|Young budding star Eric Hosmer leads an up and coming Royals squad|
The Kansas City Royals are in first place, yes you heard me right the Royals are 13-2 and in first place in the Cactus League. Granted this is Spring Training and these exhibition games do not mean much towards the regular season--just ask Detroit Lions fans--but even though the games don't count for much, it may be more of a concern than you think, Tiger fans.
Last season, the Royals finished at an even .500 (16-16) during Spring Training, while the Tigers finished at a more formidable 20-8. Where did the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants end up you ask? They only finished three games above .500 at 18-15. In fact, in the American League, only two out of the top five teams in the standings for Spring Training actually made the playoffs last year (Detroit and Oakland). In the NL, it was the same picture, the two teams being St. Louis and San Francisco. So what does all this mean? This shows that Spring Training success doesn't necessarily mean regular season success. But one thing it does give, is momentum and most of all, confidence.
For the Royals, this success during February and March may mean more than you think. The Royals are a young team, with most of their key contributors being under 30 years of age (Alex Gordon, 29; Billy Butler, 26; and Jeff Francoeur, 29). Also they have a number of young rising stars such as team U.S. first baseman Eric Hosmer (age 23), third baseman Mike Moustakas (24), and catcher Salvador Perez (22). With most of their roster being very young, success during the Spring may help them build confidence and unity. Also the addition of pitchers James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis help provide stability to an otherwise young and inconsistent staff.
Okay, back to the question, is Kansas City a legitimate threat to the Tigers in the AL Central? My opinion is no, at least not yet. The Royals finished last season in third place in the Central at 72-90, a one game improvement from the year before and a five game improvement from 2010. The Tigers just have too much fire power with the reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, former AL Cy Young award winner and former AL MVP Justin Verlander, AL Silver Slugger Prince Fielder and veteran leadership in Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. They also have some budding stars of their own such as Nick Castellanos, Avasail Garcia and Bruce Rondon. For the Royals to make such a huge jump to overtake a powerful and experienced team in just one year, is a huge feat and are not at that level yet. But they are improving and with a good season, may make a push for a Wild Card spot. Don't get to comfortable Tiger fans, we have some competition coming up our rearview mirror quicker than you might think.