Friday, February 4, 2011

Previewing the AL Central: Kansas City Royals

Last year, we were a bit over-ambitious and tried to do a somewhat lengthy preview of every team in Major League Baseball. We didn't end up finishing before the season started...and ironically enough, the one team we didn't preview (the SF Giants) ended up winning the World Series. So I'm gonna scale it back this year and just preview the AL Central teams, starting with the lowly Kansas City Royals.

2010 Record: 67-95; 5th place, 27GB the 1st place Minnesota Twins

Key Departures:
The Zack Greinke trade is probably the only departure worth talking about, I have to say that it surprised me that it was the Brewers that landed him. Greinke was wasting away in Kansas City, he's been pretty much the only reason to watch the Royals in the past few years. It will be interesting to see how Greinke's somewhat fragile psyche handles a new environment with a possible contender. I still think the Brewers won't make the playoffs, after Greinke and Gallardo, who do they have to pitch? Anyway, the Royals got a nice haul in return for Greinke which I analyzed in this piece.
Other notable departures include Gil Meche who left $12M on the table by retiring because he didn't feel he deserved the money. Other than that, no one is really a "key" departure.

Key Arrivals:
No one immediately qualifies on this list as "key" except, I think, Alcides Escobar. Escobar saw his first full season of Major League action last season and though it was a big disappointment from the plate, his fielding at SS was solid and his Minor League track record suggests that the bat will come around. He'll be an interesting player to watch, having been ranked as high as #12 in the Top-100 prospects coming into the 2010 season.
As many have talked about, the Royals tout one of the best, if not the very best, farm systems in all of baseball. For the past few years they have been stocking up and that payoff is probably only a couple of years off. They have 5-star talent at a bunch of different positions and several good-looking young pitchers coming up in the ranks. Their team payroll for this coming season will be extremely low (~$33M) and should remain relatively low, allowing them to retain some of the talent they have coming up. They recently re-upped with the only Major League star, Billy Butler, signing him to a 4-year, $30M deal. The point, they're young and their talent houses are STOCKED.

A Brief Look at that Farm System:
I probably won't do this for every team in the AL Central, but the Royals Top 5 is worth taking a little deeper look at, I'm using Baseball Prospectus ranking for the Top 5 in the system.

1. Mike Moustakas (3B)
Having played 52 games at AAA last season, Mike may very well get the call-up this season. He had an absolutely monster season between AA and AAA last year combining to hit 36HRs, drive in 124, all while batting .293 in a season where his BABIP was only .271. Moustakas looks like the real deal and the best part of his game from an offensive standpoint is that he's not your HR-or-nothing type guys. His career K% in the minors is 13.1% and his BB% is 5.3%. He could probably use a little more patience, but hey, he's only 21 years old. He's nothing special defensively and not particularly speedy either, but we could be looking a future-superstar at the plate.

2. John Lamb (LHP)
Given that the Royals starting pitching is a big question mark coming into 2011, we could see Lamb sooner rather than later. He had a great year last year, breezing through Low-A and High-A before struggling a bit at Double-A. According to BP, he'll start the year at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and depending on his performance, he could break through with the Big League club before the end of this season. Lamb had a 9.7 K/9 rate last season and he reportedly possesses 3 plus pitches, all of which he locate well. Being that he's a lefty, he's already got a leg-up on the competition, I would be willing to bet we'll see Lamb this season, though perhaps in a bullpen role where they can limit his innings.

3. Eric Hosmer (1B)
Holy crap.Hosmer's batting line between High-A and Double-A last year? .338/.406/.571 with 20HRs, 43 doubles and 9 triples. There's probably some regression lurking in there somewhere, he did have a .382 BABIP in 87Gs at High-A ball. He's worth keeping on eye on certainly, he'll be starting the year at Double-A and is likely a year or two away from the Majors (he's only 20) due to the re-signing of Billy Butler. Again, with Hosmer, you have a potential slugger who also possesses a good eye, definitely has star potential.

4. Wil Myers (OF)
Again, holy's unbelievable how many young hitters the Royals have in their organization. Myers split time between Low-A and High-A last season and at High-A, he had a .346/.453/.512 line in 58Gs. He's only 20 years old so he'll likely be percolating in the minors for another season, and there might even be a position change in there somewhere, but again, another prospect with potential star-power.

5. Mike Montgomery (LHP)
Montgomery and Lamb are very similar pitchers in that their fastballs hover right around the same speed (92-94, touching 96) and they both have good command of multiple pitches. Lamb is 6' 3" and 195lbs, Montgomery is 6' 5" and 180lbs. They're both lefties and they'll both be at Double-A Northwest Arkansas to start this season. Montgomery had some arm issues last season which limited his innings, but BP says, "there are no red flags in his frame or mechanics, [but] he's unproven as an innings eater."

The Future of the Royals:
Last year, I wrote this:

"Ok, check this out. In the last 8 years, the Royals have lost over 100 games 4 times. They have not made a playoff appearance since 1985. They have not finished higher than 3rd in the division in 15 years and that was in the strike-shortened year, so really it's been 20 years. The Royals have had ONE SEASON above .500 in the past 16 years. This team, along with the Pirates and Nationals, has defined mediocrity for the last quarter of a century. To say I have any optimism about this team would be ridiculous. Their management and ownership has shown that they know nothing about how to run a baseball team and their ineptitude is historic."

I still feel the same in a lot of ways, but I can no longer say that there is no reason for optimism about this team. I feel for Royals fans, much in the same way I feel for Pirates fans, there has been precious little to get excited about for a long time. Though the Royals are probably looking down the barrel of another 95-100 loss season, they've got some serious talent in the wings that could change their fortunes within the next 3-5 years. This is worth getting excited about! The best news is that a lot of this talent should emerge at about the same time and, if all things go the right way, they Royals could be a contending team in 2013, 2014 and beyond. So, to the Royals fans out there, stick with it, better times might be just a couple of seasons away.

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