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Royals management seemed to think they can be a dark horse in the AL Central, by completely revamping their rotation so that they’d be poised to make a run if the young offense can take a big step forward.  The division is weak enough that it could happen.  A run at second certainly seems possible but neither the Royals rotation nor their offense seem equal to that of the Tigers.

Still the upside here is intriguing -- though much more on the offensive side. Here are 10 to watch in 2013.

Eric Hosmer (1B): High on the most likely to improve list is Hosmer.  However he’s a low end corner infield option until he takes a big step forward.  In deep leagues, there is profit to be had, but unless the step forward is a big one, there are plenty of better choices to be had in shallower leagues.  Power and average gains are the most likely ones.  There is a huge amount of upside, but it may be a year or three before the potential is realized.
Eric Hosmer
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.

Alex Gordon (OF): If you discount Gordon’s 2011 career season, what you see is a 29 year old who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire but who has slowly consistently improved his fantasy value every season.  He’s a solid middle round option with an upside of 2011.  An improvement in power and a falloff in batting average seem a likely tradeoff. 

Mike Moustakas (3B): I’m not convinced that Moustakas will ever be a 30 home run threat, but the upside is certainly there.  He traded power for average in the follow up to his rookie campaign as pitchers began to write more and more of a book against him.  Unless he changes that and shows an improved eye this upcoming season he could easily end up as a low average, high power type hitter for the rest of his career.  Still he hit enough for average in the minors that there is plenty of hope for improvement.

Alcedes Escobar (SS): The main value is in the legs of Escobar although he doesn’t hurt you at all in any of the other counting stats.  He’s no threat for double digit home runs but he’ll score runs and has finally begun to contribute in average.  That said he’ll probably regress a bit in average, but you could do a lot worse in deeper leagues.

Lorenzo Cain (OF): Looking for a post hype breakout candidate?  Look no further.  The toolsy Cain has 15-15 potential, maybe even 20-20 potential if he can stay healthy, something that he failed to do last year.  He’s entering that prime age 27 season so looking for a step forward is logical, but he’s never going to be a top 20 outfielder.  He still could be plenty useful.  Think 10-15-.260 as a baseline and there is plenty of upside to be had above it.  Just don’t go crazy with your expectations.

Billy Butler (DH): Durable and consistent, Butler finally had a career year at age 26 and came close to hitting 30 bombs.  He’s young enough to build on that, but it’s likely he hit his ceiling and won’t improve.  Still anyone who hits 20-30 home runs, .300-plus and is a threat to hit 100 RBIs is more than fantasy useful.  If he qualifies at 1B in your league it’s a big plus.

James Shields (SP):
Shields took a step back last year, but some of that was just due to bad luck.  He’s got ace type skills but is likely to be somewhat underrated on draft day due to his failure to star during his time in Tampa.  He’s got the potential to take a step up, but he might be as hard pressed to do it in KC as he was in Tampa.  Still the Royals believed in him enough to trade top prospects for him.

Ervin Santana (SP):
If the Royals had acquired Santana back in 2008, or even 2010, the move wouldn’t look quite so questionable but Santana has been suffered from a severe case of gopheritis last year -- yielding an average of two home runs per game.  That’s plain ugly.  Part of it was certainly bad luck (19% hr/fb and an ERA almost a run higher than xERA), but his decline in strikeouts and increasing walk rates, give cause for concern.

Greg Holland (CL):
Holland has a strong grip on the closer role, which gives him a leg up on a lot of closers in the game.  And while his wildness and WHIP are cause for concern, he’s more than capable of striking out more than a batter per inning.  He’s a good gamble when the closer run starts.

Salvador Perez (C): Perez is a 23-year-old catcher with plenty of upside.  He’s capable of hitting for both power and average, but it might be a lot to expect him to take a big step forward.  A small step is far more likely, but 12-15 home runs and .280+ average is nothing to sneeze out.