February 01, 2011
This would have been a fun team preview to write in, say, 1980. Back then, the Kansas City Royals were in the midst of a 10-year run in which they qualified for the postseason seven times, winning two pennants and one World Series — and when they failed to make the playoffs, they finished second in their division. In that era, the Royals were basically a model franchise.
This might also be a fun team preview to write in, say, 2014. The Royals' minor league organization is loaded with talent right now, at all levels. In fact, their farm system ranks as MLB's best according to no less an authority than Baseball America. If first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas(notes) aren't the top minor leaguers at their respective positions, then they're awfully close. And Wil Myers is an on-base machine (.324/.429/.533 career), fast-tracked to the big leagues. And there are almost too many high-upside Royals pitching prospects to mention, most of them left-handers (like Michael Montgomery, Danny Duffy and John Lamb, just to name three).
So if you're a Kansas City fan, there's definitely reason to be optimistic about the future, and of course you don't need to be told about your team's glorious past.
But the present is, um … well, let's just say that if the Royals were a fantasy team, they'd be like the dynasty franchise that completely ignores the season at hand. Instead, they're just piling up 19 and 20-year-olds, for the distant purposes of Dayton Moore. With so many elite prospects nearing the majors, this is a team that's going to receive plenty of attention from the fantasy community in the months ahead, no matter how infrequently they actually win. (With a starting rotation full of bad ideas, winning will be a problem). Let's get things started with a little Q&A…
Is there any chance we'll see Moustakas or Hosmer before mid-season?
Not a good chance, no. The 22-year-old Moustakas is as ready for the big leagues as any prospect in KC's system — he hit .322/.369/.630 with 36 homers at Double-A and Triple-A last season — but the Royals need to play the arbitration/free agency delay game with him. Expect a late-May/early-June arrival. The nice thing with Moustakas is that his path to the majors isn't blocked by anyone too intimidating; Mike Aviles(notes) and Wilson Betemit(notes) figure to occupy third base until Moose arrives.
Hosmer's arrival date isn't quite as easy to forecast. The 21-year-old hasn't yet made an appearance above Double-A, and he played only 50 games in the Texas League last season. Hosmer had a tremendous year in 2010, of course, hitting .338/.406/.571 across two levels with 20 homers and 14 steals, so there's reason to be bullish. (His first full season of pro ball was a struggle, but he's been a monster after undergoing Lasik surgery). The Royals don't have an urgent need for a first baseman/designated hitter, however, not with Kila Ka'aihue(notes) and Billy Butler(notes) on the roster. The team can give Hosmer a consolidation year, allow him to simmer in the high minors. If he's going to achieve fantasy relevance at mid-season, he'll need to do it Mike Stanton(notes)-style, assaulting minor league pitching and thus forcing his way into KC's 2011 plans.
So is this finally going to be the year that [insert name of post-hype hitter here] isn't a total waste of a roster spot?
Yeah, the Kansas City depth chart is almost like a fantasy bust Hall of Fame. Few players in recent memory arrived with more hype than Alex Gordon(notes), and few have been as disappointing. Gordon was named BA's Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, following a ridiculous season in the Texas League (111 R, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 22 SB, .325/.427/.588). But after a solid-if-unspectacular rookie campaign (15 HR, 14 SB, .725 OPS), his development stalled, then shifted into reverse. Gordon was actually demoted to Triple-A for a 68-game maintenance stint last year — he was terrific at Omaha, naturally: 14 HR, 7 SB, 1.019 OPS — and he's been bumped to a corner outfield spot in KC. He retains his third base-eligibility in Yahoo! leagues, at least for one more year, so you can't completely dismiss him as a fantasy asset. He's also reportedly spent the off-season making major adjustments to his swing, under the guidance of Kevin Seitzer. Seems appropriate at this stage.
Gordon had very little luck on balls-in-play last season (.254 BABIP, 23.2 line drive percentage), so no matter what his swing looks like, he's not likely to deliver another .215-.235 batting average. The guy had the same old ugly K-rate in 2010, however, and you really have to project him as a liability in AVG. Bottom line: If Gordon can manage an 18-homer, 10-steal, .260-ish season, he'll eventually be on the radar as a third base option in mixed leagues. (Before you argue that point, please note that Chase Headley(notes) was 51 percent-owned in Yahoo! leagues last season, and he went 11-17-.264). Realistically, though, you're not drafting Gordon in a standard 10 or 12-teamer.
Alcides Escobar(notes) arrived in Kansas City via the Greinke deal, following a miserable rookie season in Milwaukee. Escobar, 24, delivered a vintage Neifi Perez slash line last year (.235/.288/.326) while swiping just 10 bases and managing only 28 extra-base hits. He's an asset defensively, a serious upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt(notes), and that should help KC's strikeout-challenged rotation. But the fantasy community needs Escobar to run. If he doesn't do that, he can't help us. He stole 42 bases in 52 attempts at Triple-A in 2009, so the potential is evident. The Royals swiped 115 bags as a team last season, the eighth highest total in MLB, so Escobar should get opportunities on the basepaths — that is, if he can get himself on base. He too had very little luck on balls-in-play in 2010 (.264 BABIP), and he's a line drive/ground ball hitter with speed and contact skills, so you'd expect his batting average to improve, perhaps significantly. When you factor in the scarcity of talent at shortstop — particularly in the American League — it becomes clear that Escobar is a reasonable end-of-draft flier.
We need to mention blog favorite Ka'aihue here as well, because he figures to share first base/DH responsibilities with Butler this season, and he showed plenty of life at the end of 2010. Kila hit six homers last September for the Royals, posting an OPS of .908, and he's coming off another dominant year in the high minors (24 HR, .319/.463/.598). Give him a look as a late-round Util option.
If you're looking for Jeff Francoeur(notes) propaganda, um … I got nothin'. Sorry. Like the rest of KC's outfield, he's roster filler in A.L.-only. Francoeur might give you 14 homers and a .250 average, if things go well. That won't pay the bills in most formats.
You should probably say something else about Billy Butler, or people will get mad.
OK, probably true. Good call, even though he'll be universally drafted. I've learned from the Jay Bruce(notes) episode. I can adjust. Also, this question allows me to run that picture over on the right, so that's a win.
Butler is coming off two very similar seasons, both of them useful for fantasy purposes. Check the recent totals:
2009 – 159 G, 608 AB, 183 H, 78 R, 51 2B, 21 HR, 93 RBIs, .301 AVG, .853 OPS
2010 – 158 G, 595 AB, 189 H, 77 R, 45 2B, 15 HR, 78 RBIs, .318 AVG, .857 OPS
Were you expecting more from him last year?
Well, no player is ever guaranteed to make a value leap, regardless of age. When you're drafting in the early rounds, it's never wise to expect a player to do things that he's never done before. Butler will turn 25 in April, and there's still time for him to add power, of course. But he's not a guy who hits a bunch of fly balls (34.0 FB percent last season), so he'll basically need deliver an elite HR/FB rate — think Dunn, Hamilton, Howard, et al — if he's going to become a consistent 30-homer threat. Possible, sure, but also not something you should anticipate.
To me, Butler seems like a guy who's priced appropriately, with an ADP of 85.7 at Mock Draft Central. He qualifies only at a talent-rich roster spot, a position where the free agent pool (at least in mixed leagues) will deliver a bunch of 65-18-75-.275 players. Butler is going to beat those numbers in 2011 — he looks like a man who can hit .310 for the next decade — but he's probably not going to crush them.
And obviously if you're drafting in a league with Brad Evans, you might as well take Butler off your board entirely. You've got no chance. Brad's unnatural fondness for Butler is well-documented, still as creepy as it ever was.
Photos via Getty Images (Brett) and AP Images (Flintstone/Butler, Flash/Gordon)