Can the Royals Become an AL Central Power in 2012?
Kansas City fans were stuck in ‘wait until next season’ mode for a number of years, but over the past four years or so, the Royals’ fan base has shifted to more of a ‘wait until the season after next season’ stance. With a number of players from the Royals’ much ballyhooed farm system presently on the big league roster, it may be time for KC fans to shift back to their previous approach. Given the advancement of those integral pieces to Kansas City, next year, theoretically, becomes one in which David Glass’ long beleaguered franchise challenges for the division lead.
Reasons for Hope:
No, the team’s 38-56 record is not pretty, and when taken by itself indicates that the Royals are, at a minimum, two years away from a potential American League Central crown. But sometimes records can be deceiving. The 2011 Cleveland Indians are a perfect example of such, as no one expected a club that finished 69-93 a season ago to be leading the division after the All-Star break.
So, why might the record be a mirage in the Royals’ case, at least as an indicator of what the team might be capable of in the near future? For the following reasons: Improved defense, improved hitting, a loaded bullpen, and a few young players that have shown a great deal of promise.
Kansas City had an abysmal 121 errors a season ago and its .980 fielding percentage ranked ahead of only Florida, Washington, Chicago (Cubs), and Pittsburgh. Through 93 games this year, the Royals have 56 errors, a total which puts them on pace for 97 by the season’s end. As for their fielding percentage? The club currently ranks 13th in the majors at .984 percent.
The Royals were a decent hitting team last season as they finished second in the league in hits and batting average, but they ranked 20th in runs scored (676) and a pedestrian 14th in on-base percentage. This season Kansas City sits third in hits, 10th in runs scored, eighth in on-base percentage, and fourth in team batting average.
While Kansas City’s rotation leaves much to be desired, its bullpen is full of talented young arms, including Aaron Crow, who represented the Royals in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, and Blake Wood. The team also has closer Joakim Soria locked up, if they choose to keep him, as he has three option years remaining on his contract following the conclusion of the 2011 season. Soria got off to a rough start this year, but he has since rounded into form, recording his ninth save in his last nine chances in the Royals’ 2-1 win over the Twins on Friday night.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar, who the Royals picked up in the Zack Greinke trade, has played a pivotal role in KC’s defensive improvement. Escobar has unbelievable range in either direction and his arm is just as impressive as his athleticism. At 24 years old, Escobar figures to be the center piece of the defense for years to come. The Venezuelan got off to a horrible start at the plate this season, but over the last 30 days, he has made significant strides with the bat, hitting .259 with 13 runs, 22 hits, and 11 RBI.
Another bright spot is the play of left fielder Alex Gordon. Gordon entered the league with George Brett hype after being taken with the second pick in the 2005 draft, but injuries and inconsistent play saddled the former Nebraska star with a bust tag so big Interstate 70 traffic could see it on the drive by Kauffman Stadium. Gordon, though, has quietly turned things around in his fifth season, demonstrating why it was the Royals took him so high in the first place.
Through 89 games Gordon is hitting .299 and he has 24 doubles, 11 home runs, and 50 RBI.
And the final reason for some optimism is the play of first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer, the biggest name in the Royals’ loaded minor league circuit coming into the season, has delivered the goods since being called up on May 5th. Sure, the 21 year old has taken some rookie lumps, but he has proven himself adept with the bat. Hosmer is hitting .269 with nine homers and 37 RBI, numbers which are certain to improve as he adapts to big league pitching.
Why the Team Remains a Laughing Stock:
The old adage in baseball is pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore has done an excellent job over the past few seasons of stocking the Royals’ farm system with a number of talented pitching prospects, including Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Jake Odorizzi, Noel Argulles, and Chris Dwyer.
Duffy joined the big league club earlier this year where he has shown flashes of his potential, but he has also endured the typical struggles of a rookie pitcher. Duffy’s 75 strikeouts in 91 innings pitched points toward the former while his 4.85 ERA and 1-4 record take aim at the latter.
Mike Montgomery was supposed to be next in line for a big league promotion, and he probably will, at the least, draw a September call up; however, the lanky left hander has suffered through a disappointing season at the Triple A level. Montgomery’s 3-5 record and 5.14 ERA would suggest he may be another year away from making any sort of impact for the Royals.
John Lamb, who was with the Royals’ Double A affiliate in Northwest Arkansas, saw his plans altered after spring elbow problems led to Tommy John surgery. The other hurlers mentioned possess promise, but they are not in line to reach the major league level until at least 2013.
If Duffy and Montgomery are in the Royals’ regular rotation next season, they are sure to experience a few rough patches, making the prospect of a winning season seem unlikely. Regardless of Duffy’s or Montgomery’s status next year, Moore must convince Glass to let him reel in some free agent pitching this fall if the Royals are to have any hope of competing next year.
Kansas City cannot expect to win now or next season with the make shift rotation that it currently employs. Royals’ starters rank 29th in the league with a collective 5.10 ERA, and their 19-40 record and .293 batting average against are also firmly entrenched near the bottom of the league rankings.
But poor performance has never seemed to bother Glass. What has pained him, or so it would seem, is spending money on his ball club. Yes, he has loosened the purse strings on occasion (i.e. Gil Meche, Jose Guillen), but he has shown no inclination to do it on a consistent basis, which means a rotation upgrade by any other means than minor league promotion or the trading away of young talent is probably not going to happen.
Okay, maybe the Kansas City faithful are safe with a ‘wait until the season after next season’ approach for at least one more year. That should not bother them; they might be tired of baseball disappointment, but Lord knows they are used to it.