Impact Player: DH Billy Butler
Impact Pitcher: RHP Joakim Soria
Best Reliever: RHP Joakim Soria
Top Prospect: 1B Eric Hosmer
General Manager: Dayton Moore
Manager: Ned Yost (55-72, .433)
RHP Vin Mazzaro, LHP Jeff Francis, SS Alcides Escobar, CF Lorenzo Cain, RF Jeff Francoeur, OF Melky Cabrera, RHP Kevin Pucetas
RHP Zack Greinke, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, OF Scott Podsednik, OF David DeJesus, RHP Brian Bannister, RHP Gil Meche
Poor Kansas City. Despite all the rich baseball history and a brilliant ageless ballpark, the Royals continue to toil away on the bottom of the shoe that is Major League Baseball. The Royals have just one winning season in the last 17 years and have not won more than 84 games since 1989. Their last playoff appearance came in 1985 when they won their only World Series title; only the Expos/Nationals franchise, which has been absent from the playoffs since 1982, has a longer playoff drought. Not even the Pirates have a worse record in the last ten years.
On top of that, the Royals lost their top three starters this past offseason when ace Zack Greinke was dealt to the Brewers, Brian Bannister left to play in Japan, and Gil Meche, tired of dealing with all of his injuries, left a boatload of money on the table and retired.
Despite having the worst team in baseball on paper, there is a silver lining to the Royals’ franchise: they boast the best minor-league system in the game and possibly the best ever. Top-level prospects dominate the top-ten in the system and many are as close to sure things as you can get. 2011 will be terrible, but if GM Dayton Moore can surround his young core of prospects with decent major-league talent in the next few years they could contend as early as 2012 or 2013.
With Greinke, Meche and Bannister all gone, this rotation is bar-none the worst in baseball. Its “number-one” is Luke Hochevar who is a former first-overall pick, but at 27 will clearly never live up to that initial potential. Hochevar was 6-6 with a 4.81 ERA in 2010, but did post some decent peripherals that led to a 3.93 FIP. At best he would be a 4th or 5th starter on a good team.
Kyle Davies occupies the only other locked rotation spot after an 8-12, 5.34 ERA season where he posted a below-average 1.57 K/BB ratio and a 4.46 FIP, while Vin Mazzaro who was acquired from the A’s for David DeJesus is also likely to grab a spot. Mazzaro was bad in 2010 at the major-league level but is only 24 and still has room to grow. Even though his ceiling is likely a number-four or five starter, he could end up being the best pitcher in this rotation in 2011.
If he can stay healthy, free-agent signing Jeff Francis will also be in this rotation. He’s penciled in fourth on the depth chart, but is currently the best starter on the team despite the injury problems. His 4-6 record and 5.00 ERA in Colorado last season look bad, but he had a 1.98 BB/9 rate and a 3.88 FIP suggesting that the move to a more pitcher-oriented park in KC will help him get his career back on track.
The fifth spot will be a spring battle between veteran uber-journeyman Bruce Chen, right-handers Sean O’Sullivan and Kevin Pucetas, and left-hander Everett Teaford. O’Sullivan and Chen will likely have spot in the bullpen if they don’t make the cut in the rotation. Chen’s 12 wins led the team in 2010, but he had a sub-par 4.54 FIP and the team needs left-handed depth in the bullpen.
Joakim Soria is the best pitcher on this team by far. He finished last season with a 1.74 ERA, 43 saves and a 2.53 FIP. He has four plus pitches which suggests that the Royals should at least consider moving him to the rotation to take advantage of his ridiculous talent.
Beyond Soria, the Royals bullpen, like the rest of their team, is very thin. Robinson Tejeda will likely be the primary setup man after posting a 3.59 FIP in 2010 and Greg Holland was solid in 18.2 innings late in the year. Blake Wood, Jesse Chavez, and Kanekoa Texeira will fight for spots with Teaford and Greinke acquisition Jeremy Jeffress who was solid with Milwaukee in a September call-up.
The lack of lefties in the organization suggests that Chen would be better suited for the bullpen than the starting rotation.
Non-roster invites Luis Mendoza, Zach Miner and Steven Shell are also in the mix for bullpen jobs.
37-year-old Jason Kendall hasn’t been able to hit for years and has never really been great defensively, but there’s no arguing with his durability at the position. He still manages to steal bases despite his age and position; he had 12 last year.
Brayan Pena wasn’t much better offensively and is average at best defensively, but if he shows he can hit some, he might take the starting job from Kendall. 26-year-old Lucas May and 24-year-old Manuel Pina could force their way on to the roster with solid springs and both have higher ceilings than the two current catchers. Prospect Wil Myers has officially been moved to the outfield so it’s unlikely that he’ll effect the outcome at catcher in 2011 or beyond.
Kila Ka’aihue will finally get his chance to prove he belongs in the majors. The once very highly-touted prospect is now 27, but has plus power and is solid defensively at first. If he can shake his developing AAAA label and hit in the majors he should be in the lineup a lot for KC this season. He is still a stop-gap player, however, as Eric Hosmer clearly looks like the future at first.
Across the diamond, Mike Aviles will get a look at third base where he should be better defensively than he was at shortstop. Aviles has proven himself to be a capable hitter, but isn’t good enough to stick long-term. Like at first, the Royals have can’t-miss prospect at third in Mike Moustakas who isn’t far away.
The centerpiece of the Greinke deal was shortstop Alcides Escobar who put up terrible offensive numbers in his rookie campaign in 2010 with the Brewers. He is a very good fielder and most believe he’ll develop more skills at the plate.
Chris Getz is probably not a major-leaguer on most teams, but he’ll likely break camp as the everyday second baseman in Kansas City. If the team decides Moustakas is ready at some point this year then Aviles could shift to second, bumping Getz to the bench where he probably belongs.
Wilson Betemit is a solid offensive contributor posting a .297/.378/.511 slash line in 2010, but is terrible defensively everywhere but first base. His ability to hold down at all the other infield spots means he’ll get a significant amount of playing time and he could end up starting at second if his bat is too good to keep out of the lineup. Joaquin Arias and Pedro Feliz are also around on minor-league deals.
I’m saying it for the last time; Alex Gordon finally lives up to his potential and puts up big numbers for the Royals in 2011. His move to leftfield wasn’t a total disaster and someone with his offensive talent should put up much better numbers. This is the year he does it. I’ve now said that for fourteen straight years.
Moore loves his Braves’ castoffs as evidenced by his signing of two terrible players in Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. Both are criminally overrated but are somehow being given starting jobs on the Royals in 2011. Francoeur is probably good enough to stay in right until Myers arrives, but I doubt it if Cabrera makes it out of April with his starting job in centerfield intact.
Greinke acquisition Lorenzo Cain is primed to take over for Cabrera in centerfield when the team realizes how useless he is. Cain put up a .306/.348/.415 slash line in 2010 with Milwaukee.
Former first-rounder Mitch Maier is also still around and could make a solid fourth outfielder which, at 29, is all he’ll ever be. Gregor Blanco, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough are also on the 40-man roster and could get a look and Brett Carroll is coming to camp as a non-roster invite.
Billy Butler is the by far the best hitter on this team and the only true threat to do any damage in the Royals’ lineup. He’s been signed to a long-term extension ensuring that he’ll be around when all of the uber-prospects arrive. It’s scary to think what he could do with protection in the lineup. He can also play first base if Ka’aihue flops and Hosmer isn’t ready.
Rotation, bullpen, and lineup as well as extended rosters can be found in chart-form here.
Looking at this roster, it’s hard to imagine the Royals contending in the Pacific Coast League let alone the major-leagues. With prospects such as Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers, and pitchers John Lamb and Mike Montgomery on the way, the Royals should see playoff games in the next few seasons provided Moore can surround them with some semblance of talent. 2011, however will be extremely trying for Royals’ fans. Luckily, they’re very good at watching a loser.
Final Prediction: 59-103, 5th AL Central.