. After that the bats woke up and put some good numbers on a couple of pitchers who weren’t all that bad themselves in Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
The first stat that jumps off the page is Eric Hosmer already having two homeruns in only three games. I don’t know how many other ways it can be said but Hosmer is one special player. Everyone is talking about whether the Royals can sign him long-term, when he’s going to leave, etc. What everyone needs to be doing instead is sitting back and enjoying the great player we will be able to watch here in Kansas City for the next 5 years.
It’s been a long time since the Royals had a player that could make the opposing team scared. Even in his heyday, Mike Sweeney wasn’t that hitter. Hosmer is that player. He is a hitter who can make the opposing pitcher pay, even when no mistake is made. His ceiling is one of the best hitters in the league and he may reach that sooner than originally thought.
With how Hosmer has developed this year, he may officially take the mantle of best pure hitter on the team away from Billy Butler. However, Butler showed this past weekend that if that does happen, he won’t go quietly. Not to be outdone by Hosmer’s first homerun, Butler hit one later that sealed the game for the Royals on Saturday.
This clued us all in to what may be the most fun thing to watch this season for the Royals: the hitting duel between these two. While Gordon had a phenomenal season last year, regression is to be expected. I don’t think he will regress as much as most do, but nonetheless, it will happen.
Hosmer coming into his first full year with more maturity and experience make him likely to take a big leap. Butler, with much more protection in the lineup and being on the verge for the majority of last season, make him likely to get back to the .300’s in hitting this year. Seeing one or both of these hitters get to .330 on the year would not surprise me.
For years we’ve been hearing that the doubles that Butler hits will turn into homeruns. Last year we didn’t see it until the second half of the season when he picked things up hitting 13 home runs in the final 79 games. While I don’t ever see Butler as a 30+ HR power guy, I think he takes a step up this year and puts a full year together. Twenty-five homeruns isn’t out of the question for Butler.
Hosmer is the young prodigy who has the athletic gift and all the natural tools. Butler might not be the most gifted athletically but has mastered the craft of hitting and turned himself into a technician at the plate. As good as Gordon was last year, Butler has been the most consistent player offensively over the last 5 years. Together they can provide a formidable 3-4 hitter combo, which can rank among the league’s best.
In a year where the Royals project to be very fun to watch this looks to be most fun battle. But there’s something more important as a byproduct. Nothing helps camaraderie on a team more than some fun side battles where teammates push each other. When Zack Greinke was here, he and Joakim Soria would go back and forth pushing each other to be better. The ultimate beneficiary was the teams as Greinke went on to win the Cy Young and both made All-Star trips.
It’s safe to say if Butler and Hosmer had a friendly competition the team would be more than a thankful beneficiary. This could all lead to something even more important looking towards the future. For those who watched the game on Saturday and saw both Hosmer and Butler homer, the post-game interview was an interesting sight. Joel Goldberg interviewed both of them at the same time and Hosmer stood there, confident and proud of what his team has accomplished (and yes, this is his team), with his arm draped around Butler.
Goldberg commented on how good of friends they have become. Whether chemistry can lead to more wins remains to be seen, but it most certainly can’t hurt. What chemistry can do is make people want to play for this organization. Hosmer has a bright future ahead of him and looks to be one of the better players in baseball once he reaches free agency. He will most likely have his pick of where he wants to play.
It will take a lot for Hosmer to pick the Royals as they will most likely not be able to pay as much as other teams can. What they may lack financially, they can possibly make up for in other areas. They can offer a team Hosmer is comfortable with, likes playing for, and hopefully wins a log of games. If that’s the case, then the chances of Hosmer being a Royal for longer than the requisite six years is a distinct possibility.
What we know from this weekend is that the future is bright for Hosmer and the Royals. There’s going to be a lot of fun things to watch from this team, even if there is the looming issue of Hosmer’s future with the organization. Fortunately for us, that’s five years away and this season, we can sit back and enjoy watching what should be a fun battle within a fun season of Royals baseball.