Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catchers (including a series preview),  first basemen and second basemen.

First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played third base and how they hit while they played the position.

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I’m a little shocked that only three players played every single inning at third base in 2010. Update: Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist and Alex Gordon all got limited time at third base in 2010.  Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out.  I knew it seemed odd. Alberto Callaspo got the bulk of the early season duties, while Wilson Betemit was the primary third baseman  later in the season.  Josh Fields got some late season work after coming back from an injury and Minor League rehab assignments.    Alberto Callaspo was traded near the deadline, and he’s likely going to fade into my memory as one of those “remember that one guy who was an ok hitter, but not great….oh, whats his name?”  Betemit had an absolute breakout year in 2010 at the age of 28, which is when these things can usually happen.  However, his defense was absolutely horrendous.  Every time the ball was hit in his direction, I held my breath and then usually cursed at the television.

It’s interesting to see the difference in approach between Betemit and Callaspo.  Betemit clearly sees a lot of pitches, he walks at a high rate and also strikes out at a very high rate.  Callaspo is trying to put the ball in play and find a hole, and thus he has an extremely low walk rate and a very low strikeout rate.  Both approaches can be successful, there’s lots of ways to skin that cat.

Let’s take a look at a heat chart of the offensive numbers for each team in the American League at third base.  Red represents the best in the category while green represents the worst.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

Alberto Callaspo was an OK  hitter for second base, but at third he wasn’t going to cut it offensively.  His 76 sOPS+ would be the third worst mark in the American League at third base.  While Betemit’s glove won’t really play at third, his bat certainly will.  His sOPS+ of 132 at the position is the sole reason that the Royals third base unit was above average offensively.  In fact, only two teams got a better on-base percentage from their third basemen than the Royals and those teams were anchored by Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria.

The Royals third basemen were pretty good overall across a variety of categories.  A lot of that is due to the averaging of the two strengths and weaknesses of Betemit and Callaspo.  However, this is one of those times where it’s very interesting to see how the players do as a combined unit.  At least for 2010, the third base position was a strength offensively and was a solid contributor.  Defensively, now that is a whole other ball of wax.  It didn’t take a seasoned scout to come to the conclusion that neither player was a top notch defender at third base.

Third base will be one of the more interesting positions to watch in 2011.  I have little doubt that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut after spending a couple of months at the AAA level.  Until then, the Royals will likely choose from Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Josh Fields to play the position.  They clearly have too many players for too few positions.  Something is going to have to give.  If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Mike Aviles as the starter on opening day with Wilson Betemit at DH or on the bench and Josh Fields on another team or in the Minors.  However, that will just be a fill-in role.  2011 will mark the debut of Mike Moustakas and hopefully a long-term answer at third for the Royals.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

One month ago, I took a first stab at the 2011 Opening Day roster.  As promised (or threatened), we will continue to evaluate this each month as the comings and goings of the off-season transpire.

What we have learned in a month is that Bruce Chen would like a multi-year deal and that Dayton Moore is hellbent on getting the next Willie Bloomquist.   What’s that do to our roster construction?

Well, even last month, I had not included Josh Fields.   Instead, the perception was that Chris Getz would be the second baseman, Yuniesky Betancourt the shortstop and Mike Aviles would get the nod at third.   Behind them, Wilson Betemit would be used as something of a super-sub:  albeit one that you hope the ball never finds.    That all pretty much came out of the Royals’ organization and not my own tortured thoughts.  

Joining Betemit on the bench last month were outfielders Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier.   That now appears to be unlikely, given the recent pickups of Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki.    While neither is a lock to make any roster, the accompanying comments from Dayton Moore about the team ‘needing to find someone to fill the Willie Bloomquist role’ certainly points to keeping one of the two or someone like them as opposed to retaining five outfielders.

Frankly, that does make some sense from a roster construction standpoint and makes the thirteen position players likely to break camp with the big club as follows:

C – Brayan Pena, Lucas May (No, I really don’t think it will be these two, but instead one of them plus a ‘veteran’ pickup.   Until we get some names bandied about, however, we’ll stick with the status quo.)

1B – Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue

2B – Chris Getz

SS – Yuniesky Betancourt

3B – Mike Aviles

LF – Alex Gordon

CF – Jarrod Dyson or Gregor Blanco

RF – David DeJesus

Bench – Wilson Betemit, Gregor Blanco or Mitch Maier, Joaquin Arias or Lance Zawadzki

If Dyson does not win the centerfield job outright, then I think he goes to AAA and Mitch Maier lives to fight another day.     I would throw Irving Falu in the mix for the ‘Bloomquist role’ if I thought the organization was really going to give him a look (which I don’t).

On the pitching side of things, the Bruce Chen situation may all be posturing for a year with an option sort of deal, but there are enough teams that need fourth and fifth starters out there that might give Chen that second year.    While it would be nice to have him back as stop-gap for 2011, the Royals would be, and appear to be, wise to avoid making that leap of faith.

That said, and pending something really substantial on the Greinke rumor front, we have this group of twelve on our staff:

Rotation – Zack Greinke, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and Everett Teaford

Bullpen – Joakim Soria, Gil Meche, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Dusty Hughes, Tim Collins and Kanekoa Texiera.

It may be the blogosphere winning me over more than any organizational feeling, but I sense that the Royals really would like Teaford to pitch well enough in the spring to warrant some early season starts.   With all the hot prospects coming up behind him, it might be wise for the Royals to take a look at Teaford and find out what they’ve got while they have the time.   Maybe that’s a loser mentality, but it is the current state of this team as it enters the 2011 season.

When, by the way, is the last time you saw Dayton Moore give up on one of his prize waiver wire pickups?   He has done so….eventually.   However, eventually is still at least ten appearances away for Kanekoa Texiera.    The same probably applies to Jesse Chavez as well, but something has to give and I think Tim Collins is too good and Dusty Hughes is too left-handed to be left off the roster.

November is full of deadlines when it comes to roster decisions and contract decisions.     My guess is that by this time next month, we might have a fair number of changes to make to the above twenty-five.

Z Before A

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Another day, another waiver claim by Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals.

Another day, another utility infielder added to the 40-man roster.

This time, the acquisition is in the form of Lance Zawadzki, a 25 year old shortstop in the San Diego Padre organization.  He made his major league debut last summer and appeared in just 20 games.

A year ago at this time, Zawadzki held some promise.  He bashed 15 home runs in 2009, which helped propel him onto more than a few Padre prospect lists.  At Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein ranked him as San Diego’s sixth best minor leaguer, and said in a perfect world, Zawadzki would be a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.

Zawadzski brings a lot of offensive skills to the table for a middle infielder, as he has a good approach, plus bat speed, and surprising power for the position, projecting to hit 12-16 home runs annually in the big leagues. He’ll never win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but he’s solid enough, and his arm is well above average.

Baseball America noted Zawadzski’s ability to throw across the diamond, as he was touted as having the Padres best infield arm.  He fell just outside of the top ten (15), but earned consideration.

He’s not an overly physical player, but he has two outstanding tools — three if you want to count flexibility — that will get him big league looks. Zawadzki has impressive pop from both sides of the plate and an absolute cannon of an arm. The power will play up the middle and the arm keeps him alive on the left side of the infield… He could offer significant value to the Padres by filling in at third, second and short, settling at one position occasionally to fill in for injured players.

In their 2006 draft wrap, Baseball America noted Zawadzki’s arm graded at a 70 on the 20-80 scale and there was some talk of actually moving him behind the plate.

John Sickels rated him as the 11th best prospect in the Padres system and graded him as a C+:

At worst he could be a very good utility guy, but there’s some chance he could develop into a decent regular.

This all sounds just fine.  It looks like we’re discussing a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.  A little power and a cannon for an arm.  Not too bad, all things considered.

Then, 2010 happened.

After a 2009 season where he hit a combined .285/.369/.456 between High-A and Double-A, Zawadzki’s progress stalled in a big way in 2010.  He opened the season in Triple-A, earned himself a brief call to the majors (despite hitting .162/.240/.176 in 75 plate appearances) and then finished the season in Double-A.  Overall, he hit a discouraging .225/.291/.316 in a combined 409 plate appearances.

Zawadzki appears to have decent plate discipline, walking in 10% of his minor league plate appearances.  That’s not great, but on the Royals having a double digit walk rate is cause for celebration.  However, that number dropped to 8% last year as he split time between Double and Triple A.

Then, there was his precipitous drop in power.  Extra base hits represented a full 33% of his hit total in 2009.  Last year, that dropped to 26%.  And that meant he lost a whopping 140 points off his slugging percentage.

With Minor League Splits down, it’s difficult to find a statistical cause behind this drop in production.  Was he overmatched by Triple-A pitching?  Did he get off to a slow start and continue to press?  Did he hit a bunch of line drives right at fielders?

Still, the Padres gave up on him, which is saying something as San Diego isn’t necessarily flush with middle infielders.

(Quick aside: Zawadzki hit a home run against Aaron Crow in Crow’s professional debut last year in the AFL.)

Although after not exactly bashing the Joaquin Arias claim (but being less than thrilled) I’m good with the claim of Zawadzki.  Unlike Arias he has some power and has a plus arm.  Also, Zawadzki walks almost twice as much.  I know the Royals are extremely hung up on getting a replacement for the dearly departed Wee Willie Bloomquist, and acquiring these utility infielders isn’t much fun for us fans.  However, I have to imagine if you were looking at the 40 man roster and assembling a depth chart, you would place Zawadzki ahead of Arias.  Poor Arias… Just one day in the organization and he’s already in a free fall.  Welcome to the Royals.  Hell, I’d probably take Zawadzki ahead of Chris Getz.

Again, at this point in the off season, there’s really no harm in picking up cheap talent in the hope you find a little bit of upside.  Zawadzki did something in 2009 to land on those prospect lists.  For it to completely disappear in 2010 is just more than a little baffling.  So it’s worth a flier to see which season was the real Zawadzki.  (He experienced a similar drop in production between his sophomore and junior seasons at San Diego State.  Lack of consistency at the plate seems to be a continuing theme.) If he can’t hit and the prospect hounds were wrong, he either gets released or spends his summer in Omaha.  But if he does have a bit of a power stroke and a rocket for an arm, he could be a useful part of the Royals 25 man roster.

Again, it don’t cost nuthin’.

The Royals made their opening salvo this off season by acquiring infielder Joaquin Arias off waivers from the New York Mets.

Is this man running the Royals?

I’ll give you a moment to collect yourselves.

Meanwhile, the plucking of Arias off the waiver wire reminded me of one of my all time favorite quotes…

“Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”
Judge Smails to Danny Noonan, Caddyshack.

Let’s amend the classic Judge Smails quote…

“Well, the Royals need worthless middle infielders, too.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…  Arias has speed to burn.  He has stolen 138 bases in his minor league career.  Of course, he’s been caught 51 times – a 73% success rate.  He also is a contact hitter with zero pop.  Arias owns a career .376 slugging percentage in the minors.  And he doesn’t take a walk.  In 3,383 plate appearances covering all levels in the minors, Arias has drawn a grand total of 147 walks.  That works out to a 4.3% walk rate.  Abysmal for someone with his skill set.

Here we go again…

Somehow Dayton Moore figures out a way to acquire the exact same player almost every time he hits the waiver wire.  It’s quite stunning.

What exactly will Joaquin Arias bring to this team?  Other than no power, no ability to get on base and speed?

(Seriously, why is the Royals brain trust so taken with speed?  If you can’t get on base, speed isn’t exactly helpful.  And once you’re on base, if you’re a bad baserunner, again speed isn’t doing too much – except to occasionally bail you out of mistakes.  Still, just once I would like GMDM to find a guy who knows how to get on base.  Once.  Please.)

Defensively, the consensus seems Arias has problems moving to his right.  He’s probably in the middle of the pack with the glove, but his numbers (limited as they are) indicate he’s not that great at the pivot in turning the double play as a second baseman.  It could be a different matter at short, but he’s played there so little at the major league level, I don’t have any data to base any kind of conclusion. Of course, he’s blocked by the Yunigma. I feel sick to my stomach…

Of course, describing this move as boneheaded is relative.  If Arias is cut in a roster purge when the Royals need to make decisions on the upcoming Rule 5 draft, or if he spends his summer in Omaha, then no harm, no foul.  But if this becomes the Bloomquist Situation – then we have a colossal problem.

Perhaps you will recall, at the time of the Bloomquist free agent signing, I expressed similar reservations… If the Royals used him properly, then it was simply a bad signing.  “Properly” meant exposing him to under 200 plate appearances.  Of course, he notched a career high 468 plate appearances in 2009.  Thus, the “Bloomquist Situation.”  Where a manager simply can’t help himself but play a gritty utility man as much as humanly possible.  A bad signing became a major screw-up.

And I can’t help but see a bit of Bloomquist in Arias.  Arias is a shortstop by trade, but has spent most of his time in the majors at second base.  He’s played a bit of third base and (heaven forbid) the Rangers even played him at first base this season.  It’s not a stretch given the track record of the Royals to see Arias filling in in the outfield at some point, should he make the team. Managers like Trey Hillman are suckers for players with versatility with the glove.  Ned Yost seemed less so enthralled, so there’s a bit of hope.  Still, it’s in my nature as a Royals fan to fear the worst.

Arias is a better pickup than Bloomquist because he’s less expensive.  How’s that for digging through a pile of crap and finding a positive?  So this could be a meh waiver claim if Arias hacks his way to 150 outs.   If he gets any more than 200 plate appearances, then we’ve got some problems.

Right now, I’m not all that bothered by the Arias pick up.  A waiver claim on a player without enough service time to be eligible for arbitration… It don’t cost nuthin’.

However, I will reserve my right to change my opinion from “nonplussed” to “outrage.”

Key Man

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While we all try to come to grips with the new reality that Bruce Chen might not be a Royal next season, let’s do our best to focus on the future.

I have spent a pretty fair amount of column space the past couple of weeks gazing deep into the future, but today, we’ll look at the very near future.    As in 2011.

We can and will continue to talk at length about the great promise that the Royals’ farm system holds:  who comes up when and how good they will be.   The truth, however, is that with the possible exception of one or two relief pitchers, NONE of those high profile names is likely to be playing baseball in Kansas City next April.

Given that, I thought it would be worthwhile to find the one guy, the KEY MAN, on the existing roster who, by taking a big step forward, could positively impact the future of this team.  In other words, who among the current major league roster can accelerate The Process?

We need to start with a good dose of realism (something the Royals’ PR department might be wise to do as well) and know that Yunieksy Betancourt is not going to turn into Miguel Tejeda circa 2000.  Betancourt pretty much is what he is, as is a far superior David DeJesus.  

For that matter, Billy Butler is a pretty known commodity as well.   He may add some power and become even more valuable, but he already is a/the major offensive contributor on the team.   Hence, any improvement is incremental (although appreciated) and not the massive jump in production this squad needs.   That is more a testament to how good Butler already is and not a criticism.

It might well be that Mike Aviles’ September (WARNING:  Projections based on September numbers follows!) production is an indication that he might return to something close to his excellent 2008 form, but with Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella, Jeff Bianchi (maybe) and even Christian Colon coming along shortly, it may not matter long term. 

The same could even be said for Kila Ka’aihue (minus the good September stuff).   He might contribute mightily this season and help the 2011 squad, but Eric Hosmer is going to be just a three hour drive away this season.

On the pitching staff side, the known commodities are Joakim Soria and Zack Greinke without question.   You can make a case that Greinke could be the key man in what the Royals trade him for – if it comes to that, but that’s not really the idea of this column.   Frankly, and a little sadly, we pretty much know what to expect from Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister as well.  

That said, the Key Man for 2011 probably is a two man race between Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar.   You can make the case that they were the Key Men prior to 2010 as well and maybe 2009.   That, right there, might be the very reason why we, as fans, feel like our team is treading water at best.

Hochevar could have a tremendous short-term impact on the team if he emerged as a real number two type starter, but if he does not, there seem to be plenty of possible options on the horizon.    While it is unlikely that all four talented and highly touted lefties that finished up in AA this fall will make it all the way to the majors, it is equally unlikely that at least one won’t.   If Hochevar never ‘emerges’, then the Royals can turn to Mike Montgomery or John Lamb or Danny Duffy or Chris Dwyer and do so as early as this summer.

No, I think the Key Man, is the incumbent:  Alex Gordon.

Even if Wil Myers makes the move to a corner outfield spot AND delivers at the major league level in short order, most teams still play with TWO corner outfielders.   Sure, the Royals could keep and even bring back David DeJesus beyond 2011, but lacking any true hitting force in centerfield, a lineup of DeJesus-any centerfielder in the system-Myers probably does not give you the kind of pop a contending team would want from its outfield trio.

What if, and it is a bigger IF than ever before, Alex Gordon at last emerges?

Of course, we are looking for emergence from a guy who hit .215/.315/.355 in 74 games last season.   A player whose career line through 1641 plate appearances, is .244/.328/.405 with an OPS+ of 95.   A guy whose closest comparable right now is Darnell Coles, followed by the likes of Darryl Motley (who in 1984 was my favorite Royal) and Eric Soderholm.

Also among Gordon’s comparables, however, are guys like Larry Hisle, who starting at age 26 posted an OPS+ of 111 or better in six straight seasons, and Nick Esasky, who muddled around until age 27 when he posted 119 OPS+, then 107 and then a massive 133 at age 30.   What happened to Nick Esasky, by the way?  After hitting 30 homer for Boston at age 29, he got 35 at-bats with Atlanta the next year and never played in the majors again.

The chances that there will ever be a statue of Alex Gordon outside Kaufmann Stadium are virtually nil at this point, but the hope remains that Gordon could become a power hitting corner outfielder.   A guy who can pop 25 to 30 homers, post an on-base percentage north of .360 and every third year or so, hit 40 homers and be a real force.

How nice would it be to have THAT Alex Gordon play 150 games in left for the Royals in 2011?  How much would THAT Alex Gordon help to push The Process along?

I, like the rest of you, am skeptical of it happening, but I think we can safely say that for early 2011, Alex Gordon is the Key Man.

It’s been almost 36 hours since Brian Wilson whiffed Nelson Cruz to bring to a close the 2010 World Series… And Dayton Moore hasn’t made a move.  Raise your hand if this shocks you.

*Raises hand*

If the 2010 version of the San Francisco Giants got your mind racing, it would only be natural.  While their Opening Day payroll of $96 million is well out of the means of the Royals, the Giants reliance on the younger players on their roster was something we know all about in Kansas City… We hope to be in a similar situation.

There are actually a ton of similarities between the Giants of 2010 and what will likely be the Royals of 2013.  Despite a front office that at times borders on the incompetent, the Giants pulled off a shocker.  It’s not the recommended way to win a championship… Despite their strong youth movement, the inability to place quality around them on a consistent basis means they’ll have a difficult road back to October.  Still, a title is a title.  They can provide a blueprint for Royal success.

How were the Giants built?

The Draft

You simply cannot understate how well the Giants have done in the draft the last couple of years.  Especially in the pitching department.

Chew on this for a moment:

Every post season start for the Giants came from a pitcher they drafted and developed.

Yep… Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner were all Giant draft picks.  What’s more, three of the four were first rounders.  Sanchez was picked in the 27th round.

Cain was the 25th selection overall in the 2002 draft out of Houston High School in Tennessee.  That was the Zack Greinke draft.  Throw Cole Hamels and the 2007 version of Scott Kazmir into the mix and that’s a hell of a first round of high school pitching talent.

Lincecum was the 10th selection overall in the 2006 draft.  Otherwise known as the Luke Hochevar draft.  Otherwise known as the draft GMDM didn’t participate in.

And Bumgarner was the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of South Caldwell High School in North Carolina.  That was the Moustakas draft.

I threw the Royals comparisons in there just for some context.  I know there’s a ton of second guessing that goes on in all these drafts, but it’s interesting to note the only miss for the Royals out of those three years was the 2006 draft – and a grand total of six teams selected a pitcher before the Giants nabbed Lincecum.

This really blows my mind.

And their closer was a 24th rounder in the 2003 draft.  And of course, Buster Posey.  The collection of talent the Giants have drafted and brought along to the majors is nothing short of amazing.  That’s a hell of a change for a team who signed Michael Tucker on purpose so they could blow their first round draft pick because they didn’t want to spend the money on signing bonuses.

Wow… A team who changes their organizational philosophy on the draft and reaps the benefits?  Kind of hits close to home.

Trades

Freddy Sanchez and Mike Fontenot were the most notable players acquired via trade.  And former Royal Ramon Ramirez.  Basically, small time moves.

Again, this is something we know all about in Kansas City.

Waivers

Presenting Cody Ross – The Accidental Waiver Claim.

The Giants outfield was full at the end of August.  Burrell, Torres and the carnival known as Jose Guillen were the regulars with Rowand and Huff also getting their share of playing time.  Granted, there’s not a bunch of quality in that group, but as we’ve already noted you have a substantial pile of cash committed to these guys.

Rumor was, the Giants simply put in the claim to prevent the Padres – who lost Tony Gwynn to a broken bone in his hand – from grabbing him.  The Phillies and Braves were also thought to have interest.  It was basically a miscalculation on the part of Sabean as the Marlins were looking to dump Ross to open a space for Cameron Maybin.

The Royals haven’t done anything like this – they haven’t been in the position to make a needless waiver claim. (No, Luis Mendoza doesn’t count.)  Still, you could compare the Ross waiver claim to the Joakim Soria pick in the Rule 5 draft several years ago.  The Royals benefited from a low risk move… Kind of like the Giants did with Ross.

Free Agency

This is where Sabean has been brutal.  The Barry Zito contract is horrible… The guy was dropped from the post season roster.  He cost the Giants $18.5 million this season.   Aaron Rowand is another colossal blunder.  He earned $13.6 million in 2010.  Then there’s Edgar Renteria who pocketed a cool, round $10 million.  Yeah, I know he was the World Series MVP.  I’m aware he hit the three-run bomb that brought the title to San Francisco for the first time ever.  I’m also aware his body is breaking down, he hit .276/.332/.374 and he hasn’t been a good defensive shortstop for years.  Then, there was Mark DeRosa who was sidelined for the year with a wrist injury in June.  His $6 million salary was the fifth highest on the team.  That was after he battled wrist issues in 2009.

Combined, this foursome earned $48.1 million. Or close to 50% of their Opening Day payroll.  They posted a combined WAR of 0.2.  Most GM’s get fired for that kind of incompetence.  Sabean is leading a parade down Market Street.

Of course, if I’m going to rip a GM for his missteps, in the interest of fairness I’ll give him credit for his positive moves.  Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres were bargains.  And Pat Burrell – despite his awful post season – was a decent mid-season pickup.

Again, the parallels are too obvious to ignore.  The Meche signing looked good until Trey Hillman’s Starting Rotation Chainsaw Massacre.  The Guillen signing was a disaster from day one.  And the other deals… Kendall, Farnsworth, Ankiel, etc… They were for less money than the cash splashed by Sabean, but not a one of them made a bit of sense.

Conclusion

Despite the differences in payroll ability, there are just a ton of similarities between the Giants and the Royals situation in Kansas City.  Dayton Moore has drafted well, made a few trades with little long-term impact and bungled his share of free agent signings.  I even expect him to keep Moustakas in the minors as long as possible (like Sabean did with Posey) to manipulate the service clock.  The positive of this is Moore has a short track record as a GM.  There’s still a little bit of hope that Moore will somehow “get it” and learn to avoid the free agent market and learn how to build a roster that makes sense.  There’s no hope for Sabean who is the longest tenured GM in the game.

While Sabean may be the toast of San Francisco today, the results of 2010 don’t change the fact he’s not a good general manager.  He overpays for veterans who can’t possibly deliver value for the money and clearly has issues when it comes to putting together a complete 25 man roster.  So even if GMDM continues to fail at free agency and whiff at roster construction, Sabean’s success proves Moore’s drafts, scouting and minor league system could be enough for the Royals to ride the lightening to a championship.

Brian Sabean gives me hope.

This is the third post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catchers (including a series preview) and first basemen.

So, let’s take a look at who played second for the Royals in 2010 and how they hit while they were playing that position.  I left out Willie Bloomquist and Wilson Betemit as they had very few plate appearances.

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Mike Aviles got the bulk of the duties at second in 2010, but I was kind of surprised to see how much time Chris Getz got.  I know the Royals really wanted to see what he had, but it still seemed like he was in less than 64 games.  It certainly was a tale of two players though.  Aviles had a wOBA of .336 while Getz posted a .274.  Those numbers are reflected in their sOPS+ which shows Aviles as roughly 12% better than the average second baseman and Getz about 37% worse.  The only category which Getz was an improvement over Aviles is his walk rate.

Giving Chris Getz all of those plate appearances gave the Royals a good look at their new acquisition, however it clearly had a negative impact on the overall offensive output.  Aviles by himself is a top three offensive second baseman in the American League, but Getz drags that down to seventh overall.  As a unit, they probably aren’t walking enough, but putting the ball into play wasn’t an issue.  Both Aviles and Getz have a low strikeout rate, which helped the unit put up the second best number in that category.

Defensively, Getz looked good and Aviles is no slouch either.  In fact, Aviles was the only Royal other than Zack Greinke and Bruce Chen to get votes in the Fielding Bible Awards.  It will be extremely interesting to see how the Royals handle this position and these two players next year.  Aviles’ arm will be completely healed from the Tommy John surgery he had last season, so he can play at third base, shortstop or second base.  I am quite sure the Royals still want to get an extended look at Getz because he has above average speed, is an above average base-runner and has shown a decent glove.

I don’t foresee the Royals making any off-season moves at second base this year.  Between Aviles and Getz they are covered for 2011.  How they are going to split time will be the key question.  However, that could come down to who is the everyday third-baseman prior to the arrival of Mike Moustakas.  I’d bet that Getz is the opening day second baseman with Aviles at third.  Coming down the pipeline, Johnny Giavotella could be the second baseman of the future.  He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League after having a breakout offensive year at double-A Northwest Arkansas.  His defense is reportedly below average, but his offensive ability is solid and his makeup is off the charts.

Last Friday, we took a look into the future of the Kansas City Royals in making a prediction of the Opening Day rosters for the next five seasons.   It was a fun exercise, but certainly nothing you want to take to the bank.

To begin with, we made no allowances for the players the Royals would receive in return for Zack Greinke, David DeJesus and Billy Butler.   Secondly, and most importantly, the 2015 roster was made up of 24 homegrown players and Joakim Soria.   We all know that no organization has ever been so good as to be able to field a competitive roster made up exclusively of their own drafted talent.

So today, we will take a look at the probability of the many prospects we used for our five years of rosters actually making it AND becoming the players we proposed they might be over the coming years.

Our 2011 Opening Day roster did not have much earth shaking information, but we do have three ‘prospect types’ that make their Opening Day debuts:

  • Kila Ka’aihue – I had Kila in the Opening Day lineup for the next three seasons, hitting well enough to make Billy Butler expendable when Eric Hosmer is ready no later than mid-2012.   Chances that Kila hits major league pitching and sticks at either first base or DH for the next three seasons:   35%.
  • Jarrod Dyson – I had Dyson as the starting centerfielder next spring, but off the roster by the start of 2012.   Chances he does indeed get the 2011 Opening Day nod:  75%.   Chances Dyson holds the position all season and beyond: 10%.
  • Tim Collins – We have him in the bullpen to start 2011 and pretty much becoming Soria’s primary setup man from 2012 all the way through 2015.   Chances Tim does just that: 60%.   Chances that Collins is a regular member of the bullpen for at least the next two to four seasons in some role: 90%.

Now, by 2012 the real prospects began to dot our roster.  I had Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers and David Lough as members of the starting nine beginning in 2012.

  • Mike Moustakas – My thought was that Mike would be in the majors by June of 2011 and hold down third base through 2013, when he would move to DH to accommodate Cheslor Cuthbert.   Chances that Moustakas is the Royals Opening Day 2012 third baseman: 98%.   Chance that Mike becomes a middle of the order impact bat: 50%.
  • David Lough – I have always thought of Lough as something of ‘DeJesus-type’, but never have quite been sure if he is poor man’s DeJesus or a more talented DeJesus.   At any rate, I think the actual DeJesus gets traded in 2011 and will be replaced by Lough, who should hang around for at least a couple more seasons.   Chances Lough opens 2012 in the starting lineup: 50%.   Chances he develops into a year in year out everyday regular: 25%.
  • Wil Myers – Here’s the guy with the bat good enough that the Royals are thinking of moving him to the outfield just to get him to the majors before he can legally order a drink.  Chances Myers moves to the outfield: 99%.   Chances he is in the 2012 Opening Day lineup: 60%.   Chances Wil Myers is that good:  70%.  

The pitching staff in 2012 is littered with prospects, the majority of whom would have gotten a partial season under their belt in 2011.    It is a pretty optimistic projection given that the starting rotation is Luke Hochevar (a Greinke trade has happened), three guys who have not pitched above AA and Will Smith who shouldn’t have.  

  • Mike Montgomery – Yes, I do have him as the number one starter in 2012 and for the three seasons after that as well.   Chances we see Montgomery in KC next season:  90%.   Chances Montgomery is a member of the rotation for multiple seasons:  70%.   Chances Mike is an ace: 20%.
  • John Lamb – I put both Montgomery and Lamb in the 2012 rotation simply because they seem to be the more sure bets than Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer.   Chances Lamb makes the Opening Day 2012 rotation: 50%.   Chance that John is a rotation member from 2013 to 2015: 70%.   Chances that Lamb is an ace: 25%.
  • I am not going to go through this exercise for Everett Teaford, Will Smith and the bullpen guys individually.   I view Teaford and Smith as guys who will bounce in and out of the rotation over the next few seasons.   I would say there is a 20% chance that one of them becomes a solid number four type for multiple seasons.    As for the bullpen crew of Barrera, Coleman, Hardy and Holland:  pick two, then pick two more out of the organization and add a veteran free agent every year or two.      On the mock rosters from Friday, I have 12 different names (not counting Soria or Tejeda) between 2012 and 2015.  You could probably make a case for six or eight other arms in the system as well.   Chances that half of the Royals bullpen over the next five years is homegrown: 70%.

Now we are into 2013, and the quasi-educated guessed made above are quickly deteriorating into flat stabs in the dark.  I am going to touch on the big names that make their appearance on the 2013 Opening Day roster and a couple of positions that are critical for the Royals due to a lack of options in the system.

  • Eric Hosmer – In what was mostly an overly optimistic projection on Friday, Hosmer might be the player that people thought I was being too pessimistic with.   I would be inclined to agree, given that it is not out of the realm of possibility that Hosmer could be in Kansas City in late 2011 not April of 2013.   My projection was based on Ka’aihue and Butler hitting, giving Hosmer plenty of time to develop – which was really being optimistic more than pessimistic.   Anyway….  Chances Hosmer is in the lineup in April 2013: 90%.   Chance that Eric is up sooner: 75%.   Chances that he is a middle of the order impact bat: 50%.
  • Christian Colon – Lots of questions when it comes to Colon, who might be the most important prospect of all when it comes to the Royals needing him to come through.   Chances Colon sticks at shortstop for even one major league season: 60%.   Chance that Christian is in the lineup before 2013: 50%.
  • Bret Eibner – No one has seen enough of Eibner to know if he can even come close to being the Royals centerfielder for 2013 and beyond.   Given the flaws in all the other centerfield types in the system, it would be awfully nice if Eibner could be THE guy.   Chances of Eibner being an above average offensive and defensive centerfielder at some point: 25%.
  • Salvador Perez – If Wil Myers is moved, Perez moves to the top of the list of Royals’ catching prospects (at least in a long-term point of view).   He will move to AA for 2011 and we will see if he can build on his promising 2010 campaign.   Chances Perez becomes a fixture behind the dish for the Royals: 25%.
  • Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – On Friday, I left Dwyer out of the future simply because it would be an almost unheard of stroke of luck for all four of the Big Four to make it the majors and be effective.   Perhaps I should have done this with Montgomery and Lamb as well, but we’ll run our percentages for these guys as a pair.   Chances one of them makes the majors no later than 2013: 90%.   Chances one of them becomes a number two/three type starter: 40%.   Chances they both make the rotation and stick: 10%.
  • Aaron Crow – When he was drafted a lot of us expected him to be in the majors by now instead of being, at best, the fifth best starting prospect in the Royals’ system.    Chances Crow makes the majors before 2013: 50%.   Chance that Aaron can stick in the rotation for multiple seasons and be effective: 33%.   Chances he still develops into a top of the rotation guy: 8.738%.

Well, that is what the master computer here at Royals Authority HQ spit out, feel free to add in your odds on the above or some of the names I did not mention in today’s post.

There was a time, not very long ago, where we believed these two guys might well be long-term fixtures in the middle of the Royals’ batting order.  

There is an excellent chance that by the spring of 2012, Alex Gordon – like Mark Teahen before him – will be just another name from Royals’ teams long gone.   Take a good look at that picture and try to remember your feelings back in July of 2007 and keep that in mind as we embark on a little lineup evolution into the future.  In other words, take it for what it’s worth – NOT MUCH!

That said, my column yesterday about the supposed/potential logjam at first base and designated hitter got me to thinking about future lineups as a whole.   Every once in a while it is kind of fun to piece together rosters for next year, the year after, etc.    For one thing, it points out areas of weakness and strengths within the organization and for another, it is just kind of fun.

In creating these lineups, I am going to stick mainly with players already a part of the organization.  At times, I will add a free agent signing if I really think that is the direction the Royals will head (i.e. 2011 starting catcher) and while I probably will reference a trade here and there, I really will not plug any possible players that might come in return for said trade into our future lineups.   Two reasons here:  first, I don’t want to be Allard Baird and end up with Mark Teahen instead of Robinson Cano because I ‘just had to have a third baseman.’    Second, making up a slew of trades pretty much defeats the purpose of the exercise.

So, without further explanation, here is one pass at the Opening Day lineups for the next five years:

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
C Free Agent Jason Kendall* Salvador Perez Salvador Perez Salvador Perez
1B Kila Ka’aihue Kila Ka’aihue Eric Hosmer Eric Hosmer Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler Billy Butler Kila Ka’aihue Mike Moustakas Mike Moustakas
2B Chris Getz Mike Aviles Johnny Giavotella Johnny Giavotella Christian Colon
SS Yuniesky Betancourt Yunieskey Betancourt* Christian Colon Christian Colon Michael Antonio
3B Mike Aviles Mike Moustakas Mike Moustakas Cheslor Cuthbert Cheslor Cuthbert
LF Alex Gordon Alex Gordon Paulo Orlando Whit Merrifield Whit Merrifield
CF Jarrod Dyson David Lough Bret Eibner Bret Eibner Bret Eibner
RF David DeJesus Wil Myers Wil Myers Wil Myers Wil Myers
BCH1 Lucas May Manny Pina Manny Pina Kevin David Kevin David
BCH2 Wilson Betemit Jeff Bianchi Mike Aviles Free Agent Yowill Espinal
BCH3 Gregor Blanco Gregor Blanco David Lough Lane Adams Lane Adams
           
SP1 Zack Greinke Mike Montgomery Mike Montgomery Mike Montgomery Mike Montgomery
SP2 Luke Hochevar Luke Hochevar John Lamb John Lamb John Lamb
SP3 Bruce Chen Everett Teaford Danny Duffy Danny Duffy Danny Duffy
SP4 Kyle Davies John Lamb Luke Hochevar Aaron Crow Aaron Crow
SP5 Sean O’Sullivan Will Smith Aaron Crow Will Smith Jason Adam
           
CL Joakim Soria Joakim Soria Joakim Soria Joakim Soria Joakim Soria*
RL1 Blake Wood Robinson Tejeda Tim Collins Tim Collins Tim Collins
RL2 Robinson Tejeda Tim Collins Henry Barrera Louis Coleman Patrick Keating
RL3 Gil Meche Henry Barrera Louis Coleman Patrick Keating Tyler Sample
RL4 Dusty Hughes Louis Coleman Blaine Hardy Elisau Pimental Yordano Ventura
RL5 Kanekoa Texeira Blaine Hardy Patrick Keating Tyler Sample Robinson Yambati
RL6 Tim Collins Greg Holland Brandon Sisk Yordano Ventura Kevin Chapman

With regard to 2011, I feel almost certain that Dayton Moore will go out and get a veteran free agent type to work behind the plate – probably at the expense of Brayan Pena’s roster spot.  I am not saying I agree with the approach, simply that it is likely to happen.

I don’t see the Jarrod Dyson experiment working, but imagine the Royals will (and might as well) give it a whirl.    I would also expect the bullpen to morph from Hughes and Texeira into Holland-Coleman-Hardy at some point during the season.

Speaking of mid-season 2011, as I expect trades of both Zack Greinke and David DeJesus, along with the mid-season promotion of Mike Moustakas coupled with a late season promotion of Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford.

Onto 2012….  You will see that I have both Jason Kendall and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Opening Day lineup.  I apologize in advance for this, but can really see it happening.   Behind the plate, I don’t believe that Lucas May or Manny Pina are true everyday catchers and Salvador Perez won’t be ready, plus you know our GM’s affinity for grit.   As for Betancourt, it will cost $2 million to buy him out and $6 million to keep him.   I don’t believe Christian Colon will be ready for the majors, Jeff Bianchi will be impressive enough to warrant the Opening Day job and the world as we know it would apparently end if Mike Aviles got to  play there.  Hence: Betancourt.

As you will also note, I am going to believe/pretend that Kila Ka’aihue hits enough to stay in the majors.    Making that assumption, I predict a mid-season trade of Billy Butler to open up room for Eric Hosmer.

Now, if The Process is really working, 2013 is the year.   I think Johnny Giavotella will get a look in the middle of 2012, so he won’t be a true rookie come April 2013.    I also am proposing that the club will have tired of Alex Gordon once and for all (and I say that with a great deal of remorse) at some point in 2012 as well.  I have inserted Paulo Orlando in that spot (again not as a true rookie due to a mid-2012 callup), but it could be any number of okay, but not great prospects.   You will also note the debuts of Bret Eibner in center, Christian Colon at short and Salvador Perez behind the plate.

Can Colon stick at shortstop?   Most people outside the organization say ‘no’.   I don’t disagree with them, but that is the only name to put in there in 2013 other than leaving it blank.   Looking for a type of player to get back in a Greinke/DeJesus/Butler trade?   Maybe a shortstop wouldn’t hurt…and a centerfielder.

When it comes to the rotation, you are probably wondering where in the heck Chris Dwyer is.   Just by the nature of baseball, you just know that not all four talented lefties currently high on the prospect lists are going to make it.   Frankly, that I have Montgomery, Lamb and Duffy all in the rotation is too much to realistically hope for.   I just picked Dwyer not to make it because somebody won’t.   

The interesting debut in my fantasy 2014, is that of Cheslor Cuthbert at third, which pushes Moustakas to designated hitter.   In my mind, Whit Merrifield is the new ‘Hilton Richardson’ (i.e. the sleeper who turns into a regular).  Of course, in my mind, Hilton Richardson was the new ‘Alex Llanos’.   So, take that for what it is worth.

The rotation bids farewell to Luke Hochevar at this point as well.   My guess is Luke will be a decent mid-rotation guy – better than Jeff Suppan, but not by all that much – and hence always a disappointment to us Royals’ fans.   

You can see that I am starting to have some fun with the bottom of the bullpen as we get this far out:  pulling some rookie level guys with all of 60 professional innings under their belts.  Hey, it could happen.

By 2015, the Royals BETTER be a team that needs a great closer and so I believe they will resign Joakim Soria.   By then, we might also see the debut of 2010 draft pick Jason Adam.

My guess is that Christian Colon, if he hasn’t moved there three years earlier, will be shifted over to second base to make way for Michael Antonio or Orlando Caxite or someone acquired via trade or a player the Royals draft in 2012……Well, 2015 is a long ways a way.

In the end, this is a very unscientific exercise:  particularly given that we have the Royals trading three very good players during this process and making no allowance for any of the players they will receive in return.   This would be a good place to insert your ‘how is that different from any other time in Royals’ history’ quip.

Bottom line, something kind of fun to chew on as we wait for the World Series to end.

Reports earlier this week out of the Instructional League indicated that Wil Myers is beginning to take some fly balls in possible preparation of a move to the outfield at some point next season.    That revelation rekindled some talk about moving another prized prospect to a corner outfield spot as well.

The thought of Eric Hosmer playing in either corner of the outfield has been around as long as he has been a member of the Royals’ organization.    Considering that the year Hosmer was drafted coincided with Kila Ka’aihue’s breakout minor league campaign and also with the emergence of a then twenty-two year old Billy Butler as an everyday major league player, it is not surprising that the idea of moving Hosmer to rightfield was floated.   That idea has lingered ever since – albeit moreso amongst fans than within the organization.

In some respects, the thought of moving Hosmer might even be gaining steam as we saw another first baseman/designated hitter type in Clint Robinson lead the Texas League in just about everything good.   Robinson, who carries a career .909 OPS, played one game in left field for Northwest Arkansas late in the season.   Just from an ‘eye test’ point of view, Robinson does not look like an outfielder, at least not as much as Hosmer might look like an outfielder.

All that said, I don’t think Eric Hosmer is going to be moving anywhere (other than up to AAA this spring) and here’s why:

  • Kila Ka’aihue hasn’t proven anything…yet.  In 206 plate appearances this season, Kila did hit eight home runs but otherwise posted a pretty unappealing line of .217/.307/.394/.702.      Those numbers are incredibly similar to those posted by Travis Hafner in his first two hundred plate appearances and better than those compiled by Paul Konerko, who stood at .217/.276/.332  through his first 247 major league plate appearances.  The point is that while Ka’aihue has a chance to be a Konerko/Hafner (or a close enough resemblance to be an effective major league hitter), he might also just be a guy who can’t consistently square up major league pitching, too.  After spending two seasons scared to death to find out if Kila can hit, the Royals at last are going to find out.   That’s a good thing and one that will hopefully pan out, but having crappy stats that compare to some guys who later became very good hitters is not enough reason to make Eric Hosmer change gloves.
  • Billy Butler is going to start costing real money.  Some people will howl and wonder how a first baseman with just 15 home runs who grounded into 32 double plays could be worth anything, but I see (and an arbitration judge might as well) see a 24 year old who hit .318/.388/.469 with 45 doubles, 15 home runs and almost as walks as strikeouts.    He did that on the heels of a 2009 season in which Billy hit 51 doubles and 21 home runs with a .301/.362/.492.    We will be reminded that Butler posted his 2010 numbers playing half the season with a bad hand and that, on by the way, he has missed a grand total of seven games the past two seasons.   I am not sure how we got to the point in baseball where fans believe a player is either a slugger or a singles hitter with nothing in between, but I am pretty sure arbitration is not in line with that school of thought.   Bottom line, Billy Butler is going to make real cash this off-season.  If he hits even seven more home runs next year and grounds into 23 double plays instead of 32, he will make even more next winter.    Now, after all that, I have to admit being a little hesitant to offer Butler a multi-year deal and buy out those arbitration years, plus one or two of free agency.    First off, Billy is not a good first baseman and he isn’t getting any faster.     While Butler has been durable thus far, you wonder about that body type being injury prone as he reaches his late twenties.   Listen, I really think a lot of Billy Butler, but IF Eric Hosmer is all we think he might be, doesn’t it make sense to get the same or better production from a younger, cheaper player than to pay Butler seven, eight even ten million per year as we move forward?
  • No one ever said Eric Hosmer CAN play the outfield.  I imagine Hosmer played some outfield at some point in high school, but by the time he was on the draft radar, Eric was firmly entrenched at first (despite possessing a very good arm).  I have read and heard reports that say Hosmer is always going to be a first baseman, but there have also been reports that he might possess the athleticism to move to the outfield.   Eric did steal 14 bases in 2010, which gives the Hosmer to outfield thought some hope.   That said, Hosmer possibly just months away from major league action, the time to move him may have passed.   However, if it is July 1, 2011 and Kila is hitting and Billy is hitting AND Hosmer is torching AAA, maybe the Royals try Eric in the outfield.   A more realistic scenario, however, may relate to the bullet point above and the Royals may make a trade to accommodate Hosmer at first base.
  • If you’re not sold on Ka’aihue, then you sure can’t be on Clint Robinson.   Robinson was one of my sleeper picks to watch way back in 2007, so I am delighted to have seen him hit and hit with power at all four levels he has played thus far.   However, nobody is moving anywhere to make room for a twenty-five year old former twenty-fifth round pick who has not played a game in AAA yet.

In reality, the Royals have a very good, but not great, hitter in Billy Butler who has some obvious defensive weaknesses.   They have a minor league star who has yet to prove much of anything at the major league level in Kila Ka’aihue who will, by the way, turn 27 next March.      Behind those two, the Royals have one of the better hitting prospects in all of the minors, but Eric Hosmer really has had one very good season and a grand total of 211 plate appearances above A ball.     As mentioned just above, the organization also has Clint Robinson who will make his debut in AAA at age twenty-six.

Maybe that’s a logjam, maybe it’s not.   For now, Eric Hosmer is, and likely always will be, a first baseman.

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