The Kansas City Royals open spring training Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report to their complex in Surprise, Ariz. The full squad is due on Feb. 22.
The first game will be March 2 against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. The regular season begins against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on April 3, when the franchise will raise its second World Series championship flag.
Before the Royals report to spring training next week, The Star is looking at five key questions heading into the 2016 season. This week, we have looked at the position battles in right field and at second base; the re-tooled starting rotation; possible breakout candidates in the pitching staff; and the bench. On to question five:
5. Can KC’s maturing offensive core build on career years?
The Royals’ offense made a substantive leap in 2015, jumping from ninth in the American League in runs scored to sixth. One year after ranking dead last in the AL in homers and scoring 651 runs, the Royals’ cast of contact-heavy hitters clubbed their way to 724 runs in 2015. The improvement was created, in part, by career years from three core position players — Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer.
Can they replicate the production?
Moustakas, buoyed by a new approach, batted .284 with a .348 on-base percentage and 22 homers. His OPS-plus — which had previously peaked at 91 in 2012 — was 118. (The league average is around 100.) Cain improved on another career year in 2014, posting career highs with 16 homers, 34 doubles and six triples. Hosmer, meanwhile, continued his trend of surging in even-numbered years, hitting 18 homers and posting a career-high .822 OPS.
In some ways, the Royals’ offensive formula is one of depth. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales was a reliable run-producer in the middle of the lineup, and the return of left fielder Alex Gordon offers another above-average bat to the offensive attack. The Royals also have room for growth, with catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar coming off down offensive seasons. But if the Royals want to duplicate their run production in 2016, they will likely need their young core to offer similar performance.