Royals storylines to follow heading into 2018 spring training - KCTV5 News

Royals storylines to follow heading into 2018 spring training

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Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield is doused by Royals' Salvador Perez after a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Sunday, July 2, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield is doused by Royals' Salvador Perez after a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Sunday, July 2, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, MO (HOMERUNKC) – While it may feel like a blistering 19 degrees in the Kansas City area, the boys of summer are ready to take in the sunny skies of Arizona as Royals spring training officially starts today.

The MLB offseason, or lack thereof, has provided a unique situation for almost every organization. With some of the game’s best players still unsigned, the Royals are far from the only club entering camp with an incomplete squad.

How the rest of free agency pans out is just one of many key storylines fans should follow over the next six weeks.

Who’s on first?

Turns out Albert and Costello were actually talking about the Royals' 2018 first base situation back in 1938. With All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer still unsigned, the Royals do not have an automatic in-house candidate who can slide right in. Hunter Dozier, Cheslor Cuthbert, Ryan O’Hearn and Samir Duenez have a shot at the bag, but it’s Hosmer’s for the right price.

Billy Burns could go 27 for 27 in spring training, but if Hosmer signs in the next couple weeks, that will be the biggest news to come out of spring training. It’s been a rollercoaster offseason - from a tearful goodbye in the regular season finale, to reported offers of seven years, $140 million, to now the dawn of spring training without a home for Hosmer.

Unlike football, a player isn’t really set back much if they miss some spring training games, but one has to wonder if the official start of the season will pressure Hosmer’s agent, Scott Boras, to make a final decision. Clearly there’s a disconnect somewhere, and how and where that gets resolved will be the talk of camp and impact the future of the entire organization.

If Boras, Hosmer and Dayton Moore do not land on common ground and Hosmer goes elsewhere, spring training will serve as the first opportunity for a plethora of young bats to stake their claim at first. Mike Moustakas has yet to sign either, causing a ripple effect down to Cuthbert, who could slide over to first if Moustakas returns and Hosmer doesn’t.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

Starting pitching was a major down fall for the 2017 team, a rotation that dearly missed the presence of Yordano Ventura. While depth was an issue, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel both really failed to live up to their contracts or pedigree.

Kennedy is now 33 and Hammel enters the season 35 years old.

While the goal for 2018 may not be contention, the Royals need both veterans to eat more innings, which will in turn keep the bullpen arms fresh and keep the pressure off other young starters rounding out the rotation. Spring training could be a good indicator for whether or not these two improved upon last season or if it really is past their prime. Free agency is tough in a small-market and these are two of the team’s headliners. The Royals can't afford another swing and miss and season.

Predicting the future

For the first time since arguably 2011, expectations are extremely low for the big league club. The focus on the season for many will be what the performances of certain starters say about their future when the club is again ready to contend in 2020 on.

The likes of Jorge Bonifacio, Jorge Soler, Raul Mondesi, Cheslor Cuthbert and Bubba Starling all figure to get a real chance in 2018 to show what they can do. None of these options are close to past to past their prime, so this season really serves as a measuring stick for what exactly they all bring to the table for the future.

Moore has the tough task of rebuilding a team without a top farm system, so being able to count on a few proven commodities like Cuthbert, Bonifacio and Mondesi, to supplement prospects that come up in the next few years, makes for a well-rounded team. Still, there’s only so many at bats to go around, and how these players fare in spring training will go a long way toward telling the club who is ready to start in 2018 and who could be a key building block.

The great arms race

Past Kennedy, Hammel, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera, it’s literally anyone’s guess on who will finish the season in the rotation and bullpen. Somewhat reliable bullpen arms Scott Alexander, Peter Moylan and Scott Alexander are no longer with the team, and the last two rotation spots are completely up for grabs.

With so many players at camp across the minor and major league levels, manager Ned Yost gets to see all the pitching organizational depth in the spring. Who really performs well now might not get the call right away, but with how common pitching injuries are, they’re likely to make an appearance not long after.

Nate Karns and Jakob Junis are the favorites to round out the rotation, but the team likes what they have in Trevor Oaks and Jesse Hahn after acquiring them via trade this offseason. More young players with everything to prove, who’s most ready to go deep into games in the spring will tell fans who’s primed to start and who’s looking starting in relief.

This in many ways is the most exciting spring training the team has had in years. There’s more unknowns at every level than in a long time, and while that is an indictment on the organizational depth, it also provides a chance for so many to prove their worth.

Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield were never top prospects and it took years for Mike Moustakas to finally reach his potential. This year's spring training serves as the first opportunity to see who some other surprises might be not only for this year, but when the team is ready to contend again in the coming years.

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