Two-for-One MLB Previews: Kansas City and Colorado
We've entered the third week of Two-for-One MLB Previews and I couldn't be more exhausted.
Not because I'm tried of writing about every...single...MLB team. But because I'm tried about writing about what every single MLB team is going to do. I want to see it already!
That and and I'm tried from work last week.
Today we have two teams that are lovable, but for all the wrong reasons. Kansas City and Colorado, splashes of success lately in spots, but always determined, hopefully.
ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, Baltimore, Toronto
ALC: 1, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, 5
ALW: 1, Oakland, Texas, 4
NLE: Florida, 2, New York Mets, 4, 5
NLC: 1, St. Louis, Cincinnati, 4, Houston, Pittsburgh
NLW: 1, Los Angeles, 3, 4, San Diego
* Wild Card
Kansas City Royals – AL Central
Last Year: Finished Fourth in AL Central
Notable Additions: C Vance Wilson, IF Willie Bloomquist, IF Mike Jacobs, OF Coco Crisp, SP Horacio Ramirez, RP Kyle Farnsworth, RP Juan Cruz, P Lenny DiNardo, RP Doug Waechter
Notable Subtractions: IF Mark Grudzielanek, OF Joey Gathright, RP Leo Nunez, RP Ramon Ramirez, P Oscar Villarreal
Underrated addition: Juan Cruz
He’ll be missed: Ramon Ramirez
Cruz was a steal late in the offseason. Ramirez was evidently replaced but by far the most important guy the Royals lost.
Biggest Key to Success: Something to Build On
The Royals know that they can spend some money once and awhile, as evidence by their signing of Gil Meche a few years ago.
They are also aware of the fact that you can’t get anywhere unless you can acquire talent in other ways, which Dayton Moore has tried to do since he took over.
He’s brought in guys like Joakim Soria, Brian Bannister, Alberto Callaspo, Kyle Davies, and Mike Jacobs from other organizations.
Now it’s up to some of these pieces, and the ones that have been brought up through the Kansas City farm system, to start putting it together.
The biggest thing that will make the Royals successful is if their young players continue to grow. If Zack Greinke continues to mold himself into the ace that his talent says he can be, everything is on track.
Gil Meche has been quietly steady for the Royals since he signed that contract, and he needs to continue to be the veteran leader.
The most important thing other than that is the continued acquisition of talented pieces. Dayton Moore has to continue building the foundation of this team. Plugging in players like Coco Crisp is nice, but as the Royals spend these years not contending for anything higher than third place, they need to stock pile.
It isn’t about wins and losses, at least not yet. It’s about what you do when you aren’t fighting for a World Series. Dayton Moore probably wants to contend, but after awhile you have to realize you don’t have the horses to do so.
Biggest Concern: Production Improvement
Kansas City had themselves a few breakout performances in 2008 that they hope are going to carry over.
I think the poster boy for that is Mike Aviles. In a little over 100 games last year, Aviles stormed onto the scene, hitting .325 and knocking in 51 runs.
He was a godsend for a team that didn’t have a solid middle infielder; Aviles can play both second base and shortstop.
But now that everyone knows who he is and what he is capable of, can he keep up?
Can Zack Greinke continue his success and work towards building himself up as a team ace?
How about Mike Jacobs, the slugging first baseman who is coming over from Florida, the Royals acquired him with hopes of him repeating that 30-home-run year.
Alex Gordon is a big name as well. The Royals were banking on him being the next big thing at third base, and so far he has just been alright. It’s going to be his third year, so they are probably hoping it all clicks for him.
Oh, and Kyle Davies, who looked pretty good down the stretch as a starter, was that a mirage or something real?
All of this stuff, it hinges on the Royals not only being successful, but growing. A lot of these players are pieces the Royals believe are a part of their future, not just their present.
These pieces need to get better or else the Royals have to find a new plan, and that is never fun.
Basically, if the tree isn’t growing, then you have to chop it down.
Biggest Change: Sell High, Buy High?
The Royals did a great job of selling high on some of the players they dealt away this offseason.
Leo Nunez had the best year of his career and the Royals turned that around to get a slugging first baseman in Jacobs.
But was Jacobs dealt high as well? The Marlins have a history of pulling that type of stuff out.
Ramon Ramirez, another bullpen arm had himself an underrated season out of the Royals’ pen and they dealt him to Boston for Coco Crisp.
But perhaps the Royals grabbed Crisp after he had himself a nice postseason.
We’ll see if the strategy works out for the Royals. At least they have a plan and at least they traded something that is erratic, bullpen arms, for position players that they believe can add something to their lineup that might be missing.
Team MVP: Joakim Soria, RP
I’m not sure how many times you can select a relief pitcher as the MVP and get away with it, but with Soria, I think I can make the case.
He makes the Royals bullpen better. Any closer who can hold onto the job makes his bullpen better, but Soria gives the Royals confidence.
So much confidence that they can trade their two best arms that set up Soria.
They’ll try and replace Ramirez and Nunez with free-agent additions Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz, but there is that much faith in Soria making everyone else better.
Oh yeah and “The Mexecutioner” only blew three saves last year and 56 percent of the Royals wins were saved by Soria.
It may be a different kind of MVP pick, but Soria is extremely important to his team’s success.
On the Rise: Zack Greinke, SP
I’ve already mentioned a few times, nay more than a few times, how Zack Greinke is on his way to becoming the ace of the Kansas City Royals.
I’m dead serious, too.
For four years, Greinke was teasing us baseball fans with his baby face look but terminator-like stuff on the mound. He dealt with some personal issues that kept his head away from baseball and it was thought that we’d never really see the real talent that Greinke had.
Now here is the fun part. Greinke started to get things in order in 2007 and in 2008 he made the rotation and took off.
He only went 13-10, but he’s pitching on a fourth place team, so look at some of his individual numbers, the 183 strikeouts and the 3.47 ERA in over 200 innings of work.
Oh, and he’s only going to be 25 this year.
He was fifth in the AL in strikeouts last year and his strikeout to walk ratio was tenth in the league. When he’s on, he’s on.
And now I’d expect Greinke to be on at an even higher level in 2009.
I very much think that Kansas City can finish out of the basement for the second straight season.
It will take a lot more than the Royals playing well though.
Some things would have to happen with another team or two, kind of like what happened to Detroit, but as long as the Royals continue to grow their placement doesn’t matter.
Is David DeJesus going to be with this team all year? They showed interest in trading him after they picked up Coco Crisp, but when they couldn’t find a taker they simply moved him down in the order.
Trey Hillman is a pretty sharp manager and you have to like way he pushes buttons.
They’ll need to figure out who their second baseman is but overall, they look pretty solid at every spot. I’d give Alberto Callaspo a spot though; this team is playing for their future, not Willie Bloomquist’s.
Still, solid isn’t good enough to guarantee anything in a division that is expected to be a dogfight.
I wouldn’t be shocked if the Royals made tremendous strides, I just wouldn’t be looking for those strides in a win-loss record.
Prediction: Finish Fifth in the AL Central
Colorado Rockies – NL West
Last Year: Finished Third in NL West
Notable Additions: C Sal Fasano, OF Carlos Gonzalez, OF Matt Murton, SP Jason Marquis, SP Greg Smith, RP Alan Embree, RP Huston Street, RP Randy Flores, P Josh Fogg
Notable Subtractions: OF Willy Taveras, OF Matt Holliday, RP Luis Vizcaino, RP Brian Fuentes
Underrated addition: Matt Murton
He’ll be missed: Willy Taveras
Murton is a dark horse in the Rockies battle for the outfield. Taveras was big part of the top of the lineup.
Biggest Key to Success: We Have It, For Once
One of the big problems for Colorado has always been their pitching staff. Not just because of the conditions, but the actual talent that was tossing the ball.
It’s crazy what a little talent will do, because with pitchers like Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies have a formidable group of hurlers.
Unfortunately, it looks as if Jeff Francis won’t be a factor this year.
However, the Rockies have a nice variety of options to pick up the slack.
The first few are seasoned vets like Jorge De La Rosa, Josh Fogg, and Jason Marquis. De La Rosa came on strong for the Rockies at the end of last season after coming over from the Royals, and Marquis was the return on relief pitcher Luis Vizquiano.
Both figure to be in the rotation to start the season.
Fogg, on the other hand, could figure into the bullpen, if he even makes the team, but he’s a nice spot-starter who’s pitched with Colorado before.
There is no shortage of young guys for the Rockies to turn to either. Greg Reynolds got his first shot last year for the Rockies with some shaky results. Jason Hirsh is recovering from an injury, and while he is out of the running for now, he is still has potential.
Franklin Morales is trying to shake the injury bug, but he’s shown some flashes and could figure into the rotation at some point.
The other name in the mix is Greg Smith, who came over in the Matt Holliday trade, and he turned in a good year for Oakland in the American League last season.
Add in Huston Street, Manny Corpas, Taylor Buchholz, and free agent Alan Embree in the bullpen and for once, Colorado has some pitching to flaunt around.
Biggest Concern: Any Right Answers?
There are plenty of options for the Rockies in the positions that they need production from.
A good example is that if Todd Helton isn’t in fact healthy, Garrett Atkins can slide over to first, and Ian Stewart can be the third baseman. Even deeper is first baseman Joe Koshansky.
In the outfield, the Rockies have a gaggle of players to pick from after Brad Hawpe and Ryan Spilborghs. Both Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Murton, who came over from the Athletics, prospect Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, and Jeff Baker are all capable.
Prospects like Eric Young Jr. provide a backup plan to second base if Clint Barmes or anyone else isn’t cutting it.
But with so many options, how can you find one that is right?
Sometimes a revolving door of who’s who never really works out for teams. Hopefully the Rockies can find their answers and find them as soon as they can.
Biggest Change: Cash in for Chance
You would think by trading Matt Holliday you would be throwing away your chances of competing for a division crown.
Not so fast, especially when you are trading with Oakland. The Athletics gave up three major league or major league ready players to Colorado.
Huston Street is a piece to their bullpen that can replace Brian Fuentes, Greg Smith can slide into the rotation, and Carlos Gonzalez can compete for an outfield spot from the start, and even if doesn’t make the opening day lineup, he’s a piece for immediate future.
It doesn’t look like the Rockies are throwing away this season at all; in fact they might be in a better position to challenge with more talent, especially if their farm system starts to produce in a big way.
Team MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Troy Tulowitzki was arguably the heart and soul of the team’s run to the World Series in 2007.
Last year, he got off to a rough start, suffered a few injuries, and just never put together the same production from his rookie year.
And neither did the Rockies.
So you can bet that if Tulowitzki is healthy and producing, Colorado will be in the game.
His April was ugly, hitting .152 and then he missed all of May and most of June with a torn quad tendon. Things weren’t any better after he came back.
Still in the freshness of July, Tulowitzki shattered a bat in his hands in frustration and missed most of July as well. He did return later that month and he would finish out the season, but it wasn’t an ideal sophomore campaign for the young shortstop.
The Rockies are now hoping “Tulo” returns to his 20 home run, 100 RBI form and can help lead a Rockie charge back to October.
On the Rise: Chris Iannetta, C
With Yorvit Torrealba getting off to a rocky start in the first few months, Chris Iannetta was there to swoop in and gather playing time.
Sixty-five RBI, a near .400 on-base percentage, and an appearance on USA’s World Baseball Classic team later, Iannetta is definitely on the rise. With the catcher’s job all to himself, expect Iannetta to grow at just 26 years of age.
Defensively, while he could improve on throwing out runners and doing a better job from preventing passed balls, he was very sound as far as not committing any errors.
Make no mistake about it though, Iannetta is an offensive catcher and he can hit.
He hit 18 home runs in just 100 games, so certainly with a full season there is no telling what kind of power he can display from the position.
And you still got to love the high on-base percentage, even if he gets hit by a pitch 14 times.
The Rockies have their questions just like any other team.
Is Todd Helton healthy, will the pitching they added be good enough, can they find a group of three solid outfielders for an entire year?
All reasonable concerns and questions.
There is a lot of good here though. You have to like being four deep at the bullpen if Embree can hold up. Sure the multiple answers for the outfield spot can be confusing, but if they find the right mix, watch out.
Troy Tulowitzki is now probably their best player with Matt Holliday gone, so if he isn’t healthy, they are going to be hurting.
However, my reasons for placement have nothing to do with Colorado and everything to do with everyone else around them.
I like the fact that they are trying to hold onto some pieces they have, but I’m also glad they aren’t foolish enough to believe they can keep a lot of them.
Colorado needs to stick to their plan, even if they have a year like 2008, which wasn’t bad, but probably still a little disappointing, especially coming off a run to the World Series.
Every year can’t be a winner though, and 2009 is a new year.
Prediction: Finish Fourth in the NL West
On deck for Tuesday, Mar. 24: Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs
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