There is something to be said for consistency and the Kansas City Royals have been just that. Over the last 4 years they’ve won between 65 and 75 games finishing at or near the bottom of the standings each time. The problem for KC and its fans is that their consistency has been of the substandard variety. The good news is that they have a GM who is doing the proper things to allow this team to succeed in the near future.
2010 saw very little go right in BBQ City on the field. One bright spot is they ranked 2nd in batting average thanks to strong seasons from David DeJesus (no longer with team), Billy Butler, Scott Podsednik (gone), Mike Aviles, and Wilson Betemit. The Royals do possess one of the best closers in the game in Joakim Soria (43 saves, 1.78 ERA) but have little hope elsewhere on the pitching staff. Perhaps the most productive things the Royals did occurred during the amateur draft, at the trade deadline, and in the winter months as they dumped most of their moveable pieces for some really strong prospects. ESPN ranks the Royals farm system #1 in all of baseball, a system that includes 5 of the top 100 prospects. GM Dayton Moore and his team have compiled a strong arsenal of minor league arms as they’ve attacked hard in the draft and on the international scene.
On the flip side of the trading for prospects coin is that the Royals dealt away their best player in SP Zack Greinke. Surviving Greinke and the retired Gil Meche, Bruce Chen is arguably the best pitcher left on the roster and that isn’t a huge ego boost for any team. The Royals also have almost zero power in their lineup. Only 4 players managed double digit + bombs; led by Jose Guillen and Yuniesky Betancourt’s 16 apiece. Both players are no longer with the team. Starting to notice a trend here? Dayton Moore has been stripping down and reassembling this team one player at a time, working against a low payroll, a less than desirable location for free agents, and basically a team that is sort of off the grid. The only way to work through that is via the prospect train, and Moore is fully on board with that plan.
Let’s take a quick look at 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses as KC heads into 2011.
Best case scenario for 2011
Kansas City is mired in the basement of the AL Central, battling it out for 4th place with the lowly Cleveland Indians seems to be their divisional ceiling this year. Aside from the obvious lack of potential rise in the standings, Kansas City is set to debut a lot of new players in 2011. If the likes of Jeremy Jeffress (Greinke trade), Alcides Escobar (Greinke trade), Lorenzo Cain (Greinke trade), Eric Hosmer (#5 ranked prospect in MLB) Mike Moustakas (#23 ranked prospect), Kila Ka’aihue, and perhaps Vin Mazzaro come in and contribute for Kansas City, it could make for a really fun summer at Kauffman Stadium, one of the great venues in all of baseball.
Most Valuable Royals
Billy Butler is the heart and soul of the offense. His power numbers regressed a bit in 2010 from his career year in 2009 but he still has power upside and experts haven’t given up on his ability to hit for 20+ homers in a season. He has hit 96 doubles the past 2 years combined and batted a career best .318 in 2010 despite little to no protection around him in the lineup. That won’t change this year so expect something along the lines of a .310 average, 18 homers, and 80 RBI’s. Joakim Soria is critical to the Royals’ pitching staff. When a team has weak starters and a very sketchy middle relief unit, to have someone like Soria picking up the slack in the 9th inning is literally invaluable. Throw a Fernando Rodney-type into the mix at closer instead and KC might not get to 60 wins. How much longer does KC hold onto Soria before moving him for even more prospects?
Potential Breakout Players
Alex Gordon. Yeah, I said it. You haven’t heard the last from this guy. He has had miserable luck early in his career from an injury standpoint and has struggled mightily against southpaws. The guy once hailed as the next George Brett (oops!) put up a line of .215, 8 homers, and 24 RBI’s in just 242 at-bats last year. He enters 2011 as the starter in left field, doesn’t have nearly the pressure on his shoulders as he once did, and could be primed to become a productive member of the Royal offense. If he can remain healthy, expect a bounce back to the tune of a .265 average, 16-18 homers, and 70 RBI’s. If he can produce like that it would be huge for the middle of the Royals lineup. As far as pitching goes, I don’t see any breakout candidates on the big league roster. I’ve never been a believer in Luke Hochevar or Kyle Davies and they’ve done nothing to convince me otherwise. KC better score a lot of runs in 2011 because guys like Mike Montgomery and others down on the farm aren’t quite ready to pitch in the bigs.
Worst case scenario for 2011
As with any perennial bottom-feeder, there is only so much room to regress. Let’s face it, when Bruce Chen is your de facto ace, you have problems and that is not to take anything away from the fine work he did last year, it’s just a fact. With the offseason retirement of former front man Gil Meche, Davies and Hochevar need to realize their potential for this club to make noise and I just don’t see the improvement in them. Worst case scenario for KC in ’11 is that the young players aren’t heard from and the trade pieces from the Greinke deal fail to show any promise. If that happens, which I don’t expect, they will have traded away one of the top 10 arms in baseball for nothing.
Biggest areas of concern
The pitching staff. Save for knowing what they’ll get out of Chen and Soria, there isn’t much to be hopeful for when a Royals pitcher toes the rubber. The rotation is looking something like Chen, Davies, Jeff Francis, Hochevar, and one of Sean O’Sullivan or Mazzaro. That sound you hear is the rest of the AL Central licking their chops. The Twins, Sox, and Tigers possess a lot of talent on offense and they will wreak havoc on this pitching staff all year long. Great years from setup men like Robinson Tejeda and Jeffress would do wonders for this pitching staff. Don’t count on it.
Who needs to rebound from a rough 2010
24-year old Alcides Escobar had a disappointing first full season in the Brewers’ lineup in 2010. He hit just .235, scored only 57 runs, and managed just 10 steals despite his above grade speed. He hit in front of the pitcher on most nights in an NL lineup, which certainly was a factor in the steals department. With a new lease on life in KC, Escobar could turn heads at shortstop. If he can hit his way into one of the top 2 slots in the batting order, look for him to hit .260’ish with 75 runs and 20+ steals, making him an intriguing fantasy sleeper. In 2008, Kyle Davies’ first full year in KC, he pitched very well, posting a 9-7 record and a 4.06 ERA. In the two years since then he’s gone 16-21 with a 5.31 ERA. Davies has a good arm with a plus fastball but hasn’t figured out how to make it effective. The Royals desperately need him to have a bounce back season in 2011 but it’s an extreme long shot.
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