MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Royals have taken on a bold new personality

Spencer: Royals take on bold new personality

Royals have taken on a bold new personality
Two of Major League Baseball's most intriguing outfits heading into the 2013 season will share the same Spring Training headquarters and field.

What better place than Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz., to house a pair of extreme makeovers?

Kansas City's Royals and Texas' Rangers have grown familiar with each other as co-tenants in the facility, but a new dynamic comes into play this spring. No longer will the Royals be left to feel like neglected stepbrothers.

While the Rangers, transitioning to a younger, swifter look, adjust to life without such fixtures as Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli, the Royals will be taking on a bold new personality.

During a busy offseason, Kansas City put the American League Central on alert by importing three starting pitchers -- James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana -- with winning backgrounds.

Kansas City has a rich tradition, but since 1994 it has experienced just one winning season, going 83-79 in 2003. You can build for the future for only so long. As much as fans love to see hyped prospects grow, it's winning they crave.

Every club spins in the direction forged by its rotation. The Royals' unit had abundant cracks in 2012, its 5.01 ERA ranking 26th in the Majors.

With Shields, a legitimate No. 1, and Davis, Santana and Jeremy Guthrie bringing heat behind him, Kansas City has the arms to compete with the division's best -- including reigning league champion Detroit.

Although he is not as dominant as the great Justin Verlander, Shields stands among the game's premier starters. He comes from Tampa Bay, along with Davis, at considerable expense -- outfielder Wil Myers headlining a package of prospects -- but he represents the brand of big-game pitcher and personality who can lift an entire operation.

Only the presence of 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price enabled the Rays to consider moving Shields with two years left on his contract.

Davis, a power arm, had two solid seasons as a starter for the Rays before finding a more aggressive mind-set in the bullpen in 2012.

"[Shields] was the leader of our staff when I first got called up," Davis said, "and he's the type of guy that rubs off on other people. In any situation, regular season and postseason, it was, 'We're going to go out and win every game -- it doesn't matter who we're facing.'

"The reason for our success is our approach, and that's the mentality he brought to all of us."

In addition to Myers, Kansas City parted with pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard in the deal for Shields and Davis.

Santana, a 2008 AL All-Star with a no-hitter on his resume, contributed to three consecutive AL West champions in Anaheim. He cost the Royals relief prospect Brandon Sisk following a frustrating 2012 season. Clean mechanics having kept him free of injuries, Santana, 30, is a 96-80 career pitcher with seasons of 16, 16 and 17 wins.

The Royals retained Guthrie with a three-year deal, leaving the No. 5 spot open to competition among Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and young Will Smith, with veteran right-hander Guillermo Moscoso a sleeper.

Manager Ned Yost suddenly has depth where it is most necessary.

In support of the rebuilt rotation is a heat-dispensing bullpen that ranked sixth in the Majors in ERA in 2012. Setup man Kelvin Herrera, a force, unleashed almost four times as many triple-digit pitches as Verlander.

The Royals have the youthful framework of a contender for years to come. It starts with Salvador Perez, who has the tools and attitude to join Buster Posey and Yadier Molina at the elite level of catchers.

Receivers with Perez's skills and unifying personality are the rarest of commodities. He carries 245 pounds on an athletic 6-foot-4 frame that enabled him to play shortstop in his native Venezuela before a scout convinced him catching would be his ticket to The Show.

Now 23, he was poised last spring to break out in his first full season before a Spring Training mishap led to knee surgery, postponing his debut until June 22. His .311/.339/.471 line in 437 Major League at-bats calls to mind an emerging Posey.

Like Molina, the standard of defensive excellence, Perez is mobile, with soft hands, and has a powerful, accurate arm. Limited to 74 games, he was credited by The Fielding Bible with nine runs saved -- second in the Majors to Molina's 16 in 62 more games.

Former Royals catcher Jason Kendall sees stardom on the horizon for Perez.

"He's a special player," Kendall, a 15-year Major League veteran, said. "He's got a chance to do some amazing things. With the talent he has, he has a chance to be an All-Star for a long time."

The Royals surround Perez with an exciting blend of position talent. Corner infielders Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have star qualities, shortstop Alcides Escobar is solid, and a superb outfield of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur will turn potential doubles and triples into outs.

"We've got all the pieces," Shields, the new leader, said. "You look at our defense, and you've got four or five potential Gold Glove candidates. We've got a tremendous bullpen, and now we've got some starting pitching. And, from my experience, some pretty good hitting.

"We know what kind of a team we have here. We're excited. I think the city of Kansas City should be excited. It's going to be a great year. We're going to try to bring that winning culture back here to Kansas City."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.