5 Reasons to Keep Watching the Kansas City Royals

Paul ThompsonContributor IIJune 23, 2011

5 Reasons to Keep Watching the Kansas City Royals

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    The Kansas City Royals now sit in last place in the AL Central. It also happens to be last place in the American League.

    Skeptical Royals fans might be inclined to tune out the rest of the season, maybe see if 2012 might give the guys a puncher's chance.

    But I'm no skeptic. Despite their record, there are plenty of positive storylines around Royals Nation. So here are five reasons to keep watching the Royals throughout the summer, because 10 reasons might have been too difficult.

5. The Royals Are Still Only 9.5 Games Back of the First Place Cleveland Indians

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    Despite being 12 games under .500 the Royals are only 9.5 games back in the AL Central division. That is not an unreasonable margin. As a point of reference, the Minnesota Twins have made up 8.5 games in the division since June 2nd, going 15-4 during the span.

    And they are doing it largely without star catcher Joe Mauer and star first basemen Justin Morneau, who have both spent significant time on the disabled (or seriously ineffective) list.

    The Cleveland Indians began a five game losing streak on June 2. After winning a game, they promptly started a four-game skid. Now just one game up in the division, it is anybody's game. The Detroit Tigers are lurking in second, and they have Justin Verlander throwing complete games every fifth day.

    The Chicago White Sox are idling at 4.5 games back. It would be hard to find a doubter that the Minnesota Twins have a shot at making a run, and they stand just two games above the Royals and 7.5 games back in the division.

    I'm not saying that the Royals are going to win the division. But they very well may be playing somewhat meaningful baseball games after the All-Star game this year. For the young talent on the team, every day the Royals are within seeing distance of first place is a positive. Frankly, not many players on the team have played pressure-filled, late-season games before.

    Exposing the team's many rookies to high pressure baseball will help them be a better team both this year and down the road.

4. Felipe Paulino

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    Felipe Paulino has been just like Jorge De La Rosa for the Royals, except for the exact opposite. The Royals took a flier on De La Rosa in 2006 after he posted an abysmal 8.10 ERA with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    But De La Rosa had the right look, filthy stuff, and his strikeout numbers were always impressive with Milwaukee. He tanked in KC, of course, putting up a 5.18 ERA in 2006 and a 5.82 ERA in 2007. Inspring training of 2008 he was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Ramon Ramirez, a serviceable and at times excellent reliever who was himself later traded for Coco Crisp.

    Not a bad trade for the Royals, until you examine the Rockies' end of the deal. De La Rosa suddenly regained his strikeout form in Denver, striking out 128 batters in 130 innings pitched in 2008 and 193 batters in 185 innings in 2009.

    Felipe Paulino could help erase the memories of De La Rosa. Paulino was left on the scrap heap by the Rockies, of all clubs, after imploding this season to the tune of a 7.32 ERA in 14.2 innings of bullpen work. But he has simply been a different pitcher as a starter for the Royals.

    In four starts and one fantastic relief appearance Paulino has compiled 27 innings pitched, 21 strikeouts against seven walks, and a 2.33 ERA. He's given up less walks and less runs than he did in Colorado, with almost twice as many innings. And he's yet to give up a home run as a Royal.

    Paulino has been the exact opposite of Jorge De La Rosa, and he was a gift from the Rockies to boot. The same Rockies who will be looking for starting pitching at the trade deadline because, you wouldn't believe, Jorge De La Rosa was put on the disabled list with a season-ending injury.

    The Royals acquired Felipe Paulino for nothing. I'd say they got even with the Rockies on that deal. He's been the best pitcher the Royals have had in the month of June. Where I come from, that's definitely worth watching.

3. The Trade Deadline

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    The trade deadline always comes at the perfect time. After the excitement of the All-Star game, when pitchers are looking weary and line-ups seem stale, fans get the TRADE DEADLINE, full of endless opportunities.

    Sure, the deadline is usually anti-climactic, but those weeks of speculation can be some of the most fun days of the season.

    And, as a Royals fan, we have the added bonus of enjoying a potentially busy trading season. If nothing else, it will be a busy time for speculators everywhere.That's because several Royals may be on the move in the coming month.

    First and foremost on that list is Wilson Betemit, who has done nothing but exceed expectations in the year and change he's played with the Royals. He's played third base and first base this season, has a .287 average, .754 OPS, and is on the books for just a $1 million salary. He'll have suitors.

    But with Mike Moustakas in the majors, Betemit's role has been reduced. Since June 9th, he's only played in two games. While his low salary still gives him value, every day he sits on the bench is another day that he can't be scouted. I'd look for the Royals to make a move sooner rather than later in the hot stove season.

    Melky Cabrera is another candidate to get moved, if only because center fielder of the future Lorenzo Cain has been terrorizing the minor leagues at AAA Omaha. He's now hitting .304 with eight home runs, 18 doubles and an .880 OPS. He's ready for the big leagues.

    But Melky has done well in his own right, and Ned Yost has even at least temporarily installed him as the leadoff hitter. Cabrera is tied for the team lead with nine home runs, and has also stolen nine bases, with a .277 average and .755 OPS. That means that he should have value.

    If you're a Cain believer like me, you're rooting for a Melky Cabrera trade to happen yesterday. But he needs to keep producing to maximize value. I, for one, will be on the edge of my seat.

    Other possibilities in trades: Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies (pretty please), Jeff Francoeur or some of our prospects. I doubt that prospects are moved this season for an MLB ready arm, but that's the beauty of the trade deadline; you just never know.

2. The Rookies

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    With Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow and Danny Duffy (for now) on the big league roster, and the aforementioned Lorenzo Cain on his way up, now is the perfect time to watch fresh faces come into their own in Kansas City.

    How can you not be excited about that? Hosmer, Moustakas, and Duffy were all ranked among the top 100 minor leaguers when the season began. Aaron Crow has probably put up the best MLB numbers thus far, posting a 1.26 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. But Crow wasn't even among the top 10 Royals prospects at the beginning of the year after putting up a 5.74 ERA in 163.1 innings between Double-A and Single-A last season.

    Watching a rejuvenation project like Crow dominate this season has been an absolute joy. After such a terrible season in 2010, when he actually got demoted a level in the minors, it's amazing to think that Crow has a chance to be the Royals' representative at the All-Star game.

    As for Moustakas and Hosmer, those two players simply ooze potential. While their numbers haven't yet been as mind-blowing as Crow's, it is clear that they both belong in the big leagues. For a fan like me, who has been tracking their progress religiously since they were drafted several years ago, this is the the most exciting time in these guys' career.

    We will know, within the next year or so, whether Moustakas and Hosmer can become immediate impact players for the Royals.

    What's more exciting than the promise of unlimited potential? Watching that potential come into it's own. And that's exactly what fans of the Royals will be able to enjoy this season as Hosmer and Moustakas finish out their rookie seasons.

    Danny Duffy, for his part, has shown flashes of greatness. His 3.2 inning, nine strikeout performance, in which he struck out nine of the 11 hitters he got out, is a perfect example. Duffy probably induces more swings and misses than any other Royals pitcher. That's why it was so disappointing to hear Ned Yost say recently that Duffy may be sent down when Kyle Davies is ready to return from the DL.

    While I strongly disagree with that decision, the reality is that Duffy will be back again sooner rather than later.

    When he comes back up, we'll have a brand new reason to be excited.

1. Alcides Escobar

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    On June 9th, I published at column on this site questioning how long the Kansas City Royals could keep trotting Alcides Escobar out as the starting shortstop despite his terrible hitting performance to start the year. Escobar was batting .212 with a .244 OBP at the time and looked, frankly, like he was lost at the plate.

    But apparently Escobar reads my columns because he began a torrid hitting streak immediately after publication. On June 10th, Escobar had two hits, including a double. On June 11, he had two more hits, two runs and a walk. Between June 10th and June 15th, Escobar had multiple hits in each game, going 12-for-19 at the plate and raising his batting average by 33 points to .245.

    There's no getting around it: Alcides Escobar has been one of the best players in the American League in the month of June. He's batting .333 so far this month, with an unreal .841 OPS. He's had seven stolen bases, five doubles, four walks and even his first home run of the season.

    Last week, I swallowed my pride and went to pick Escobar up on my fantasy team. I simply had to take advantage of Escobar's ridiculously hot month. But there was one problem: Escobar wasn't available. Someone else had beaten me to the punch. That absolutely floored me.

    But Escobar really has come that far in the past two weeks. Keep in mind, now, that this is a guy who, on June 9th, was in the running as the worst hitter in the American League.

    With his recent surge, Escobar's offensive numbers are suddenly passable, and trending upwards. And we all know that his defense has always been gold-glove worthy. If Escobar continues to hit with even a modicum of success, that Zack Greinke trade is suddenly going to look very good for the Royals.

    And that is why Alcides Escobar is my top reason to continue to watch the Royals.