Kansas City Royals: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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Kansas City Royals: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Alex Gordon

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Last Year: 67-95, fifth in AL Central 

Manager: Ned Yost

 

PROJECTED LINEUP 

C: Jason Kendall (R) (will start season on DL)

DH/1B: Kila Ka'aihue (L)

1B/DH: Billy Butler (R)

2B: Chris Getz (L)

3B: Mike Aviles (R)

SS: Alcides Escobar (R)

LF: Alex Gordon (L)

CF: Melky Cabrera (S)

RF: Jeff Francoeur (R)

During the 2010 season, the Royals were second in baseball in terms of batting average. However, the offense had trouble scoring by the lack of power (19th in SLG) and the average rate of getting on base overall (14th in OBP).

Billy Butler is the Royals' best hitter. Butler will hit over .300, but his power declined over last year. He did cut his strikeouts by 20 and increase his BB total slightly. I expect close to 20 home runs, a .390 OBP and a .480 SLG line for Butler.

Kila Ka'aihue will provide the power in the KC lineup. He has never had more than 200 big-league at-bats in a season but always had great power numbers and BB totals in the minors. I expect a little more than 20 home runs and a stat line of .250/.360/.460.

Chris Getz provides little production at 2B. He will hit .260 with two home runs and will probably lose his job to Mike Moustakas (Mike Aviles will move back to 2B).

Alcides Escobar had a bad rookie year for the Brewers in 2010, but I expect him to rebound and provide some speed in the lineup. Projected line: .275/.330/.370 and five home runs. Aviles, with his projected eight to 12 home runs and .290/.250/.415, plays better at 2B.  

Jason Kendall provides little offensive value at the catcher position with no power and a below-average OBP.

Alex Gordon may be the most important player in the lineup if the Royals are to exceed expectations. A former No. 2 draft pick, Gordon has really struggled since his debut in 2007. He has never hit above .260 or hit more than 16 home runs. I don't think Gordon will be the George Brett-type player many envisioned, but he might be able to be a successful LF for a while. Projected line: .265/.360/.465 with 20 home runs.

Melky Cabrera will never be anything more than a fourth outfielder on a good team, and Jeff Francoeur hasn't put up since 2007. The Royals need to upgrade in the OF if they are to improve in the future. 

Looking at the advanced fielding stats, the Royals were the third-worst defensive team in baseball and had the least range (Royals UZR was -44.5). The infield defense should dramatically improve with the acquisition of Alcides Escobar. Escobar is one of the more athletic SS in baseball, and he will be a major improvement over the defensively impaired Yuniesky Betancourt.

Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue will play 1B. Ka'aihue is the better defensive player, while Butler is considered below average.

Mike Aviles had a rough year defensively at 2B, but that had a lot to do with his injured throwing elbow that required Tommy John surgery. He has never played 3B on a regular basis.

Chris Getz is considered average at 2B. Jason Kendall is a veteran and calls a good game behind the plate, but his overall skills are slightly below average. Melky Cabrera had an awful 2010 in CF for the Braves. He has lost some weight this year, and I believe he will play closer to the average range he showed with the Yankees. Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon will provide very good defense in the corners.

 

BENCH

OF: Mitch Maier (L)

IF: Wilson Betemit (S)

OF: Jarrod Dyson (L)

C: Bryan Pena (S)

C: Matt Treanor (R)

 

STARTING ROTATION

RHP Luke Hochevar  

LHP Jeff Francis 

RHP Kyle Davies 

LHP Bruce Chen  

RHP Vin Mazzaro (starts season in minors until fifth starter needed in mid-April)

After the Zack Greinke trade became official, the Royals were left without a true ace to lead the starting rotation. All signs point to Luke Hochevar taking the ball Opening Day.

Hochevar, a former No. 1 overall pick in 2006, throws a 93 mph fastball with some sink. He possesses a vast repertoire that includes a cutter, slider, changeup and curveball. The key with Hochevar, as it is with most pitchers, is fastball command. With improved command and secondary pitch variety, Hochevar could be poised to that show he is the ace of the Royals rotation.

Jeff Francis was a low-cost signing for GM Dayton Moore, and Francis might be able to shore up the Royals rotation. Francis came back from shoulder surgery last year and showed some rust. He did post a 5.00 ERA, but he showed good command and showed fastball velocity (87.2 MPH) that he has missed since 2006.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

I see Francis returning to the form he showed when he helped take the Rockies to the World Series in 2007. A 4.10 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 should be within his 2011 range. 

After a good 2008, many have been predicting Kyle Davies to be a breakout candidate for the Royals. Instead, Davies has disappointed with average strikeout rates and poor control. At this point I think Davies is what he has shown in the last few years, and I don't expect much improvement. Expect a high 4.80 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9.

Bruce Chen, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan will be battling for the last two spots in the rotation. Mazzaro has the highest upside of the three. He throws a low 90s fastball, a very good slider, a good changeup and a respectable curveball. Mazzaro's fastball is a little too straight, which accounts for the high number of home runs allowed.

Bruce Chen pitched well for the Royals in 2010 but was fortunate to post the numbers he did. Chen is a soft-tossing fly-ball pitcher who benefited from a low BABIP and a high Left on Base percentage. Like the rest of the Royals staff, he averages six K/9 and has iffy control. Consensus is that Chen takes a step back this year.

O'Sullivan, who relies on a 90 MPH fastball and good offspeed stuff, does not strike out many and has iffy control. He does have some options, which makes him the likeliest candidate to be sent down.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

BULLPEN

RHP Joakim Soria (Closer)

RHP Robinson Tejeda

RHP Aaron Crow 

RHP Jeremy Jeffress 

LHP Tim Collins 

RHP Kanekoa Texeira

RHP Nathan Adcock

RHP Sean O'Sullivan

The Royals have one of the top closers in the game anchoring the bullpen. Joakim Soria uses four above-average pitches, and I am surprised the Royals have never attempted to make him a starter. He should have another very good year, but he might be on another team by the end of the season. With the Royals rebuilding, other teams will be calling the Royals for Soria during the middle of the season.

Robinson Tejeda might be the best of the rest. He employs a 93-95 MPH fastball plus a good slider and changeup. His control is iffy, but he will put up very good K numbers.

The rest of the bullpen is full of rookies. There isn't a set LHP to come out of the pen for the Royals, so I figure Tim Collins has a very good shot at making this team. He was acquired from the Braves in the Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel deal. Collins has put up great strikeout rates in the minors, which should be enough for the Royals to give Collins serious consideration.

Kanekoa Texeira uses a moving 90 MPH fastball with iffy control and has posted a below-average strikeout rate (4.84). Jeremy Jeffress could surprise this season; he throws 95 mph with a good curveball.

O'Sullivan will be the long reliever in the pen. He features an 89-92 mph fastball with a good curveball and changeup. Again, he does have some options, which makes him the likeliest candidate to be sent down when Mazzaro comes back.

I don't know much about Adcock other than he was a Rule 5 pick who has never been above Single-A, and Crow was a starter for the Royals in Double-A.

 

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Luke Hochevar 

There isn't much statistical evidence to prove he will have a breakout year, but I am going on the fact that he took some small steps in 2010 plus the evolution of a young pitcher. 2011 just might be the year he puts it all together. 

 

PROSPECT TO WATCH: 3B Mike Moustakas (L)

Watch out for Mike Moustakas. He was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft after David Price, and I think he will eventually be called up in May to take over the 3B job (very similar to Evan Longoria in 2007). He has great power and put up .322/.369/.630 in the minors last year. The only player standing in his way is Wilson Betemit. I think his power will translate right away to the majors, and he will be a rookie to watch.

 

PROJECTED FINISH: Fourth in AL Central

The Royals have been maligned for the last two decades. In addition, GM Dayton Moore has gotten some bad press with some acquisitions (Yuniesky Betancourt) and what seems to be a disregard for advanced statistics. With that said, everyone in baseball seems to agree that he has stockpiled the best farm system in baseball.

The Royals may not have a very good year in 2011, but they have the talent to become competitive in the future, much like the recent surge of the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2011 team has enough talent to keep them out of the cellar for this year and hopefully will start an upward trend for the KC franchise.

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