MLB Preview: Kansas City Royals

With baseball season fast approaching, it is time for TheWaiverWire’s inaugural Baseball Preview package. We will look at every division in baseball, starting in the American League and moving from East to West by division. Also, we each team by who will finish last to first. So, the first team you read about from each division is in the basement, and the last is who we determine to win the division.

American League Central

Last Place – Kansas City Royals

Starting Line-up -

Catcher: Salvador Perez (21) – 39 games, .331/.361/473 3HR 21RBI

First Base: Eric Hosmer (22) – 128 games, .293/.334/.465 19HR 78RBI – 3rd in Rookie of the Year Voting

Second Base: Johnny Giavotella (24) – 46 games, .247/.273/.376 2HR 21RBI

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar (25) – 158 games, .254/.290/.343 4HR 46RBI

Third Base: Mike Moustakas (23) – 89 games, .263/.309/.367 5HR 30RBI

Left Field: Alex Gordon (28) – 151 games, .303/.376/.502 23HR 87RBI – 2011 Gold Glove Winner, 21st in MVP Voting

Center Field: Lorenzo Cain (25) – 6 games, .273/.304/.318 0HR 1RBI

Right Field: Jeff Francoeur (28) – 153 games, .285/.329/.476 20HR 87RBI

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler (25) – 159 games, .291/.361/.461 19HR 95RBI

The Good News…

Its hard not to be excited about the potential the Royals have in their line-up. I mean, just look at those ages. Jeff Francoeur is the de facto team captain and veteran-in-charge, and he’s only 28. By far, the youngest line-up in the Major Leagues.

Hosmer's rookie season was no fluke. His bat is for real.

Eric Hosmer is absolutely a real power threat for the Royals. The team brought him up in May and he immediately made a huge impact. He lead all rookies in just about every major offensive category, and only in 128 games. He will be a mainstay in the Royals line-up and at first base for at least the next decade, should the Royals be able to afford him.

I, for one, am a huge fan of Mike Moustakas. The Royals moved Alex Gordon from third base to left field in order to make room for Moustakas. He didn’t exactly storm out of the gates like Hosmer did, but he got valuable experience that will play into his benefit moving forward. He will be given a full season this year in the Major League level and I would expect him to improve in every offensive category.

Alex Gordon played last season at an All-Star level, and at the level scouts and the Royals front office had always thought he would be playing at. Gordon posted career highs straight across the board. Every part of his triple slash were highs, 45 doubles, 23 home runs, 87 RBI, all highs. While it was promising to see Gordon bust out and finally perform, fans need to be wary to see if he can do it again. Personally, I think the output is real, as he is finally entering he prime. 2012 will tell the real story of Alex Gordon.

Billy Butler may bore  you out of your mind as far as his tools go, but he’s a complete offensive package. He wakes up every morning, goes 1-for-3 with a walk, drives in a run, then goes to bed. Every day, he rinses and repeats. For some reason, people around the Majors don’t get excited about the kind of production he puts out every year, but he does it anyway. He’s still incredibly young, and unfortunately, Hosmer has taken over the reigns at first base, so Butler is slotted into the Royals’ DH spot indefinitely. His bat is valuable enough where this is fine, so there won’t be any problems in the long run.

The Bad News…

The Bad News is part of the Good News. Mainly, this Royals line-up is insanely young. While the promise and potential is absolutely there for KC, the unproven nature of the entire line-up should bring up at least a few worries. 

What is the team going to get from Cain this season?

Lorenzo Cain and Alcedis Escobar were big snags, along with other prospects, in the Zack Greinke-to-Milwaukee trade. Escobar plays a very strong defense at short and has the ability to steal 25+ bases. He doesn’t draw nearly enough walks to be a top-of-the-order hitter, relegating him to a spot much lower in the order and limiting his potential. If the patience improves, then so does his value to the team. 

As for Cain, he absolutely hit his way out of AAA last season, so much so that the team decided to move Melky Cabrera to San Francisco to improve the starting rotation. He doesn’t project necessarily as a lead-off hitter, but should have a presence near the top of the order. He slugged .497 and stole 16 bases. He’s swiped as many as 34 bags in a Minor League season. Its always hard to just hand a starting job to a prospect out of Spring Training, but the Royals have made it clear that this is his job. Regardless, he remains a question mark.

Therefore, it remains to be seen who will actually hit lead-off for this team. Is it Cain? Is it Johnny Giavotella? Neither have the pure speed that you want from a lead-off hitter. Both could steal 20 bases, both get on base a fair amount, but neither have proven Major League track records. Lead-off hitters are important to the success of a line-up. The Royals need to solve this riddle in Spring Training, and they need to hope it works for them.

Starting Rotation – 

Ace: Luke Hochevar, RHP (28) – 31 games, 11-11, 4.68ERA, 198.0 IP, 128 Ks, 62 walks, 1.28 WHIP

#2: Bruce Chen, LHP (34) – 25 games, 12-8, 3.77ERA, 155.0 IP, 97 Ks, 50 walks, 1.30 WHIP

#3: Jonathan Sanchez, LHP (29) – 19 starts, 4-7, 4.26ERA, 101.1 IP, 102 Ks, 66 walks, 1.44 WHIP (with San Francisco Giants)

#4: Danny Duffy, LHP (23) – 20 starts, 4-8, 5.64ERA, 105.1 IP, 87 Ks, 51 walks, 1.61 WHIP

Battle for #5:

Felipe Paulino, RHP (28) – 20 starts, 4-6, 4.11ERA, 124.2 IP, 119 Ks, 48 walks, 1.37 WHIP

Luis Mendoza, RHP (28) – 2 starts, 2-0, 1.23ERA, 14.2 IP, 7 Ks, 5 walks, 1.09 WHIP

The Good News…

I like the potential Duffy offers this Royals rotation

There’s reason to be hopeful about the Royals rotation going future. Danny Duffy struggled in his first taste of Major League Baseball, but he is a young lefty with a lot of upside potential. The former top prospect in the Kansas City system needed some adversity to continue his development. At least, if you’re trying to look at the positives, that’s what you’re telling yourself.

Furthermore, the Royals system is still loaded with talented arms. Be it Mike Montgomery or Jake Odorizzi, there’s plenty of reason to be looking forward to the foundation of the rotation. However, here’s the bad news…

The Bad News…

The foundation of the Royals rotation won’t be ready for 2012. Duffy needs to prove that 2011 was the fluke and not the fact. Bruce Chen started the first game in New York after the September 11th terrorist attacks for the Mets. I have no idea how he is still in the Majors and only 34 years old. Both those things blow my mind. Either way, Chen, while a nice arm that could fill out the back of the rotation of any team in the league, the Royals are counting him on being a #2. That’s a tall order. 

What you see is what you get at this point with Hochevar

While Chen being a #2 is a huge task, expecting Luke Hochevar as your ace is even more insane. The former first overall draft pick in the 2006 draft just hasn’t developed the way the team had imagined. Part of that is the Royals never really gave him time to develop in the Minors, rushing him to the Majors within 12 months of being drafted. The other, he just doesn’t wow anybody. He is a perfectly fine pitcher. He has slowly been getting better each year, but he’s now 28 and its hard to imagine him all of a sudden putting it together. As a part of a rotation? I can see that. As an ace? Absolutely not.

I don’t mind that the team traded Melky Cabrera for lefty Jonathan Sanchez. In fact, I wrote immediately after the trade that I thought it was a win for the Royals to cash in on a career year for Cabrera when there is ample outfield depth at their disposal. However, while Sanchez is an immediate upgrade to this rotation, he doesn’t exactly put your team over the top. He’ll strike out a bunch of hitter, but he’s also going to walk a bunch of hitter, resulting in a lot of five-inning appearances and high pitch counts. On a winning team, you can live with all the faults Sanchez has because he provides you with a hard-throwing lefty towards the back end of a rotation. However, the Royals have higher aspirations than that for him, and that’s why I’m a little worried about their rotation depth for this season.

Bench –

C Brayan Pena (30) – 72 games, .248/.288/.338 3HR 24RBI

IF Chris Getz (28) – 118 games, .255/.313/.287 0HR 26RBI

IF Yuniesky Betancourt (30) – 152 games, .252/.271/.381 13HR 68RBI (with Milwaukee Brewers)

OF Mitch Maier (29) – 44 games, .232/.345/.337 0HR 7RBI

IF Kevin Kouzmanoff (30) – 73 games, .235/.284/.372 7HR 33RBI (split between Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies)

The Skinny…

None of these names really should jump out at you at this point in their respective careers. The star is all but gone on former top prospect Kevin Kouzmanoff, who has bounced around the league for the better part of the last three seasons. Chris Getz, who was last year’s starting second baseman, provided zero power in an everyday role, relegating him to a more comfortable utility infield position.

While Yuniesky Betancourt, who was apart of the deal the Royals sent to the Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke, was brought back on a guaranteed Major League contract. He will definitely provide some pop off the bench and has the ability to start anywhere around the infield should any of the young Royals struggle or get injured. You can survive with Betancourt in your everyady line-up, which is why his signing in particular was a good get for Kansas City.

Bullpen –

Closer: Joakim Soria, RHP (27) – 60 games, 4.03ERA, 28 saves, 60.1 IP, 9.0 K/9, 17 walks, 1.28 WHIP

8th Inning Reliever: Jonathan Broxton, RHP (27) – 14 games, 5.68ERA, 7 saves, 12.2 IP, 7.1 K/9, 9 walks, 1.90 WHIP (with Los Angeles Dodgers)

Middle Reliever: Aaron Crow, RHP (25) – 57 games, 2.76ERA, 62.0 IP, 9.4 K/9, 31 walks, 1.39 WHIP – 2011 All-Star

Middle Reliever: Tim Collins, LHP (22) – 68 games, 3.63ERA, 67.0 IP, 8.1 K/9, 48 walks, 1.49 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Jose Mijares, LHP (27) – 58 games, 4.59ERA, 49.0 IP, 5.5 K/9, 30 walks, 1.69 WHIP (with Minnesota Twins)

Middle Reliever: Greg Holland, RHP (26) – 46 games, 1.80ERA, 60.0 IP, 11.1 K/9, 19 walks, 0.93 WHIP

The Skinny…

It remains to be seen if the Royals want to move Aaron Crow back into a starting role. He definitely excelled coming out of the ‘pen, especially in a year in which Joakim Soria battled injury and confidence issues. Crow was the Royals lone All-Star, and many thought that with his emergence, it may have been time to move Soria to a contending team that would land the Royals with solid prospects in return.

Will we see the Soria of old in 2012?

Then again, Soria’s struggles were so well documented last year that his value has taken a significant hit. The good news is, the former All-Star closer is under team control at a very affordable rate. However, if this team wants to rise in the division standings, they will need their best reliever to have a bounce back season in 2012.

Speaking of bounce back seasons, I’m a huge fan of the Royals snagging Jonathan Broxton up in free agency on the cheap. There is no negative scenario here for Kansas City. The best case scenario: Broxton regains his velocity and has a tremendous season setting up Soria or Crow, all while the team fields trade offers to contenders looking for late-inning relief help. The bad news is Broxton can’t right his sinking ship and the Royals either designate him for assignment at some point in the season, or they ride out this one-year contract and see what happens anyway. Its a real savvy move and its one a team like the Royals should be making more often.

As for the rest of the bullpen, its just a bunch of young arms looking to prove themselves at the Major League level. Tim Collins looks like a real good lefty coming out of the bullpen. They took another low-risk, high-reward chance on former division rival Jose Mijares. Greg Holland was arguably the best reliever the Royals had in the second half of the season, and, similarly, Louis Coleman, who didn’t make this projected bullpen, provided positives as a 25-year old righty in his rookie season. Its a good mix of righties and lefties, and they’re all 30-years or younger. Its a good problem to have in a bullpen: too many young arms.

Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com) –

#1: OF Bubba Starling (19) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

Find me someone who doesn’t think hometown kid Bubba Starling will be a star, and I’ll show you a liar. The fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Starling grew up a Royals fan (an oddity for this generation) and was a two-sport star in high school. In fact, the Royals had to buy Starling out of his scholarship committment to the University of Nebraska, where he was scheduled to start at quarterback as a freshman. He has every tool you can ever imagine wanting in a young center fieler. Now, he just needs to make his Minor League debut and turn any remaining doubters into believers.

#2: OF Wil Myers (21) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Myers was the organization’s top remaining position player prospect after the promotions of Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain, and many thought he took a step backwards last year after struggling for a full season in AA. However, those inside the Royals organization said that Myers was battling an injury all season long, and they may have been right after the young outfielder had a very strong campaign in the Arizona Fall League. Depending on how the team wants to challenge Myers going forward, they may choose to let him repeat AA, at least for half the season, instead of sending him directly to AAA.

#3: LHP Mike Montgomery (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Montgomery struggled in AAA last season. So much so that the tall lefty, who was expected to make his Major League debut at some point last summer, didn’t appear above the level once last season. He still has three Major League-ready pitches, and still profiles as a top-of-the-rotation caliber talent. But, he needs to prove to everyone, especially himself, that 2011 was a fluke. If he can bust out of the gates with a strong first two months of the season, he could make himself a home in the Kansas City rotation for the remainder of the season.

#4: RHP Jake Odorizzi (21) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Odorizzi was the best pitching piece the Royals received from Milwaukee along with Lorenzo Cain and Alcedis Escobar. He dominated High-A ball and earned himself a mid-season promotion to AA, where his numbers began to come back down to Earth. Much like Myers, his placement in 2012 will be dependent on how aggressive the organization wants to push their young talent. As a betting man, I have a feeling they’ll give Odorizzi April and May in AA before promoting him to AAA. Should he thrive there, he could see some time come late-August or early-Septemeber with the parent club.

#5: 3B Cheslor Cuthbert (19) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Once again, the Royals are making my life a little difficult with these Minor League placements. Cuthbert was one of the youngest players to play in High-A ball last year, and, considering his youth, he did just fine in his 81 games. He didn’t strike out that much and he showed plenty of patience, and while the power numbers were a little low, many scouts are expecting him to grow into his body and develop more power along the way. I’d think the Royals will let him repeat High-A so he can continue to grow and develop some confidence. But hey, if they want to really test him, he could be the youngest player to appear in a AA game this season.

#6: LHP John Lamb (21) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Lamb was blazing through the Minor Leagues until he was shut down with an elbow injury. The trickiest part about Lamb this year would be how he responds to the injury. He will repeat in AA obviously, and there is still a very outside chance he could see some time in the Majors by September. Again, it all depends on how he bounces back from injury.

#7: LHP Chris Dwyer (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Like Montgomery, Dwyer has the raw skills, but he did not put up the numbers in AA. Yes, it is difficult to take much into consideration when looking at Minor League statistics, but he didn’t have much command and his strikeout numbers took a dip. He needs to put together a strong 2012 in order to restore his potential.

#8: RHP Kelvin Herrera (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Herrera is a power arm destined for the back end of the Kansas City bullpen at some point this year. He made his Major League debut in September last year, and could potentially be a full-time Major Leaguer out of Spring Training. However, with the amount of arms the Royals already have at their disposal, Herrera will probably be given time to close in AAA before being promoted.

#9: 2B Christian Colon (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Colon doesn’t jump off the page with any special tools. He does a lot of things well, but nothing great. He jumped to AA last year, and he didn’t put the league behind him. He has more time to develop, so he’ll most likely repeat the level with a likely promotion to AAA by mid-summer.

#10: RHP Yordano Ventura (20) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Oh, you know, just another hard throwing starter with the potential and pitches to be at the top of a starting rotation one day. He will make the jump to AA, and if he continues to strike out batters at the current rate he’s going, he’ll be fine down the stretch.

Give it to me straight, Greg…

Unlike the rest of my fellow writers at TheWaiverWire, I think there is hope for the Royals this year. Anyone in this division not playing in Detroit can honestly finish as high as second and as low as last. The other four teams not named the Tigers all have glaring weakness and some few bright spots that make you want to believe there is a potential on the roster.

Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine the Royals rotation putting it all together to bring this team closer to .500. They aren’t far away. Even if they only get two of their top arms to pan out for them in the long run, the Royals are in better shape than many other teams in the league. They’re taking steps in the right direction, but 2012 won’t be the year it all comes together.

The Royals have a wait-and-see approach. There is hope and reasons to be optimistic in Kansas City. Just…wait one more year, then you’ll have something to be really excited about.

2012 Season Projection – 74-88, Last Place in American League Central