The Kansas City Royals need an ace. Unfortunately, unless they pull a major trade like some others this off-season (Reds for Mat Latos, Nationals for Gio Gonzalez) or sign a big free agent (Rangers with Yu Darvish), the Royals are going to yet another season without that anchor starter along the front line who can take the ball every fifth day with confidence and consistency. It seems, as least for now, that Royals fans are forced to wait on the prospects to rise to the surface and hope for the best.
Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery were both recently listed in the Top 50 prospects in baseball by MLB.com, so there is reason to hope. However, baseball's history is riddled with more flame-outs than flamethrowers, so there's no guarantee that either pitcher will make the leap -- at least any time soon. The Royals could use someone in 2012 if they want to chase a playoff spot.
Enter Luke Hochevar. If any Royals pitcher is going to make "the leap" and come into their prime from someone already on the major league squad, Hochevar is a decent guess. At 28, he's coming into his own and he's lowered his ERA every year as he gains ML experience. Yahoo!'s Tim Brown believes he could be due:
The Royals were a solid offensive team in 2011 that, like many maturing franchises, couldn’t pitch one end of the game or the other. In spite of Bruce Chen’s breakout, the starters were particularly vulnerable, which led to a lot of innings for the bullpen, some of them not so good. Soria, nearly impenetrable for three years, had his strikeouts fall, his walks rise and his ERA more than double.
But what the Royals really could use is a horse at the top of the rotation, someone to throw lots of innings and save the bullpen and win games and pull the rest of the squad along. Luke Hochevar is 28. He threw a career-high 198 innings over 31 starts in 2011. He threw strikes. Like a lot of Royals, it’s his time. Now all they need him to do is become the next Greinke.
Hochevar lowered the number of hits he allows quite a bit last year and it's clear he's figuring something out on the mound. In September, he closed the year with a 2.18 ERA and it showed at least a glimmer of what is possible. Then again, the sample size is way too little to pay much attention to it unless the results start the same in 2012. That said, it's a good time for Royals fans to cross their fingers on Hochevar's development, Jon Sanchez's contract year and Aaron Crow's switch to starter. Those three alone give some reason for hope. Hochevar, however, provides the greatest of the three.