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The obvious way for the Kansas City Royals to stay good

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The Royals have been one of baseball's better surprises this season. If they keep it up, they won't be much of a surprise at all.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We got used to the slappy, scrappy Royals last postseason. They were the team that zoomed and zoomed their way back from an insurmountable deficit in the Wild Card Game, then started hitting dingers out of nowhere, only to return to their slappy, scrappy roots when they needed it most. They were adorable, the little scamps. And their atypical offense is why no one outside of Kansas City picked them to win the AL Central this year.

The Royals, after three weeks, are most certainly contending for that AL Central. Now, let's look back after the first 19 games of 2014 and see if there's anything weird:

Brewers: 14-5

Right. Let Bernie Brewer's decapitated foam head rest on a pike by the 19-game mile marker, just to remind us how early in the season it is. But while it's probably too early to proclaim the Royals are great, all hail the Royals, it's never to early to ask questions about what the team would look like if they were great. Luckily, we don't have to. We can just go back a few years and read what people were saying about the Royals' otherworldly farm system. Selected quotes from Baseball America's 2011 Prospect Handbook:

"2007 (Draft Analysis): 3B Mike Moustakas led the minors in homers last year and is ready for a starting job with the Royals."

"2008: Eric Hosmer showed why he went No. 3 overall with a breakout 2010 season."

"Thanks to a willingness to spend large amounts of money in the draft and a solid player-development system, the Royals now have the deepest farm system in baseball."

(Moustakas) started laying off pitches that he couldn't do much damage to, leading to more favorable counts and more opportunities to unleash his plus-plus power

(Homer) projects as a well-above-average as a hitter and power hitter, with a swing that has drawn comparisons to Will Clark's with the same kind of high finish.

The whole chapter was like that. It was fan fiction for long-suffering Royals fans, a blueprint to lasting, enduring success. And somehow, we turned around, and the Royals were in the World Series despite hitting fewer than 100 homers and having the absolute worst adjusted OPS in the American League. This was their new identity. They were slappy and scrappy, and most of us equated that with, well, crappy when it came to preseason prediction time.

For the first three weeks of the season, they've been excellent, though, and not necessarily in that punchless, small ball way. One of the reasons for success was something we could have predicted before the season, with the bullpen allowing just five earned runs in 63-2/3 innings so far. We saw that depth last postseason, and now it looks like Ryan Madson is healthy and dominant after three grueling years of rehab and recovery, turning an unfair bullpen into something that violates international treaties. The bullpen is outstanding. Fine. What else?

Eric Hosmer
.310 average, .412 on-base percentage, .423 slugging percentage

Mike Moustakas
.342/.419/.526, 3 HR

Salvador Perez
.315/.329/.493, 3 HR

Hosmer and Perez are just 25, born in the same year as Steven Souza and George Springer, both unknowns who are expected to be key cogs in the lineups of their respective teams. Moustakas is 26, not necessarily an age by which you should expect a final product. Here you go, then. This is exactly how the Royals were supposed to succeed in the first place, they just took a circuitous root to get there.

At this point, I should bring up my idea for a Saturday morning cartoon featuring the Sample Size Gremlins, delightful little critters who have a lot in common with the Smurfs and Snorks. They use the words "sample size" as a catch-all verb, noun, and adjective, for example. "Hey, don't sample size my sample size!" one of them might say. The script for the pilot is a little raw, but it's centered around baseball statistics in April. Also, the Sample Size Gremlins will murder you in your sleep and dance around the room wearing your entrails as a scarf. Also, this is for kids. It makes math fun.

So, yes, I know that Moustakas isn't going to hit .342 all season. I know that a week's worth of slumping can decimate all of these numbers. I'll wager that if there's a .14 point gap between Perez's average and OBP by the end of the year, he's probably not still hitting .315.

None of the above would be confusing if it were to continue, though. That's the point. These aren't minor league free agents and 34-year-olds on a one-year deal. Perez was supposed to have hacky power. Moustakas was supposed to have plus-plus power well before he showed it off in the postseason. Hosmer was supposed to remind scouts of Will Clark and Joey Votto. Add in some competent starting pitch, the bullpen of the gods, and a few more things to go right, and that is absolutely a foundation.

This probably wouldn't transcend the typical gag order on April-related surprises except for one thing: The Royals have been in this exact spot before:


Alex Gordon, age 25 Mike Moustakas, age 25
AB 164 457
AVG .232 .212
OBP .324 .271
SLG .378 .361
OPS+ 87 75
HR 6 15
BB 21 35
SO 43 74
Sent to minors? Yes Yes


If you think that Gordon had some sort of edge because of the OBP, note that his 26-year-old season was just as bad and he was sent to the minors again. He took some dark forest paths to come out as an All-Star the other side. For whatever reason, the can't-miss prospect took a long time to not miss. And the Royals might have it happen again. If you didn't give the Royals a lot of preseason love, that's probably because you wrote Moustakas, Perez and Hosmer off. The Royals won the pennant last year in no small part because they didn't write Alex Gordon off. There's symmetry, here.

Will it keep going for these three players? I'll guess it won't, but only because I'm stubborn. But if they were to keep this level of production up, it would be only a moderate surprise in a game that's filled with major surprises. The slappy, scrappy Royals might have been a stop along the way, not the final destination.