Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez is the only offseason addition to the Royals’ rotation, which was an Achilles’ heel last year.
Kansas City’s starters compiled a 45-65 record and a 4.82 earned run average a year ago. The Royals had only two complete games in 2012 and neither was nine innings.
Right-hander Luke Hochevar, the first pick of the 2006 draft, left-hander Bruce Chen, who led the club in victories the last two years, and Sanchez, who pitched a no-hitter in 2009 for the Giants, head the rotation, which needs to improve if the Royals are to be serious contenders in the American League Central.
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The offense should be sufficient to win many games after a strong finish to last season. In the final 66 games, the Royals batted .293 with a .335 on-base percentage and a .391 slugging percentage.
Three rookies, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez, and outfielders Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, plus designated hitter Billy Butler led the second half offensive charge.
All but Cabrera, who was traded to the Giants for Sanchez, are back.
The bullpen is a strength with right-handed Joakim Soria at the end, and the pen could be stronger with the addition of two free agent signings, right-hander Jonathan Broxton and left-hander Jose Mijares.
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who batted .312 with 16 home runs and 81 RBI for Class AAA Omaha, is expected to replace Cabrera in center field. Cain batted .273 in six games with the Royals after the Storm Chasers won the Pacific Coast League championship.
While right-hander Felipe Paulino and left-hander Danny Duffy are the leading candidates to fill the final two rotation slots, there will be competition in March.
Right-hander Luis Mendoza, who was the Pacific Coast Pitcher of the Year and won his two September starts for the Royals, will be in the mix.
So will right-hander Aaron Crow, who went to Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kan., and the University of Missouri. Mendoza was an All-Star Game selection as a reliever, but will be given a chance to start in spring training.
NOTES, QUOTES • RHP Jeremy Jeffress has been “quite impressive” said pitching coach Dave Eiland in the Royals early volunteer pitching camp. Jeffress, who has a 100 mph fastball, earned an Opening Day bullpen spot last year, but was sent back to the minors in May because of 11 walks in 14 innings. He faces an uphill battle to win a bullpen spot in spring training.
• RHP Jonathan Broxton, who had arthroscopic elbow surgery last September while with the Dodgers, has received the OK for spring training. “He’s clear with no limitations,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
• Manager Ned Yost had his option picked up for 2013 as the Royals opened their early volunteer camp for spring training. Yost has a 123-163 record as the Kansas City manager.
• RHPs Blake Wood, who was 5-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 55 relief appearances, and Sean O’Sullivan, who was 2-6 with a 7.25 ERA in a dozen games, including 10 starts, signed one-year contracts. Wood will receive $502,000 if he is with the big-league club all year, while O’Sullivan’s contract is $493,000.
• LHP Everett Teaford agreed to a $488,000 contract after going 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 26 games, including three starts, as a rookie. The Royals also signed RHP Nate Adcock to a one-year contract for $493,200 after he went 1-1 with a 4.62 ERA in 24 games, including three spot starts.
• Eight other Royals, none of which had enough service time to be arbitration eligible, agreed to one-year contracts. They are RHP Jeremy Jeffress, $481,723; RHP Kelvin Herrera, $480,650; RHP Ryan Verdugo, $480,000; OF Jarrod Dyson, $483,625; C Manny Pina, $480,425; OF David Lough, $480,000; OF David Robinson, $480,000, and 1B-DH Clint Robinson, $480,000. The latter three have never played in the majors.
BY THE NUMBERS: .467 — Ned Yost’s winning percentage as a big league manager. QUOTE TO NOTE: “Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas, I’m extremely proud of both of those guys. They could be in the best shape they’ve been in their careers. Billy looks great, and I didn’t even hardly recognize Moose he looks so good.” — Manager Ned Yost.