Don't Look Back in Anger. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
It didn't have to be this way, but you could say that for many Royals-related pressure points, problems, and quandaries. If Kila Ka'aihue is going to have a Major League career of any length, he needs to hit well to begin this season. A terrible slump to start the season, or even an injury, pretty much kill his chances, as far as I can tell.
Since the Royals started mismanaging his career three or four years ago, Kila's life track has been pulled, by the magnets of industry conformity and blindness, towards that of all "AAAA" hitters who lack the magical tools which can only be seen by the initiated. Of course, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. See, we told you that guy would never have a career! An immediate specter here is Ryan Shealy, who was actually for a time much more hyped than Kila, and who even caught the eye of a just-trying-things-out Dayton Moore back in 2006. Four years later, I barely even knew Shealy was still alive in 2010, let alone still banging around AAA and even briefly appearing in a Red Sox uniform. To date, Shealy has amassed 598 PAs at the Major League level. It's no certainty that Kila will reach that total.
Kila kinda sorta got a looksie last season, hitting .217/.307/.394 in 206 PAs. As you can see, he still got his walks in, and for a Royal, a .307 OBP isn't really a disaster. St. Yuni, after all, posted a .288 OBP. Anyway, here's what the Royals see: a .217 batting average, 8 HRs, 25 RBIs and 39 strikeouts. We really need to pull a USS Mariner here, and write an open letter to the Royals pointing out that Kila produced at a 100-RBI rate that somehow gets read and acknowledged. It can't hurt.
As Matt/Devil Fingers wrote today at Fangraphs, the Royals need to get out of their own way and play Kila all year. If he fails, he fails. If he doesn't, then suddenly, you have a trade asset. Look, if we're going to dream about Melky's non-existent trade value, we might as well do the same with a pre-arb guy who might actually be attractive. Of course, the Royals have never done this really, even at the easiest position on the diamond to do so. Somehow, Jose Guillen or Ross Gload or Mike Jacobs or whomever always ends up sucking up all the DH/1B playing time. The perpetually annoying thing about this Royals Front Office is that they often simply refuse to let an inherited asset be an asset. If Kila was acquired in some D-market trade, we'd hear from Dayton and all the apologists about his upside and about how there was "nothing to lose" by playing him. (And don't even get us started on Alex Gordon.) For being masters, supposedly, of player development, the Royals haven't shown much skill in actually finishing off that process at the only level that truly matters.
In this environment, with a hyped raft of Dayton-guys with no obvious position (Myers, Hosmer, Moose) all coming up the line, it's now or never for Kila. PECOTA projected him to hit like an All-Star. That's not terribly likely, but then again, he's hit .285/.424/.521 in 1100 AAA PAs. Of course, whatever a Scouting Approved One did in 200 PAs at a lower level obviously means so much more, but results are results. As I've probably made abundantly clear, I don't think Kila has much of a future with the Royals, but that's been obvious since 2009 really. All he needs to do is hit. A slugging percentage upwards of .480 with non-horrific strikeout numbers should be enough to earn him another shot with another team. For those of us who find ourselves on the wrong side of life's divide, who saw our own opportunities wasted or our talents ignored, he's one worth rooting for.