Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alcides Escobar

Episode #052 – In which I take a look back at the Cleveland Indians series, discuss lineups, the inability of the pen to get out lefties and preview the series with the Minnesota Twins. Aaron Stilley drops by to talk about Jeff Francoeur’s approach and Alcides Escobar’s bat.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs052.mp3|titles=BBS

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Follow Aaron on Twitter @kc_baseball and check out his articles on Francoeur and Escobar

Music used in this podcast

Phish – Wilson

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

RJD2 – Smoke & Mirrors

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I have to imagine every Royals’ fan that read the above title instantly thought ‘Alcides Escobar’ and probably a vast majority then had the name ‘Chris Getz’ pop into their head shortly thereafter.  No trickery here, that is exactly who we are going to talk about this morning.

Let me preface the discussion by admitting I have not done an in-depth analysis of this topic.    Two reasons:  a) time and b) I wanted to not prove a point, but continue a long running Twitter discussion and get the readers’ semi-unjaded thoughts on the issue.  Yes, you’re right, item b is a writer’s way of justifying limited research.

Anyway, I have yet to find anyone who has not been wowed by the defense of Alcides Escobar at short.   To date, he has simply been outstanding:  making great plays often and making the routine plays look, well, routine.   For Kansas City, where every infield pop up since the turn of the century has been an adventure, routine looking routine is refreshing.

Now, it remains to be seen if Escobar can maintain this level of play throughout a full season and also if the defensive metrics come around to supporting what our eyes (and maybe our hearts) are telling us, but for the purposes of today, let’s assume that Escobar is somewhere between a very good defender and an elite defender.

According to Fangraphs, the best fielding shortstops of 2010 were (using RAR):

  • Alexei Ramirez – 10.8
  • Cliff Pennington – 9.9
  • Stephen Drew – 8.7
  • Troy Tulowitzki – 7.1

Given that Alcides Escobar was widely considered to be inconsistent at best in the field in 2010 and still posted a +3.5, I think it is safe to assume that his defense (to date) would have to be considered up among the league leaders.   Now, Tulowitzki and Drew can, you know, hit the ball and hence their overall Wins Above Replacement is aided greatly by their offense.

Pennington (-0.5) and Ramirez (-2.2), however, were not deemed to have contributed much offensively using this system.  However, both posted wOBA numbers that I think all of us would gladly accept out of Escobar.   Pennington checked in with wOBA of .315 (.250/.319./.368 standard line), and Ramirez had an wOBA of .322 (.282/.313/.431).   I can affirm completely that if Alcides Escobar matches either one of those lines, he will definitely be hitting enough to justify keeping his defense in the lineup.

However, we are trying to determine the minimum scenario under which Escobar can be an overall positive and in that scenario it is worth looking at the bottom portion of shortstops using their 2010 wOBA:

  • Cesar Izturis – .248
  • Alcides Escobar – .270
  • Erick Aybar – .288
  • Orlando Cabrera – .292

One could make the case that if Escobar hits as he did last year (when his overall WAR was +0.6) and fields at a higher level, he might be doing enough as is.   Remember, Alcides hit a very putrid .235/.288/.326 in 2010, which is sadly well above his current 2011 line.    

The Royals, however, are surely looking for more than a 1 WAR shortstop to come out of the Greinke trade, or at least they should be.   Is something more than 2 WAR acceptable?   For now, in my mind, the answer is yes.   In working our way up the wOBA list to find the lowest ranked shortstop to post a plus two WAR, we conveniently find another Escobar.

Yunel Escobar posted a wOBA of .301 in 2010, hitting .256/.337/.318 and fielding at 4.3 Runs Above Replacement.   I will move out of my mom’s basement if the Royals’ Escobar gets anywhere close to a .337 on-base percentage this year, but if he can field at a better clip than Yunel and hit a little less maybe Alcides could still be a major positive overall.  Erick Aybar’s line of .253/.306/.330 for a wOBA of .288 would do it.

So, in a very unsophisticated look at the subject, it appears that Alcides Escobar could duplicate his 2010 hitting and be basically replacement level (i.e. not helping, but not killing his team, either).   Above that line, Escobar begins to add some juice to the Royals’ overall WAR equation.   An Aybar like line would turn Alcides into the first truly impactful positive overall Royals shortstop since Mike Aviles had his glorious rookie run in 2008.

Now, using the above imperfect logic, what would second baseman Chris Getz need to do to also be something more than ‘just above replacement level’?   Easy answer: more.   Second base is an important defensive position, but not as important as shortstop.   Additionally, while Getz would appear to be a good defender at second, I am not ready to label him as more than simply ‘good’.

Rightly or wrongly, instead of looking at the top defenders as we did with shortstop, let’s take a look at the next tier down of second baseman in 2010:

  • David Eckstein – 6.2
  • Freddy Sanchez – 5.9
  • Aaron Hill – 3.7
  • Clint Barmes – 3.6

Both Eckstein and Sanchez posted an overall fWARs over two.   Sanchez, while not a great hitter, would seem to be a different kind of hitter than Getz, but Eckstein, with a line of .267/.321/.326 with a wOBA of .296 seems very ‘Getz-like’.  

Of course, David Eckstein was an excellent defensive shortstop who moved over to second and I have to believe, despite his age, that he played better defense at second base than Getz will.   Admittedly, I think Mike Aviles should be playing second base right now for the Royals and hence may have a jaded view of Getz’s defense – while better than Aviles, I do not think it is THAT much better.

You can debate the above statement, but I have to think that anything less than something resembling Eckstein’s 2010 offensive output would put Getz underwater when it comes to his overall WAR and hence, overall contribution to the team.  Probably something on the order of a Chone Figginsish .259/.340/.306 (wOBA .302) would do the trick – assuming plus five defense or thereabouts.

Okay, now what do you think?  How much offense do you need to keep Alcides Escobar on the field?   How about Chris Getz?

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

A show of hands of all those enjoying being a Royals’ fan right now.   Deep down, you are probably still thinking that this team will not approach 80 wins this season, but for now this is kind of fun isn’t it?

The Royals opened the weekend by just plain getting beat on Friday, returned the favor on Saturday and took advantage of a sloppy Detroit performance to blast the Tiger on Sunday.   Not only is two of out three not bad (yes, I am watching Celebrity Apprentice this season), but it is very good indeed for a young team on its first road trip of the year.    Sure, the Royals did manage to miss the top part of the Detroit starting rotation, but it was still a nice series win.

There are a number of topics we will touch on this morning in lieu of detailed, comprehensive research (all those nasty facts get in the way of my opinion), so let’s start it off….

Chris Getz led off for three games and the world continued to turn.

Ned Yost opted to sit Mike Aviles down after Wednesday’s zero for seven day dropped Mike to just three for twenty-six on the year.   Aviles, a personal favorite of mine, has looked, at best, uncomfortable at third and, at worst, just plain bad, so a day off to clear the cobwebs seemed appropriate.     One day off turned into two and the next thing we knew, Mike Aviles did not make an appearance in the entire series.

Now, if you have told be that Friday morning, you can bet I would have envisioned writing an entirely different, probably scathing, column today.   As it is, however, you can hardly fault Ned Yost for sticking with Getz as his leadoff man in Detroit after he went 4-10 for the series with 3 walks and 2 sacrifice flies.  All Wilson Betemit did during that time period was go 6 for 11 with 3 doubles and 2 walks.   

I doubt that Yost and the Royals were truly planning on sitting Aviles the entire series.   After all, we are talking about a guy who hit .325/.354/.480 and .304/.335/.413 in his two healthy major league seasons.    Despite having become the whipping boy of the casual fandom and overly criticized by those who should know better, I doubt the Royals have truly given up on him after six bad (and they were bad admittedly) games.  That said, look for no outrage (not even a sarcastic tweet) from me if Getz leads off tomorrow in Minnesota and Betemit is back at third.

While I am an unabashed ‘Aviles guy’, I am also something of a closet ‘Getz guy’ as well.  Back when the Royals acquired Chris in exchange for Mark Teahen, I offered that there were a number of big time major league second baseman who had minor league numbers similar to or even worse than Getz’s .286/.363/.380 over 381 contests.   Last season, pretty much deflated my hope that Getz could become Brian Roberts (minus the PEDs), but I have a little glimmer of hope.

IF Getz can continue to get on base at something resembling his minor league numbers and IF Getz truly is an above average defensive second basemen and IF he can steal bases with the success he has shown in limited attempts thus far:  well, that is a guy that fills a void in the batting order and can help this team be better in the short term.

Pending the arrival of Mike Moustakas, I don’t have much problem with Yost playing the hot hand at second and third with whomever among Aviles, Betemit and Getz is playing the best at a given time.    I would be surprised if Aviles does not yet end up being the best hitter of the three after 100 games, but no harm in getting them all at-bats for now so long as Yost does not ‘fall in love’ with any one of the three.   The idea would be to play the hot hand, not stick with Getz everyday at leadoff if he goes three for twenty-six.

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

The Royals’ new shortstop can, at times, be quite painful to watch bat, but he is truly fun to observe on defense.   After being overloaded with plus hands, plus feet, good arm, nice instinct crap from the front office in talking about a slew of shortstops who were, at best, league average in the field, it is nice to ACTUALLY SEE what those look like in action.  

Nine games does not a great defender make, but Escobar looks like the real deal in the field.   Enough so to get me wondering how much the Royals need him to hit to justify keeping his glove on the diamond.    I looked to the A’s Cliff Pennington, who posted a UZR/150 of 8.8 last season, which put him in the top five defenders in baseball using that system.   Despite hitting just .250/.319/.368, Pennington still posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs’ number) by virtue of his defense.

Should Escobar, who posted a 4.7 UZR/150 last year at short, continue to play like he has in the field, which would lead me to believe his defensive metrics will approach those of Pennington, can he hit similar numbers?   With two hits yesterday, let’s hope Alcides can pick up his hitting numbers to the modest ‘Pennington-like’ level.    Anything beyond that and the Greinke trade starts to look really good.

Another guy who has looked good in the field is first baseman Kila Ka’aihue.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough defense to be had at first base to justify 13 strikeouts and just one home run  in 41 plate appearances.   As bad as Kila looked over the weekend, he did manage two walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, so I am hardly ready to give up on him….except when Phil Coke is pitching.

That’s Not My Process

Alex Gordon is hitting .357/.400/.548 out of the number three slot.   Billy Butler is blasting away at a .394/.512/.667 clip batting clean-up.   That is The Process in action.  Except, that is Allard Baird’s Process, not that of Dayton Moore.  

Pretty much said Baird drafted Gordon in 2005, the real plan for the Royals was to have Alex and Billy blasting away in the middle of the order.   Even with the coming emergence of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Royals certainly look much better with Gordon and Butler doing what they are doing right now.   We can pretty much bank on Butler continuing to hit, but we are still in the ‘hoping’ mode when it comes to Gordon.

Still, you have to love it when a plan comes together, even if it is not your own.

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

Still, after Bruce Chen used the elements and a generous strike zone to throw six shutout innings and strike out seven on Saturday, and Luke Hochevar went seven strong innings that included six strikeouts, the rotation gets a gold star for the weekend.

Hochevar was dinged for three home runs that led to all the runs scored against him, but otherwise looked very good.   Obviously, you cannot go through life giving up three homers per game, but if two of those end up on the warning track (like they did for Nathan Adcock on Friday) instead of the stands…..   Ifs and buts, I know, but I came away from Hochevar’s start in a positive frame of mind.

Not so much when it comes to Kyle Davies’ Friday outing.   The Royals have played nine games and have not had a wild pitch or passed ball in eight of those.   In Kyle’s start on Friday, he uncorked THREE wild pitches in what was an outright atrocious start.    Of course, you don’t really want to look at the minor league starts of Jeff Suppan and Vin Mazarro, either.

Speaking of Nate Adcock, he tossed a big three plus innings of shutout ball on Friday to save the bullpen for the weekend.   He did not strike out a batter, but did not walk one either.   Nate was tagged for four hits and six of his outs were in the air, so it was not dominating by any means, but did the one thing you want a long reliever to do:  throw strikes.    While I think there was some good fortune in Adcock’s Friday performance, it was good enough to warrant continued looks at the major league level.

Onto Minnesota

Right now the Royals, and particularly Ned Yost, are on a roll.   Other than trying to steal with Billy Butler, pretty much every move Yost makes or doesn’t make seems to be working.   The Royals scored nine runs yesterday despite going just two for seventeen with runners in scoring position.    

The starting pitching has been, by and large, competent.   The bullpen has been very good with the two biggest concerns being Robinson Tejeda and Joakim Soria.   I think both those pitchers get back in the groove sooner rather than later and might well turn a very good bullpen into an absolute lock-down bullpen.    The offense is averaging over five runs per game despite starting three players who are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

Over the weekend we saw the Royals confirm what virtually everyone expected since the end of last season:  Tim Collins will open the season in the bullpen.   We also saw Rule fiver Robert Fish returned to the Angels ending a strange little ten day dance that caused no harm and forever made Robert Fish a known commodity here in the Royal Land of Blogs.  

The Opening Day roster was additionally formed by the expected but unpopular sending of Lorenzo Cain to Omaha, confirming that Melky Cabrera will be the club’s centerfielder.   Also in the ‘expected’ category, was the release of Pedro Feliz (or the exercising of the opt-out clause in his contract if you want to be absolutely correct):  don’t think anyone was too shocked or saddened by this.   His changes to make the roster were slim to begin with and diminished to zero when Wilson Betemit proved to healthy and Lance Zawadzki proved to be younger, more versatile and probably better (although he won’t be on the roster, either).

Truthfully, plus or minus a couple of relievers (the Aaron Crow rumor that he has made the Opening Day roster is intriguing), this is shaping up as basically the twenty-five men we pretty much expected.   Of course, that is not all that exciting a prospect given that the vast majority of this twenty-five – pretty much anyone outside of Joakim Soria and Billy Butler – is not slated to have much impact when the Royals plethora of prospects propel this organization back into relevancy.

What if, however, some of this current group does something unexpected?   Is it realistic to expect players off the current roster to make enough of an impact in 2011 to move the organization closer to contention than the current 2013-2014 timetable?   Let’s take a look at some possibly realistic, if somewhat optimistic, scenarios:

  • Alex Gordon – This is the obvious one.   I think it is likely that Gordon has a decent season – something on the order of a .350 on-base percentage and twenty home runs.   While I hate to jump to the ‘domination’ discussion, is it truly out of the realm of reality to think Gordon might slug thirty home runs and post an on-base percentage above .370?  Would a 4.0 WAR player in leftfield and the middle of the Royals’ order jumpstart The Process a bit?
  • Kila Ka’aihue – I could pretty much cut and paste Gordon’s paragraph and slide it in here.  With Eric Hosmer in the wings and Billy Butler pretty much established, Kila coming through is not as critical/helpful as it would be for Gordon to truly emerge.   Still, Ka’aihue taking a run at the club home run record would certainly help the team win a few more games in 2011.
  • Luke Hochevar – Asking for him to live up to his draft status is simply daydreaming, but hoping for Luke to stay healthy and emerge as a Gil Meche type pitcher (200 innings – 4.00 ERA) might not be.   Such a performance would give the Royals one (maybe two if Jeff Francis is healthy) capable starter to augment the young arms soon to emerge on the scene.
  • Alcides Escobar – Is he the player that was the number twelve prospect in baseball last spring or the player that posted a .614 OPS in his rookie season?   The Royals are expecting good defense and for Escobar to hold his own at the plate.   They are hoping for great defense and a hitter who can capably man one of the top two spots in the batting order.   Given the uncertainty surrounding Christian Colon’s ability to stick at shortstop, the organization really needs Escobar to nail down the shortstop position for the foreseeable future.   Should Alcides develop into an elite defender and capable hitter, it would go a very long ways towards this team sniffing contention.

We will spend a lot of this season talking about the many prospects in the Royals’ system and how they fit into The Process.   The above four players, however, could push that Process along by realizing some or a majority of their projected potential.  

How many of the above four would need to come through in a big way for the Royals to be at least fringe contenders in 2012?    My gut reaction is probably all of them, or at least three for sure.    Even that assumes that Kansas City’s bullpen will be a strength from the very beginning of 2011, so a lot of good things would have to happen for the Royals to jump ahead a year in The Process timeline.

For various reasons, I have been pretty much out of the Royals’ loop for the better part of the past two weeks.   Here’s what I apparently missed:

  • Ned Yost views Jarrod Dyson as the best lead-off option on the team and that no one else really fits the role.  Of course, even Ned intimates that Dyson has little chance to make the roster.   I pointed out the void of a true lead-off hitter within the organization earlier this month.  Is it good or bad to have an opinion much the same as the Royals’ manager?
  • Chris Getz’s head is okay now.   Although I kind of have a weird fascination with Getz, that feeling will last exactly as long as it takes the Royals to call up Mike Moustakas.   At that point, Getz will either stop playing or start taking time away from a far superior hitting Mike Aviles.  When that happens, fascination will no longer describe my feelings towards this player.
  • Everett Teaford’s truck was stolen.   That’s a shame.
  • Joakim Soria wants a new nickname.   I can see his logic, given what is going on in his native Mexico, but color be completely bored with this topic.   Nicknames, at least non-sarcastic ones, have never really been all that interesting to me and maybe, just maybe, when you are as good as Joakim Soria we could just refer to him as, well, Joakim Soria.
  • A number of pitchers had ‘the ball come out of their hands real good’ and a similar number of position players reported to camp ‘in the best shape of their lives’.
  • Of course, as Craig detailed yesterday, Jason Kendall confirmed my feeling that he is pretty much of a clown (not the funny type, mind you).   Listen, I don’t have any fond feelings for Nick Wright, but there was nothing in his questioning of Mike Moustakas that warranted intervention from anyone.   I guess we can thank Kendall for making just another ‘softball question-cliche answer’ standard baseball interview something interesting.   Certainly, what Kendall did is no worse than what George Brett did to a young television reporter on the golf course last year (or was it two?).   The difference is that George Brett is in the Hall of Fame and Jason Kendall never will be:  nobody said life was fair.

I guess all this column really does is remind all of us how non-eventful this time of year can be.    All that changes on Sunday as the games start.   You can make the argument that spring training stats do not matter, but spring training games certainly do.  

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

And finally, the Ned Yost over/under stolen base contest.   In Tuesday’s Kansas City Star, Yost talked about the Royals renewed emphasis on baserunning (the team has been a woeful unit on the base paths the past few years) and in that article offered up the following thoughts on stolen base abilities:

  • Mike Aviles: 25 to 30
  • Lorenzo Cain: 25
  • Alcides Escobar: 40
  • Jeff Francouer: 15
  • Chris Getz: 40

“You just have to know how to do it.   You just have to work at it.” (Ned Yost via Kansas City Star)

Alright, which of the above (if any) reach those numbers?   And how many caught stealing do they incur getting there?

“Making Fergie sign  sing live is like making Yunieksy Betancourt bat leadoff” – Joe Sheehan via Twitter.  To be honest, ‘signing’ might have gone better!

Here’s to hoping that two years from now someone cannot make the same joke using Alcides Escobar….or Lorenzo Cain.

In his time running the Royals, Dayton Moore has loaded the farm system with so many arms that it seems almost impossible to remember them all.   He has drafted shrewdly enough to nab three of the best minor league hitters in the game and, while the position players are not nearly as deep as the pitchers, he has added some nice solid players to go with the big three.    In trading Zack Greinke, Moore added two of these ‘solid type’ players who happen to fill spots in the organization that were notoriously weak:  shortstop and centerfield.

While neither Escobar nor Cain will never be superstars, the Royals need them to both be above average defensively and to hold their own offensively.   They also need one of them to be a leadoff hitter.   That, you see, is the one really glaring weakness in this organization.

While the days of the Willie Wilson and Rickey Hendersons of the world batting at the top of the order and stealing 75 bases are probably long past, teams still like to have a ‘lead-off’ type guy.   There is no statistical variance in the fact that the guy who leads off the game is also the first guy to get to five at-bats.   If that guy can get on base twice and distract the pitcher both times, there is value.    It’s nice, of course, if that batter gets on base in the first inning and keeps the starting pitcher from getting into a groove (plus it sets up your ‘number two hitter’ which every manager seems to love – sarcasm intended), but the fact is that having a speed guy on base twice per game is better than having Alberto Callaspo on base twice per game.   I’m talking about the Alberto who slugged .410 last season, not the guy who banged out 60 extra base hits in 2009.

We know that Dayton Moore loves the speed guys:  he went out of his way to sign Scott Podsednik last season and it worked out on all fronts, much to my surprise.    He has drafted a ton of them, none of whom can seem to, you know, get on base.

Derrick Robinson can flat out fly, but his .345 OBP in Northwest Arkansas last season was thirty points above anything he has managed prior.   Hilton Richardson, Adrian Ortiz, Patrick Norris all can run, but you don’t even want to know what their on-base numbers were last year.   You all know about Jarrod Dyson who makes all of the above seem slow (sort of), but he too has not shown a tremendous on-base aptitude.

Paulo Orlando, one of my favorites, stole 25 bases in 35 attempts in AA and posted an on-base percentage of .366, but his skillset might well profile out hitting sixth or seventh in the order.   If it profiles out at all at the major league level.  

When it comes to on-base percentage, your minor league leaders last year were Kila Ka’aihue, Alex Gordon, Wil Myers, Clint Robinson and Eric Hosmer.    Yeah, not exactly getting a lead-off feel from any of those guys.   Frankly, the closest thing to the combination a smart major league team is looking for is Johnny Giavotella, who stole 13 bases and posted an OBP of .395.   Prior to last season, however, Johnny’s on-base percentages were .351 and .355.   Those are good numbers, not great, basically David DeJesus.   The consensus was that he was never really a true lead-off hitter.

After the big three, the two guys most likely to be on this team sooner rather than later are probably David Lough and Christian Colon (either because Escobar flops or he is moved to second base).   Again, neither profiles out as a true lead-off hitter.

That brings us back to Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain.     Escobar comes with all the glowing prospect statuses, but not the on-base resume you might like to see.   He can run, we think he can field and we hope he can hit some, but the idea that he might develop into the type of lead-off hitter a contending team utilizes is probably unlikely.

Cain, on the other hand, is a ‘nice’ prospect, but not considered elite.    He brings a career minor league on-base percentage of .366 to the table, which includes three seasons of plus .380.    Lorenzo has stolen 124 bases in the minors and been caught just 35 times.   In 2010, he stole 26 of 29 bases and in 2008 Cain nabbed 25 of 31.   He, among everyone else in the system,  seems to have the tools to fill this vacancy.

Would the world end if the Royals had to make do with a good on-base guy who did not steal bases?  No.   It  would be nice, however, to have a traditional ‘table-setter’ hitting in front of what we hope to be a fearsome middle of the order in a couple of years.

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

This is a post I’ve been hanging onto for a day that now will never come. I was originally going to post it on the day that Jordan Parraz made his Major League debut with the Royals, but since he was recently picked up on waivers by the Red Sox it’s not likely to happen.

I’m getting ahead of myself. This story begins on December 7th, 1992. It’s not quite a day that will live in infamy, rather it’s the day the Royals drafted pitcher Billy Brewer from the Montreal Expos in the Rule 5 draft. Brewer was a left-handed relief pitcher who had put together three very good seasons in low A to high A baseball. He had pitched in 23.1 unspectacular innings in 1992 at the AA level, but the Royals drafted him anyway and placed him on the roster.

Brewer pitched well in the bullpen for the Royals in 1993 and 1994, putting up a 3.01 ERA in 77.2 innings pitched. However, in 1995 he struggled. He posted a 5.56 ERA and that off-season he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jose Offerman. Brewer never actually ended up pitching for the Dodgers. For the rest of his career he pitched 55.2 innings for the Yankees, A’s and Phillies and his ERA was 6.63.

In Jose Offerman, the Royals got a 27 year old shortstop coming off of a career year. In 1995 he hit .303/.389/.375.  He didn’t hit for a whole lot of power, but played an up-the-middle defensive position and got on base at a very high rate. Offerman was a very productive player for the Royals from 1996-1998. He hit .306/.385/.419 and led the league in triples with 13 in 1998.

The Royals got an absolute steal in the Brewer trade and Offerman’s success made him a Type A free agent in the off-season following the 1998 season. The Boston Red Sox ended up signing him and due to the the rules of free agency, they forfeited their 25th overall draft selection to the Royals. Offerman had three more seasons of production that were roughly the same as what he put up as a Royal, but after that his numbers plummeted.

In the 1999 draft, the Royals selected pitcher Mike MacDougal out of Wake Forrest with the Red Sox 25th pick. He spent a few years in the minors and made his debut as a starter in 2001. Not one month later, he was struck in the head by a bat that flew out of the hands of Carlos Beltran and fractured his skull. The lingering effect from that incident was a loss of sensation in his fingers. He eventually learned to pitch with it and came back to the Majors as a relief pitcher. He saved 27 games as the Royals’ closer in 2003, lost that job to Jeremy Affeldt in 2004 and regained it in 2005. In July of 2006 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. In four years with the White Sox, MacdDougal posted a 4.77 ERA in 88.2 innings pitched.

In return for MacDougal, the Royals received Minor League pitchers Tyler Lumsden and Dan Cortes. Neither of them reached the Majors with the Royals and were dealt in separate deals. Cortes was traded with Derrick Saito to the Seattle Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt, who was then packaged with Zack Greinke to obtain Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers. Lumsden was traded to the Astros for outfield prospect Jordan Parraz who was released this off-season by the Royals.

So we’ve come full circle and back to Jordan Parraz. It’s a long, strange tale of baseball moves, however there seems to be a very interesting point in all of that. If you’ll notice, the moves which are fully realized and the players have all gone on to either finish or nearly finish their careers are ones which the Royals did very well. Below is a chart which shows the series of moves.

Every move that a team makes can have lasting ramifications, either positive or negative. Drafting and then trading Billy Brewer was a shrewd move by General Manager Herk Robinson. The Royals clearly maximized the value of Brewer. The team also cleverly didn’t sign Jose Offerman as a free agent, which gave them one of the three first round picks they’d have in the 1999 draft. That pick yielded prospects in a trade, and those prospects yeilded more prospects and Yuniesky Betancourt, natch.

The point remains that those smart moves by the 1992-1995 Royals front office continue to yield net value to the team in 2011. One good move can help a team for decades, one bad one can do the opposite. This is illustrative of why there is so much importance placed on the small things that the Royals need to do.

It’s not necessarily doing the “little things” on the field that matters as much as doing the “little things” in player acquisition. From gettting talented Rule 5 players, to recognizing when someone has over-achieved or reached their peak. Now that the Royals have built up an incredible farm system, it’s these types of moves which will define Dayton Moore and lead to a renewal of success or continued failure.

Episode #040 – I discuss being selected for the Royals Digital Digest and covering the FanFest next weekend.  I also discuss the age of the upcoming roster and the starting rotation.  Adam Foster of Project Prospect talks Royals prospects with me including Tim Mehlville, Wil Myers, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi and Johnny Giavotella.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs040.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Adam on Twitter @adamwfoster and check out Project Prospect

Music used in this podcast:

Steddy P. – Honesty

Steddy P. – Rap Lessons

Ween – A Tear for Eddie

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