Royals pitching coach Bob McClure was interviewed on 610 Sports Radio Friday afternoon, and he was asked to guess at what the team’s starting pitching rotation would look like on Opening Day. McClure hemmed and hawed before saying that hadn’t been decided yet.
McClure might not be ready to admit it yet, but I have a feeling the Royals know exactly who those five starters will be. I also have a feeling the rotation will look just like this come Opening Day:
1. Luke Hochevar, RHP
The team has as much as admitted Hochevar would be the “ace” next season (although I heard an interesting theory a few years ago that just because you’re the No. 1 starter doesn’t mean you’re an ace. And some teams can have more than one ace. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are aces. CC Sabathia is an ace. Tim Lincecum is an ace Zack Greinke is an ace. Luke Hochevar, sadly, is not an ace – though I’m hopeful he has the potential to turn into one.)
When it became clear Hochevar would probably get the nod to start Opening Day over Jeff Francis, I was a little confused. Francis is clearly a more proven pitcher with a lot more wins under his belt. But now I’m starting to get it. Hochevar has shown sparkles of brilliance, and if anybody on this current roster could turn into a true ace, it’s him. 2011 is a throwaway season, we all know it. We might as let Hochevar lead this staff – if only to see if he’s capable of doing it in the future.
2. Jeff Francis, LHP
It’s been a while since the Royals have had a really good, productive left-handed starter. And, as I wrote last week, the Francis free-agent signing was the smartest move of the Dayton Moore era.
Francis should do nicely in the No. 2 spot, even though he’ll clearly be the veteran leader of this team. And from what I’ve read about Francis’ makeup, he won’t mind that role at all.
3. Bruce Chen, LHP
I can’t remember the last time the Royals had two lefties in their starting rotation. I think the Royals will leave them next to each other in the rotation, too, because that presents some interesting challenges for opposing teams.
Besides closer Joakim Soria, Chen was the best pitcher on the team last season. That being said, I don’t expect him to repeat that performance. If he does, it’ll be terrific. But I’m afraid if he regresses at all, he’ll be called a flash-in-the-pan, and Dayton Moore will be criticized for re-signing him.
4. Kyle Davies, RHP
I’m afraid this is inevitable. Davies is not a very good starter, but he was able to make every scheduled start last year, and that’s not nothing. I think this is Davies’ last shot in Kansas City, though; too much fresh meat is coming up behind him.
5. Vin Mazzaro, RHP
Although it’s probably not a make-it-or-break-it situation for Mazzaro like it is for Davies, 2011 is without a doubt going to be a major milestone in Mazzaro’s career. This will be his first shot to pitch regularly in the majors, and we’ll all be watching to see if he can handle the pressure. And, we’ll also be watching to see if we truly did let Oakland steal David DeJesus.
I think those five pitchers are going to comprise the starting rotation, but one of these guys could break in if there’s an injury:
Sean O’Sullivan, RHP: He showed improvement at the end of the 2010 season, but not enough. He’ll be a bullpen arm or, more likely, an Omaha StormChaser (that still doesn’t sound right).
Everett Teaford, LHP: Teaford got quite a bit of buzz in the offseason, and he probably had the best season of any pitcher in the organization last year. But it was at the AA level, and I don’t see him making the rotation this year.
Aaron Crow, RHP: It’s an extreme long-shot, but the Royals said they’ll take a look at the first-round draft pick during spring training.
Joakim Soria, RHP: Many fans have been hoping the team would convert the all-star closer into a starter. It’s next to impossible to believe it would actually happen this spring, but… this is the Royals we’re talking about. Anything goes.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the associate editor of I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com.