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Royal Position Players With Upside for 2010

The Royals have never quite been a young team under Dayton Moore, and may never be. That's a discussion for another day, however. Despite a rebuild still stuck in second gear, the Royals do have a handful of position players with upside or breakout potential for 2010.

1B/DH - Billy Butler: Butler raised his game offensively last season, posting a career best .301/.362/.492 line. Butler will be just 24 next season and has been viewed as one of the best young hitters in the game for years. Although Butler's defense was seen as being better than expected in '09, in reality he was still pretty bad. With some extended playing time at first under his belt for the first time, he might be headed towards his defensive prime where he's still bad but not killing you. The standards are high for no-defense/no-baserunning 1Bs in the AL, which is in part why Butler posted just a 2.4 WAR in '09. Still, if ever there was a guy who appeared to be on his way to an elite prime as a pure hitter, it's Butler.

3B - Alex Gordon: Gordon's early seasons actually look better than Butler's first two did, and like Butler,he may have already broken out, but for a variety of reasons he's a partisan figure amongst Royals fans these days. Here's how I look at Gordon's career 2007: disappointing, 2008: promising, 2009: hurt. Heading into his age 26 season, Gordon has hit .250/.331/.415 in 1360 PAs. For what it's worth, 600 of those PAs are from his rookie year, when the Royals seemingly played him out of spite. It's a bit of an old-school 3B's line overall, and that may be the type of hitter than Gordon becomes. He may not be the next Brett, but he might be the next Robin Ventura, Howard Johnson or Tim Wallach.

C - Brayan Pena: Say this about the Royals: they'll always leave you guessing. The Royals declined to bring back both John Buck and Miguel Olivo, seemingly handing a bulk of playing time to Brayan Pena, who hit well in limited duty in 2009. And Pena was even a former Brave, so we got to have a million cheap jokes about him, during the protacted process of bringing him in. Then the Royals brought in Jason Kendall. For two years. As in two years, or two years, if you want to look at it that way. Brayan got 183 PAs last season, and the target for 2010 is presumably somewhere around 300.

2B - Chris Getz: You can find people who like his game. He's hitting a nice age for 2010, 26, and that's mainly why he's here. He only hit .261/.324/.347 in pretty regular duty last year, but he's a second baseman, which helps. And Getz hit well at AAA in 2008.

CF - Brian Anderson: And now we're into the questionable zone. Anderson is heading into his age-28 season and approximately his 4th chance to win a Major League job. It wouldn't have been crazy to envision a career year at the plate and good defense for Anderson in 2010. Well, that was then. After the Royals brought in Scot Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, it's hard to imagine Anderson getting much playing time at the Major League level. Just a weird acquisition all around, as he went from being an underwhelming but sorta-interesting-option-if-you-look-hard-enough to just being superfluous and puzzling in about a month. Is a former White Sox however.

3B - Josh Fields: Classify this as the most theoretical of upsides. The Royals won't be the last organization to give Fields a shot. He was famous entering baseball because of his QB days at Boone Pickens State, and he hit 23 homers for the White Sox in his first full season. He'll be 27 next year, and if you look past the fact that he was absolutely terrible in 2009. I have no idea what the Royals are really thinking with Fields, is he just a body or do they really want to find a place for his bat? But hey: I've only written about this team every day for five years and read everything that gets written about them. All in all, Fields is more likely to have a good 2010 than is Yuni Betancourt, so he makes the list.

CF - Mitch Maier: Not noticeably different from the three guys listed above, except he's the Devil the Royals know with a Baird pedigree, not someone they feel like they've snagged from some other organization as a sign of how smart they are. Maier didn't fall on his face at the plate in 2009, and there's evidence that he'd be average to alright at a premium defensive position. It doesn't matter, it'll take a trade and two injuries for him to play much now.

OF - Rick Ankiel: Ankiel has had a weird career, so many are willing to consider his age (30) not all that it might seem. And even if wasn't a pure 30, 30 isn't 33. On the other hand, his weird career also suggests a hypothesis that the scouting report is now out on him and he's an outs and bad swings machine. His rate numbers have declined from the moment he started hitting as a Cardinal in 2007... Still weird career + injuries + maybe he just needed a change of scenery (nobody burns guys out faster than Tony LaRussa) + he's an incredible athlete and you can at least imagine a good 2010. It wouldn't stun me.

That seems to be about it. And for a team in year five of a new GM's rebuild, it's not an impressive haul. Butler and Gordon have elite upsides. Upsides in the down-ballot MVP candidate range. And the rest of the list, aside from Ankiel who is something of a true wildcard, have upsides around the "good player, gave us 2.0 WAR out of nowhere" range.

What does surprise me is that the roster does have a number of players heading into an interesting age range, only too many of them are blocked or mostly blocked by useless veterans like Guillen, Bloomquist, Podsednik or Kendall. And that's a big part of why the 2010 Royals just don't seem that interesting.