If the Royals online community had any cause celebre, it would be Kila Ka'aihue. In the land of eternal sorrow that is the 2000s Royals, the first baseman has been the redeemer of all hopes. In the last 10 years, first basemen like Ken Harvey, Calvin Pickering, Justin Huber, and Kila Ka'aihue have risen up to toy with the hopes of Royals fans.
Harvey was considered a mainstream prospect, starting his 2003 in Kansas City and not departing until the sudden end of his major league career in 2005. Calvin Pickering rose from the ashes in 2004, earned a job in 2005, then lost it within 3 weeks because Allard Baird was trapped in a bus that would explode if he didn't make a roster move every 2 weeks. Justin Huber was an actual prospect, who the Royals pretty much buried within 18 months of his arrival in Kansas City, all of this based on a month of major league action. Kila Ka'aihue has been known for 2 years, and has managed to combine elements of his three predecessors into his time in Kansas City.
Kila Ka'aihue has had a late season stint in Kansas City of some respectability (similar to Calvin Pickering's 2004, although not as long). He has been dropped in AAA in favor of a clearly substandard veteran player who was not moved off the team but released/non-tendered (Kila is to Mike Jacobs as Huber is to Mientkiewicz). He even had a pointless run in the majors in May 2010 (similar to two Huber stints). I'd guess Kila is not similar to Ken Harvey outside of having a fanbase in Omaha. But in this organization, if Harvey is unusual for not putting both hands on the bat, Kila is unusual for not swinging at every pitch.
But right now, Kila Ka'aihue is either (a) proving to be a bust, (b) starting slowly, or (c) getting set up. Depending on who you believe. But how unique will his Royals run be in comparison to how this organization handles young players or handles middle-aged prospects.
Imagine, a first baseman who hits home runs, called up to play for a new Royals manager, only to have an uninspiring run and wash out. No, not Kila Ka'aihue. Justin Huber
The case of Justin Huber
Justin Huber had 175 PAs in his major league career, and 85 of them came in his first year with the Kansas City Royals. The first 12 PA came in late June 2005. Huber was called up on June 21st to replace an injured Mike Sweeney. In a year where 1B/DH would be handled by some combination of Harvey, Pickering, and Sweeney, Harvey was injured, Pickering was exiled to Omaha after having 2 starts in a row once in 7 games (the second game pitting LHB Pickering v. LHP Moyer). Sadly there is no relevance to a factual "Tony Pena didn't understand splits" essay involving Pickering and Graeme Lloyd.
So, with the organization having no other 1B/DHs who they wanted to play in the major leagues, it was Huber time.
Huber's first plate appearance came on that day, pinch-hitting for Matt Stairs with 1 out in the 9th as part of Buddy Bell's "futile 9th inning pinch hitting sprees" that he would go on with the team down a few runs. This was followed by a start on June 22nd, where Huber went 0 for 3. Huber pinch hit in the 6th inning in his 3rd game in Colorado, and started in the next two games. Over this time, he went 3 for 12 with a double and RBI. Then Huber was benched for the entire series in Minnesota, before going back to the minors when Mike Sweeney returned. After all, the Royals, who were fighting to keep their winning percentage above 33% needed to play the vets every day.
When Justin Huber returned from the minor leagues in September 2005, he came up with 23 HRs and a 326/417/560 line in AA and AAA. He returned to Kansas City on September 1st, 2005 to participate in a lineup that almost got Buddy Bell indicted for crimes against humanity.
Chip Ambres (CF), Super Joe McEwing (3B), Terrence Long (LF), Emil Brown (RF), John Buck (C), Angel Berroa (SS), Matt Diaz (DH), Justin Huber (1B), Denny Hocking (2B) - Why Dayton doesn't namedrop stuff like this in his "We had nothing" talks, I will never know. That's a brutal lineup. IN SEPTEMBER. Oh yeah, I guess nobody wanted Terrence Long, because he kinda sucked (amazingly, Long did not end his major league career with the Royals, he played for the Yankees during their "fill the last 3 spots of the roster with veterans who'll last for 2 weeks" phase)
Yes, we really had a lineup where the first baseman and DH were in the lower half, and Joe McEwing batted second. Mike Sweeney was in suspended animation for a few days around this time, still battling for a .300 average. 2005 would be the only season of Matt Diaz's Royals career before he went on to be a lefty-killer for the Atlanta Braves (While the Royals got 2 games of Ricardo Rodriguez in return for Diaz. Not 2 games in the majors, two games at High A). Every pitcher who took the mound for the Royals on September 1st, 2005 was traded by Dayton Moore in the year 2006. JP Howell (you know the deal), Ambiorix Burgos (before he started a life of crime), and Jeremy Affeldt (whoops!) all pitched for the Royals that day. Buddy Bell didn't pinch hit in the 9th, he pinch hit in the 8th, having Aaron Guiel lure Brian Shouse into the game, and then pinch hitting Paul Phillips. Justin Huber followed that with a walk, and Denny Hocking struck out looking. Huber went 0 for 3 with a walk and the Royals dropped to 43-89.
Huber started for the entire four game series against the Texas Rangers, going 3 for 17 with a walk, RBI, strikeout, and run. All of this came in the 8 spot. Huber sat on September 6th (Bell pinch-hit DENNY HOCKING for Andres Blanco in the 9th, down 6-5, since there's a type of pitcher in the majors in the 9th in a one-run game who Buddy thought Denny Hocking can hit). Huber played on September 7th, and sat on September 8th. He played from September 9th to September 11th (with his September 11th appearance coming as a pinch hitter). He sat on September 13th and 14th (Denny Hocking pinch hit in the 8th on the 14th, and the Royals won in the 9th in that game). Justin Huber would start 11 times in the last 19 games, putting up a 167/262/194 line in 42 PA.
Justin Huber had 73 PA in September, Matt Stairs had 94 PA, Mike Sweeney had 87 PA, and Denny Hocking managed to put up the last 24 PA of his career. Who knew that nobody wanted Denny Hocking on their 25 man in 2006? Not Allard
December 16th, 2005 was the day that the Royals signed four veteran free agents and the day that Hubermania died. Those veterans who changed the way baseball was played in Kansas City forever were Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Scott Elarton, and Paul Bako. The Royals cited a desire to give Justin Huber more time at first base in Omaha. Justin Huber would return on May 3rd, 2006 when Mike Sweeney went to the DL. He pinch hit for Matt Stairs with 1 out in the 9th (yes, the exact same situation as his first PA in 2005). Huber would sit for 3 straight games, before starting on May 7th, sitting for 3 straight games, starting on May 12th, pinch hitting on May 13th, sitting for 3 straight games, starting on May 18th, and being optioned to Omaha. And that was it for Huber in 2006. But months after speaking of getting Huber more time at 1st base, Justin Huber was put into the outfield as part of a bid to get him playing time if he ever showed up in KC again. After all, you can't bench Doug Mientkiewicz. And Matt Stairs, whose status on the team was kind of pointless for a period of 2006 became relevant after Sweeney went on the DL.
Justin Huber's time in KC would end in 2007 with 10 PA in September 2007, splitting time between left field (2 starts) and pinch running (3 appearances). Although by this time, Huber was clearly never going to make it, seeing as he had only hit pretty well in Omaha in 2005, 2006, and 2007. After all, he needed more time to hone his pinch running skills.
And going back to Kila
But as you can tell from the accounts, Kila Ka'aihue is not getting Hubered in 2010. A strong argument could be made that this opportunity is one he should have had in 2009, but the organization was too busy keeping Mike Jacobs on the roster for no good reason while they had no good reason to keep him around.
The issue of Kila batting cleanup is dismissed by the 'enlightened' fans since obviously it wouldn't hurt anything to put him there. But the more you see Kila, the more you see that he is trying too hard. And why would he be trying too hard? probably because he was put into the most important part of the Royals order with zero big league experience. Just a weird hunch there. If it's part of the plan, then the plan is working.
Kila started his run in the cleanup spot on August 6th, and went on a 2 for 23 tear. After that brutality, Kila Went to the 5 spot, and was 2 for 7 over 2 games. Then Kila was benched on August 15th, because clearly a LH batter like Kila could not handle a RH pitcher like AJ Burnett (to recycle an old joke, Kila was exhausted, Mike Aviles-style). So on the day after he finally had 2 hits in a game, Kila got benched. How do you seriously expect a hitter to get hot when he gets benched the day after he has 2 hits? (and when that benching serves ZERO platoon advantage, as it puts Bloomquist, whose record v. RHP is akin to Billy Joel's record at driving while sober?). Kila then got benched for the second time in a week in Game 2 of the night-midnight doubleheader last night, since clearly a LH batter like Kila can't handle a RH relief pitcher like Tony "Cy" Pena.
If there's any positive to be taken out of the counterproductive benchings of Kila Ka'aihue (which seem to act as a way to get Willie Bloomquist more playing time which is only helping inflate the Bloomquist family college funds with "performance" bonus money Willie will get by this time next week), it's that Kila has been benched on days that Brayan Pena starts, which means that if Ned keeps benching Kila on Brayan Pena days, Kila should play in 6 out of every 7 games.
Kila Ka'aihue went 6 for 30 on the home swing. Which did triple his hit total for the entire year (he was 3 for 29 going into the homestand, and 2 for 25 in August before returning to KC). And Kila was on deck when Jason Kendall mustered his veteran power to end the game right there (ok, nothing short of a walk, or Blanco refusing to run for home would have gotten Kila up in the 10th).
If the Royals gave up on players based on their first 63 plate appearances in a year for KC (or even their first 59 if you're deducting the May cameo), then we wouldn't have Alex Gordon (8 for 55 in his first 62 PA) or Yuniesky Betancourt (8 for 57 in his first 61 PA) on this team, and Jose Guillen wouldn't have lasted nearly as long in KC (he was 10 for 61 in his first 63 PA). In the scheme of things, the first 60 PA shouldn't cost someone a job for the future, but remember who you're dealing with here. (If the Royals organization can act like Yuniesky Betancourt leads the Royals in home runs, I can ignore that he played in Kansas City in 2008)
If Dayton Moore deserves any credit, it's for not retaining Guillen through the end of 2010. But that's similar to crediting someone for using a turn signal, or washing his hands in the bathroom. But the Kila Ka'aihue story is not complete, so we don't know if Dayton is gonna sign his Big 4 in the offseason to displace Kila (That big four would include Omar Infante, Troy Glaus, Vicente Padilla, and Willie Harris - three former all-stars! You can pre-order the pennants after that) or just dump Kila and find an "established veteran" who can pull off a 3-6-3.
I can understand why I get heat for saying Kila is being set up to fail. Because short of wiretapping Ned Yost's brain, it's a claim that can't be proven. And it'd require a reverse Hubering to pull off a situation like this. Kila's getting the equivalent of being asked to drive a stick-shift at the age of 13 on the road with no prior experience. He's the 9 year old in the deep end. The placement of Kila Ka'aihue, who is still a rookie, in the cleanup and 3 spots in the Royals order is a special kind of baffling. It's almost unique amongst any rookie, prospect or non-prospect. It's almost like Dayton Moore saw the clamor of Kila and decided "You want Kila? Ned, put him in the hardest spot possible, we'll show them how good Kila really is". After all, in the world of Dayton Moore, Eric Hosmer is in the major leagues by September 2011 and if Kila sticks until then, then fine. If he doesn't Dayton can just sign an ex-Brave to handle the 1B/DH spot until then while shipping Kila off to South Korea or Japan, fortified by the masses of "what have you done in the smallest sample possible" fans who will say Kila failed since he was not awesome in his first 2 weeks in KC.
I can't say "Be patient and just wait" because that implies that this organization is going to be patient for the rest of the year and allow Kila to have a shot at a job in 2011. They won't. They'll find a way to move Kila out of the United States (hello Pacific League HR title!) or to sign a veteran and talk about giving Kila more time in AAA to work out his problems.
The life of a Royals first baseman/Designated Hitter is often extremely short, or surprisingly long. When you're good, you can last. But if you're not immediately hot, then you're at risk of a demotion.
The most successful prophecy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say someone's bat speed is insufficient, then put him in situations where his bat speed will be more important than his patience. If Kila Ka'aihue was part of the future, then he would not have become an every day guy (even for just 2 months) in the cleanup spot.
If Eric Hosmer isn't kicking down the door of Kansas City by this time next year, consider me surprised. If Kila Ka'aihue is playing baseball in Missouri by this time next year, consider me surprised. If this team is any better on August 22nd, 2011 than on August 22nd, 2010, consider me surprised. But until then, this is a Royals cycle we saw in the late 1990s. Well, I guess Herk worked under John Schuerholz, kinda like Dayton did, right? The Schuerholz GM tree sure is awesome.