Royals on the verge of serious contention
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- "The future" can be a truly indefinite, even frustrating concept. But Ned Yost, manager of the Kansas City Royals, helped to clear that up for us on Tuesday.
After a detailed discussion of the merits of his team at Surprise Stadium, Yost said: "I think with this group we're definitely going to win a world championship somewhere down the road, the next couple of years.
"That's just the way I feel. You probably ask every manager, they'd say that same thing," Yost added and then smiled. "But this time, I believe it."
There is some distance between where the Royals have been recently and a World Series triumph. But the notion that this club will be substantially improved starting this season seems indisputable.
The Royals have been the "team of the future" for a few years now based on their wealth of young talent. But their position-player talent was making greater strides than their young pitching talent, so they adjusted the timetable. They gave up some of that young talent for proven, veteran starters -- James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. They had traded for starter Jeremy Guthrie during the 2012 season, then re-signed him.
"I think we're going to be much improved over what we were in the past, and the reason for it is starting pitching," Yost said. "We've got pitching, not only in the starting department, but in the bullpen to finish games out. We've got a tremendously athletic defense. We've got speed. We've got young hitters that are growing and becoming better and better every day."
The transformed rotation should be a major plus. Another significant boost will occur if multi-talented catcher Salvador Perez stays healthy for the entire season. Perez missed the first half of 2012 with a knee injury, but he is only 22 and his all-around potential is top of the line.
"It's huge, it's going to be huge for us," Yost said of having Perez healthy from the start of the season. "That was a big blow, losing Sal in Spring Training all the way to the All-Star break last year.
"He's kind of the heart and soul of our team. He's got so much energy, so much life, he's such a force behind the plate, he's a great offensive producer in the middle of our lineup. We missed him when he was out last year, so having him at the beginning of the year is going to be a big boost to us.
"He's talented. He's going to get better in all aspects of his game. He's very solid behind the plate. It's just experience with him, you know? He does a great job of handling every situation that comes up on the field. I just want him to continue to play and grow as a leader."
The Royals also need growth in terms of offensive consistency from their young talents at the infield corners -- Mike Moustakas at third and Eric Hosmer at first. If right fielder Jeff Francoeur produced at his 2011 levels, rather than 2012, that would be helpful, too. Overall, this could also be a very good defensive club, factoring in continued progress from young players.
"We're very athletic," Yost said. "We have a very, very solid defense, as good as any team defense, I think, in the American League. You go down our list -- Sal's got a chance to win a Gold Glove. I think we could win a Gold Glove at first, at third, at short, in left and in center field, and we have won Gold Gloves in right [Francoeur in 2007]."
Yes, the optimism is relentless, but the reasons behind the optimism are valid. And the Royals are hungry for a taste of success. For a franchise that has a rich history, the recent past has not offered much in the way of optimism. The Royals have not had a postseason appearance since winning the 1985 World Series. They have not had a winning season since 2003.
But that was the past. This is the present, a time when the "team of the future" has chosen to make its move. Nothing is certain in this game, but better days within sight for the Kansas City Royals would not be a mere guess but a reasonable conclusion.
Twenty-nine Major League clubs hope for improvement each March while one club hopes to remain on top. But with these Royals, the hopes are founded on something sturdier than the usual rose-colored Spring Training view.
How far can the Royals climb in one season? A record north of .500 and second place in the AL Central would not be an unrealistic outlook. And if that kind of progress occurs Ned Yost's statement -- "I think with this group we're definitely going to win a world championship somewhere down the road, the next couple of years" -- could be moving into the on-deck circle.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.