2012 Kansas City Royals: Forward to the Past
BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
February 20, 2012
For the past year or so, major news outlets have jumped on the Kansas City Royals' 2013 bandwagon. That is, they've put out articles pontificating how the Royals will win the 2013 World Series due to their well-stocked farm system. Are these assertions valid, or are the Royals doomed to continue their 20-plus year stretch of being a second-division team?
A lot of good things happened for the Royals in 2011. They posted their
best record in three years and second-best in eight years despite fielding their
youngest team since the franchise's inaugural season of 1969 and having their
lowest team salary since 2001. Alex Gordon finally lived up to his hype,
Eric Hosmer made a major league impact at 21 years old, and backstop Salvador Perez
inexplicably fared far better in the majors than his minor league numbers would
portend. Outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer enjoyed breakout seasons
while the 34-year-old Bruce Chen managed his best performance in six years.
Gil Meche let the team off the hook for $12 million when he decided to retire
before the season began. They rid themselves of perhaps the worst everyday
player in baseball in Yuniesky Betancourt.
| Key Transactions
| Jonathan Sanchez
| Jonathan Broxton
| Yuniesky Betancourt
| Jose Mijares
| Melky Cabrera
| Jeff Francis
But just when you thought the Royals would parlay this confluence of good
fortune and some of the most promising young talent in baseball reaching the
majors into a winning organizational philosophy, they started to behave like the
Royals again. While parlaying Cabrera's overachievement and .332 BABIP
into some much-needed pitching help was the right idea, a 29-year old with the
worst BB/9 ratio of any starter who's thrown over 200 innings since 2009
(Jonathan Sanchez) doesn't really qualify as help. Instead of making a
similar attempt with Francouer's outlier season, they gave him $13.5 million to
stay with the team for the next two seasons. After surrendering their best
pitcher in Zach Grienke in order to shed Betancourt, they brought the disastrous
shortstop right back
into the fold.
Compounding these poor decisions is the fact that for all of the Royals'
great young talent, they are still grotesquely short on pitching. Their
pitcher prospects who appeared in the majors last season - Danny Duffy, Tim
Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, and Aaron Crow - all exhibited severe control issues.
That can be attributed to age for Duffy and Collins, but Crow (supposedly the
best prospect of the four) was 24 last year and had command issues in the
bullpen. He's shifting to the rotation, where repeating his delivery will
be more difficult and he won't be able to rely on his fastball as often.
Jeffress has walked 5.7 batters per nine innings in the minors and should never have
been considered a top prospect due to these command issues.
It's interesting to note that rookies Greg Holland and Louis Coleman were the
Royals' two best relievers last year, when neither one was ever considered a big
prospect. In fact, the two have combined for eight starts and 36 saves in
their minor league careers. Pitchers used for middle relief work in the
minors typically don't get opportunities in the majors, but these two ran with
the ones that they got.
In the minors, Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi have never performed up to
their status as first-round picks nor as elite prospects, but their 2011
performances were particularly disappointing. They still did better than
Chris Dwyer, who had a 5.60 ERA as a 23-year-old in Double-A. John Lamb
had been a legitimate prospect prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery, but now
his future is less certain. The best pitching prospect they have may be
one that hardly anyone is talking about: Kelvin Herrera is 18-7 with a 1.92 ERA
and 4.1 K/BB ratio for his minor league career. He turned 22 just a couple
of months ago and had already had success at the Triple-A level.
For pitchers, at least, it's clear that Kansas City had been stockpiling the
high-upside, projectable types. We're already seeing most of them fail.
The bigger problem is that the Royals' current rotation is a bad joke.
There are at least a dozen major league teams who would not take a single Royals
pitcher to be their #4 starter. This won't suddenly become a good rotation
if one or two pitching prospects pan out; it needs a complete overhaul.
2011 Royals Fun Facts
| 1. They issued the most walks in the AL, and their biggest
offseason acquisition led all of baseball in walks allowed in 2010
2. They became the first team ever to boast four players with at least 44 doubles
3. All three of their starting outfielders drove in exactly 87 runs
Complicating matters is that for all the firepower that their young hitters
boast, many of them cannot play defense. Mike Moustakas would have been
moved from third base to first were the first base and DH spots not occupied by
Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. Moustakas has a minor league fielding
percentage of .936 at the hot corner and made 11 errors in 89 major league games
there. He's not nearly as detrimental as Hosmer, however, as the excellent
hitting prospect had one of the worst defensive seasons ever from a first
just 127 games, he managed to cost his team more runs defensively that any
player not named Derek Jeter or Mark Reynolds. Believe it or not, Billy
Butler might be a better option at first base.
Lorenzo Cain would be better suited for right field, but that is where the
best defender on the team plays. Johnny Giavotella is below-average at
second. Salvador Perez was supposed to be an all-field, no-hit catcher, but
wound up being just the opposite in his 39-game audition last year.
Alcidies Escobar is a Gold Glover waiting to happen, but he may share the
shortstop position with Betancourt, who has easily cost his teams more runs on
defense over the past three seasons than any other major leaguer.
| Alex Gordon
His BABIP improved by over 100 points from 2010 to 2011
| Comeback Candidate
| Joakim Soria
All signs point to 2011 being an aberration
The offensive potential for this squad is considerable, though. Gordon and Francoeur may have overachieved last year, but they will both be 28 in 2012 and
should remain productive. Butler has been in the league so long that it's
easy to forget that he doesn't turn 26 until April. His best days are
still ahead of him. All five of their starting infielders will be 25 or
younger, and many of them have already enjoyed some success at the big league
level. Cain will be 26, and his minor league OPS is under .800. He
figures to be a placeholder until top prospect Wil Myers is ready, although
Myers went from being a great-hitting catcher in 2010 to a poor hitting
outfielder in 2011, so he's no sure thing.
While it would be a surprise for this offensive potential to translate into a
top-five AL offense in 2012, this team has a dominant bullpen already.
Joakim Soria would have been the closer that anyone would have picked to start a
franchise with prior to last season. After a rough couple of months to
begin 2011 due to a failed experiment with adding a cut fastball to his
repertoire, he had a 2.58 ERA and 91% conversion rate on his saves from June onwards.
His overall walk and strikeout rates were better than the ones he had in 2008,
when Soria flaunted a 1.60 ERA and ranked second in the AL with 42 saves.
Soria doesn't turn 28 until May, but he has a career 2.40 ERA, .579 OPS against,
and 89% save percentage. Expect him to be one of the top five closers in
baseball once again this year.
It wasn't too long ago when Jonathan Broxton was a top-five closer himself.
2009, in fact. The difference is that while Soria's fastball velocity has
remained steady his whole career, JoBro lost about 3.5 mph off his fastball in
two seasons. His strikeout rate plummeted, his walk rate soared, and he
spent most of 2011 on the DL. That said, he's a month younger than Soria
is and could well return near to his old form with health on his side. If
he even comes close to his career averages, he'll be a bargain at the $4-5 mil
the Royals are paying him.
Add to them Jose Mijares, a 27-year old who was a stud in 2009-2010 before
hitting a wall last year (sound familiar?) plus the excellent play of Holland
and Coleman, a potential star in Collins if he ever throws strikes, and possibly
even Herrera if the team decides he's too small to be a starter, and you have one of
the best bullpens in all of baseball. This is the kind of bullpen that
turns a .500 team into a playoff contender. Unfortunately, the Royals
aren't likely to be close in enough games for this great bullpen to have much
effect in 2012.
This organization is in the best shape that Kansas City has seen since the
early 90s, but that is a pretty low bar to clear. The strength of the
Royals' minor league system has been overblown - particularly in the pitching
department - and there had been almost nothing at the major league level for
them to augment. Residing in a weak division means that the Royals could
sneak into the playoffs at some point this decade, but don't believe for a
second that this franchise is suddenly a perennial contender. Their days
of losing 90 or more games per year finally do appear to be waning, however.
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