Last season the Royals won 67 games so no one expects them to take the division in 2011. Even though they are a team reliant on prospects, they do need to improve to at least 70 wins to gain some kind of respectability. Given the caliber of talent at many positions it's unsure who'll take the field but here are some predictions.
Catcher: Brayan Pena. Jason Kendall started most games at catcher for KC last year but will be injured to start the season. Kendall's offensive production has been waning to the point where he and Pena put up similar offensive numbers. If Pena can keep his strikeouts down and his average above .275 I expect him to get the majority of at bats even after Kendall returns from surgery.
First Base: Kila Ka'aihue. Kila has only played 64 games at the major league level and is untested but his offense at AAA has been great. I believe with regular playing time his production will be a steady .270 average with about 20 home runs, enough to keep the job.
Second Base: Mike Avlies. I think the Royals like Chris Getz in the long run but for 2011 I believe Aviles will be too valuable at the plate. He was on a tear near the end of last season plus Getz suffered a concussion in 2010 which might keep him out of Spring Training.
Third Base: Wilson Betemit. With regular playing time Betemit will hit double digit home runs and and average around .300 which is more than enough to play every day. For $1 million I think he's pretty undervalued and will play an important role in the 2011 offense.
Left Field: Alex Gordon. The only reason I think Gordon will get the most playing time in left is because he's slightly better than Melky Cabrera, KCs other option. The team is also hanging on to Gordon's previous status as a top prospect and I'm sure they'll want to confirm his ineffectiveness before giving up on him.
Center Field: Lorenzo Cain. As a 24 year old Cain has surprising patience at the plate. Through 6 seasons in the minor leagues his OBP is .366, in 147 at bats with the Brewers in 2010 his OBP was .348. It's not spectacular but he did well enough in limited time last year that the team will likely start him in center and try him at the lead-off spot due to his speed. Gregor Blanco could challenge him but I see Cain keeping the spot.
Right Field: Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur hasn't done well in a few years but he's only 27 and the Royals are banking on him being able to hit 20+ homers with a batting average aroung .270. The fact that he's above average defensively will help his case.
DH: Billy Butler. After Greinke left Butler has become arguably the most valuable player on the team. He hits for a healthy average, has improved his batting eye over the past two years and can slug double-digit homers. I think the team would prefer more power from the DH position but they can't afford to go shopping when Butler is such a good in-house option otherwise.
Starting Rotation: Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Vin Mazzaro, Luke Hochevar, Phil Humber. (For more detailed coverage of KCs front five check out this article.) I don't see Kyle Davies making the rotation out of Spring Training. Francis has good control but injuries could put him down for any amount of time. Chen is a 4.00ERA pitcher but if he is able to pitch 200 innings it will be a relief to the bullpen. Hochevar hasn't been an effective starter but the Royals will likely stick with him given his age a nd former top prospect status. Humber was one of the better pitchers in KC in 2010 and had good numbers in AAA as well. Mazzaro is a strikeout pitcher with some control problems that resulted in more walks than most teams prefer. I feel like the team will go the same rout with Mazz as they will with Hoch and stick with him no matter what with the intent being development.
Bullpen: Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejada, Bryan Bullington, Jeremy Jeffress. Any reliever beyond the four listed will be featured only partially through the season (spending time at AAA) or will be largely ineffective. Bulltingon played mostly in Omaha last year and was one of their best pitchers. He is a starter primarily but I see the Royals needing a great deal of bullpen help and I expect they'll turn to Bullington sooner or later. Jeremy Jeffress was an average reliever for this particular division. Like most on the Royals staff, he's young and can maintain an ERA around 4.00. Robinson Tejada has been around a while and can hold his own in any pen. I think they will use him as a set-up man but not because that's the role he's tailored for but because he's the best they've got for the job. I listed Soria as one of the best closers in 2011. The Royals don't give him many save chances but he converts most of them and is in line for 40+ in 2011.
At a glance: The team doesn't look too good but I do think it's better than last season. I anticipate the younger pitchers to improve enough to help put the team over 70 wins in 2011. The Royals had a great batting average but lacked home run power to get enough RBI to win games. This season I see more home runs coming from the corner outfield positions and from first base simply because I think those players will play a full season. So, to all you patient Royals fans, congrats on a slightly improved team.