Kansas City Royals: Five Questions Heading into Spring Training
Kansas City baseball is currently in a rebuilding era, and has been for some time now.
One thing that is different now than in the past is talent in the farm system. This young talent, combined with offseason acquisitions, will present interesting personnel scenarios for the Royals in 2010.
Scouting and team management will play a huge role in player development this season—to the chagrin of many fans—as they will have to decide which talent is most deserving of playing time and which requires more maturity or should be dealt.
Additionally, there are some players the Royals have invested in heavily who have under-produced themselves into a position competition.
The following five questions are the most pressing concerns for the team and its fans heading into spring training.
What Will the Starting Pitching Rotation Look Like Opening Day?
Much has been made of the Royals lack of starting pitching coming into the season, and I just don’t see it. The Royals currently possess both veteran and youth talent, while having one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball (Zack Greinke and Gil Meche).
The following players are vying for just three rotation positions:
Luke Hochevar is still developing and, despite inconsistencies, should be the recipient of one vacant spot due to his upside.
Mike Montgomery has catapulted to the top of the Kansas City Royals prospect list according to Baseball America and, if he makes the club, would add a much needed left handed arm to the Royals starting rotation.
Aaron Crow is two years removed from college and expected to make a run at the rotation this spring. While it could be a year too soon for the Missouri Tiger alum due to a lack of professional experience (he didn’t play 2008 because of a holdout), he has demonstrated a skill set that will likely transfer to the big league level.
Brian Bannister has battled his share of inconsistencies as well: Is he the 3.87/1.21 WHIP pitcher from 2007, or is he the 5.76/1.49 WHIP pitcher from 2008? He was injured much of 2009, so 2010 may answer this question.
Kyle Davies has the tools, but, as a Brave fan once said to me about Davies, "good luck with that!"
Robinson Tejeda’s 2009 September was encouraging, but only consisted of five starts and 26.1 innings. Will he get a chance to build off of this?
Kyle Farnsworth...is his attempted move to the starting rotation because he shows promise or an excuse to remove him from end of game duties without stomping on his psyche? It’s most likely the latter.
How Will the Outfield Shake Out?
The current outfield plan has Scott Podsednik stating in left field, Rick Ankiel starting in center, and David DeJesus in right; however, there are questions if DeJesus has enough arm to play right in the spacious Kauffman outfield.
If he is able to, then the team is improved both offensively and defensively, but if not there must be a contingency plan in place that keeps Jose Guillen in the designated hitter role and out of the field.
The current contingency plan looks to be Mitch Maier. Maier has played center and right very effectively in the past, but would appear to be an offensive downgrade for the club as Podsednik and Dejesus (possibly the 1-2 on the Opening Day lineup card) would be forced to split time in left.
What's Up at Third Base?
If Alex Gordon comes to camp and claims what the Royals have been trying to give him for years, there is no discussion here.
If Alex Gordon continues to falter, then his leash may have run out of slack. Given this, the Royals have two options:
Option No. 1: Newly acquired Josh Fields splits time at third with Gordon where the righty Fields faces lefties and Gordon would face righties. Each would log between 200-300 at-bats and a majority of them would come with an advantage in the righty-lefty matchup.
Option No. 2: Alberto Callaspo enters the conversation at third and direct competition for the position ensues between him, Gordon and Fields—winner takes the position.
With Callaspo backing up second base, Gordon backing up first base and Fields entering the pool for outfield backup duty, the losers in this scenario could find playing time via other channels, but would obviously be best served to win the third base spot.
Should Jason Kendall Focus on His Performance, or Brayan Pena's?
The Jason Kendall signing was ridiculous unless he's viewed by the team as an interim starter and two year catching coach for Brayan Pena.
The only thing more puzzling than general manager Dayton Moore’s signing of Jason Kendall instead of other, younger, more talented options is his decision to make it a two year deal.
If Kendall is viewed as the catching coach for Brayan Pena, though, that would justify the contract as his work with Pena would take that long. Additionally, Pena needs little offensive help (Kendall's weak point) but needs much defensive assistance—Kendall's strong suit.
Will Kila Ka'aihue Ever Receive a Shot to Prove Himself?
Kila Ka’aihue’s age and accomplishments imply he is due an extended look—especially on a ball club that struggles so much offensively.
Unfortunately, he is viewed a power hitter whose skills won’t transfer to the pro level; much like Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers was before his breakout 2009 campaign in which he hit 33 home runs and made the All-Star team.
That is not to say that Ka’aihue will mirror these feats, but his stature, plate presence, and batting eye indicate he could.
Besides, what is there to lose? He is a cheap option with good upside the team could use as a left handed bat off the bench and in backup backup duty at first base and designated hitter.
If the team would get him 150 at-bats before the All-Star break, they could see what they have in him already and put an end to the speculation.