April 1, 2011 - Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals
- Final Score: Angels 1, Royals 2
- Time of Game: 2 hours 33 minutes
- Attendance: 13,302
- Royals Review Recap Headline: Royals Defeat Angels on Kila Ka'aihue Walk-off Home Run by Freneau
- Box score, courtesy of MLB.com:
There were two bright spots in the opening day lineups--one was a 24 year-old athletic shortstop with some promise, whose name was Alcides Escobar--and the other was the giant, 6'4" 235 lb firstbaseman, Kila Ka'aihue, the Kila Monster.
We all know what happened later in 2011, that being Eric Hosmer and his many, many, many minor league friends and their ultimate graduation to The Show. But there was no guarantee when that would happen, and to begin the year, staring at Kila and sending him intense thoughts about murdering baseballs was about the best way to enjoy the season.
Freneau, known to most of us as Will McDonald, wrote about Kila a month earlier before the season started, saying that it was both Kila's and the Royals' last chance to get his career on track:
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.
...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.
Read the entire thing, if you have time. For those of you unaware, Will was the progenitor of Royals Review, its creator and reason for existing in its current form. Will was (and is) singularly talented, with a penchant for spinning an engrossing and satisfying story in any form. This article is A+ writing; to write a relatively short article with so much wit, voice, and precision is extraordinarily difficult.
Back to Kila. Drafted out of high school as a 15th-round pick of the terrible 2002 Royals, Kila wormed his way up the ladder relatively slowly. His breakout seasons were 2007 and 2008; in 2007, Kila was promoted from A+ to AA ball and hit a combined .794 OPS over both levels. In 2008, Kila, now 24 years old, jumped from AA to AAA, putting up a 1.085 OPS over both levels. For reference, Barry Bonds' career OPS is 1.051. Kila was then dutifully promoted to the Majors, played in 12 games, and put up an .804 OPS up in those 24 plate appearances.
In baseball, you often see the term of a 'AAAA' hitter. Those AAAA hitters are usually guys who play non-premium defensive positions at a mediocre level (most often first base or corner outfield), tend to be in their mid-to-late 20s, dominate AAA pitching, but struggle against MLB pitching--better than AAA but not good enough for MLB, hence the AAAA moniker. These guys are usually low-tools guys taken in mid-to-late rounds in the draft, too.
Even in 2008, Kila was dangerously close to that. As a 1B/DH, Kila had nowhere else to squeeze value from other than hitting. As the 438th player taken in his draft, he was already working against the grain of guys who scouts valued more.
But at age 24 in his breakout season, Kila wasn't your typical late-bloomer, and to make your MLB debut in age 24 isn't bad at all.
Remember: the 2008 Royals were bad. The 2007 Royals were bad. The 2006 Royals were bad. The 2005 Royals were bad. The 2004 Royals were bad. The 2003 Royals were a minor miracle--but the 2002 Royals were bad. Going into 2009, the Royals were looking up but were still not going to be close to the playoffs. You've got a dirt cheap, 25 year-old player who murdered AA and AAA pitching to grab his first dozen big league games the previous year. There's no downside to playing him.
Kansas City did not play him. They signed Mike Jacobs that year. Jacobs made $3.2 million, roughly seven times what Kila would have made, and was worth a full win below replacement. Kila put up a .825 OPS in AAA and did not sniff the Majors once.
In 2010, Kila put up an OPS north of 1 for the second time in three years in AAA, and the Royals did play him! A little. In halting starts and stops of playing time, Kila worked a .702 OPS, a little bit below average, but nothing out of the ordinary for a rookie with less than half a season of big league experience. The Royals lost 95 games that year, playing a 34 year-old Jose Guillen for 104 games because of reasons. Other players on that team included Rick Ankiel, Jai Miller, Josh Fields, and Lucas May.
And so, on April 2, 2011, Ka'aihue flashed some of his skillset with a long, long home run to give the 2011 Royals their first win:Eric Hosmer debuted on May 6, 2011. Kila was sent to Omaha. He would never play another game for the Kansas City Royals.