Royals general manager Dayton Moore focused this offseason on improving a rotation that last year ranked 26th in the majors with a 5.01 aggregate ERA. Three of the team’s five projected starters—James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Wade Davis—are newcomers, and a fourth, Jeremy Guthrie, came over from the Rockies last July. Whether the revamped quintet can do enough to help Kansas City leap forward from its 72-90 finish remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear: After throwing Vin Mazzaro and Ryan Verdugo to the wolves in 2012, manager Ned Yost won’t lack for options in 2013.
In fact, come summertime, the fourth-year skipper might boast a surplus of dependable starters. While other teams are likely to wade into the trade waters for rotation upgrades in July, the Royals are poised to get their reinforcements from within.
Royals on track to get a midseason rotation boost
Bob Dutton, who covers the Royals for the Kansas City Star and is with the team in Arizona, reported from camp on Tuesday that Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are recovering well from the elbow ailments that ended their 2012 campaigns. Paulino, who was placed on the disabled list on June 7 and underwent Tommy John surgery on July 3, threw 20 pitches from a mound, which he called a “big step” toward his goal of returning around the All-Star break. Duffy, who went under the knife a month earlier (June 13) and is predictably ahead of Paulino, fired 30 bullets and declared himself “ready to pitch.” He could be back on the big-league bump before the end of the June.
Each of the rehabbing arms could become an X-factor for the Royals, if they are somehow able to tread water in the wild-card race for the first three months.
Paulino, whom Moore snagged from the Rockies for cash considerations in May of 2011, produced 1.8 WARP for the Royals over 21 appearances (20 starts) after the lopsided trade. The 29-year-old was on his way to a career year last spring, sporting a 1.67 ERA and 39 strikeouts through 37 2/3 innings, when his ulnar collateral ligament went “pop.” PECOTA projects Paulino to contribute only replacement-level work in six starts once he is ready to come off the disabled list, but if the strides that he has made since joining the Royals endure the year-long hiatus, he could be worth a good deal more than that.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Duffy also showed marked improvements from his rocky 2011 debut, recording 28 strikeouts and a 3.90 ERA in 27 2/3 frames before his UCL snapped. Earlier this winter, Hudson Belinsky ranked Duffy as the Royals’ eighth-best under-25 talent, placing him immediately behind catcher Salvador Perez, and two years ago, Kevin Goldstein envisioned him as “a good mid-rotation starter.” If Duffy can slide in behind Shields and Guthrie and quickly regain the stuff that he flashed last April, the Royals have the potential to be a second-half force.
Paulino and Duffy have one important facet in common: Both of them throw harder than virtually every other starting pitcher in the league. The right-handed Paulino averaged 95.97 mph on the 402 fastballs that he threw last year, while Duffy’s heater rocketed in at 96.31 mph. Although those velocities would likely have diminished over a 30-start workload, had Paulino and Duffy maintained them over a full season, they would have ranked fifth and third, respectively, in the league. Only Stephen Strasburg and David Price outgunned Duffy, and only Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta, whose late-season sample was limited to 220 four-seamers, split the two Royals.
The key for Paulino and Duffy, as is the case for all pitchers coming off of serious arm injuries, will be re-establishing their mid-90s velocity and their control. If they can do that before the end of July, the Royals are likely to outperform their 78-win PECOTA projection and should stand a better than one-in-eight chance of ending their post-season drought.
Jackie Bradley has a shot to the open season with the Red Sox
While Moore sought starters, his counterpart in Boston, Ben Cherington, was hunting for corner outfielders. And he, too, found a couple of them in December, bringing in Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino to flank the now-healthy Jacoby Ellsbury. With Daniel Nava and Mike Carp giving manager John Farrell two others mouths to feed, and Victorino available to spell Ellsbury in center, Boston’s outfield depth chart seems set.
Unless, of course, its second-ranked prospect forces the veterans to make room. According to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Farrell refused to dismiss the possibility that Bradley, a 2011 first-round pick out of the University of South Carolina, could stick with the major-league squad on Opening Day. The 21-year-old Bradley projects as a first-division center fielder down the road, but with just 61 games of upper-minors experience, he was widely expected to head back to Portland or earn a promotion to Pawtucket.
It’s unlikely that the Red Sox would carry Bradley as a reserve, so in order to make the roster, he must prove worthy of a regular role. The clearest path to such a job (barring another Ellsbury injury) lies in left field, where Bradley, a left-handed hitter, could earn the lion’s share of platoon at-bats, while letting his performance determine Gomes’ playing time. Be sure to follow Jason Martinez’s daily Minor League Update for the latest on prospects that could earn an early-season promotion with strong Cactus or Grapefruit League performances.