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MLB Kansas City Royals

5 Players Who Will Make Or Break The Kansas City Royals’ Chances In 2014

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Kansas City Royals: 5 Players Who Will Make Or Break KC's Chances In 2014

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals are a team on the fringe of success as a group filled with young and promising talent coming off a legitimate race for a Wild Card spot that lasted deep into September. As I've mentioned countless times, this makes the Royals' 2014 campaign as pivotal as any other in at least my 24+ years of life and fanhood. The depth of talent present on the roster mixed with the unnerving lack of experience should soon equate to a lot of chewed-up fingernails for Royals fans everywhere.

The cast of characters who will determine this team's future success is varied and numerous. Picking just five guys was an enjoyably difficult process. Some of the guys who didn't make the list could wind up being this year's biggest bust or the team's MVP. One of the many highly-ranked prospects in KC's farm system could go all Yasiel Puig and contend for Rookie of the Year, who knows? Whether or not KC proves to be successful this year, an overload of excitement comes from rooting for a team with so many players that are unpredictable.

The range of this team's possibility of success, at least to me, seems vast. They could be great and make this year incredibly memorable for fans in KC or they could stumble, show their youth, lose their confidence and make for an incredibly disappointing summer.

These five Royals will be the most influential in determining which one of those fates this 2014 team will bestow on its cautiously eager fanbase.

Doug LaCerte is a writer for Follow him on Twitter @DLaC67, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Billy Butler

Billy Butler
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It stands to reason that a smart and supremely talented DH like Billy Butler will have a bounce-back year after seeing diminished production in 2013, but that diminished production still warrants some caution. Still, with the impact that the next Royal on the list will have on the lineup, Billy should project to significantly improve upon last year's numbers. That increased production coming from the heart of the lineup means Butler's impact next year will be huge.

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4. Norichika Aoki

Norichika Aoki
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The newly-acquired Nori Aoki has provided consistency at the lead-off spot in the lineup for years. If he can acclimate himself to KC and fit in well, he should set the table to allow everyone in the meat of the lineup to improve their production this season.

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3. Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

After the team went out and signed Danny Valencia as a back-up plan in case Mike Moustakas continues to struggle, Moose has all the motivation in the world to get back on track. If he does, he adds left-handed power to an already-competent batting lineup. If he doesn't he may lose his job, and he leaves a corner infielder spot in the lineup to a former non-starter.

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2. James Shields

James Shields
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

James Shields is this team's inarguable ace, and it was hard not to put him at the No. 1 spot after what I just wrote. He's the workhorse of workhorses, he's the best pitcher on the team and he's a much-needed veteran presence on one of MLB's youngest rosters.

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1. Danny Duffy

Danny Duffy
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Duffy can be next year's Ervin Santana (32 starts with a 3.24 ERA) or he could be Wade Davis (a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts). Replacing the success of Santana and improving upon Davis' struggles is the key to the Royals' success. While KC may need Shields to win that one-game Wild Card, they need Shields and Duffy to consistently win in the regular season if they want to get there.

Of course, Yordano Ventura could go nuts, beat Duffy for the last starter spot and prove me completely wrong. Therein lies the beauty and promise of this team's immediate future.