As if we haven’t been doing this for years, with the calendar shifting from 2011 to 2012, it’s time to look ahead more than we look back. The 2012 season for the Royals is one of the most anticipated in recent memory and for good reason. For the first time in years, there’s something very real to look forward to in 2012. I think the Royals have a real shot to win the division in 2012. I don’t think they’re the favorite by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t even think they’re the favorite to finish second, but I do think we could be looking ahead to a very fun season. In past years, we’d look at the series of things that would have had to happen and any idiot could have told you they wouldn’t happen. Things like Emil Brown becoming a superstar simply don’t happen too terribly often just like the entire Twins organization in one plane crashing are pretty unlikely (Note: I don’t wish a plane crash upon anybody, just pointing out that’s what had to happen for the Royals to have a shot in past seasons).
Now, though, there are still a fair amount of questions, but every single one of them are reasonable and reasonable to happen together. If I was a betting man (and I am…who’s up for a casino run?), I wouldn’t put a large sum of money on the Royals to win the division, but for the first time since the early to mid 1990s, the chance actually exists, and that’s more than we’ve been lucky enough to experience as Royals fans in a long time. I think 2012 is going to be a very fun year. It’ll be great if…
…Eric Hosmer follows up his strong rookie showing with a step (or three) forward. His rookie season was fantastic. It was probably even good enough to be a solid line for him this season, but if the Royals are going to go places, they need somebody to step up and be an MVP caliber player. I suppose anybody could do it, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that nobody is better equipped than Hosmer to be a superstar. The Royals don’t have that one player who can put a team on their back for two weeks and Hosmer should be that guy soon. This doesn’t have to happen for the Royals to take the division, but a .300/.380/.530 season from Hosmer would go a long way toward adding some wins.
…Alex Gordon keeps up with his 2011. I guess it’s¬†probably hypocritical that I keep talking about 2011 after mentioning it in the opening paragraph, but sometimes you have to look back to know what you’re looking for in the future. For the Royals to contend, Gordon needs to at least do as well in 2012 as he did in 2011. He played at a near MVP level last season and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Royals to see that again from him. A .300/.370/.500 line would be huge and probably even more valuable than last season as Gordon continues to get more comfortable and better in left field defensively.
…Billy Butler’s power continues to develop. Last season, Butler hit .285/.373/.411 with seven homers and 42 runs batted in¬†through his first 99 games before the Royals were in Boston and Butler started mashing. From that point forward, he hit .301/.342/.534 with 12 homers and 53 runs batted in. That was in 59 games. If we can somehow combine the plate discipline of Butler through the first 99 with the power and production in the last 53, we’d have the hitter everybody thought Butler would be when he came up. I know a certain commenter will bring up on base percentage and walks relative to the lineup if I don’t, so I’ll beat him to it and say that with Hosmer behind Butler, it’s harder for him to walk because pitchers don’t want to pitch to Hosmer. While I agree that plays a role, the very best hitters work their walks no matter who is in the lineup behind them and that’s the next and probably final stop for Butler to become a truly great hitter.
…one of the young pitchers steps forward and becomes a legitimate one or two starter. I think this is probably an if for most teams, but maybe none more than the Royals who have a potentially potent offense playing behind a potentially mediocre at best pitching staff. It’d be great if Jonathan Sanchez or even Felipe Paulino put it all together and became an ace, but the best case scenario is that they’d be joined by either Duffy or Montgomery or both. I like Luke Hochevar more than most, but I just don’t see him ever deveoping into the top of the rotation starter that the Royals hoped he would be. I think he’ll be very good, but I see him more as a number three and a damn good one moving forward. As you know if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I think Montgomery is primed for a HUGE season in 2012, so I see him as the guy with Duffy not too far behind. If he makes my prediction look intelligent, the Royals are prime for a big year.
…the bullpen is as good as it looks like it can be. On paper, I think the Royals bullpen is probably the best in the division and one of the best in the American League. Of course, paper is a funny thing and can tell some serious lies. If the Royals hold onto Joakim Soria and he’s their closer next year and he gets back to his old form, the bullpen has a chance to be fantastic.¬†A lot of¬†teams would see a guy like Louis Coleman and have annointed him a setup man or even a closer of the future at this point. On the Royals, he’s the sixth inning guy. There’s a lot of ifs in the bullpen, but so many options that I see this as one of the surest bets to happen of every possible scenario the Royals have.
I know it’s really easy to look at this roster on January¬†5 and be optimistic, but this is the first year that my optimism isn’t manufactured to make myself more excited about the upcoming season. Is it all likely to happen? No. But it is more likely to happen than at any other time in the last 15 or so seasons and that’s something to build on.
A programming note, check out Sam Mellinger’s blog today as I’ll be a part of a cool feature he has on there.
Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky!
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