Luke Hochevar was the opening day starter last season for the Kansas City Royals. It’s the kind of pronouncement a team usually makes to signal their best overall starting pitcher — the guy who can carry the team every fifth day. But two things are wrong about that specific statement for the Royals: Hochevar has never been that guy and the Royals don’t really have any other options.
But Hochevar has been the player who could become that ace. As we noted just a few weeks ago, "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 for the last three as he gains ML experience."
As the Royals first overall selection in the 2006 draft, Hochevar has always carried those expectations. The growing pains have been difficult, but the talent is definitely there, and he almost threw for 200 innings just last season while slowly sharpening his performance after yet another year with a 4.68 ERA. Everyone now realizes that Hochevar is ready to make the leap, even the Royals coaching staff.
“Now is the time for him to take it to the next level,” Eiland said in a recent interview. “I think he’s prepared to do that mentally and physically.”
The Royals are going to need Hochevar to do just that if they want to compete at all in the next two years. Other arms will adjust in the same way he has, and it’s likely that Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy will look more like Hochevar’s first few seasons in the majors than any sort of instant ace. Instead, the Royas will need Hochevar to find the consistency with Eiland’s help to bring the ERA to 4.00 or so.
While even those numbers aren’t going to win the Cy Young, the Royals don’t need Hochevar to make that sort of leap to improve dramatically. The offense is going to continue to provide enough runs to win and the Royals need starters to simply find consistency to improve.