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.