Monday, February 27, 2012

Hot Stove:  A rundown of each team in the offseason and what they are looking to improve in 2012. 

Kansas City Royals:                        The next team in the AL Central (alphabetically) is the Kansas City Royals.

Projected Starting Lineup:

1B            Eric Hosmer
2B            Johnny Giavotella
SS            Alcides Escobar
3B            Mike Moustakas
LF            Alex Gordon
CF            Lorenzo Cain
RF            Jeff Francoeur
 C             Salvador Perez
DH           Billy Butler

Projected Starting Rotation:

Felipe Paulino
Bruce Chen
Luke Hochevar
Aaron Crow
Jonathan Sanchez

Projected Batting Order:

LF            Alex Gordon
SS            Alcides Escobar
DH           Billy Butler
1B            Eric Hosmer
RF            Jeff Francoeur
3B            Mike Moustakas
2B            Johnny Giovatella
C              Salvador Perez
CF            Lorenzo Cain

The Royals finished last season, like so many before it recently, with a losing record.  In fact, they’ve had only one winning record since 1994.  Last year they started out hot, going 10-4 in the first 14 games.  It was the best record in the American League.  However they struggled soon after that and by the All Star Break had the worst record in the American League.  Quite the swing.  They finished the year at 71-91, good enough for 4th in the AL Central, 24 games back of first.  They’ve pretty much brought up all the young guys they were claiming would be the saviors for the team.  They’ve been re-building for years.  This is the year we start to get an idea of if these guys are going to be any good.  I don’t think we settle it this year, they are all still very young.  But hopefully we see some improvement as these guys make some strides in their second years in the majors. 

The Royals had three different hitters leading them in AVG, HR and RBI.  Melky Cabrera led the team with a 305 AVG, as well as hitting 18 HR, 87 RBI, scoring a team leading 102 R and stealing 20 bases.  It was a breakout year for the star who they brought in on a low-risk one-year deal.  They traded him in the offseason to the Giants for a talented young starter named Jonathan Sanchez.  More about him later.  But young Lorenzo Cain will now take over in center for Cabrera.  Cain has only played parts of two seasons in Milwaukee and Kansas City.  But in 49 games he has a 302 AVG with 1 HR, 14 RBI, 21 R and 7 SBs.  He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s being handed the starting job, and they’ll see what they have in him.  The depth chart is pretty shallow at this position, so they hope he works out.  One of the other three leaders on this team was Alex Gordon, who led the team with 23 HR.  He really figured things out last year, and finally found a place to play in the field.  He won a Gold Glove for his defense in left field, and hit 303 with those 23 HR and 87 RBI.  He stole 17 bases and scored 101 R.  He’s the leadoff hitter for this club and is finally living up to his potential as a high draft pick.  His OBP was fantastic and with that AVG and all his tools, the Royals look forward to him leading off for them for years to come.  The third offensive leader for this club was DH Billy Butler.  Butler is one of the youngest DHs in the majors.  He’s not DHing because he’s an aging veteran (though he is one of the oldest players on this team), but because with their wealth of young talent, they have a better defensive first baseman on the team.  Butler led the team with 95 RBI last season.  That came with a 291 AVG, 19 HR and 74 R.  He’s the enforcer.  The big bat.  They were worried about his power a few years ago, but some of his league leading doubles numbers carried a little more last year and went over the fence.  He hits for a plus AVG and now seems able to hit 20 HR.  Even when he doesn’t, he hits 40 doubles and knows how to drive in runs.  He’s being counted on to be an offensive leader for this club.  After Butler, the only other real veteran on this club is right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who had a career year coming over to Kansas City.  Perhaps the lack of expectations is what he needed to flourish.  He hit 285 with 20 HR and 87 RBI.  He also stole 22 bases and scored 77 R.  He’s still very young and has tons of tools.  And while he washed out with the Braves and Mets, he is having a renaissance with the Royals.  His 20/20 season came out of nowhere, and showed that the Royals can make smart, low-risk investments.  He’ll probably hit 5th for this club, providing some protection to Butler, and the youngster Eric Hosmer.  Hosmer had quite the rookie year.  He hit 293 with 19 HR, 78 RBI, 11 SBs and 66 R in 128 games.  A full season could see 25 HR, 20 SBs and 90 RBI.  He’s slotted to hit cleanup and drive in the runners who get on in front of him.  That would include Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and, for my money Alcides Escobar.  A lot of people think second baseman Johnny Giovatella will be hitting second for the team.  Last year Melky Cabrera was in the two hole and was fantastic.  So either way there are some big shoes to fill.  But I’d go with Escobar because the young shortstop has more upside and great wheels.  Neither hitter was great in the majors last season and both need some seasoning to hit major league pitching.  So why not let the higher ceilinged player have a shot?  Escobar hit 254 with 4 HR, 46 RBI, 69 R and a team leading 26 SBs.  His bat hasn’t been too scary in his first three years in the majors, though in 38 games in his rookie season he did hit 304.  He improved in his second full season pulling his AVG from 235 to 254.  Another similar improvement this season makes him a 270 hitter.  That should probably put him in line for about 30 SBs and 80 R.  I’ll take that in the two hole any day of the week.  Escobar’s competition for that spot is second baseman Johnny Giavotella.  Giavotella hit 247 with 2 HR, 21 RBI, 5 SBs and 20 R in 46 games.  It’s a small sample size and they do worry about his bat.  But he’s young and looks to get a lot more experience in a full season next year.  Speaking of youngsters needing more seasoning, catcher Salvador Perez was called up to the major league club at the age of 21 to be the final piece of this young team.  In 39 games he hit 331 with 3 HR, 21 RBI and 20 R for the major league club.  In 5 minor league years that equals out to a little over two major league seasons, he hit 285 with 20 HR and 177 RBI.  He’s who they hope will be their catcher of the future and they wanted him up here with the rest of the club who they hope will carry them forward.  And the two main pieces of that Royals future are aforementioned first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas. Moustakas didn’t arrive with the bang of Hosmer, but still showed some great talent.  He hit 263 with 5 HR, 30 RBI and 26 R.  He only played 89 MLB games last season, but they like what he’s done in the minors.  He’s supposed to be a star for this team, and is slotted to hit sixth in this lineup.  The Royals have a ton of young, talented hitters.  They should be a fairly formidable offense this season.  The future of the Royals offense is bright.

Unfortunately for the Royals, hitting is only one part of the game.  The best pitcher on this staff may have been Luke Hochevar.  He was second on the team with 11 Wins.  He led the staff with 198 IP, 128 Ks and a 4.68 ERA.  While some of those numbers are good, and all are solid, none should be good enough to lead the team.  At best Hochevar is a passable pitcher.  It speaks to the Royals pitching issues that he may be their ace.  Bruce Chen led the team with 12 Wins.  His 12-7 record and 3.77 ERA was a pleasant surprise in his 25 games.  They’d like to see fewer walks, but his BAA was acceptable and his ERA was good.  He played well enough to be brought back for another season in Kansas City.  Felipe Paulino is also slotted to start for this team.  In 20 starts for him last season he went 4-6 with a 4.11 ERA.  He struck out 119 hitters in 124 IP.  His WHIP and BAA were a little too high, but they’d like him to take over as one of the leaders of this staff.  The 4th starter for this club was last year’s All Star representative, Aaron Crow.  In 57 games out of the bullpen last season he went 4-4 with a 2.76 ERA.  He struck out 65 hitters in 62 innings and had a tidy 237 BAA.  They’d like that WHIP to come down because he does walk a few too many guys.  But he was the lone All Star from the Royals last season, and he earned a shot to make this rotation.  The likely fifth starter is the man who the team received in the trade for Melky Cabrera, Jonathan Sanchez.  He’s had 6 solid years in the majors, with a 38-46 record and a career 4.26 ERA.  He had a great season in 2010 going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA.  He didn’t play as well in 19 starts last season going 4-7.  But his ERA wasn’t too high at 4.26 and his 220 BAA was very good.  In fact, in the last three years the highest BAA he’s had is 221.  Those are solid numbers.  They’d like for him to walk a few less hitters and get that WHIP down.  Strikeout pitchers walk a lot of guys.  But in his 205 K season in 2010 he had a 1.23 WHIP, which is pretty solid.  So he’s got plenty of talent and a pretty high ceiling.  So there is some talent in this rotation.  The issue for them is that they have no ace.  Their starters are okay, and some could be good.  The Royals just hope that they can keep them in games and send it to the back end of the bullpen.  If the Royals have a lead late, they like their chances with Joakim Soria as the closer and former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton setting up for him.  But there are holes in this pitching staff, and that could certainly hurt the Royals in a long season.

2012 Prediction…The Royals are improving.  When you re-build for so long, you are bound to have some talent on your team from the draft.  The Royals are hoping that they are finally at the precipice of contending.  But like so many young teams in the majors, they are talented with the bats but lacking on the mound.  This offense is good, but still young.  The pitching can’t be described with such high praise.  The Royals are improved, but I’d be shocked if they had a winning record this season and even more surprised if they were in the playoffs in 2012.

Up next…Minnesota Twins.

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