I know, the title seems a little silly given that the team has not even reported for 2011 Spring Training.    If you have been visiting this site for any period of time, however, you will know that one of my major complaints (probably THE major complaint) with the Royals organization is that they seemingly spend a lot of baseball games ‘marking time’.

At time, it almost appears that Dayton Moore and the Royals are actually afraid to ‘find out’ if a player can be useful or not.    My angst at this actually pre-dates Moore and goes back to the likes of Matt Diaz and Justin Huber.   While Diaz has proved useful, having him would not have greatly changed the organization’s destiny, and while Huber has never stuck anywhere, wouldn’t it been nice to at least see them get 300 at-bats with Kansas City?   Just so we knew?

The situation has rather famously continued with Mike Aviles, who after proving himself once (much to the organization’s chagrin) and getting injured, then had to prove himself all over again.   It certainly has been a sticking point for many when it comes to Kila Ka’aihue, who should have been given a chance to hit or not hit major league pitching in 2009, but instead has marked time for two full seasons while the Royals let Mike Jacobs and Jose Guillen hack away at air.    You can add catcher Brayan Pena to mix as well as he has rode the bench for two losing seasons and no one really, really knows if the guy can hit and field on an everyday basis.

Whether you agree with my assessment that the Royals have done more than their share of wasting major league time or not – which basically assumes that the organization is filled with enough baseball geniuses that they ‘just know’ who can play or not – I think most of us can agree that 2011 is a year the Royals absolutely, positively have to use to ‘find things out’.

By October of this year, I believe it is imperative for Dayton Moore to be in a position to sit down at this desk and answer the following questions based not on what he thinks or what the scouts believe, but on what he say on the major league field in 2011:

  • Luke Hochevar is either a fringe number two/solid number three starter on a contender or more innings filler for the back of the rotation.  – Barring another injury, he will get this chance, but the Royals need to realize Hochevar for whatever he is by the end of the season, slot him in at that spot and move on.
  • Alex Gordon is an integral part of the organization’s future.The organization should be willing to give Gordon 145 games against all types of pitching to prove he can be an offensive asset.   If he hits .212 through May, let’s not panic and start platooning him with Melky Cabrera.
  • Kila Ka’aihue really can hit major league pitching.Seriously, the entire baseball world may believe that Kila only has slider bat speed, but the entire baseball world is also wondering (should the wonder anything about the Royals) why the heck Kansas City has not given him 500 at-bats just to make sure.
  • Alcides Escobar is on his way to turning prospect potential into major league production. – You know the spiel:  prior to 2010, Escobar was the number 12 prospect in all of baseball and then had a pretty awful rookie season in the majors.   Great defense, an on-base percentage above .330 and some good baserunning is all the Royals are asking for here.   Escobar will get the better part of 2012 to continue to prove himself, but a solid 2011 campaign will allow the organization to start moving Christian Colon to over to second base and focus their free agent dollars/trade energy on a position other than short.
  • Mike Moustakas has four months of major league experience. – I don’t expect Moustakas to light the majors on fire once he gets the call (sometime between May 1 and July 1), and part of one season does not a star or bust make.   Still, the Royals need to get his career started if only to get Mike’s experience curve a step ahead of that of Eric Hosmer.    Call him up, put him in the lineup and leave him alone.   We will spend 2012 deciding if Moustakas is great or not, he just needs to bang out those first 350 rookie at-bats this summer.
  • Lorenzo Cain will be the Royals starting centerfielder on Opening Day of 2012. – If it was up to me, Lorenzo would be the starting centerfielder THIS Opening Day.   The world will not end, I don’t think anyway, if Cain begins 2011 in Omaha, but it very well could be Armageddon if Cain has not accumulated 100+ games of everyday duty in center by the end of the season.   Like Moustakas, that amount of experience will not tell us Cain’s long-term future, but it will give the Royals enough data to say ‘yes, he’s our guy in 2012′.  
  • These three young arms will set-up Joakim Soria in 2012. – I have no problem with Robinson Tejeda spending 2011 being Soria’s primary set-up man:  nothing decimates a team’s psyche more than having the bullpen blow leads late.   However, picking up a random veteran or wasting our time with other organization’s rejects in front of Tejeda/Soria would be a crime.   By the end of 2011, Dayton Moore should have seen plenty of Blake Wood to know if he can be a solid major league reliever.   He should also have seen enough of Tim Collins, Blaine Hardy, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland to be ready to hand them serious late inning responsibilities in 2012.   You can throw Everett Teaford, Brandon Sisk, Patrick Keating and Nathan Adcock in the mix as well.   Bottom line, there should be a large number of young, basically homegrown arms that get at least thirty innings of work (there should be plenty of bullpen innings available with this year’s rotation!) in 2011.
  • I do or do not need to sign or trade for a catcher in the winter of 2011. – Seriously, with Jason Kendall being a) hurt and b) being Jason Kendall, there is no excuse to not see a lot of Brayan Pena, Lucas May and maybe even Manny Pina in 2011.  It might not be pretty, but it is a necessary evil in assessing where Dayton Moore needs to focus his off-season energy.   Salvador Perez will have a full year at AA under his belt be then, but certainly will not be ready for the majors in early 2012, so the Royals will absolutely need to know if they have anyone between in front of the hopefully blossoming Perez to hold down the position in 2012.
  • Two of the organization’s prized young starters are ready for the 2012 rotation. - Be it Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow or Chris Dwyer (Teaford as well), you have to hope that two of them get between eight and fifteen starts in the second half of 2011 and prove themselves ready for full-time duty in 2012.   They don’t have to prove anything, just get some innings in so they are ready to prove something in 2012.

Certainly, you could make this list much, much longer, but in I think these are the critical issues that simply have to be resolved prior to the next off-season.  Sure, you could say ‘find out about Chris Getz’, but frankly if spring training 2012 is a battle at second between Getz, Aviles, Giavotella and maybe even Colon that does not really hurt the progression of The Process.   

Not all the questions have to be answered at once, but you do need to stop theorizing and start actually answering questions.    Catching and Kila Ka’aihue should have been asked and anwered last year, maybe even the year before.   Be it ego or fear or stubborness, all that needs to be set aside in 2011 and the answers need to be found.