The 2011 Royals are an interesting team simply from the point of view that no one cares about how many games they will win or lose. There are currently only two players on the roster that have been signed to long term deals. Joakim Soria, and Billy Butler are the two men that Dayton Moore and his staff have decided are worthy of ushering in what is supposed to be a baseball renaissance in Kansas City. The rest of the roster is full of an interesting mix of misfit former prospects and the first members of the "wave" of talent that is headed towards Kauffman Stadium. This combination will make the club more interesting than any team since possibly 2004 (when we all thought that we had a chance after 2003 and subsequently had our souls crushed once again). The following is a breakdown of how I think the team will look after spring training.
The Royals will have an entirely new outfield than what they started with last season. Gone are Royals legends Rick "LOBster" Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and fan favorite Smilin' David DeJesus. I think it is safe to say that the only member of this trio that will be missed is DeJesus. Say what you will about the guy, he was a pro. Podsednik and Ankiel were a waste of time and money, but trading them also brought back a possible starting catcher in Lucas May and a quality LH relief pitcher in Tim Collins. Now looking at this years group.
- Jeff Francoeur RF: Look we all know the story on this guy. His plate discipline, or lack there of, makes Miguel Olivo blush. There is some raw athleticism there, which combined with a plus plus arm will make him a decent right fielder defensively. Jeff has been tabbed as a "great leader", and if the Royals can get him to make more contact (which is highly unlikely) he could be a nice player. At best the guy hits a little and the Royals flip him at the deadline for a package similar to what we got for Ankiel or Pods, at worst the Royals eat $2 million. Regardless of how Frency performs this team is still going to be lousy.
Melky Cabrera CF: To me Cabrera looks like one of those classic guys that loses it as soon as they leave the Yankees. It is amazing what that much protection can do for a guy in the lineup. More concerning to me, however, was the decline in defense last year. The Braves were so fed up with him that they felt Rick Ankiel was an upgrade in CF. Melky will be on this team. That's pretty much all you can say about him.
- Alex Gordon LF: Ah the enigma that is Alex Gordon. After switching to the outfield last year he came back up to the majors after the aforementioned trades. Alex did very well for himself in the outfield making several diving plays. His bat however still has not lived up to expectations. If he does not hit this year I fully expect him to be gone. If I could give Alex one piece of advice it would be to never swing at the first pitch he sees after he gets two strikes. It is always going to be a low breaking ball until he shows that he can lay off that pitch. I would rather have him watch a strike 3 fastball a few times than whiff on a breaking ball out of the zone seemingly 2-3 times a game.
There has been one major change to the infield this season, and it is one that should have most of us Royals fans dancing in the streets. The Yunigma is gone! Long live Alcides Escobar, as long as he doesn't turn out to be Angel Berrora reincarnate.
- Billy Butler 1B/DH: New contract in hand Billy is going to have to take a huge leadership role on this club. As pretty much the only reliable bat in the lineup he is going to have to drive the ball more. Kevin Seitzer's influence on Billy last year can be argued, but he seemed very reluctant to pull the ball at times. Unless Billy gets a little more pull conscious I fear he will never reach his power potential. Defensively Billy was better than I had expected last season, but he is still a below average defender, and I would like to see Kila get a bulk of the time in field, if for no better reason than increasing his trade value.
- Kila Ka'aihue 1B/DH: With the Butler deal done, the writing appears to be on the wall for Kila. Kila's got this season and this season only to prove that he can hit MLB pitching. The Royals have always said that Kila's swing is too slow to hit MLB fastballs, and he didn't exactly light the world on fire when he was called up for good last season. Kila looked decent at 1B last year. His height is a major asset for him defensively, and the other infielders seemed very comfortable throwing him the ball. I wish him the best, if for no other reason than if he hits flipping him at the deadline could result in some quality prospects.
- Chris Getz 2B: What can you say about Chris Getz? We really didn't get to see him play all that much last season. He was injured early and then replaced by Mike Aviles because he was hitting so poorly. Getz's best and perhaps only offensive weapon is his speed. He is a very good baserunner, but he rarely hit enough for this to matter. He is the best defensive option at 2B on the roster, but that isn't really saying much either. Hopefully Johny G. or Colon are ready to fill this spot next season.
- Alcides Escobar SS: Escobar was one of the hottest prospects in baseball one year ago. After a season where he struggled with the bat and seemed to let his mind wonder on routine plays while making the spectacular ones, he is a Royal. I have a bunch of optimism when it comes to Escobar, but I have seen this before. His name was Angel Berrora. Hopefully reuniting with Ned Yost will be good for Escobar. The Royals cannot afford for Escobar to be a failure if they hope to be competitive in 2-3 years.
- Mike Aviles 3B: It is still up in the air just who will be starting at 3B this season. I think that Mike has earned this spot, and he is probably my my favorite player on the roster. We all know his story by now, and the scary thing is that he could end up being the second most consistent offensive player on this squad.
- Brayan Pena C: The best part about Brayan Pena is that he is not Jason Kendall, and he should be very well rested after essentially sitting out 3/4 of last season. Brayan will never be a good defensive catcher, but at least his arm is still attached to his body unlike Kendall. Brayan also brings a great attitude to the field every day. I can cheer for a guy that looks like he genuinely gives a damn, much more than I can cheer for a salty old fart that has no skills and has to hit second. Best of luck to Brayan. If he performs maybe they won't try to rush Kendall back, but I doubt it.
This group looks to be the weakest area of the team right now, and that is saying something. Moving Greinke this offseason means that the defacto staff ace is former number one overall pick Luke Hochevar. Guys are going to have to have career years just to get this staff into the middle of the pack in the AL. Yikes.
- Luke Hochevar RHP: Luke missed a large portion of last season with what was supposed to be a minor arm injury. Before he went down it was very apparent that Ned Yost was trying to build up his mental toughness. I hope that worked because in all likelihood Luke is going to have a terrible record this season even if he puts up decent peripherals. We all know pitcher wins are pretty much a useless stats, but knowing that you have very little chance to go out and compete against the other staff aces that Hochevar will face would be demoralizing for just about anyone. See Greinke, Zack.
- Jeff Francis LHP: Hailed as one of if not the best signings of the off season Jeff Francis gives the staff two left handers for the first time in several years. Francis has been around winning in Colorado, and if the stuff is still there he could be a major shot in the arm to this team. If he pitches well expect to see him traded around the deadline to a team in desperate need of starting pitching *cough* Yankees *cough*. Best case scenario, we get a pretty good haul for this guy, worst case scenario his shoulder starts hurting and the Royals wasted a mere $2 million.
- Kyle Davies RHP: Kyle made a ton of starts for this team last season 32 in fact. This number was a new high for Kyle and it came about strictly due to a lack of better options. Kyle is a maddening guy. He has the stuff to be a decent MLB pitcher. He just refuses to throw his fastball for strikes. If he can somehow get his control issues together the guy could be a valuable innings eater. If he doesn't he will still get his starts because frankly there really isn't anyone else that is ready to take his job.
- Vin Mazzaro RHP: Mazzaro was acquired in the DeJesus deal this offseason. Last season for the A's his 4.27 ERA would have been third amongst current Royals starters. I hope that Mazzaro works out, but I doubt it seeing as how we have gotten fleeced by the A's in pretty much every recent deal we have done with them. At least Mazzaro should eat some innings and he will be a cheap option for the next several seasons.
- Bruce Chen LHP: C'MON CHEN! was easily the highlight of last season for me. Lets face facts when it comes to Bruce: he is left handed, and therefore he will continue to get opportunities. There is pretty much no shot that he will be as good as he was last season, but hey the guy seems like a good enough teammate, so why not bring him back? Someone has to start for this team.
As of right now the bullpen is my pick for most exciting part of the team. That is because we return our All-Star closer Joakim Soria, and this is the first place many prospects will break into the big leagues. I fully expect this unit to stand out at the beginning of the year and then get progressively worse throughout the season because of overuse. This bullpen will be a luxury for this team. Hopefully Yost can manage it decently and avoid injuring any guys that are going to play a role on future Royals squads.
Joakim Soria Closer RHP: What more needs to be said about this guy. He has saved 92% of the games he as been asked to over the past three seasons. The only guy more automatic is Mariano Rivera. Soria is now the most coveted piece left on the Royals roster, but I highly doubt that he is going anywhere.
- Blake Wood RHP: Wood was the first prospect from this wave of talent to reach the majors. He throws hard, but oddly enough his K rate dropped when he moved to the pen. If Wood can figure out how to strike guys out this season he will be in a major battle with Robinson Tejeda to be the primary setup man for Soria.
- Robinson Tejeda RHP: Tejeda throws hard, but can have outing where he has no idea where the plate is. Tejeda also suffered what was reported to be a minor injury last season that lead to him missing several weeks of action. He has a much better MLB track record for striking guys out than Wood does, but in outings where he is off Tejeda is just awful. If he can be consistent this season he will be very attractive to teams at the deadline.
- Jeremy Jeffress RHP: Jeffress was the last guy in acquired in the Greinke deal. He automatically becomes the hardest thrower on the Royals staff. His off the field issues are well documented, but now that he is on the 40 man roster there are no longer tests for marijuana. At his best Jeffress will be a guy that could make eventually moving Soria much easier, at his worst he is a pot head who likes weed more than he likes getting paid millions to play baseball. I see Jeffress as a boom or bust type guy. For the sake of the Royals I hope that he has his head screwed on and is ready to make a name for himself this season.
- Kanekoa Texeira RHP: Texeira was a great pick up for the Royals this past season. I honestly don't know why Jack Z let this guy go. Texeira came in and performed well for the Royals getting a ton of ground balls. Texeira will never blow guys away with his stuff, but he could be an effective middle reliever for several years to come.
- Greg Holland RHP: Greg was another one of the wave of prospects to reach the Royals last season. Then he subsequently sat out in the bullpen and was not used. Shockingly (or not) he got bombed in his first outing, and then settled down in his later outings. Holland is a stocky reliever but he throws hard. This year will be telling for Holland. If he performs he could stick, but if he doesn't I don't think that he will block any of the younger relief prospects that are on the way.
- Everett Teaford LHP: Everett is a late bloomer. Before last season Teaford was just another guy putting up mediocre numbers in AA. Luckily for him he is left handed so the organization continued to give him a chance. After dominating AA he made one start at AAA last year. Teaford was placed on the 40 man roster to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft, but he will be 27 in May so it is put up or shut up time for him this season. Did I mention that he is left handed? Rright now it's looking like he will be the only left hander we might have in the pen with the Twins snatching up Dusty Hughes.
The thing about the Royals bench is that most of the players on it are going to essentially be as good as many of the starters. This can either mean the Royals are deep, or they are mediocre. I tend to lean towards the latter. There aren't even a ton of young players on this bench to root for. Most of these guys are just a snooze.
- Wilson Betemit INF/DH: Wilson came to the Royals last season on a minor league deal. I have always been intrigued with this guy since he first came up with the Braves. The fact that he used to be a SS amazes me with his frame, but then I remember last year that he played at game at 2B. Betemit has a ton of raw power and is a switch hitter. He and Aviles will have quite a battle to see who gets to start at 3B in spring training. Betemit is the type of player that should be on a major league bench.
- Lucas May C: Lucas came to the Royals from the Dodgers in the Podsednik deal. He is another in a long line of Dodgers catchers that were converted from another infield spot to the position. He is plenty athletic, but his fundamentals are are still lacking somewhat. If he can get his footwork down and repeat his throwing motion the arm is strong enough to hold most runners. Lucas and Brayan will be in a dog fight for the starting catcher spot this spring too.
- Gregor Blanco OF: Blanco came over in the Ankiel/Farnsworth deal with the Braves last season. Blanco is a Mitch Maier with perhaps a little bit more speed and a little less power. Blanco will be on this team and Maier will not simply because he has been around for less time and he is a former Brave. I have no problem with Blanco, but he will probably never be more than a 4th outfielder.
- Lance Zawadzki INF: This final spot on the roster will probably go to either Zawadzki or Joaquin Arias. I lean towards Zawadzki because he is much less of a known quantity. We know Arias is bad, he has proved this, the verdict is still out on Zawadzki. Zawadzki or Arias will be on this roster to provide depth for the middle infield. Whoever fills this spot will be played sparingly, and in all probability will not be back next season.
Lets face facts: this team is going to be awful. The starting pitching will be some of the worst in the league, and the offense at its best will be inconsistent. Help is on the way however. This summer should see the debuts of several of the big time prospects in this system, specifically Mike Moustakas. There is really no reason to worry about wins and losses on this team. The key will be to focus on guys like Billy Butler, Joakim Soria, and younger guys like Jeffress, and Escobar. Focusing on individual performances of guys that may be a part of the future will be the only reason to watch most of the games this year. Even knowing that fact I am exponentially more excited about this version of the Royals than I was about last years team. If the Royals end up with the worst record in the league, which is highly possible, we can add another high level prospect to this system for that second wave of prospects. It is going to be another tough year, but at least we will be watching players that we can root for and care about.