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November 3, 2011

Well, the 2011 season is in the books, and it felt like a blur. This was probably the most fun season I’ve had as a Royals fan since 2003. No, the team didn’t win the division or even 81 games, but they improved as the season went on and had their highest win total since that magical 2003 season.* We got a chance to find out about young players, we saw debuts and we got a glimpse into what might be a pretty bright future.

*How sad is it that many fans’ greatest Royals memory is the 2003 season, a year in which the Royals won 83 games?

Let’s take a look at the positives first. We learned that Kila Ka’aihue is absolutely for real. He hit .272/.381/.522 with 28 homers and 92 batted in. Had he been eligible, he’d be a lock for Rookie of the Year honors. His defense at first base was above average and I even noticed a smile at one point in mid-August. The man can hit. He leaves the Royals with a fantastic problem to have with him, Butler and Hosmer for two spots.

Speaking of Butler, he broke out in a big, big way in 2011 winning his first batting title and hitting .339/.417/.540 with 32 homers and 110 RBI. He and Ka’aihue teamed up to give the Royals the best power duo they’ve had since the Sweeney days. He mostly DHed, but when he was in the field, he was about as good as he’s always been. He’s on the verge of becoming expensive, but he’s one of the few right-handed impact bats in the game, so it’d be tough to trade him.

David Lough made his debut when DeJesus was traded in late May and the Royals didn’t lose a thing. He hit .307/.355/.413 in his debut and played great defense in right field. My guess is that his best bet to stick in the majors is to be a center fielder with the Myers shift to the outfield, but he worked out as a fantastic #2 hitter.

Mike Aviles proved that 2009 and a couple months in 2010 were the outlier as he hit .299/.341/.433 as first the starting third baseman and then shifted over to second after Moustakas was called up. He’ll face competition from a top prospect again next year, but for now the Royals are comfortable at second base with Aviles.

Onto the pitching staff, the two best pitchers were the two biggest bright spots. Zack Greinke went 18-7 with a 2.55 ERA and struck out 213 in 237.1 innings. He was fantastic all year and even got some run support. Oh yeah, and he signed a contract extension for 4 years/$64 million when he saw how good the team might be over the next few years. Joakim Soria had his best season to date and set a Royals single season record for saves with 47. There were two very positive surprises on the pitching staff for the Royals. Danny Duffy made the opening day rotation and made 29 starts, winning 14 of them with a 3.38 ERA. Aaron Crow also made it to the majors after correcting some mechanics issues and made 11 starts in the second half with just a 4-6 record, but a 3.19 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 64 innings.

The bullpen was overall a positive with contributions from Tim Collins, Blake Wood and Greg Holland. Louis Coleman was up and down all year and struggled with command, but he showed flashes of being a fantastic reliever.

The biggest disappointment among fans was probably Mike Moustakas who came to the majors in June after hitting 21 homers in AAA to that point. He hit .232/.291/.388 with 9 homers in the majors. To his credit, he got better each month and finished the year with a .288/.329/.451 September. I expect big things out of him in 2012. He did play much better than advertised defense at third and once July rolled around, the Royals defense actually had become a strength of the team.

The second biggest disappointment was Alex Gordon. The luster is completely off the once great prospect as he hit .241/.334/.413 in his first full season in the outfield. He’ll most likely be non-tendered and will have a chance with another team to reclaim his star power. His troubles did give the Royals an opportunity to take a look at Paulo Orlando, and he showed that he might have what it takes to be a fixture in the lineup. In 61 games, Orlando hit .278/.341/.449 and played generally very good defense. He was a big part of the defense becoming a strength in the second half.

Jarrod Dyson was a disappointment with the bat, but was amazing with the glove, which allowed him to stay in the lineup all season despite a .229/.289/.341 line. He actually had a positive WAR because of his defense. If and when he can figure out how to hit, he’ll be a HUGE asset.

Yuniesky Betancourt regressed from his 2010 power surge and was ultimately replaced at shortstop by Christian Colon who played very well hitting .298/.353/.409 in 43 games at shortstop. He played above average defense and was a huge clubhouse influence.  

All in all, the young guys made a big impact on the season and there will be more and more coming into 2012. The Process, for all it’s faults, is looking awfully good so far.

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