KC Royals: Will A KC Player Hit More Than 36 Home Runs In 2017?

Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) celebrates with catcher Salvador Perez (13) after hitting a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the second inning in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The KC Royals rank dead last among major league franchises with respect to their single season home run record. Kansas City is the only team that has never had a player hit 40 or more home runs. Will someone break Steve Balboni’s 32-year-old record in 2017?

The Kansas City Royals have traditionally built their teams around speed and defense rather than power. This choice isn’t surprising since they’ve played in spacious Kauffman Stadium since 1973. The team’s single season home run record stands at a major-league low 36 home runs set by first baseman Steve Balboni in 1985. The next lowest team mark is the New York Mets at 41.

KC Royals fans have wondered for years when Balboni’s record would fall. Even with the deep power alleys of Kauffman Stadium, someone has to be able to hit more than 36 dingers sometime, right? Heck, 15 players slammed more than 36 home runs in 2016. And, 72 hitters have surpassed 36 homers in the last decade.

You have to think the Kansas City Royals will field one such player eventually.

Such a record breaking season could be coming soon. Major league baseball set an all-time record for home run rate in 2016. With round-trippers flying out of ballparks like crazy, shouldn’t Balboni’s record fall soon?

That answer might depend on if the ball is juiced. Home runs spiked the last two months of 2015 and continued through the playoffs and the entire 2016 season. If the ball remains “lively” in 2017, that would certainly increase the chances of someone breaking Balboni’s record. If the ball reverts to the pre-spike standard, obviously breaking Balboni’s record becomes more difficult. Of course, we don’t know if the ball really was juiced and that some other reason drove the home run explosion.

Leaving that speculation aside and presuming the home run environment remains similar to 2016, let’s look at the top candidates:

Sep 3, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Candidates To Bust Balboni’s Record

Mike Moustakas—to me, Moose is the clear favorite to break the team home run record in 2017. Moustakas led all of minor-league baseball 36 blasts at age 21 in 2010 (across AA and AAA). He’s got the right batted ball profile in that he’s a natural pull hitter. He’s learned how to take pitchers the opposite way to prevent them from pounding the outside corner against him.

As a result, Moose has slammed 5, 7, and 7 home runs in his last three full months of play. Double that to get to a full season, and he’s been on pace to blast 38 home runs.

Of course, Moustakas tore his anterior cruciate ligament (knee) last season and will have to come back healthy to challenge the record. While hitting 37 or more hone runs would be a big jump from his career-high of 22 set in 2015, Moose has the chops to do it. He’ll also play most of next season at age 28, which puts him right in his prime seasons.

Eric Hosmer—Hoz hit a career-high 25 dingers in 2016. But, the problem is he hit 58.9% of his batted balls on the ground. It’s hard to see him hit enough balls in the air to put 12 more over the fence in 2017. However, Hosmer hits  hard enough. He ranked 14th in average exit velocity among all major-league hitters in 2016. Notice that 15 players hit more than 37 home runs last season.

Clearly, Eric Hosmer has enough boost to eclipse Balboni’s mark. He just needs to make some kind of an adjustment that keeps the ball out of the dirt.  At age 27, he’s in his prime plus in he’s in his walk year. He’s got every incentive to put up a big season.

Oct 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler (left) hits a triple in front of Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez (right) during the seventh inning in game three of the 2016 World Series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Second Tier Candidates

Salvador Perez—Salvador Perez has the power to hit more than 30 home runs. His biggest problem is his lack of plate discipline. If he learns to become more selective at the plate and forces pitchers to throw strikes his home run total can zoom. The other issue is getting enough at bats. As a catcher, manager Ned Yost might decide to rest him more than in the past.

Of course, Yost would use him as a DH if he’s swinging a hot bat as long as the KC Royals don’t acquire a dedicated DH this winter. He’ll play at 27 this season, so he’s right in range for a career year.

Jorge Soler—Scouts rated Soler as a guy with 70 grade power as a prospect. He might have most raw thump of any Kansas City Royals player since Bo Jackson. Unfortunately, Soler hasn’t blossomed yet as a major leaguer. A big reason for his failure to develop is he’s never gotten more than 366 at bats in a single season.

Consequently, he also has never hit more than 12 home runs in one year. However, Soler figures to get regular playing time with the Kansas City Royals after they traded closer Wade Davis to get him. He also will turn 25 years old in 2017. He should be coming into his full power the next few seasons.

Soler is a guy who hits the ball a long way when he barrels the ball. I think Soler might have the best shot over his career, but not in 2017.

The Long Shots

Alex Gordon hit 23 home runs in 2011, but he has only reached the 20 dinger barrier once since (2013). I would be very surprised if Gordon were to suddenly surpass his career high by 14 at age 33. But, he’s strong enough. Stranger things have happened.

Prospect Hunter Dozier is a big, strong guy. But, he’s more of an up-the-middle line-drive hitter than a guy who will put the ball over the fence. In fact, he wallowed for two lost seasons at AA trying to hit for more power. I highly doubt he suddenly puts balls in the fountains at age 25. He’d also have to win regular playing time in KC, which appears doubtful coming into spring training.

I wouldn’t say it’s more likely than not that someone breaks Balboni’s home run record. But, I think there’s as much as a one in five chance that it happens this season. I’m presuming, of course, that the home run environment remaining favorable in 2017. Between power hitters like Moose and Hoz both hitting their prime seasons and entering contract years, I think the chances are better than they’ve been in years.

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