Thursday, March 31, 2011

Royals Predictions

  • The Royals will get of to an 18-16 start.

  • They will 59-69 the rest of the way. Finishing 77-85

  • Melky Cabrerra and Jeff Francis will be dealt at the tradedeadline, however Jeff Francouer will play 154 games in right field. His on base percentage will be .308.

  • Alcides Escobar will save the Royals 13 runs with his glove. He will also hit for a line of .272/.310/.379.

  • Kila Ka'aihue will hit 24 home runs. Alex Gordon will hit 19. Bill Butler will hit 22.

  • Mike Aviles will start out red hot, but then go through a bad slump in May and be traded. Royals fans will howl about the return.

  • The Royals will draft Bubba Starling with the 5th overall pick and give him a signing bonus over $5 million.

  • Jarrod Dyson will hit .280 as a part time player, prompting the Royals to give him full time at bats when Cabrerra is dealt. His average then drops to .250 and Lorenzo Cain is called up in mid August. Dyson's fate as a fourth outfielder is sealed.

  • Jeff Francis posts an era under 4. Bruce Chen's era swells to 4.88.

  • Luke Hochevar has the best season of his young career and posts and era of 4.23.

  • Mike Montgomery, Mike Moustakas, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman, Johnny Giavotella, Eric Hosmer, Manny Pina, Danny Duffy, David Lough, and Everett Teaford all make big league debuts this season.

  • Moustakas is okay in Omaha and then is promoted to the Bigs on June 11. He has a couple of two home run games. But his average will be significantly lower than his BABIP and his on base will hover around .300. He'll breakout in 2012 (I'll give you a freebie a year in advance).

  • Omaha, Northwest Arkansas, and Wilmington both win first half titles.

  • Northwest Arkansas repeats as Texas League champs.

  • Wil Myers wins Minor League Player of the year.

  • Brett Eibner struggles in his first professional season with plate discipline. Leading his league in strikeouts. He also hits 20 home runs.

  • The Royals finish third in Amateur draft bonuses behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blues. They finished 1 overall in money spent on amatuer talent for 2011.

  • Royals make run at Yu Darvish in offseason. However, Toronto wins rights to bid on him by placing a $62 mill post fee.

  • Royals stand pat in offseason and are trendy pick to win Central in 2012.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Couldn't Have Been a Dream

"I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come. I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come. They got a crazy way of loving there and I'm gonna get me some."

A little over a month ago I decided to make sure that every morning I would wake up to "Kansas City Here I come," after it was the song that my Ipod randomly chose to play on September 28th. Of course by now September 28th has become a day that no Royals fan will soon forget.

It was the last game of the season and the Royals and Twins found themselves tied at the top of the AL Central standings with 87 wins. Coincidentally that night they would meet to determine the true champion. The Royals who had shocked the world thus far in 2011, elected to go with veteran Jeff Francis while the Twins countered with Nick Blackburn. Francis, finally fully recovered from his injury woes had been spectacular for the Royals all season long. He finished the year with a 14-8 record with a 3.71 era.

Francis saved his best for the end and he dazzled throughout the contest. He entered the bottom of the 7th with a 1-1 tie after Alex Gordon drove in Lorenzo Cain in the top half of the inning. Cain set up the play after he beat out a dribbler down the third base line and then stole second with Mike Aviles batting. Aviles grounded out to second allowing Cain to get to third and then Gordon did his job by hitting a deep fly to right to get Cain home.

Francis ran into a bit of trouble in the 7th and when runners reached the corners and just one out had been recorded, the Royals elected to make a call to what had become the best bullpen in the American League. Out from the pen emerged diminutive lefty Tim Collins. Sure Collins boasted an era of 1.93 and had baffled hitters all season long, but I couldn't help but squirm in my seat as former MVP Joe Mauer stepped to the plate.

Collins quickly ran the count to 0-2 with two strategically placed fastballs, but Mauer made Collins work for the knockout blow. It ended up being an excruciating eleven pitch at bat and on the final pitch Mauer hit a line drive toward left. But Escobar made a diving catch to his left and then fired a bullet across the diamond to double off the runner at first. Crisis adverted and the score remained 1-1 entering the final two innings. Escobar would later be awarded for defensive heroics with a Gold Glove at season's end.

The Royals went down in order for three consecutive innings after that and with strong performances by Jeremy Jeffress, Aaron Crow, and Robinson Tejeda the game was still tied entering the top eleventh when Magic happened. Mike Moustakas was at the plate and former Royal Dusty Hughes was on the mound. Moustakas didn't take long. On the first pitch of the at bat Hughes threw an 88 mph fastball belt high and Moustakas turned on it with a rage. The ball left the stadium as quick as the ball came to the plate and Moustakas rounded the bases giving the Royals their first lead of the game.

Soria did what Soria always does and pitched a one-two-three ninth that concluded with a Bugs Bunny curve freezing Delmon Young for strike three. The celebration was on and the Royals popped the Champaign for the first time in over twenty-six years.

The Royals played the Oakland A's in the first round of Major League playoffs and runs were hard to come by for the Royals in the first couple of contests. Kansas City dropped the first two by a combined 8 runs, and the team's fans started to dream about future success. Mike Montgomery got the nod in game three and fans talked about how beneficial the playoff experience would be for his young career.

For the season Montgomery had posted an era of 3.89 and compiled a 7-5 record. He had shown flashes of brilliance, but hadn't been as consistent as Francis and fellow rookie Danny Duffy had been. But on that October night Montgomery was dominate. When all was said and done Monty had pitched 8 innings not allowing a run while striking out 10 Athletics.

The Royals won the contest 3-0 thanks to a bases clearing double from Butler in the sixth and once again the Royals had hope and their fans had hope for 2011. Hochevar got the win in game four and then Danny Duffy battled for six innings in game five and left the game with the Royals tied at 3. The bullpen stifled A's hitters and in the top of the ninth Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for Brayan Pena and stole second. Everyone in the stadium knew it was coming yet the A's were powerless to stop it.

On the very next pitch Alcides Escobar showed off the .290 line drive stroke that Royals fans had grown so fond of. Dyson scored with ease and the Royals were three outs away from heading the the ALCS. Of course Soria did his job and the bottles of champaign flowed freely again.

The Royals got into another hole in the ALCS and found themselves down 3-1, entering game 5. Hochevar found himself on the hill for the most critical game in his career. Many mocked the Royals when they named Hochevar the Opening Day starter but the organization was steadfast in their belief that Hoch had ace stuff. Hochevar pitched okay for the beginning part of the season and on June 21 he sported a 4.12 era.

The number was nothing to be ashamed of, but Hochevar wasn't happy with the results. Time and time again he would have a quality start, but would fall to another team's ace. But on June 21st Hochevar's mentality finally shifted to intense.

The bases were loaded in the top of the fourth with no outs and it looked as if the wheels might fall off once again for Hoch. Luke had progressed so much all season long but he had yet to turn the corner in situations such as this. Hochevar threw three straight pitches that could have been called balls or strikes. The Umpire called them balls. Hochevar was clearly frazzled, but instead of unraveling as he had so many times in his young career. Hochevar threw three straight strikes and forced the next hitter to ground into a double play. From that point on he would never look back. Hochevar's era dropped all the way to 3.44 by the end of the season and he finished with 15 wins.

Hochevar's opponent for game 5 would be Jon Lester in what could have been the last game at the K for the season. Hochevar who had started the season on the hill at the K, refused to be the reason for the end. Hochevar carved up Boston's hitters all night long. Some high heat to K Dustin Pedroia. A backdoor slider to get Adrian Gonzalez looking. A heavy sinker to make the fleet footed Carl Crawford ground into a double play. By the end of the night the scoreboard showed 6-1 in favor of the Boys in Blue.

Three nights later the voice of Denny Matthews rang out across the Midwest from handhelds, car radios, and stereos:

"Crow leans in for the sign and the pitch. Flyball to right center. Dyson circles under it! And for the first time in twenty-six years the Royals will return to the World Series! I can't believe it! The Kansas City Royals are the champions of the American League!"

I couldn't believe it either. I was ecstatic and I was optimistic for the Royals chances against the Phillies in the World Series. All season long the Phillies starting staff had broke records for a rotation. They had rolled through the National League playoffs and their starting staff had yielded just 98 runs in 63 innings in the NLDS and NLCS. But the Royals? They were a team of destiny.

The Royals took game 1. But then the Phillies rolled KC in games 2 and 3. Here we go again I thought, digging ourselves a hole. No way we get out of it against the hottest staff in postseason history. But then the incredible happened.

Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas caught fire. Both of them. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was unlike anything the baseball world had ever seen before. It was so symbolic to the Royals entire season. Dayton Moore's Process called for the Royals to contend in 2013, but here we were in 2011 and we were on the verge of winning the whole damn thing.

It was as if the past and future had fused into one. Gordon who once had been labeled as the Messiah for baseball in Kansas City. Moustakas regarded as the first of the new wave of prospects that would bring Kansas City a winner. Both dominating. Both with one common goal. It was beautiful. It was indescribable.

In game four Gordon went 3-5 with a home run and 4 rbi, while Moustakas pitched in a pair of doubles and 2 rbi. In game five Moustakas belted a pair into the upper deck, while Gordon went 2 for 2 with 3 walks. Finally in game six it got really crazy.

Gordon started things off in the top of the first when he hit a solo shot to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Not to be outdone, Moustakas homered in the second to push the Royals advantage to 2-0. In the fifth Gordon doubled and then Butler singled followed by a Ka'aihue walk. Moustakas stepped in with the bases loaded and hit a double off the opposite field wall scoring three.

When the bottom of the 9th rolled around the Royals led the game 9-4 while Gordon and Moustakas had accounted for 8 of the RBIs. The Royals, not wanting to mess around, brought in Soria one more time. Of course Soria did what he always did. He pitched a one-two-three ninth. Just like that, the Royals were the Champions of baseball.

I rubbed the sand out of my eyes. I wasn't dreaming. I looked around my room; on one wall I had a poster commemorating the 2011 Royals. The poster was filled of facing that didn't even need a razor yet. I thought about all the success that this team could have. The greatness it could achieve. The future was limitless.

I got up from my bed and walked over to another wall. I stared at a photo taken from a Plaza balcony during the World Series parade. Blue and white confetti filled the air. On a royal blue convertible sat 2011 Executive of the Year Dayton Moore alongside 2011 Manager of the Year Ned Yost. The organization had come so far, yet it was just the beginning and the process would never be complete.

In the car ahead of them sat the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year and the 2011 Rookie of the Year. The Messiah from the past and the Shephard of the future. Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas. It was so fitting. The two men that Kansas Citians had counted on finally brought a Championship back to Kansas City. They couldn't have done it alone.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 2-1

2. Mike Montgomery LHP

In 2008 the Royals selected a lanky California lefty with their supplemental first round pick. His name was Mike Montgomery and one of the first things that Royals fans learned about him was that he was kicked off his high school basketball team due to receiving to many technical fouls. Nonetheless baseball people seemed to brag about this fact like it was a badge of honor and it wasn't hard to picture Royals scouts watching Montgomery in the summer sun with proud eyes while leaning to the guy sitting next to them and stating "I just love his fierce personality and how he is a fiery competitor."

Montgomery also has some of the top stuff on the Minor League circuit. His fastball is a plus plus pitch that sits in the mid 90s with plenty of life. His curveball comes in somewhere in the 70s and is another dominating pitch. He also possesses a changeup that is average and should continue to be an even better offering down the road. Montgomery has top of the rotation stuff with a frame that suggests it should only improve.

Montgomery has received raved reviews throughout his time in the organization and there was even a point this season when Baseball America questioned if he was the top pitching prospect in baseball after a dominating start in Wilmington. With his success at the high A level Montgomery rather quickly earned a bump up to the Texas League. However, once there he suffered some fore arm tightness and so the Royals shut him down for an extended period. Montgomery has top notch mechanics, with a fluid motion so injuries won't be a concern moving forward.

Because of his time missed during the regular season, the Royals were able to give him some time in both the Pan-Am games and the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Montgomery's era left something to be desired in the AFL, but on the night he pitched in the Rising Stars game the announcers couldn't help but salivate over his Cliff Lee potential.

Heading into Spring Training most viewed Duffy as the most ready starter out of the 4 lefties. But after Montgomery's Spring performance most are now raving how near ready he is. Montgomery is not yet on the 40-man roster but we should see him in Kansas City by season's end.

Given that a hitter's production is typically maximized by controlling him through his age 23-29 year old season, it makes sense for the Royals to be extremely conservative in their development and promotion of Moustakas, Hosmer, Colon, Eibner, and Myers. But with pitchers this peak value usually occurs between ages 21-27 or 22-28, basically from whenever the pitcher reaches the Majors until his reaches free agency.

While the Royals are going to want to choose the most effective years possible for their control, it is also important that their players service time matchup as best as possible. Given the current situation this service shouldn't be off by more than one, maybe two seasons. Also, when you consider the amount of pitching depth that the Royals have it would seem to make sense to get the pitchers up now and then take your time even more with the guys behind them. By doing so you could ideally lengthen the value of the current crop of prospects in the system.

1. Eric Hosmer 1B

There is a perception amongst many baseball followers that top prospects will hit the ground running upon their promotion to the Major Leagues. However, the vast majority of the time this is not the case. I believe that Eric Hosmer will be one of the few prospects that create an immediate impact at the Major League level.

Evan Longoria was a similar bat when he burned the American League to a tune of a .272/.343/.531 slash in his rookie campaign, while leading the Rays to their first division title in franchise history. Buster Posey was an impact bat a year ago when he posted a .305/.357/.505 line when he began the final piece for the Giants quest at a World Series title.

I believe that Hosmer's bat will immediately translate and we can only hope that this has the same impact on the Royals as Longoria's and Posey's had for the Rays and Giants. Hosmer is probably Major League ready now, however with Butler and Ka'aihue already entrenched on the Major League roster the Royals will be able to find what they have in those two players, while leaving Hosmer in the minors long enough to delay his service time.

At this point I can envision a situation in which the Royals call up Moustakas in mid June, thus delaying his service clock for a year while also preventing him from obtaining Super 2 status. But with Hosmer the Royals would be wise to not break him into the Majors until mid April 2012. By doing this they can have him under team control thru 2018. By staggering Moustakas's and Hosmer's service time the Royals won't face a situation where they lose both of their middle order bats in the same season should they not lock them up long term.

If Ka'aihue and Butler perform as many hope and some expect them to, it shouldn't be too difficult for the aforementioned scenario to play out. However, if Ka'aihue struggles to translate his minor league and spring training success to the Major League level then we will likely see Hosmer in Kansas City midseason.

I would also like to see the Royals at least test the idea of having Hosmer move to the outfield. It has long been believed that Hosmer could handle the move, his fastball was clocked in the mid 90s in high school and is much more athletic than one would at first believe. He wouldn't ever win any gold gloves but he would probably have at least serviceable range and an arm that could be a valuable asset in right or left.

If Hosmer proved capable of playing left field then the Royals could potentially feature Butler, Ka'aihue, and Hosmer in the lineup at the same time. The Royals could then have a longer period of evaluation for both Kila and Butler and by the time Hosmer began to slow as an outfield defender, the Royals could shift Hosmer back over to first where he should be an above average defender.

It will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on as the summer unfolds and hope that the Royals aren't conservative with Hosmer during his time in Omaha. Put it this way, the guy can already hit, if he can handle a move to the outfield it would only push the Royals timetable to contention along and would only increase Hosmer's versatility and value.

Hosmer's bat will carry him to the Major Leagues. Once he is there he should be a superstar caliber hitter consistently hitting over .300 while competing for batting titles. It also isn't hard to project Hosmer and Moustakas combining to hit 70+ homers annually. It should be a fearsome duo in the heart of the Royals order for years to come.

Someday Hosmer, Moustakas and company will be the face of the Royals franchise, but for now we just aren't sure when that day will come.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 5-3

5. John Lamb LHP

Entering his final season of high school baseball, John Lamb was considered one of the top prep pitching products. However, luck didn't favor John and he wound up losing his senior campaign to a broken elbow that occurred in a car wreck. The Royals, whom have in the past few years have made a living on taking high dollar chances in the draft, selected Lamb in the fifth round and signed him to a $165,000 bonus.

Lamb wasn't able to return to the diamond until roughly a year after his selection when he debuted in Appy League for the Burlington Royals. Almost immediately Lamb began to draw attention from the scouting world, earning the Royals praise from Baseball America for their patience and commitment. Lamb finished the 2009 season in the hitter friendly environment that is the Pioneer League. By the time his first professional season was over Lamb had posted a 3.80 ERA with a 71:20 strikeout:walk ratio.

Scouts praised Lamb's stuff, but even more they loved his tenacity on the mound. Lamb seemingly was never phased over the course of a contest. Lamb was fearless on the mound displaying the courage to show any pitch in any count. After a strong spring Lamb was named Opening Day starter for the Burlington Bees.

Lamb didn't stay in Burlington long, as he blew by Midwest League hitters to a tune of a 1.58 era through 40 innings pitched. Lamb then joined the Blue Rock rotation and instead of hitting a roadblock as would be expected for a teenage pitcher in the Carolina League, Lamb's numbers improved his era dipped to 1.45. His k rate rose from 9.7 to 10.8. His walk rate dipped from 3.8 to 1.8.

As you can imagine the Royals decided that Lamb needed to be tested. So in just his second professional season, Lamb found himself as a member of a Naturals' rotation that was pushing for a Texas League title. Lamb struggled at times often pitching several good innings but mixing in a terrible one in starts. But in Lamb's last start of the season, when the Naturals needed a W to have a shot at the Texas League title, John Lamb went 6.2 innings, k-ed 5, allowed 2 hitts, walked 1, and allowed just 1 runner to cross the plate.

Lamb operates with a fastball that typically sits in the low 90s, but has been known to hit up to 95 on the gun. He also has the top changeup in the Kansas City system, and a curveball that at times shows promise of being another plus offering. When you combine this stuff with a top notch mentality and what Baseball America says is the top command in the system it is easy to get excited about the future or Mr. John Lamb.

John Lamb should begin the season in the Naturals rotation once again. If you live within a two hour radius of Springdale there is no excuse to not see him pitch at some point this season before he is promoted to Omaha.

4. Wil Myers OF

What Wil Myers did in his second professional season isn't normal. Myers, whom the Royals nabbed with an over-slot bonus of $2 million in the third round of the 2009 draft, returned the Royals investment by hitting .315/.429/.506 between two minor league stops. Considering how Hosmer and Moustakas didn't rocket up the prospect charts until after their third seasons, and how they both struggled during their first stints in low and high, there are a growing number of people who believe that Myers could be the best of the bunch.

Myers has a somewhat unorthodox stance, where he is open to the pitcher as he begins his delivery. However, by the time the ball is released Myers is in attack position and with a great eye is already in the process of determining what pitch is heading his way. It is this fantastic batting eye that has enabled Myers to post 94 walks compared to just 112 strikeouts in his 148 game professional career.

The only thing that was set to hold Myers back from quickly reaching the Majors was his defense, which left much to be desired. However just as many predicted, the Royals decided to shift Myers from behind the plate to the outfield corner. With the move to rightfield Myers plus arm should continue to be a tremendous asset and should also get Myers to Kansas City much faster.

Myers has drawn comparisons to Dale Murphy, both of which began their professional career as tall athletic catchers that eventually would have to shift to the outfield. These are nice comparisons for a guy that hasn't reached 150 professional games yet. Myers should eventually hit for both average and power, while also having the capability of drawing 100+ walks a season.

Myers should begin the season as the three hitter and rightfielder for the Naturals. I expect him to reach Kansas City at some point in 2012.

3. Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas is a beast. In his first game for the Naturals this summer he homered twice. Mike Moustakas is a leader. In his first stint in full season ball he once pinned an older player and cussed him out for not hustling on a play. Mike Moustakas is a baseball player. For half of the 2010 season I had the privelege of watching Moustakas play in games, take swings in the batting cages, and take infield on a regular basis. He loves the game. He works his ass off and someday Royals fans are going to love him for his fiery personality on big league diamond.

Moustakas struggled a season ago in Wilmington. He hit just .250 and posted a Francouerian obp of .297. He struggled against lefties and fans were concerned. When he began the 2011 season in extended spring training many thought of it as just another step back for the guy the Royals chose over Matt Weiters. But as soon as Moustakas got his time in the Texas League he took supreme advantage as he burned Texas League pitchers to a tune of .347/.413/.687. Had he not received a promotion to Omaha there is a little doubt that the triple crown title would have been his and not teammate Clint Robinson's.

Moustakas struggled a bit during his time in triple-A, but with the help of a 3 homer, 11 rbi night he finished his time in Omaha with a .293/.314/.504. For the year Moustakas hit .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs and 124 rbi.

The concern with Moustakas is that his offensive game is fairly average dependent, meaning if he struggles to get hits, or luck favors the defense he could be a bit of a clog on the offense. The good news is that Moustakas has such supreme bat speed that he should be able to put enough balls in play to keep his average at a respectable level. Moustakas's power should also be strong enough that pitcher's will pitch around him much more than the typical hitter, which should enhance his on base percentage.

The other thing that the Royals will need to keep their eye on is how Moustakas fairs against left handed pitching. This will be a critical thing for him to improve on in order for him to develop into a superstar caliber talent. In his stint with Omaha Moustakas hit just .218/.244/.346. Because of these two concerns Moustakas doesn't come in as the top hitting prospect in the Royal Revival Prospect Countdown.

Heading into the 2010 scouts were afraid that Moustakas had filled out too much in his lower half to stick at thirdbase. Texas League managers tended to disagree and after watching Moustakas on a consistent basis I believe that Mous will have the range to stick at third for the early part of his career at least. He may not win any gold gloves but he should be at least average with a top notch arm from the hot corner.

With a strong Spring Moustakas could have positioned himself for a mid April callup. This would have delayed his service clock a year. However, due to a subpar Spring Moustakas is more likely looking at a callup sometime in late May or early June. I am unsure of the exact date necessary but this should delay both his free agency date and his arbitration eligible date.

This isn't just a good thing for the Royals from a financial standpoint but also from a development and evaluation standpoint. It will allow the Royals more time to figure out what they have in Chris Getz, Mike Aviles, and Wilson Betemit. But it will also give Moustakas more time to develop against lefties and refine his plate-discipline, two things that he needs to improve on before facing major league pitching. Nonetheless we will see Moustakas in Kansas City by season's end.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 10-6

10. Jeremy Jeffress RHP

By now we all know several things about Jeremy Jeffress. First, he came as part of the Greinke to Milwaukee deal. Second, he has had to serve a couple of suspensions due to recreational drug use. Third, Jeffress throws gas.

Upon acquiring Jeffress the Royals elected to use him strictly as a reliever, continuing on a decision the Brewers made with him last summer. This is definitely a good move. In the pen Jeffress stuff can play up even more and his "80" fastball can be used in the late innings to render hitters obsolete.

Jeffress also has a strong slider that sits between 78-83 mph. His changeup still needs a lot of work but as a late inning reliever it won't be crucial to his success that this pitch develops. Given the strength of his triple digit fastball his slider should be plenty to throw hitters off balance in the late innings.

Jeffress could be the closer of the future for Kansas City and could take the reins from Joakim Soria when his time in Kansas City comes to pass. However, that could still be several years away so the Jeffress will have plenty of time to get acclimated to late inning, high-leverage situations. He could be a Joel Zamaya type for Kansas City and along with Soria could form a vicious two-headed monster at the end of games as soon as this season begins.

Jeffress will likely begin the year in the big league pen, and as the season progress could be pushed into higher leverage situations. If Tejeda is dealt at the deadline like I expect, Jeffress is a prime candidate to become the right-handed set-up man.

9. Christian Colon SS

The Royals have made a living drafting right behind the consensus and in the 2010 draft this was no different. Heading into draft day the top three were very clearly Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon, and Manny Machado. The Royals picked 4th and many believed that prospects 4-40 could go in any order and be easily justified. The Royals elected to go with the guy I pinned as my choice roughly six months before the selection was made: Christian Colon.

Christian Colon immediately strengthened my good feeling regarding the pick when he signed for the MLB slot recommendation so that he could start his pro career. Due to this enthusiasm Colon was able to play in sixty games for Wilmington in 2010, which puts him ahead of the curve right from the start.

Colon's numbers weren't awe-inspiring in his debut but they were strong enough to make me extremely confident in his future. Colon has solid tools across the board. He could find his home run totals in the 10-15 range and the same could be said for his stolen base numbers. He should post a strong average throughout his career and his hit tool is obviously his best.

Many have compared Colon's floor to that of Placido Polanco and some have even thrown out Derek Jeter comparisons. Colon will probably fall somewhere in the middle and be a solid contributor with a long career, but never being a superstar. Colon can speak both Spanish and English and scouts rave about his leadership qualities.

With the acquisition of Alcides Escobar many expect Colon to shift over to second. However, the Royals are going to continue to develop him as a shortstop at least for the short term. Colon's range and arm have both been questioned, but the organization believes that his fundamentals are strong enough to be an adaquate fielding shortstop. If Escobar can hit, then Colon will eventually shift to second and be an above average fielder from the right side of the diamond.

Colon should begin the season in Northwest Arkansas and along with a top notch rotation and mega prospect Wil Myers they should push for a second Texas League title.

8. Jake Odorizzi RHP

Like Jeffress, Odorizzi came to Kansas City as a part of the package Kansas City received for Zack Greinke. Ironically some scouts have stated that Odorizzi could be a lesser version of Greinke at some point down the road. Odorizzi ranked as the top prospect with his former club. However, he comes in at just number eight on the Royal Revival Prospect Countdown.

Odorizzi was drafted in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft and many in the game regarded him as the top prep pitcher available. Odorizzi's reminds me a bit of Kansas' City's Tim Melville as a top right handed high school talent that isn't far into his development. Unlike Melville, Odorizzi has not yet tasted high A competition due to the Brewers conservative approach with him.

Odorizzi pitches out of a 3/4 arm slot and displays a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider in the high 70s, a curve in the mid 70s and a changeup that sits in the lows 80s. All of his secondary pitches need to show improvement, but scouts believe his curve could develop into an above average pitch.

Odorizzi may have the highest upside out of all the players the Royals received for Greinke. He could develop into a frontline starter and provide the Royals a right handed anchor for a predominately left-handed rotation. Odorizzi should begin the season in Wilmington and could filter up to Northwest Arkansas for the second half depending on his numbers and what happens ahead of him.

7. Chris Dwyer LHP

Now is the time that we reach what has been dubbed by some as the "Sinister Seven" this final group offers three future middle of the order superstar caliber bats and four southpaws with front of the rotation potential. The system is considered strong for its depth of prospects at all positions. However, the next seven prospects give Kansas City what some believe to be the best farm system in the history of system rankings.

Chris Dwyer is just another guy that shouldn't be a Royal. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. He is a blend of a scout's choice and an overslot bonus baby. He was a rare draft eligible freshman and even though his numbers at Clemson weren't great, the Royals front office loved what they say and put the dollar sign on the muscle of $1.45 million.

Dwyer has a fastball that sits in the low to mid 90s and a changeup that he has greatly improved since the time he was drafted it. But it is his 12-6, hammer curveball that turns him into an elite prospect. The pitch was rated by prospect guru John Sickels as the top curve among prospects. Coming from the same release point as his fastball it is a true out pitch in every sense of the word.

Injury precautions limited Dwyer's workload upon his promotion to the Texas League last season. But there are no concerns going forward. He should begin 2011 in one of the best minor league rotations in recent memory for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

6. Danny Duffy LHP

Duffy gave Royals nation a scare a year ago when he abruptly left the game to sort his life priorities. After some time off he decided that baseball was important and he returned to the game. After the Royals rebuilt his arm strength he found himself in the Naturals' rotation where he continued to post dominating minor league results and show an uptick in velocity.

Duffy has a career k rate of 10.5 and a career walk rate of 2.9. He is one of the most advanced arms in the system and was even granted an opportunity to make the big league club out of Spring Training. Duffy didn't take advantage of this and at times he seemed timid, displaying poor command. He also had flashes of brilliance with six strikeouts versus just five hits allowed in eight innings pitched.

Duffy has a fastball that has reached 97 mph, but works best when he is in the low or mid 90s. He also has a changeup that should be an above average offering and a curveball that could be scrapped for a slider that will fit better with his cross fire delivery.

Duffy will begin the season in the Northwest Arkansas Naturals rotation and with a strong season should find time in Kansas City by season's end.
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Twitter & Email

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As always thanks for your interest and support. I know that my most of my readers love the Royals just as much as I do and are often just as informed or more informed than myself. It is always fun to have an outlet to talk Royals baseball. Thanks

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Leadoff on Opening Day

In the last Royal Revival poll we asked Royals nation who they believed should leadoff on Opening Day 2011. Here are the results along with the players spring training triple slash thru March 19.
  • Mike Aviles (8%): .372/.408/.605 Aviles has had a great Spring thus far and if he plays in 2011 like he did in 2009 the Royals offense will receive a huge boost in production. Aviles's on base is too batting average dependent and he doesn't see enough pitches to be a prototypical leadoff guy, but he may be the best option the Royals have. Aviles started both of the first two Spring contests at leadoff for the Royals.

  • Melky Cabrerra (1%): .488/.511/.732 Cabrerra has had a very strong Spring and will likely be the Opening Day starter in centerfielder for the club. Cabrerra owns a career .328 on base percentage, but Yost likes his bat skills and plans to start him in the two spot.

  • Lorenzo Cain (56%): .281/.410/.375 Cain had a solid Spring, but didn't come anywhere close to knocking off Melky from centerfield. Cain was the clear cut fan's pick to leadoff on Opening Day, but it will more than likely be with the Storm Chasers instead of the Royals. Cain should get a leadoff opportunity for Kansas City by the end of the season.

  • Jarrod Dyson (18%): .423/.483/.423 Dyson was my personal pick to begin the season as the leadoff hitter. I am hard on Dyson and I believe his future lies as a fourth outfielder. But I would rather see him in center on Opening Day than Cabrerra. Dyson's strong spring coupled with Gregor Blanco's poor one could get Dyson a spot on the Opening Day roster.

  • Alcides Escobar (8%): .361/.400/.528 There may not be a player on the Royals roster that I am more excited to watch in the 2011 season. I have hope that Escobar's luck will balance itself out and that his line drive stroke can turn him into a productive middle infielder on the offensive side of things. Not to mention I'm dying to see what kind of heroism his glove can provde for the pitching staff.

  • Chris Getz (3%): .289/.372/.368 Getz struggled early in Spring but has since found his stroke. If Getz can just get on base and provide strong infield defense I will be thrilled. But the if is that he can get on base. Getz should start at second on Opening Day and along with Escobar the middle infield defense for the Royals should be a strength in 2011. Getz will just have to prove that he can hit enough to be a starter in the Bigs.

  • Other (1%): Were you rooting for Maier or Blanco?

Be sure to vote on the newest poll regardng your expectation for the 2011 Royals.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Check Your Pessimism at the Door

As the 2011 season approaches there is an excitement around the Royals that I had never before experienced, except in perhaps 2009 when hopes of possible contention filled the air. Of course now we know that after an 18-11 start, things imploded and the remainder of the season was a disaster.

This year, however the enthusiasm isn't a result of bells and whistles added to the Major League roster. It isn't a product of a one dimensional power hitter, or an overhyped centerfielder. This year there is a buzz because of a farm system that is second to none. For the first time in my lifetime the hope that prospects can bring has transitioned into an expectancy of future success.

Of course the gamblers in the room will defer their bets until the 2013 or 2014 seasons. But why can't the excitement come in 2012? And more importantly in the present, why can't the Royals contend now?

Those of you that know me personally know that my mindset when it comes to sports is one of optimism. Entering a fresh season why write off your favorite team and get no pleasure out of their performance? Why not start with an optimistic mindset and be a believer? If the team falls out of contention well you at least got to enjoy some hope. At least you got to enjoy baseball for what it was meant to be.

But what if the team does contend? What if the summer gets a touch of magic? And what if the Royals were to shock the world? If this is the case why not enjoy the summer for its entirety? Why not hop on board now and ride this thing?

In 2003, the Royals parlayed a hot Spring in the Cactus League into an even hotter start in the American League. They tore out of the gate to a 9-0 start with sweeps over the White Sox, Indians, and Tigers and on April 27 they stood at the top of the Al Central standings at 17-4.

But after that the Royals played at a 66-75 clip the rest of the way to finish with a record of 83-79. Nonetheless it was an exciting summer in Kansas City. Throughout the dog days of summer the Royals were able hold their lead and as it began to slip they were able to find a couple of useful pieces at the deadline and find Jose Lima off the scrap heap.

Unfortunately by the end of the season the Royals had been running on empty for weeks and it clearly wasn't meant to be. The team outperformed their expected record based on their runs scored and runs allowed. They benefitted greatly from career years from rookie of the year Angel Berroa, Joe Randa, Aaron Guiel, Darrell May, Brett Anderson and Mike MacDougal.

The Royals also had Raul Ibanez, Carlos Beltran coming off strong 2002 campaigns and Mike Sweeney did his thing while he was able to stay off the DL. Unless you want to make the argument that Mike Sweeney did his thing and was also able to hit when he played. Either way the Royals lineup and pitching staff performed much better than could have been expected entering the season. Could the same be true for 2011?

Now granted the 2011 version doesn't exactly have the triumvate of established hitters that the 2003 version had, but the cupboard isn't bare and the group of players that could be looked to for breakouts seems stronger than the group from 2003

Consider for a second the Royals opening day lineup for 2003: Michael Tucker 8, Joe Randa 5, Mike Sweeney 3, Raul Ibanez 7, Brandon Berger 9, Ken Harvey DH, Angel Berroa 6, Brent Mayne 2, Febles 4.

Not exactly an aweinspiring group. But in retrospect the Royals haven't seen an offense as prolific as the 2003 group since. Could the 2011 group be the first since that team to eclipse the 800 run mark? Well it would take quite a jump in production considering the 2010 team only crossed home plate 676 times.

So what does the Royals offense have going for it? Well for starters they have one of the premier young hitters in the Majors: Billy Butler. I have already dissected Butler and his new contract a great length here and as you can see I expect him to not only to produce as he has, but to progress into an even more dominate middle of the order bat.

The Royals also have Mike Aviles who likely will start the season at third. However, should Chris Getz struggle could be shifted over to second to make room for a certain someone that we'll discuss later. Aviles has a career slash of .298/.327/.422 which reminds me a lot of the .284/.339/.426 line that Joe Randa posted over the course of his career.

The two other players expected to be in the opening day lineup that could have the greatest hand in the Royals' offensive fortunates are Kila Ka'aihue and Alex Gordon.

Consider this when asked for comparable players for Kila Ka'aihue baseball reference spit out Adrian Gonzalez. Couple that with the fact that Pecota projects a .262/.387/.473 slash with twenty-five homers and Ka'aihue could be the reason the Royals surprise in 2011.

Of course Gordon has already tantalized Royals fans for his entire career, but what if this was the year? You know the year that we have always hoped for? I won't be greedy and ask for him to "dominate", but if he could just do what the projections over at fangraphs are expecting it would be a great start. Bill James predicts .265/.357/.453 line with 19 homers and 9 steals, while the fans project a .263/.362/.435 line with 17 homers and 9 steals.

Really what makes me most optimistic for Gordon is the way he hit last season while in Kansas City. His numbers didn't show it but he consistently put together patient at bats and posted the highest line drive percentage of his still young career.

The Royals could also supplement the middle of the order with 2010 breakout Wilson Betemit who MARCEL projects a .271/.338/.446 line from in 2011. And while I hate to say it there is also the possibility that Jeff Francouer could find his power stroke and be a productive member of the Royals lineup. In all seriousness it is just as likely that Francouer rebounds as a breakout year from Aaron Guiel in 2003.

The biggest unexpected impact could come from the farm in prospects Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, David Lough, Johnny Giavotella and Lorenzo Cain. All of which should be ready to step in should a regular falter. This will be a luxury that the 2003 team didn't have and when other teams were able to improve at the deadline they had to search the bargain bin for any sort of help. The 2011 Royals could find more help, than the 2003 version did and they won't even have to make multiple phone calls, because the only number they'll need is Omaha's.

The Royals also should get more production out of the catcher position given that Brayan Pena should get more at bats in 2011 than the sparse few he received in 2010. Not to mention that Alcides Escobar should rebound from a dismal rookie campaign and even if his stick doesn't provide a ton of production his glove should benefit the Royals staff greatly.

Of course now we finally get to the major weakness of the 2011 ball club, which is of course the starting rotation. But I don't believe that this year's rotation will be as bad as people are currently making it out to be. I also believe that this year's rotation will have produced better results than last year's version when all is said and done.

Just like with May and Anderson in 2003, the Royals have two lefties that could post similar results in 2011 with Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen. Both should be reliable options every turn in the rotation and could stabilize and otherwise inconsistent rotation. The Royals will also look to Kyle Davies, and Luke Hochevar to finally translate their quality stuff into quality results. Keep in mind that just like the 2011 Royals the 2003 Royals rotation was considered to be a major weakness entering the 2003 season.

The good news as far as the pitching goes is that the Royals could have a wave of top prospects hitting the scene midsummer. Make no mistake about it if the Royals are in the race and the rotation is struggling the Royals give one of their young guys a job. This is a luxury that the 2003 Royals didn't have.

Some more good news is that the Royals bullpen has the potential to be a major strength for the club in 2011. They already have a top notch closer for the season, which was something that the 2003 team only had for about half a season before Mike MacDougal fell apart in the second half.

The bullpen is always a critical aspect for teams that surprise people. This is probably true for a couple of reasons. First, bullpen results are often the hardest to predict and quantify. Second, a strong bullpen is perhaps the most critical factor in a team's final record in relationship to its expected record. Basically for a team to shock people it often takes a little bit of luck in the pythagorean record, but one way for a team to get a little luck is to put together a top notch bullpen. Of course then it has to be managed properly.

The hope for the 2011 Royals is that they can carry a strong Spring Training into the season and turn it into a fast start just like the 2003 Royals did. The difference will be that the Royals will be so young in 2011 that up should be the only direction that the ballclub takes. Unlike the 2003 team, this year the Royals can call on a top notch farm system to fill holes and improve parts of the roster that are middling.

Oh and by the way according to team records from 2010, the Royals have the easiest schedule in the American League for the first one-fifth of the season. Twenty-three of the first thirty-four are at home and only eleven of the club's first thirty-one games are against teams with winning records in 2010. If there ever was an opportunity for a quick start this is it.

Baseball Prospectus predicts the White Sox and Twins to tie with 83 wins this season for the regular season AL Central crown. The Royals are projected to finish with 69 wins. If that were the case then the Royals will finish just fourteen games out of first. When you consider that a single breakout performance could be worth an additional 3, 4 or even 5 wins then it isn't out of the question for the Royals to hang around for awhile.

With an expected tight divisional race a hot start could keep Kansas City in contention for much of the summer. The schedule is there and it definitely wouldn't be unprecedented for a Royal team to turn a hot Spring into a hot April. Let's have some faith. Let's root for those Boys in Blue. Let's make this a summer to never forget.