Just in case you haven’t spent every waking moment going over the possibilities.
One thing about the this year and the next 2 or 3 is that for the most part the roster will be fairly well set. This years position battles are for the 3rd and 4th bench spots and possibly 4th and 5th starters. That’s about it. 2B might be up for debate a month or two into the season but if Johnny Giavotella hits as well as I feel he will, there won’t be much of a discussion, unless of course Christina Colon has played his way back into the discussion.
I will begin with the starters in the outfield. As all of you know this group will remain the same at the corners with Cain taking over for Cabrera in CF. With the addition of Cain, the Royals will get a much improved defender manning the spacious outfield in Kauffman. It’s essentially the equivalent of going from Yuniesky Bentancourt to Alcides Escobar. Melky Cabrera has been one of the worst defensive CF’ers in the game for his entire career. He did have a decent arm for the position but even that is another area that Cain is superior in. Defensively the upgrade will be significant. Offensively Cain will struggle to put up the numbers that Cabrera did last year. Although I think Melky will also struggle this year to duplicate his 2011 season at the plate. If Cain can give the Royals a .270/320/390 line he will be an asset. Anything above that could push the Royals over their projected offensive production, anything below will be a disappointment.
Alex Gordon is probably in line for a regression at the plate but only in the percentage categories. Mostly his BA. Gordon’s .302/.376/.502 slash last year was very good. Especially for the overall offensive decline in Major League Baseball. He was the 16 most productive player in MLB if that puts it into any kind of perspective. He even finished with some votes for AL MVP. I look for Gordon’s average to dropped some based on this BABIP being very high last year. Gordon will start the year in the leadoff spot which could keep his OBP around the .370-.380 mark. I feel that the power that Gordon showed last year will only become more pronounced as well. I see him putting up a .280/.365/510 line. And that production is valuable to any team.
Jeff Francouer experienced a breakout of his own last year. With a .285/.329/.476 line he put up his best production of his career. Frenchy’s problem has always been his knowledge of the strike zone. With 123 strike outs and only 37 BB’s. Contrast that to Gordon’s 139 k’s and 67 BB’s and you get a sense of Francouers shortcomings. One positive is that I have hear Jeff talk about this very thing. He acknowledges that he needs to cut down on his K’s and make pitchers come into the zone more. That with the combination of Kevin “The Bat Whisperer” Seitzer will keep Jeff’s production at last years level. If Jeff can put up a .270/330/480 line he will be a productive bat in between Hosmer and Moustakas.
I look for the outfield to once again be the core group of the team, but the greatest thing about this years Royals team is that there is not one group of players that will be lacking. The group of infielders Dayton Moore has assembled will be more talented than any I can remember. There is power at the corners, both playing above average defensively, the best SS in MLB (defensively), a catcher that has more skills than any Ned Yost has ever seen and a 2B that if nothing else will play his ass off.
Eric Hosmer came up in May of last year (I made sure I was at the game) and from his first MLB game you could tell the guy was going to be a star. This year Hosmer comes in as the obvious incumbent at 1B. It’s his job for the next 5 years. Guys, enjoy this kid while you can because like the Beltran’s, Damon’s and Dye’s before him he will be gone after the 2017 season. It’s just how Boras does it. But the next five seasons, barring injury he should produce numbers from a 1B we have never seen. Defensively I look for him to gain recognition as one of the top 5 in MLB. Sophomore slumps are real but also can be avoided. Pitchers will be much more aware of how to attack Hosmer this year. If the zone recognition he showed in the minors surfaces this year, I think he will be fine. Look for a .295/355/500 line out of Hoz if the Royals are to make a push for contention. Anything much less than that makes .500 the goal.
Mike Moustakas showed that once he gets settled in at a level he hits. Witness his .373/.411/.623 line in his last 37 games in 2011. Moose has shown to be a high contact hitter. While he doesn’t walk a lot he usually puts the ball in play and puts in in play hard. Mike’s defense was above average last year and nothing like what I heard about in the minors. He has come into camp trimmed down from his 223lbs last year to around 210lbs which should make him much more agile around the bag, charging in and going back as well as running the bases. He has power to spare so slimming down should be a huge plus. I believe in being trimmer than heavier. It helped not only Melky Cabrera who lost 30lbs before camp last year but Jeff Francouer as well. Look for Moose to put up a solid .280/335/465 line. If his power really comes in this year, his OBP and SLG could both go up a lot.
Alcides Escobar had the season everyone expected him to have. Little offense but ridiculously great defense. Escobar is the SS the Royals have NEVER had. Not in the 42 season prior have the Royals possessed a true defensive difference at the SS position. That’s what Escobar is. And what’s even more scary is he should be better this year. Between being a bit stronger, quicker, better, he will have a much better idea about AL hitters as well. Not to mention Royals pitchers. Offensively whatever Escobar gives you is a plus but I see him slowly getting better at the plate. I think he will get stronger each year as well. He won’t be a Jeter of course but I can see a .265/325/385 line and that makes him one of the top 5 SS in the game.
Johnny Giavotella will start Spring Training as the favorite at 2B. In fact I’m not sure he can loose the job in the spring but if he struggles for the first month or so the incomparable Yuniesky Bentancourt was brought in for that scenario. So, needless to say, Gio needs to spray frozen ropes from the first day on. While playing Bentancourt at 2B isn’t nearly as bad as having him botch plays at short, the ceiling that Gio provides makes it painful to think of anyone else there. I do think that if Bentancourt has to take over 2B, he would provide average defense and more than likely above average offense. He’s really not a terrible option to have but it’s obviously beneficial for Johnny to take the job and run with it. I see Johnny busting out and providing solid offense with slightly below average defense. .280/.340/.440
Salvador Perez is perhaps the biggest key to the Royals becoming a great team than anyone. Defensively he has shown in the minors that he possesses the arm and mobility to be one of the top catchers in the game. His quick release, strong accurate throws makes stealing on the Royals a difficult proposition. With well above average OF arms, teams will have to work much harder to take extra bases from the Royals. Perez’s offense has never been slacking either. He has hit well in the minors and though he won’t ever hit .330 like he did in his two months last year he should be a solid .280/330/450 bat. With his defensive skills that makes him a top 5 catcher in MLB and that’s counting Joe Mauer.
This team may not put everything together and take the AL Central this year but it should position itself very nicely for future runs if it doesn’t. Obviously the starting rotation will be a weakness and the possible reason this team doesn’t overtake the Tigers this year but I think Dayton Moore is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to put the necessary arms together to do it in 2013 and beyond. I will tackle the rotation and bullpen tomorrow.