Pictured above is the expected starting second baseman for the 2012 Royals … Ok, that's not true. The 24-year-old Johnny Giavotella is the early favorite to start at 2B, but the picture does well in representing the Royals product this season. Kansas City plans on serving up a whole lotta youth, currently standing as the youngest team in MLB, with an average age of under 26 years old. With one of the top farm systems in the league and some promising young talents like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Aaron Crow having already arrived, a Royals fan should have every reason to don shades in anticipation of a bright future for the franchise. But the reality is that the Royals haven't finished as high as second place in the AL Central since '95, and their last division title was a decade before that, when they were still a member of the AL West. The immediate future looks like another in a long line of also-ran campaigns for the Royals, but that doesn't mean they are insignificant from a fantasy standpoint.
Let's take a look at what this youthful squad can do for you, the fantasy owner.
Alex Gordon is now one of the elders of the KC offense, and his post-hype breakout in '11 was one of the season's bigger surprises. Should we believe in it, or not?
In his age 27 season, Gordon finally produced results befitting of his pedigree — a No. 2 overall pick in the '05 amateur draft and '06 Minor League Player of the Year. As FanGraph's Dave Golebiewski points out, Gordon's breakthrough can be attributed to improved contact rates, but also a fortuitous BABIP. And as Golebiewski illustrated in his column, the recent track record of improvement for those that produced a BABIP above .350 the previous year is not very good at all.
Gordon was a top 30 player in the Yahoo! game last season, but he's being drafted on average at No. 62 overall according to early draft reports from MockDraftCentral.com. That would indicate that owners aren't completely overreacting to Gordon's '11 emergence. And in Yahoo! leagues, he loses his 3B-eligibility, which further diminishes his value. Most projections have Gordon dropping about 20 points in batting average off his 2011 clip (.303). And his 58 percent success rate on stolen base attempts the past two years could mean fewer green lights on the base paths this season, so a small SB decline wouldn't be a surprise, either. Based on his 5x5 profile, I see Gordon as having similar value to outfielders Shane Victorino and Adam Jones, players going just outside the top 20 at the OF position, or about a round later than where Gordon is going on average. If you don't reach much higher than that, you should do just fine with Gordon in '12.
Hosmer is an anagram for Homers. Will Hosmer also be synonymous with Homers in '12 as well?
Hosmer hit 19 home runs in his 523-AB rookie campaign. That rate equates to a low 20s total with 600-plus ABs, which doesn't really cut it for a fantasy 1B spot. Hosmer makes great contact and should be a perennial .300 hitter in the majors, but he's ground-ball heavy. His 49.7 GB% in '11 was 22nd-highest among those with at least 500 plate appearances, and only one of the players that finished with a higher GB% than Hosmer reached the 20-HR plateau (Hunter Pence, 22). Because of his ability to hit for average and his spot in the middle of the lineup, Hosmer should be a solid run producer for fantasy purposes. And while he can't be considered a slam dunk to repeat a double-digit steals total, we at least know he can do it after swiping 11 bags last season. But his 52.9 ADP in early drafts, according to MockDraftCentral, suggests that his reputation is greater than his likely actual fantasy returns.
Simply put, Hosmer won't deliver the kind of power to warrant taking him in the neighborhood of the top 50 players overall. Washington's Michael Morse is going some 30 picks after Hosmer, which doesn't make a lot of sense given that Morse should deliver more home runs while providing a solid batting average, as well. New York Met Ike Davis is going 130 picks after Hosmer, which makes even less sense. Hosmer is still a star on the rise, but don't let his buzz cloud the obvious deficiency (power) in his fantasy value.
Is there anything to Crow about in the Royals rotation?
Of course, the Crow pun here has to do with Aaron Crow, who went to the All-Star game as a reliever in his rookie campaign last season, but is expected to move to the rotation this season. Thanks to a 95 mph fastball, Crow was able to dominate in relief last season. But his BB rate (4.5) was atrocious, and he threw a fastball or a slider more than 90 percent of the time. His limited repertoire and sketchy control makes his move to the rotation a bit perilous. More often than not, velocity and K rates decline when a reliever moves into a starting role. And given that he hasn't yet shown an ability to control the strike zone, Crow's fantasy value has rollercoaster ride written all over it. Since K.C. brought in reliever Jonathan Broxton, it no longer looks like Crow will immediately succeed Joakim Soria in the closer role. That being the case, it doesn't make sense to waste a draft pick on Crow.
The two Royals starters worth a fantasy owners' time of day are offseason acquisition Jonathan Sanchez and Luke Hochevar, both landing between 220-235 in early drafts. Sanchez offers the K upside that owners in Yahoo! default leagues cherish, consistently delivering around a 9.0 K/9 rate. But his BB/9 (5.86) was easily the worst in the league among those with at least 100 IP in '11. And, of course, he not only gets a downgrade in terms of home park (AT&T Park was the most pitcher-friendly venue in '11), he also moves to a more hitter-friendly league. As we've seen in the past, for Sanchez to have more than stream-worthy potential in fantasy leagues, he's going to have to be very lucky, like he was in '10 when he had a .252 BABIP. That's not something you should count on come draft day.
As for Hochevar, you have to love his ground-ball heavy results, but he's still not even close to delivering the kind of K rate needed to put him seriously in the standard mixed-league discussion. He's a player, because he was a No. 1 overall pick in the '06 amateur draft and passes the eye test, that many pundits like to get behind in the spring, but four straight seasons with an ERA of 4.68 or higher and a K/9 rate of 6.7 or less should be reason enough to look elsewhere on draft day.
Are there any Royals on the farm that could make a fantasy impact this year, or are all the intriguing prospects already with the parent club?
John Sickels ranks Kansas City as the sixth-most talented farm system for '12, but the cream of that crop (Will Myers, Bubba Starling, Cheslor Cuthbert) is not expected to arrive in '12. The best of the near MLB-ready talent are starters Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi and John Lamb, but none profile as a dominant strikeout pitcher (at least early in their MLB careers) and all have struggled recently in either Double- or Triple-A.
While no longer rookie-eligible, second base and No. 2 hitter candidate Giavotella, who had 178 ABs with the Royals last season, is a reasonable late-round flyer. He's a career .300 hitter in the minors with 10/20 upside. We saw last season from Melky Cabrera that the No. 2 spot in this order is capable of making an impact.
And then there's Mike Moustakas, who hit 36 home runs between Double- and Triple-A in '10, but swung at everything in sight in his 89-game Royals debut last season, managing a mere five home runs in the process. He obviously has a lot to learn in terms of working the count and waiting for pitches he can drive. But his current ADP sits outside the top 200 and, given the scarcity of bankable 3B this season, gambling late on Moustakas in hopes that he'll make the necessary adjustments this season isn't such a bad plan of attack. As it stands, he'll likely hit behind Hosmer and Billy Butler, two players that should deliver strong OBP marks, so "Moose" should at least have plenty of RBI opportunities.