Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Lorenzo Cain

Damn, if it isn’t great to write about actual baseball news. (Or at least what passes for news at Spring Training. I’ll take it.) This winter has been too long… And quiet.

Let’s get to the Sunshine Points…

Lineup Is Chiseled In Stone – For Now

Ned Yost showed his cards immediately. And what he showed wasn’t the least bit surprising.

Here’s how his lineup looks for the Opener on April 6:

LF – Gordon
2B – Giavotella
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
3B – Moustakas
RF – Francoeur
C – Perez
CF – Cain
SS – Escobar

The real news is the confirmation that Johnny Giavotella is pegged to hit second, sandwiched between Gordon and Hosmer. Despite Gio’s less than stellar cup of coffee at the end of last season, it makes the most sense for him to hit second, given the assembly of talent in the starting lineup. The only other guys who you would consider would be Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Cain misses too many pitches to be counted on in the second spot. And Escobar… Is Escobar. The SS Jesus is just fine hitting ninth.

So the job is Gio’s to lose. We need to keep our fingers crossed he gets out of the gate quickly because I have a feeling that leash is going to be extremely short.

The only other lineup note is that Ned Yost will flip-flop Moose and The Frenchman based on the starter. Moose will hit fifth against right-handers while Francoeur will hold down that slot against lefties.

Lost LOOGY

It appears reports of Jose Mijares in the country and reporting to camp were greatly exaggerated. To the point the Royals don’t actually know where there LOOGY is.

Interesting.

The Royals were initially told Mijares would be a late arrival due to unspecified family issues. Then, they were told he had arrived and checked into his hotel for the spring. That would be great, except he didn’t actually check in to the hotel. In fact, his visa is still waiting for him in Venezuela.

This follows a pattern for Mijares, who is now late reporting for camp for the third year running. Add in the fact he’s had dustups with teammates in the past and you have to wonder how committed this guy is when it will come into buying into the team spirit the Royals and GMDM are trying to cultivate. Besides, when one team decides to cut ties with you and you show up late to you’re new employer, that’s not the way to make a positive first impression.

He’s not off to a good start. Because he’s not off to any start.

A First Butler

Word is, Yost will work Billy Butler into a few games at first. He made just three starts there once Hosmer was called up in May.

It would be nice to see… It can be thought of as a reward because Butler has continued to work on his glove work. He’ll never be confused for a great defender, but the guy still wants to play the field. Why not give him a start once a week and let Hosmer DH on those days? And if Butler is a complete disaster, you just stop doing it after awhile. (However, this is a team considering giving reps to Yuniesky Betancourt at third, so let’s stop pretending that Butler is some kind of serial killer at first.)

Although I’m leery. Remember last year how Yost said Butler would steal 10 bases in 2011? Yeah.

Early To Camp

The feel good story (aside from Mike Moustakas being in the best shape of his life) is the fact there have been a ton of early arrivals to camp. Ahhh… Optimism.

It’s nice that most everyone has been hanging around Surprise for awhile. This is a young team – again – and the young guys are enthusiastic about the game. We saw it last year, and we’re going to see it again this summer. Enthusiasm is difficult to translate into wins, but it’s fun to watch.

I’m good with that. Baseball kicks ass.

When the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants in November, all eyes shifted towards Lorenzo Cain who was acquired as part of the Zack Greinke trade with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. After spending 7 years in the minors, it’s finally time for Lorenzo Cain to get his shot to prove he belongs in the big leagues.

In his 7 years, he’s produced a line of .295/.368/.430 and the last two seasons split between Double-A and Triple-A have been his best since he was in Rookie ball. Since he was acquired from the Brewers there has been a steady drum-beat to get him into a Royals uniform and see if he can be the center-fielder that the Royals are in need of. That beat slowed a bit as Melky Cabrera surprised everyone last season by

1. Not being cherubesque in appearnce

2. Producing at the plate

However, Cabrera still wasn’t a good defender in center field. He was passable, especially with the way he handled the bat, but any drop-off in offensive production could not be carried by his poor range. While I’d like to think that the Royals moved Melky Cabrera because the market for him was at it’s apex, it’s more likely that he was dealt because he wasn’t the defensive wizard that the team expects “up the middle”.

It’s a philosophy that the Royals have been hammering for years now through words and actions. They’ve been trying hard to find a center fielder who has the speed and defense to patrol the sizable Kauffman outfield with just enough bat to keep him in the lineup. From Joey Gathright to Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson they’ve paraded a host of athletic center fielders who haven’t been able to hit.

Lorenzo Cain comes with a better pedigree with a piece of lumber in his hands, though he isn’t likely going to earn his keep that way. He’s also touted as a very good defender. This may in fact be the Android that Dayton Moore has been looking for and he can now move along.

My guess is that Lorenzo Cain will be adequate. I don’t believe he’ll be great, but that’s just fine. I’d love nothing more than for the Royals to have a roster filled with All-Star caliber players, but it’s not realistic or necessary.

The Royals have a series of progressive goals to achieve, the first being to win more games than they lose. A team filled with mediocre players should put a team somewhere near .500. Luckily the Royals are not a team filled with mediocrity, they have some potential stars in Hosmer, Gordon and Moustakas. Every team has some average guys who have one good skill starting on their team. The better teams have them to fill gaps, terrible teams try and sell them as stars. In 2006, Lorenzo Cain would be considered a lynchpin for the organization, now he’s a guy trying to win a starting job. It’s a sign of progress.

The 2012 season does not hinge upon whether or not Lorenzo Cain can be a productive Major Leaguer. He can certainly help propel the team and has some big shoes to fill offensively, but it’s not an absolute requirement for a competitive team.

 

It was a pick that lacked imagination, but Bruce Chen was named as the Royals Pitcher of the Year on Thursday.

I say that because there’s always two options among the writers when voting: Starters and closers. That’s usually the way it should be in these things. (Although, if you know me, you know I think the closer has to be pretty damn exceptional to get votes.) So that’s the problem with the Royals this year. The rotation was extremely limited: Hochevar had a solid second half and Paulino showed flashes, but that was pretty much it. And we know about the closer.

Make room in the trophy case. (Minda Haas/Flickr)

So the writers chose the guy who missed part of the year with injury, but was fairly steady when he took the ball.

 

You won’t get an argument from me that Chen was the Royals best starter for the entire 2011 season, but was he the Royals best pitcher? I say no. That would have been Greg Holland.

Holland had the second best walk rate in the bullpen at 2.9 BB/9 and his strikeout rate of 11.1 SO/9 was by far the best. He was the only pitcher who allowed less than a baserunner per inning (0.93 WHIP) and he did throw 60.1 innings, which was just one-third of an inning less than Soria.

And Holland did most of this work under some pressure. According to Baseball Reference, he entered the game in 25 high leverage situations. That ranked him 31st among all AL pitchers, which meant he mostly trailed only closers when it came to pitching under pressure situations. Holland ranked third on the Royals, behind only Soria and Aaron Crow.

Working against Holland, was the fact he pitched in the seventh and eighth innings. While that was good enough to get Crow an All-Star nod, it wasn’t enough to get Holland end of the season hardware.

End rant.

Back to Chen… Even though he was coming off a strong 2010 campaign, last winter Chen was something of an unproven commodity. Simply, he had been either out of the majors or basically terrible in each of the previous five years, that there wasn’t a team willing to commit multiple years to Will Ferrell’s favorite pitcher. Understandable. Nobody wants to give a long contract to a player who found something for a season and then could flame out (again) just as quickly.

Now, things have seemingly changed. In the last two seasons, Chen has posted a 3.96 ERA with a 1.8 SO/BB ratio and a 105 ERA+. Those aren’t the numbers of an ace, but they are the numbers of a solid, middle of the rotation contributor. It’s entirely likely some team will see his performance and give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s made the transition to crafty, veteran left-hander.

According to Dutton, that’s already happening. He sent out a Tweet shortly after Chen was announced as the Royals top pitcher:

LHP Bruce Chen says he’s already been contacted by two other clubs expressing serious interest.

Well, then…

Two things can be inferred by this. One, teams are truly starting to look at Chen as a guy who can fill out their rotation. Or two, Chen is posturing. I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m not sure it matters. It takes at least a month for the free agent market to evolve and nothing happens (generally) until the winter meetings. There may be teams with “serious interest,” but it’s highly unlikely anything happens until the guys ahead of Chen in the pecking order go off the board.

(And can we please stop referring to Chen as the Royals ace? He’s not. The Royals don’t have one. That’s why we’re going to spend the next four months discussing the starting rotation. If they had an ace, we wouldn’t be obsessing over pitching.)

Let’s try a little exercise: If you are a major league GM and are interested in signing Chen, what do you offer? Myself, I think it will take two years at a total of $8 million to get his signature. I’m sold that he’s going to find someone who will offer him more than one year. If you have a guess, leave it in the comments. We can revisit when he actually signs.

— The hot stove finally fired up as the Royals found themselves in the middle of their first trade rumor of the winter. According to a report on MLB.com, the Braves called the Royals and discussed the possibility of unloading Jair Jurrjens. Speculation has the Braves interested in Wil Myers or Lorenzo Cain.

Jurrjens is a risk. Plain and simple. The guy has made 43 starts over the last two seasons and although his ERA looks shiny at 2.96, his strikeout numbers were down. Plus, according to PitchF/X, his average fastball lost two mph from the year before. In his best two seasons, he’s outperformed his xFIP by more than a run each time, suggesting those strong seasons are the exception, not the norm. He’s a medium risk, medium reward kind of guy. And that’s the upside.

Now, let’s talk cost. If the Braves want Cain, fine. He’s yours. The Royals are set with their outfield, making Cain surplus. I’d prefer they keep him around, just in case the Melk-Man spends his winter in the buffet line, but if they can swing him for a starting pitcher, do it. Even one with an injury history and a true mediocre track record. That price seems about right.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade Myers for Jurrjens. No way. That doesn’t even require any kind of thought. Insanity. Keep in mind that the Arizona Fall League is a hitter’s wonderland, but he’s hitting .338/.471/.632 with 11 extra base hits in 68 at bats and looks to be back on track after struggling through his first season of Double-A. I’m not saying that Myers is an untouchable. It’s just that if you’re going to deal a prospect of his caliber, the return has to be better than Jurrjens.

It’s just another reminder of the sad state of the rotation when we can look at Jurrjens as a potential upgrade for the back half.

In doing some research (some being the operative term) of the Detroit Tigers’ leap from 72 wins one year to the World Series the next, I remembered that one of the key players in that leap was a centerfielder who did not get a shot at regular playing time until he was twenty-five years old.  

Curtis Granderson had methodically worked his way up the minor league ladder after being drafted by the Tigers in 2002.   A short season in A ball, followed by 127 games in High A, then 123 in AA and another 111 in AAA as a 24 year old.   He got into 47 big league games in 2005, hitting .272/.314/.494 with 43 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances.   The strikeouts were no surprise, as Granderson had fanned 129 times in his 111 AAA games and over 90 times in both his High A and AA seasons.    By the way, Granderson had also raked in the minors, posted a career line of .300/.382/.494 in 413 minor league contests.   

Although he was not quite a rookie in 2006, Curtis was basically a first year player when he played 159 games in 2006.   Sure, he led the league in strikeouts (174), but Granderson also hit 19 home runs, 31 doubles and 9 triples.  His OPS+ was bascially a league average 98 and, as we all know, he would explode in 2007:  hitting 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 home runs  and stealing 26 bases (in 27 attempts).

Okay, Lorenzo Cain is not going to be Curtis Granderson.

That said, they do have some historical similarities.   Cain will turn 26 next April and, like Granderson, will not be considered ‘young’ should he get his first shot at regular playing time.   Like Granderson, the Royals’ centerfielder in waiting has received a moderate amount of major league seasoning, hitting .302/.343/.402 in 181 major league plate appearances, with 32 strikeouts.     Like Granderson, Lorenzo has raked in the minors:  .295/.368/.430 in 712 minor league games and struck out a lot (575 times in 3,107 plate appearances).   Without question, Lorenzo Cain is not going to exhibit the type of power that Granderson does.  In essence, Cain’s upside may be as a ‘poor man’s Curtis Granderson’, which is not a bad thing at all.  

This little snippet is not really to advocate ditching Melky Cabrera in favor of Cain or to persuade anyone that Cain is going to be an All-Star like Granderson.  It simply points out that not every player has to come up at age 22 to have potential and not every high strikeout centerfielder is destined for major league failure.   More than anything, I just thought the similarities in age and track record were worth noting.

xxx

Not as good as Detroit.

Those two lines pretty much sums up the past week for the Kansas City Royals.  Oh yeah, a guy named Giavotella also joined the team and in three games is basically halfway to surpassing Chris Getz in total extra base hits this year.

I found the various discussions surrounding the Giavotella call up intriguing.  Foremost was the assumption that Johnny cannot field..at all…and never will.   He will either be an All-Star or won’t last the month and is really just filler until Yamaico Navarro is ready to play everyday.   It turns out, for all the loyalty, Royals’ fans are not a very patient bunch.

There was a debate over at Royals Review over the MLE’s of Giavotella:  a metric whose creator will tell you is a general performance indicator not one to be used to devine the actual stats a minor league player will produce in the major leagues.    Patient fans?  Not really.   Interested fans?  You bet.

In this case, however, the Royals got this one right.   In the end, statistics are better at rationalizing what happened than they are at forecasting the future.   Scouts have opinions and sometimes those opinions are wrong.   Organizations have plans, but sometimes plans change.

When a guy hits .338/.390/.481 in his first year at AAA and .305/.375/.437 for his minor league career while moving up one level each year, you have to find out what he can do in the majors.   Maybe he can just plain hit everywhere.   While we as Royals’ fans have become jaded by flame-outs of supposed great minor league hitters, it might be wise to remember that there are, right now, one hundred players in the majors who hit in the minor leagues and just kept right along hitting when they reached the majors.

Although drafted in the second round, there was never a lot of talk about Giavotella being the Royals’ second baseman of the future.  He was a, dare we say it, gritty kid who played hard, had a quick bat and produced in college.   The Royals, I think, did not have great expectations for Johnny and, in fact, traded for a second baseman in his mid-twenties when Giavotella was in Wilmington.

What transpired, however, was that Johnny Giavotella forced the organization’s hand and the organization did what they are supposed to do:  promote when the position above is not procuding and then play the guy until he proves he can’t.     Can Giavotella field?  The Royals, instead of speculating, are actually going to find out and do so in a timely manner.

It was not an organizational failure that Kila Ka’aihue did not produce as the everyday first baseman at the start of 2011.   The organization failed that they did not find that out at the start of the 2009 season instead of giving up Leo Nunez to watch Mike Jacobs hit a Kila-esque .228/.297/.401 the entire year.  

While it seems a no-brainer to us ‘internet crazies and bloggers’ that an American League team in the modern era cannot carry a second baseman hitting .256/.315/.285 (numbers virtually in line with his 1000+ at-bat career major league total), it was a difficult decision for the Royals to call up Giavotella and replace one of their favorite sons in Chris Getz.   The Royals may have taken longer to make that call than we would have liked, but they did finally make the right decision.

Now, Dayton Moore will enter the off-season having seen Eric Hosmer bat close to 500 times, Mike Moustakas around 350 times, Giavotella a good 150 times and have two full seasons of data on Alcides Escobar.  He should have a clear picture of what his 2012 and, frankly, 2013 and 2014 infield will look like or what needs to be improved.    After years of watching this organization speculate and wonder and talk about what players might be able to do and might not be capable of doing, we are actually going to have ACTUAL MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES PLAYED that will give us a far better indication.

Johnny Giavotella won’t hit .338 in the majors and he will certainly have some growing pains in this first taste of major league action, but we will have a far close idea to what type of major league player Giavotella might become now than if his major league exposure was a handful of September games after the AAA playoffs were over.  

That brings us to the next ‘internet darling’:  Lorenzo Cain.  

Like Giavotella, there is a fairly large segment of Royals’ fans who have already decided Cain probably isn’t that good.   In a world where outfield throwing arms have suddenly been deemed more important than, you know, tracking down flyballs in the gaps, I have lost the ability to fully understand most arguments.   That said, I have to admit we really don’t know what Lorenzo Cain can do playing a full season as a major league centerfielder.

We do know that, excluding the year he played hurt, Cain has hit at every level.   We know he made some great catches in spring training and has shown excellent defensive range.   We know that he hit .300 in 150 major league at-bats last season and thus we can speculate that Cain is more likely to ‘hit the ground running’ in the majors the next time he is up given that Lorenzo has already gone through that first adjustment period.

That said, Cain is in a different position than Giavotella.   The guys above him are producing.  Melky Cabrera is .303/.337/.461 and Jeff Francouer is solidly whacking away at .273/.324/.466.     Those numbers are not as great as many a Royals’ fan, jaded by the likes of Josh Anderson and Rick Ankiel clogging the outfield,  might think, but good enough to hang onto an everyday job…for now.

Truth is, I am a Lorenzo Cain guy and believe he might well be better than either Cabrera or Francouer over the next couple of seasons, but he has some major leauge experience already and the urgency to get him at-bats at the expense of Francouer and Cabrera right now is not great.    Let Cain, whose strikeout rate has decreased with each month in AAA, continue to get regular at-bats in the minors while he waits for a spot to legimately open in the major league outfield.    It is a situation the Royals have seldom been faced with in the past ten years, but one that good organizations deal with every year.

The Royals have a lot to prove yet to reach ‘good organization’ status, but promoting Giavotella now as opposed to later is a step in that direction.

For now, Kansas City is better than Baltimore….and not as good as Detroit.

Sunday’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went without Dayton Moore and the Royals making any additional moves as the organization instead played spectator to a rather frenzied trade market.   I don’t know if Moore deserves criticism, praise or neither for this.  

Moore did ship the forgotten Wilson Betemit to Detroit earlier in the month for two young non-prospects (but also two guys who you can kind of envision making it to the majors as well) and also spun the unwanted and unhappy Mike Aviles to Boston for a younger, happier version of himself (Yamaico Navarro) who can also play the outfield as well.    Given the status of both Betemit and Aviles at the time each trade was made, I applaud Moore’s return on both.

As Craig wrote after the Aviles trade one would have thought more activity was sure to follow.   After all, if Moore could spin a 30 year old player who had spent much of the year in Omaha to a division leader for a player who was actually on their major league roster, then surely there would be a market for veterans Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francouer, Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen.

As it turned out, apparently not.

It may well be that Moore’s initial asking price of a number three type starter for either Cabrera or Francouer was so outrageous that rival GM’s simply didn’t bother wasting anymore of their time thinking about it.    The sheer number of better players that were traded, however, may simply have overwhelmed the market and left the Royals’ in the starting gate.

After all, when Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran and Colby Rasmus (Michael Bourn as well) all are out in the market, it is easy to lose interest in the likes of Cabrera and Francouer.   With Ubaldo Jimenez, Erik Bedard and Doug Fister on the move, teams that might have resorted to a Francis or a Chen simply had better, sexier options.

Given that Ryan Ludwick was traded to Pittsburgh for a player to be named later or cash (pretty much the ultimate ‘here, just take him’ trade) might give some indication of what the offers might have been for Jeff Francouer – a better player than Ludwick right now, but not that much better.

As you probably know, I am as big a prospect guy as there is and trading a veteran for a couple of lottery tickets so that Lorenzo Cain (.318/.391/.525 in Omaha, .306/.348/.415 in 158 major league plate appearances in 2010) could play in Kansas City has always been my hope.   However, if the compensation for a Francouer was a used lottery ticket and some spare change, then even I agree with Moore’s lack of action.

Several years back, I was genuinely livid when Moore, using the ‘we’re not going to trade for anything less than value’ mantra, refused to move Ron Mahay at the trade deadline, but this year I have no great angst over waking up in August with Melky, the Panamanian named Bruce, Francis and the Frenchman still on the roster.  

So, what now?

There was a little bit of a Twitter snippet that if Kyle Davies was placed on the disabled list, that Johnny Giavotella would be called up to Kansas City.  That would certainly get everyone’s attention and I am all for it.    Let’s see what Johnny’s AAA line of .341/.394/.485 translates into at the big league level and let’s find out if the kid can actually field or not.   Chris Getz, who went a rather remarkable seven weeks without an extra base hit before doubling on Saturday, really should not be an impediment to seeing what a red hot young player can do in a season that is not going to end in a playoff berth.

We will see what transpires with Davies and what the subsequent result might be.   Ned Yost was already rumbling about returning to a five man rotation before the injury, so something is likely to change.  I foresee a Davies move to the disabled list, accompanied by Kyle’s inevitable return from it about the time Danny Duffy runs out of innings towards the end of August.  If Davies’ biggest contribution of his Royals’ career is eating some meaningless innings to save the arm of a pitcher who is part of the team’s future, then so be it.

Whether a DL stint for Davies means Giavotella gets the call or not remains to be seen.   Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have never done much to make me think they are particularly creative, so adding an 8th bullpen arm (hello Everett Teaford once more) is just as likely a roster move.  That said, what Giavotella is doing at the plate in AAA  is bordering on the ridiculous:  he will be here sooner rather than later.

Side note:  If Moore’s logic is to keep the bulk of the Omaha team together for a AAA playoff run.   So they can ‘learn to win together’, I am going to have some sort of coniption…maybe even a hissy fit.    I will buy that logic when someone, without looking it up, tells me the last three PCL champions and shows me how that benefitted their big league club.

So, what happens to Lorenzo Cain?   Given that he already has major league at-bats under his belt, Cain may the most major league ready of anyone who spent time in Omaha this year.   Unlike Giavotella, Lorenzo also brings plus defense to the outfield, but it is hard to figure where he fits in right now.   I don’t like the idea of bringing Cain up to play a couple of times per week and we all know that neither Cabrera or Francouer is going to sit as long as they are on the roster.

Perhaps the fact that Cain has already had a taste of major league pitching in a weird way makes the need to get him back to the majors less pressing.  Theoretically, Cain could hit the ground running as the regular centerfielder on Opening Day 2012 without getting more than a courtesy look this September.   The idea being that Cain has already gone through that first 100 at-bat ‘adjustment period’ that bedevils many a good prospect upon their debut in the majors.

In my heart, I think Dayton Moore missed a chance to be really creative at the deadline and possibly move The Process ahead at least a good half-season.   Should the Royals have shouldered the monetary load that is Wandy Rodriguez?   Should they dipped their toe into the Ubaldo Jiminez pool?  If key trade componets were Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow, would you have made the leap?   Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush?    Truthfully, how did the Charlie Furbush for Doug Fister trade get made without Nathan Adcock being included?

Okay, back to reality.

Since Ned Yost’s closed door meeting, the Royals have played good baseball, winning baseball actually.   Enough so, that they remain interesting.   Add Johnny Giavotella to the lineup tomorrow night and this Royals’ fan will remain interested and also remain convinced that the Royals are moving forward despite the lack of activity on Sunday.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

In a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the concern over promoting prospects to the majors and having them become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two will go away.   While the Royals have shown a rather remarkable carefree attitude about early arbitration eligibility  when it came to calling up Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, one would imagine that not having to worry about Super Two status will be one less impediment to calling up the next wave of promising young players.

That is not to say, however, that on some magical day in the near future (say June 8th) that we will wake up one morning to hear that Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Cain have all been promoted to Kansas City.   If we truly lived in a Rotisserie world, one could do just that, but in real life there are personality, experience and clubhouse issues to be considered as well as the fact that there are actual humans occupying spots in front of these guys.

One of those ‘humans’ is Wilson Betemit, who just happens to be hitting .315/.379/.465 to follow up on his career best 2010 campaign.   While Wilson has played everywhere but catcher in his career that does not necessarily imply that he actually ‘can’ play anywhere.  That Betemit has played 19 career major league games at second base gets all of us thinking about Moustakas at third, Wilson at second and ‘Man! That’s a salty batting order!’     Except for the fact that supposed defensive difference at second base between Chris Getz and Mike Aviles is likely unnoticeable when compared to the gap between either of them and Wilson Betemit should he wander out to that side of the diamond.

So, what do you do with Mike Moustakas?   After a very tough April, Mike has hit .303/.386/.566 in May and has hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching along the way.   He has not played particularly outstanding defense, but by all accounts will be passable for now at third.   Keep in mind, the Betemit/Aviles combo in the majors has not exactly been defensive fine art this year.

Certainly, Betemit would seem to be a player that might provide value on the trade market, even if trading him would weaken, at least in the short term, any hopes the Royals have for a winning season in 2011.   If a decent deal came along, it would make sense to move Betemit, promote Moustakas and have him get his rookie shakedown cruise over with so he is ready to contribute from the start in 2012.

Of course, do you play for 2012?   If the answer is yes, then the Royals absolutely need to get Moustakas to the majors sometime in June.   Both he and Hosmer could get the ups and downs of their rookie seasons over with and hopefully ready them to be middle of the order impact bats immediately next season.   

Is that realistic?  Is contending in 2012 a high probability?   It better be, because the Royals will have Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, virtually everyone in their bullpen and Mike Montgomery all on schedule to become free agents after the 2017 season.

Montgomery is included in the above paragraph, because the Royals cannot enter 2012 with serious contention hopes without both Duffy and Montgomery seasoned and ready to pitch all of that season at or near the top of the team’s starting rotation.   They cannot expect that to happen without getting both a good 100 innings in the majors this year.     

Given that Sean O’Sullivan has 22 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 45 innings this season, he would hardly seem to be a guy who should be blocking a talent like Montgomery.  Sure, Sean has ‘kept the Royals in games’, but contenders are built around pitchers who WIN games, not keep you close.      With 49 innings under his belt in AAA already this season and only 93 total innings pitched last year, Montgomery (like Duffy) has a limited number of innings to pitch in 2011.   One more turn through the rotation ought to eliminate Super Two considerations and should be more than enough to move forward.

Bottom line, the Royals should either promote both Moustakas and Montgomery by mid-June or wait all the way until late April of nextyear to get them on an entirely different free agency path from that of Hosmer and Duffy.  If you go the service time route, then you are really saying that the Royals truly realistic first year to contend (barring flukes or a crappy division – both possibilities) is not 2012, but 2013.   The argument can be made that 2013 is truly the right choice.

Would it depend on the 2011 team’s record when it comes to making this decision?  I am not sure it does, given that Wilson Betemit is likely to be a greater asset to the ‘win now’ theory in July of 2011 than Mike Moustakas would be.   It is also quite possible that Bruce Chen (assuming he makes it back soon) is a better major league pitcher right now than Mike Montgomery will be.

I really think these decisions need to be made based not on what will happen in 2011, but what the Royals perceive will happen in 2012 and/or 2013.  That is where it gets tricky.   It is relatively easy to make a decision that will impact the nine game road trip that begins on June 10th, but it is harder to discern what impact a decision made now will have on the April 2012 Royals.  

Welcome to Dayton Moore’s world.

Side Note:  I was going to talk about the Melky Cabrera/Lorenzo Cain situation as part of the column today as well, but decided I had reached a quasi-plausible ending point.   Truthfully, I am not exactly sure what the proper call is there, but by Thursday, I hope to have an answer for you.

We all know by now that stats in spring training are a poor indicator of what the future season might hold.   I used to spend some amount of time analyzing who a given batter may have faced in the spring in attempt to separate the at-bats against true major league competition from that of the minor league guys filling in the late innings.   Even that method was hardly foolproof as you were never sure when/if a pitcher or hitter was ‘working on something’ and hence not playing in the same manner as he would in a game that matters.

In the past, we saw Zack Greinke have a horrible statistical spring and go on to win the Cy Young.   Angel Berroa was a notorious killer in the spring before notoriously hideous regular seasons.   It is all very simple, frankly:  a guy with his roster spot secure is probably not going to lay out for a line drive down the line the second week in March and a pitcher who just has his slider working and nothing else is still going to throw fastballs and changeups in the Cactus League.    All sorts of things like that make the art of analyzing spring performances in a statistical manner virtually impossible.

Still, there are some numbers that are interesting if not particular meaningful:

  • Mitch Maier is hitting .571/.625/.643 with four steals.   Last year, there was some buzz that there were a number of teams that would jump on the out of options Maier if the Royals did not keep him on their twenty-five man roster coming out of spring training.   Fast forward to this spring, where Mitch is off to another hot start and on the borderline of making the Royals.   Would there be a market for Maier?   Certainly not a big one and not one that would yield a huge return, but would someone like the Phillies trade for him to fill in for the injured Dominic Brown?   Doubtful, but marginally plausible, I suppose.  
  • Melky Cabrera is hitting .462/.500/.538.  Lorenzo Cain is hitting .462/.533/.615.   Cain has already made two defensive plays that have drawn raves and Melky has already lost a ball in the ‘Arizona sun’.   I’m tired of hearing about the Arizona freaking sun and sky.  I get it, it is a tough place to catch high fly balls.   Half of your job description is to ‘catch fly balls’ – do it.  Anyway, spring training stats don’t matter, but somehow I feel that Cain’s .462 average and good defense is going to generate a ‘he needs more seasoning’ line pretty soon.   Melky’s .462?   Well, my guess is the Royals will be happy to tell you that those spring training stats DO matter.
  • The up and coming Big Four of Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer have combined to pitch 9.2 innings this spring and walked 11 batters.  That is not unexpected for young pitchers and tells us nothing about their future, but is interesting nonetheless.
  • Chris Getz is zero for eight with three walks.  Alex Gordon is one for thirteen with six walks.   Can we pick and choose which spring training stats are valid indicators?  Please?!!
  • Everett Teaford has been tagged for 10 runs in just over two innings of work.   There is no real way to spin those numbers into anything but Omaha.

A lot of the above is a little tongue in cheek…okay, a lot of it is.   To be honest, the Royals have won six of eight games to start the spring and seen a lot of good things happen.   Eric Hosmer has looked the part, Kila Ka’aihue has been solid and Clint Robinson just keeps hitting.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get some positive vibes from winning exhibition games:  especially for a young team like the Royals.

Inevitably, there will start to be talk of the 2003 Royals, who parlayed a Cactus League title into a 16-3 start and staying in contention until the final month of the regular season.   Let’s be careful there in that the 2003 Royals had Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and a then rookie of the year caliber player in Angel Berroa.    Offensively, that was not a young team (Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne – were all veteran players with decent major league resumes) and probably more poised to make a cinderella run than the 2011 Royals are.

For now, we’ll just enjoy the spring and periodically remind ourselves that the numbers probably tell us very little.   That won’t keep us from monitoring them closer than might be considered healthy, however.

On Monday is was the Moose and Hosmer show as both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer went deep against the Rangers.  Tuesday, is was Moose and Cain taking center stage as Moustakas drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth and Lorenzo Cain ended the game with a play that has been described as “spectacular” and a “circus catch.”

See for yourself from this highlight reel, courtesy of Desertfan…

(Desertfan has been shooting a ton of video in Surprise.  I hope he’s able to keep it up.  Check out more of his stuff on his YouTube page.)

Every year, there is some kind of litmus test for the Royals brain trust regarding the roster coming out of spring training.  Remember how we were all hoping for Calvin Pickering?  Yeah, sometimes even us stat nerds get it wrong.  OK, so the occasional set back isn’t enough to deter me from picking a player who should be – who needs to be – on the 25 man roster when the team heads north.  I’m anointing Cain as this year’s player.  Cain has yet to make a start and as we know, he has options so he’s a candidate to open the year in Triple-A thanks to Dayton Moore and his eagerness to secure the services of fourth-tier talent like Melky Cabrera.  Still, he would give the Royals their best outfield defender and could fill the leadoff role for the Royals.

Of course, events could conspire that would make Cain a no-brainer.  Like if he had the camp of his life.  Or if one of the other outfielders likely to be a regular went down with injury.  It makes sense to have one too many outfielders at this point in the spring.  But the Royals shouldn’t be shy about eating some payroll if justified and opening the year with Cain in center.

Cain will finally get the start this afternoon against the Dodgers and will hit leadoff. Jeff Francis and Sean O’Sullivan will throw for a couple of innings.

Strange as it may sound, the two Royals I’m going to openly root for to make the team will be Cain and Tim Collins.

I don’t get excited by spring training performances.  These games are more about preparation for the grind of the regular season than anything else.  Although as Tim Kniker pointed out, Royals catchers are a combined one for 13 (he was making a point of small sample sizes, but get well soon JK!)  But this kind of start just fuels my enthusiasm for the real games in a few weeks time.

And it gives me a chance to write a pseudo game recap/analysis piece for the first time since September.  I’m all for that.

— Mike Montgomery and Jeremy Jeffress got their first of spring action and both gave the radar gun a workout as they were both regularly hitting the mid-90s with their fastballs.  Montgomery battled his command when he entered, issuing two walks in the fifth.

— The more things change… Padre starter Mat Latos issued four walks in the first and the Royals didn’t score a run thanks to a caught stealing by Mike Aviles.

— Nice to see Clint Robinson do some damage from the DH spot.  Two hits (a double and a triple) and a pair of RBI.

— I’ve caught the last two games on feeds from MLB.com and listened to Steve Stewart call the games.  Not only is Stewart as vanilla as they come, the same old, “Now we leave you with the sounds of spring” line at the end of every inning makes me want to smash my computer.  Would it kill you to change things up from time to time?  May I humbly suggest, “At the end of the inning, things will be quiet on the webcast because I’m reading the latest from Royals Authority.”

I’m begging you…

— Luke Hochevar struggled in the first and was keeping the ball up in the zone.  He allowed three straight singles before he settled down, made the proper adjustments and started finding his sinking action on his pitches.  Of his six outs, five of them were ground outs to go along with one strikeout.  That’s a very good sign.

Other notes…

— The Royals reached deals with Kila Ka’aihue and Vin Mazarro on Tuesday, which means all 40 players are under contract.  And that means I’ll soon have a new – and final – salary table.  I’m still thinking the Royals are under the $35 million mark for Opening Day.

— Sad story out of camp as minor leaguer Anthony Seratelli’s father was killed in a freak accident while driving on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey on Monday.  The Royals actively engage the families of their minor leaguers, so this is a loss that is undoubtedly felt by the entire organization.  Positive thoughts to the Seratelli family.

— Zack Greinke made his spring debut for the Brewers and talked about the trade.

“I kind of had to play the bad guy in order to do it. It would be nice if that didn’t happen, but the way things were in Kansas City, if I just kept on being the sweet person, the fans would have been outraged if I got traded. I kind of had to be the bad guy. It isn’t always your No. 1 choice.”
He realized he was a fan favorite — “I don’t know why,” Greinke said — and by making his trade requests public, he feels he helped avoid “backlash on the organization.”

Good to know Zack can sling the BS as good as the slider.

— Kaegel has a feel good story on Moustakas.  (Seriously, hire a decent headline writer…) Of course, we all feel good about Moose but this comment kind of caught my attention:

“His way is not set in stone. He’s always open to suggestions, anything to get better, and those are the type of guys that get better,” said Hall of Famer George Brett, a camp instructor.

Paging Alex Gordon…

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