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When looking at 2013, one can spend a great deal of time discussing the starting rotation and for good reason. That unit is going to play a huge part in the end result of whether this 2013 team rises to become a playoff contender or settles back into the comfortable role of keeping Kansas City occupied until Chiefs training camp. The Royals starting pitchers can be adequate all they want but the offense still won’t be enough for this team to consistently avoid close games. Because of that, the Royals will look to the bullpen to once again be a team strength. They have the arm power to do it.
Let’s start with the long relief. If, for some reason, Luis Mendoza is relegated to the bullpen, the team will have a solid luxury of a proven pitcher with quality stuff that can keep the team in it. Ervin Santana, Bruce Chen, and Wade Davis are all strong candidates to only get you four innings every once in a while. Mendoza will be able to step in one or two times a week and get you three solid innings to help the team hang around. If not Mendoza, the Royals have other solid options in Everett Teaford, Will Smith, and possibly Luke Hochevar (except that still sounds too dangerous).
The middle relief is still up in the air a little more on who exactly will fill those roles. My choices would be RHP Luis Coleman and LHP Donnie Joseph. The righty/lefty benefit gives Ned Yost the ability to play to match-ups a little more and both pitchers have shown some upside. Coleman has been around for awhile and may have peaked as a lifetime middle reliever. He will give up far too many home runs but has also posted a 3.25 ERA over the last two years and has a high strikeout rate. Donnie Joseph was the best prospect the team got in return last year for Jonathan Broxton when they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. Joseph was dominant to start spring training striking out nearly everyone he faced. Joseph is yet to put up strong numbers in AAA but the team has to be excited with what they have seen in March.
The set-up positions for the Royals are the real strength of this bullpen. RHP’s Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow go along with LHP Tim Collins to provide the Royals with three arms that bring it enough to shut down most lineups more often than not. Herrera brings the most heat out of the relievers. His fastball will be anywhere from 98-100 MPH. Crow was drafted in the first round to be a big time starting pitcher for the Royals but they will have to settle for a solid, consistent relief pitcher. At 5’7″, little Timmy Collins has been great the last two seasons for KC. In 2012, Collins posted a 12 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio. If Yost can resist over using him, Collins’ 3.49 lifetime ERA will be big for late innings.
The closer role has been taken over by the righty Greg Holland. Holland stepped into the position last year, following the Broxton trade. The tryout for the rest of 2012 proved successful for the 27 year old as he finished the season with a 2.96 ERA and an impressive 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. It is just spring training, but Holland’s spring training has been mildly alarming thus far. No reason to panic yet but Holland has yielded two homers and eight hits in his first seven appearances.
The bullpen may not be as dominant as it was one season ago but the seven pitchers will be asked to play in some much bigger situations this season. The chances for the Royals to make a playoff push may depend on their success in close ball games. A shut down relief staff that can cut an offense off for the last three innings will go along way in making that objective happen for the team.