Kansas City Royals 2019 season preview: This might be MLB's fastest team, but will the speed translate to wins?

The Kansas City Royals' streak of five seasons with at least 80 wins came to an abrupt end last year as the club finished 2018 season 58-104, good enough for last place in the American League Central. Their 104 losses matched the second-most losses in franchise history. The Royals are a long way from relevance, and their 2015 World Series run feels like a lifetime ago. They still have a few familiar faces from the '15 squad, like Alex Gordon and Danny Duffy, but the focus in 2019 will be on giving the younger players plenty of opportunities.

The Royals finished with the second-worst ERA in baseball last year, with both the rotation (4.89) and bullpen (5.04) responsible. The club didn't fully address the pitching staff this offseason, so there's still a lot of question marks. Instead of repairing the rotation and bullpen, they grabbed a few bargain signings with Rule 5 picks Chris Ellis and Sam McWilliams, as well minor-league deals for Homer Bailey and Michael Ynoa and one-year major-league deals for Kyle Zimmer and Brad Boxberger. It seems like both the Royals' rotation and bullpen will be a constant work in progress, for most of the 2019 season.

Kansas City also needed to address the catcher position this offseason after losing Salvador Perez for the entirely of the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery. Instead of relying on the in-house duo of Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria, the Royals signed free agent Martin Maldonado. 

If there's one positive aspect to the 2019 Royals, it might be that fans will get to see a ton of stolen bases. The roster is stacked with speed -- a familiar trait from their past postseason runs -- with reigning MLB stolen base champion Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore. Don't be surprised if this winds up being the fastest team in the majors.

This season is expected to just be another step in Kansas City's rebuilding effort, but if the young guys, like Mondesi, Jorge Soler, Ryan O'Hearn, Jakob Junis and Brad Keller are able to take steps forward in 2019, then Kansas City can at least be optimistic about their futures with the franchise.

Probable lineup

  1. Adalberto Mondesi, SS
  2. Whit Merrifield, 2B
  3. Alex Gordon, LF
  4. Ryan O'Hearn, 1B
  5. Jorge Soler, DH
  6. Hunter Dozier, 3B
  7. Chris Owings, RF
  8. Billy Hamilton, CF
  9. Martin Maldonado, C 

Bench: Terrance Gore, another outfielder, could come off the bench as a pinch-running specialist if the Royals find room for him on the 40-man roster. Mondesi and Merrifield are locks at shortstop and second base, respectively. O'Hearn will take first base, but if he struggles against lefties, the Royals could have a platoon situation with either Owings or minor leaguer Frank Schwindel. Brian Goodwin is also an option for right field. Catcher Cam Gallagher will be Maldonado's backup.

Probable rotation

  1. Brad Keller, RHP
  2. Jake Junis, RHP
  3. Jorge Lopez, RHP
  4. Danny Duffy, LHP
  5. Homer Bailey, RHP

Right-handers Heath Fillmyer and Scott Barlow, along with left-hander Eric Skoglund, all could also be rotation options.

Probable bullpen

Closer: Wily Peralta, RHP, Brad Boxberger, RHP
Setup: Kevin McCarthy, RHP, Jake Diekman, LHP
Middle: Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Tim Hill, LHP, Brian Flynn, LHP, Sam McWilliams, RHP, Chris Ellis, RHP
Long: Ian Kennedy, RHP,  Jorge Lopez, RHP

We'll have a better idea of who else will be made available to the bullpen once the Royals' rotation questions are answered.

Zimmer ready to make K.C. debut

Former top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer has a chance to make his long awaited major-league debut this season. Zimmer, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, had his development derailed by a slew of injuries which resulted in two major arm surgeries. He missed all of last season due to his continued shoulder issues. He spent this past offseason working at Driveline Baseball in Seattle, improving his mechanics and gaining back velocity. The results speak for themselves. Zimmer, 27, has been dominant in spring training so far, with his fastball touching 96 miles per hour.

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Kyle Zimmer will look to resurrect his career in 2019 after multiple surgeries. USATSI

Not only could a healthy Zimmer in 2019 result in a feel-good story for the Royals, but he could become a valuable part of the bullpen. The Royals have shown that they're willing to be patient with Zimmer, and now he offers as much potential as anyone to be part of building Kansas City's bullpen back to being as good as it once was.

Can Mondesi match 2018 production?

Mondesi is the most promising of the Royals' young position players. The 23-year-old has the talent and athleticism to grow into one of the most impactful players for Kansas City. In 2019, Mondesi could be posited to breakout after injuries (plus a 2016 PED suspension) plagued him throughout the minor leagues. He finished last season with a slash line of .276/.306/.498, and also stole 32 bases in 39 attempts and hit 14 home runs and 13 doubles. He was worth 3.1 bWAR in just 75 games last season.

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Adalberto Mondesi is expected to build on the progress he showed in 2018. USATSI

The question for Mondesi in 2019 is whether or not he can improve on his 2018 season. Will his production be sustainable? He'll need to remain healthy for a full season and work on getting on base more consistently, but the potential for another productive season is there.

Maldonado behind the plate

The Royals signed Maldonado to counter the loss of Salvador Perez. His presence behind the plate should be great considering all the new arms on the team this season. Maldonado spent the second half of the 2018 season with the Astros, and handled a loaded rotation that included Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton in last year's ALDS and ALCS.

Astros pitcher Joe Smith sang Maldonado's praise to The Athletic's Rustin Dodd: "He's in it with you. He competes. He doesn't take plays off. He's smart (and) knows the league. Obviously, he's got an absolute cannon. You don't really have to worry about people running even if they get good leads because the guy's got one of the best arms in the game." 

Speaking of which ...

Maldonado led all big-league catchers last season in caught stealing percentage at 48.57 percent. While Maldonado is unlikely to replace Perez offensively in the lineup -- he hit .225/.276/.351 last season -- the Royals are hopeful that the veteran backstop's defense will hopefully outweigh the lack of offensive production.

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