Fantasy Baseball 2012: In-Depth Look at Kansas City Royals' 26-and-Under Assets
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On Tuesday, the Royals got an inordinate amount of attention from the national media, deriding the club's 0-10 homestand against the Indians, Tigers and Blue Jays. And for the most part, the franchise (losers of 12 straight overall) deserved every bit of the snarky coverage.
There's really no excuse for a 3-13 start to a season full of immense promise—just 10 days ago.
But it's important to have some perspective on the matter, or in this case, plenty of perspective.
This is not the 2006 Royals (starring Mark Teahen, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Redman), or 2002 Royals (starring Carlos Beltran, Paul Byrd) or even the 1992 Royals (starring Kevin Appier, Mark Gubicza, Brian McRae and a 39-year-old George Brett).
The way things are progressing, the franchise will likely boast All-Star talent at every position within three years, and though the starting rotation is razor-thin right now, help is on the way in the next 36 months (perhaps in two waves).
But this blog entry isn't about down-on-the-farm studs like Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer or Bubba Starling. It's about the short-term fantasy prospects of the 26-and-under players on Kansas City's active roster:
OF Alex Gordon
Gordon, a top-20 outfielder during the preseason, has posted blah numbers since April 9 (two HRs, five RBI, five runs, .224 batting), begging two questions: Can he replicate any of his five-category greatness from last year (23 HRs, 87 RBI, 101 runs, 17 steals, .303 batting)? Or was it merely a one-time circumstance of a sporadic career?
Gordon may not have enough fantasy cachet to get market value in one-for-one trade talks. If you're frustrated with his sluggish April, be prepared to get only a No. 3 starting pitcher in return—and don't expect an elite corner infielder.
Minus an unexpected full return on your Round 4/5 investment, it's best to wait out Gordon's rough patch and let him recapture his standing in the fantasy community. There's no need to entertain serious trade talks until Memorial Day.
1B Eric Hosmer
It breaks my heart that Hosmer (four HRs, 10 RBI, 11 runs, one steal, .206 batting) has taken his lumps to date, but I'm also not prepared to downgrade his potential numbers.
For those who don't watch Hosmer on MLB Extra Innings, he's seldom an easy out (even during a slump), and his plate presence discourages pitchers from routinely going inside on the powerful left-hander.
Bottom line: If I didn't have knowledge of Hosmer's poor batting average over the last 12 games, I would swear he's just a tweak or two away from another breakout. Consider that a positive sign.
I'm not backing down from my roundabout projection of 23 homers, 86 RBI, 78 runs, 13 steals and .292 average by season's end.
In other words, there is no better time to procure a buy-low trade for Hosmer—something in the neighborhood of Hosmer for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero or Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford.
SS Alcides Escobar
Escobar (one HR, five RBI, seven runs, four steals, .306 batting) has been the Royals' best fantasy asset this month. In fact, he'd probably be the club's lone All-Star representative (behind SS Derek Jeter), if the selection process began today.
There is no surprise factor to Escobar's hot start—he's a five-tool talent and has immense upside in runs, steals and batting average.
Given the paucity of fantasy dynamos at shortstop, Escobar would command a good trade return on the open market. Perhaps a No. 3 starting pitcher or No. 2 outfielder.
In terms of seasonal projections, Escobar is an interesting play for seven homers, 53 RBI, 79 runs, 27 steals and .286 average.
DH Billy Butler
It's hard to believe a rock-solid, ultra-dependable asset like Butler is only 26 years old. Perhaps it's the full-time DH distinction that makes him seem closer to 30—or maybe it's the belief that, despite a sluggish April (two HRs, 10 RBI, six runs, .284 batting), Butler remains a lock for 21 homers, 87 RBI and .302 batting by season's end.
It's also hard to define Butler's trade value, given his DH-only standing. In 12-team leagues, where designated hitters can sometimes be unnwieldy anchors on the "UTIL" slot, it's probably best to keep Butler and just wait for the springtime resurgence.
In 16-team leagues, though, where owners are always in the market for four-category factors, Butler's 1-for-1 trade value could go as high as a No. 2 starter (Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, Madison Bumgarner) or speed-driven hitter (B.J. Upton, Dee Gordon, Denard Span).
3B Mike Moustakas
There will be no gloating or victory-lap celebrations over Moustakas's strong start, justifying his preseason standing as my No. 1 sleeper.
Moustakas (two HRs, eight RBI, eight runs, .300 batting) still must learn to cut down his strikeouts, develop better plate discipline, use the entire field when hitting and make a greater effort to steal the occasional base. That aside, you have to love his peripheral marks in OBP (.344) and slugging (.517).
By June 1, Moustakas could have appealing trade value to his current owners, but I wouldn't recommend dealing him for anything short of above-market value.
This kid flashed all-world potential in the minors (36 HRs, 124 RBI, .322 batting in 2009 alone) and could evolve into a top-10 third baseman by season's end. His fantasy ceiling is just a notch below that of Toronto's Brett Lawrie.
OF Lorenzo Cain
The speedy outfielder had perhaps the greatest spring of any MLB player (two steals, four HR, seven RBI, 13 runs, .477 batting, .932 slugging, 1.453 OPS). Now, he's set to rejoin the Royals (April 26) with the dual purpose of recapturing his Cactus League mojo from March—and helping his teammates rebound from a wretched start in April.
Sometime in mid-May, I'll buy Cain's per-week capacity for four runs, two steals and a .280 batting average. He just needs a little time and confidence to get the ball rolling.
C Salvador Perez
Perez, a largely forgotten member of the Royals' core since injuring his knee during spring training, could be a sneaky-good fantasy source after the All-Star break. He was the first Kansas City player to sign a multi-year extension this year, and he's part of a handful of MLB catchers who could hit 8-10 homers from July 15-Sept. 30.
As a bonus, Perez could hit .280 (over 200 at-bats) during that time frame.
There's no rush on grabbing Perez off waivers. But he'll be an excellent free-agent acquisition around July 1 in AL-only leagues and should be a strong consideration in mixed leagues around July 12.
SP Danny Duffy
Of Kansas City's starting pitchers, Duffy (1-2, 3.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 20/10 K-BB) has the greatest capacity to be a fantasy ace.
Perhaps as early as next year, he'll be a strong candidate to replicate C.J. Wilson's roundabout numbers from 2009-10 (15 wins, 3.30 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 180 strikeouts). As for 2012, Duffy is the ideal No. 6 starter in 12-team leagues, with the potential for 155 strikeouts and sub-4.00 ERA.
It's probably too late for fantasy owners to grab Duffy off waivers, but it's always a good time to swing a 2-for-2 or 3-for-3 trade that stealthily involves Duffy as a classic "throw-in."
RP Aaron Crow
It's rare to find appointed closers on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues. To compensate for that, we're forced to guess which underrated reliever has the best chance of earning a battlefield promotion in the coming weeks.
My vote goes to Crow, partly because of his numbers since April 8 (0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, one save) and partly because of the Royals' unsettled mess in the bullpen—beginning with closer Jonathan Broxton and ending with the enigmatic Greg Holland.
Crow does not warrant immediate inclusion to a roster, nor should fantasy GMs move mountains to acquire him via trade. Just know that Crow will eventually be called upon to be Kansas City's back-end ace—and it never hurts to get an early heads-up.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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