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Looking Ahead: 2011 Bullpen

For the bullpen portion of my look at the Royals roster, I’m going to do things a little differently. Bullpens are so fickle and the Royals always seem to break camp with one guy who most have either never heard of or didn’t look like he had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster. Yet there he is, giving up three runs in the eighth inning of a tie game in April as the Royals record drops to 4-11. For this portion, I’ll talk about the key guys and then give brief synopses of guys who could play a role throughout the early part of the season.

Joakim Soria: Surprisingly, Soria isn’t the biggest no brainer in the bullpen because there’s a chance, albeit small, that he could get traded prior to the season. What more can I say about the man Ned Yost calls Jack that hasn’t already been said? I truly believe he’s the best closer in baseball. This past season he Montgomeryed us a little by getting in what seemed like more trouble than we had become accustomed to, but he was almost always able to wriggle out of it and secure the save. He throws strikes, he doesn’t give up tons of hits, he’s surprisingly durable for a guy with a history of arm trouble and he’s unflappable. His idol is Mariano Rivera and, quite frankly, the student has become the teacher in that relationship.

Gil Meche: This is the biggest no-brainer in the bullpen. His contract can’t be moved in a trade and he’s making too much money to be released. Though, I think he’ll actually be really good in the relief role. He looked fantastic at the end of 2010 and he might be in the process of reinventing himself. We all know he has great stuff and stuff typically plays up when planning for one or two innings rather than seven to nine.

When the announcement was first made the Meche would return as a reliever, I was initially pretty upset that he wasn’t giving it a go again as a starter. Then I started thinking about it and realized that for $12 million, the Royals could get absolutely nothing while Meche rehabs before his next contract with another team or he could provide at least some value out of the bullpen. If he bombs, his 2011 season could join the annals of Luis Mendoza and the like. If he’s good, he could be a trade chip or might even become a valuable member of future Royals bullpens. Playoff teams need dominant setup men, too. If Meche can fill that role, that’s one more hole that can be filled internally.

Robinson Tejeda: If you recall, Tejeda was absolutely pitiful early on in the season. His traditional numbers mirrored those of 2009, but as was pointed out on Royals Authority a couple of days ago, the way he got to those numbers was different. He became more hittable, struck out less hitters, but lowered his walk rate. He’s still overpowering and can get the strikeout when he needs, but he’s not starting every inning with a walk anymore. My initial thought likes this, but then I think about the fact that he’s giving up about the same number of baserunners and I’d sort of rather have the high strikeout, high walk guy because a hit can score a runner from second whereas a walk most certainly cannot. Either way, Tejeda is a valuable member of the bullpen and is pretty reliable when he’s not in one of his mini slumps.

That’s about it for the guys who are the backbone of the bullpen. Everyone else is pretty much interchangeable. These lists are in alphabetical order.

Lefties
Tim Collins:
Tiny Tim Collins at just 5’7″ (as listed) but he can really bring it. He strikes out tons of batters and he works from a bit of a funky deliver that helps with his deceptiveness. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the bullpen at some point in 2011 playing a huge role.

Danny Duffy: He’s a guy who I think might be ready for Major League action and can be broken into the Majors the old-fashioned way out of the bullpen. His ultimate future with the organization is as a starter, but I wouldn’t be at all opposed to seeing him in the bullpen to start the season to get his feet wet.

Blaine Hardy: He’s an option. His 2010 season in the minors was fantastic, but some question his ability to be a Major League pitcher due to just average stuff. I’d much rather see him given a chance than Hughes. We know what we have in Hughes, not so much with Hardy.

Dusty Hughes: He’s your standard LOOGY who just isn’t that good. He’s eminently hittable and walks too many batters while not striking out enough. He’s also not that great against lefties, which makes him worth a small amount. He’ll make the team if there are no other options.

Edgar Osuna: Last year’s Rule V pick was very good in AA flashing amazing control with an ability to get more strikeouts than expected from a low 80s fastball. His stuff probably doesn’t play in the Majors, but like Hardy I wouldn’t be terribly opposed to finding out.

Everett Teaford: I advocate him for the rotation, but if he’s not there, he’s a bullpen candidate. As a starter his stuff played up in 2010, so there’s reason to believe it would play up even more in the bullpen. He can get out both lefties and righties, so he’s a strong option.

Righties
Jesse Chavez: He’s only first because this is alphabetical. I think he’s a non-tender candidate, but if he’s still on the 40 man, he’ll probably be in the pen. He doesn’t strike enough guys out and walks too many. I’m not sure what the team sees in him.

Louis Coleman: I think Coleman has an outside shot to start the season with the big club. 103 strikeouts in 91 innings is excellent and to add to the equation he walked just 25. If he doesn’t start the year in KC, he’ll almost certainly be up soon.

Aaron Crow: I think he’s got a pretty good shot to debut in 2011 if he can put his 2010 behind him. He’s got excellent stuff that some believe will play better in the bullpen. He’ll obviously be given every chance to start, but I like the path they took with Hochevar for Crow which is getting him going in the bullpen before transitioning him to the rotation.

Greg Holland: Holland is a guy who always took a little while to adjust to a new level and the same is true with his time in the Majors this year. While the raw numbers don’t look good, he struck out 23 in just 15 innings and was much better after settling in. I’m not sure how big a role he’ll play in bullpens of the future, but I think he’ll play a big role in 2011.

Phillip Humber: I’ve always liked Humber, maybe irrationally. He’s a bust as a first round draft pick, but is good insurance on a minor league deal.

Patrick Keating: I’m not so sure he’ll be up in 2011, but he very well could be. 101 strikeouts in 70 innings can help punch a ticket quite quickly. He’s just one of many bullpen arms drafted in the middle rounds by Dayton Moore, a strategy I really like now that colleges are specializing their pitchers almost as much as professionals.

Kaneoka Texeira: He came over from the Mariners after they made him their Rule V pick in 2010. I like him a bit more than some others do as I saw some movement on his pitches that with some refinement could make him a guy who can come in to some trouble and clean things up. I’m not sure he has a huge future, but he’s a guy who I like and might surprise in 2011.

Blake Wood: Of all the players who are not locks, Blake Wood is the closest thing. He came up in May and was excellent, but he was doing it with smoke and mirrors. After a tweak to his delivery he was much better and figures prominently in the Royals bullpen plans for both 2011 and the future.

The 2011 bullpen actually has a chance to be an excellent unit from top to bottom with a nice mix of veterans, retreads and prospects. There are certainly more options than in years past to plug in if need be. If I had to pick one facet of the game that the Royals will excel in during 2011, it would almost definitely be the relief pitching. Having Joakim Soria doesn’t hurt that in the least, but the supporting cast actually looks pretty good for a change.

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