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How to Compete in 2011

It’s the holiday season, so I thought I’d infuse a little extra optimism into today’s post by looking at what needs to happen for the Royals to compete. Before anybody jumps out of their chair, I’ll bring things back to reality before we go into dream world. I don’t think the Royals can win the division in 2011. I don’t think they will finish at .500 in 2011, but that’s not what this post is for. This post might help you dream about the Royals and them matching the team across the street with a surprise playoff run.

Offense

No matter how optimistic you get about the Royals, they’re going to need to score some runs if they expect to contend and win the division. In order for good things to happen, Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue need to become a feared middle of the order duo. I don’t think homers are the be all, end all of offense, but if these two could hit 50 between them, that’d be a huge start to helping this offense hum. They also need a guy at the top of the lineup to get on base, and the Royals best hope for that is that Lorenzo Cain wins the center field job out of spring training and hits leadoff. For this to be successful, he’ll need at least a .350 OBP, which I think is reasonable.

The two big players in the lineup who need to step forward like nobody’s business are the former top prospects who will flank Cain, Gordon and Francouer. Nick Wright said something on Twitter on Sunday about Matt Cassel and how he’s never been more happy to be wrong or something along those lines. I responded to him by asking who the Royal equivalent would be and then came up with a pretty good answer myself – Jeff Francouer. Him hitting .290/.350/.500 or so would just about be the perfect answer from the Royals for Matt Cassel. If the Royals want to compete, that needs to happen. Alex Gordon also needs to finally put up numbers close to what we all expected from him or at least numbers similar or better to his 2008 season (.260/.351/.432).

The final big thing that has to happen offensively is the infusion of young talent as the season goes on. I’m pretty confident that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut at some point in the first half. For the Royals to compete, he needs to join Butler and Ka’aihue and make a big impact in the middle of the lineup. I’m talking .270/.340/.500 or so with 15 homers. If he does that, the Royals offense will be more than respectable, it’ll be good. Add in improved offense from Alcides Escobar, Chris Getz (until Moustakas is called up and Aviles slides over to second) and a potent bat off the bench in Wilson Betemit and the offense could provide fits for opposing pitchers.

Pitching

The offensive improvement is a bit of a stretch (especially the Francouer part), but it’s all at least somewhat believable. The pitching staff is where real dreaming can take place. I’m a fan of Luke Hochevar. I don’t think he’s the bust everybody thinks he is and I’m incredibly encouraged by how well he pitched after Ned Yost took over and before he went down with an injury. All that said, when he’s your ace, things are looking dicey for the starting rotation. I’ve mentioned this before, so I won’t go into great detail here, but I think the improved defense the Royals will field next season will do more to help Luke Hochevar than perhaps any other pitcher on the roster. I’m not predicting a Zack Greinke 2009 season from him or anything, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him with an ERA in the mid-3’s next year. He’s a groundball pitcher and a defense of Aviles, Escobar, Getz and Ka’aihue is much more encouraging than Betemit, Betancourt, Aviles and Butler. For the Royals to compete, he has to pitch to the level that I can honestly see.

The rest of the rotation is where things get dicey. It seems like every sentence with Kyle Davies begins with the word “if,” but it’s because he has very good stuff and just needs to harness his command. So, for the Royals to compete, that’s what he has to do. The improved outfield defense will be beneficial to him as well because he’s a flyball pitcher. The outfield won’t be as good as the infield, but it’ll certainly be better than next year. Beyond him, Vin Mazzaro has to continue to outpitch his peripherals and post an ERA of around 4.00. There’s some talk of the Royals looking into a guy like Chris Capuano, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that as I think he’s a solid bet to be average.

The players who really need to step up for the Royals to have a competent rotation are the young guys. Everett Teaford needs to both win a spot in the rotation and be good from the get go. The same can be seed for Danny Duffy. Sean O’Sullivan in the rotation is not a good thing. No amount of optimism can get me to believe he can even be an adequate fifth starter. And, like the offense, the young guys coming up throughout the season will have a big impact. Mike Montgomery needs to provide the same impact of Mike Moustakas and slide into the second or third spot in the rotation by August. The person who has an opportunity to make an even bigger immediate impact is Aaron Crow. He undoubtedly has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter in the majors. If he can figure things out, he can become the Royals ace pretty quickly. I know it’s a stretch to think about that from a guy who got demoted to A-ball last year, but he really does have the stuff to do it.  

The bullpen doesn’t take quite as much dreaming as the rotation. When you have a guy like Soria at the back end, it makes filling things out in front of him a lot easier. Gil Meche just needs to show that his bullpen work at the end of the season can be extended out over the length of the entire season and Robinson Tejeda needs to continue his work as the stopper out of the pen. Beyond that, the Royals have a lot of intriguing arms. A guy I’ve talked up a little in this space is Greg Holland who strikes tons of guys out. I’m not sure I’d like to see him in an eighth inning role, but for a guy who comes in when the team has to have a strikeout, I think he can be a HUGE contributor.
Beyond those four, the young guys will again rule the roost here in determining whether this is a good staff or not. Tim Collins has the opportunity to be a dominant arm from the left side while Louis Coleman just keeps putting up dominant seasons in the minors. The Royals bullpen may also be the initial destination for a few of the starting pitching prospects to get their feet wet. Aaron Crow was mentioned above, but if he doesn’t play a prominent role in the rotation, he could be a star in the bullpen. This pen has a chance to turn games into six inning affairs which will really help a shaky rotation.

Is all this likely? Not especially, but like I mentioned above – this is the time to dream a little and be optimistic about the season. Soon enough, spring training will start and then the season and the odds are pretty good that optimism will wane quickly. For now, though, we can dream a little. And who knows? Maybe it could happen. The Royals are due a little luck.

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  1. Patrick
    December 28, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Hochevar as the ace is scary, but not as scary as Mark Redman, Scott Elarton, or Luke Hudson.

  2. Andy
    December 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    The offensive “what ifs” feel much more realistic than the pitching ones. The royals were descent in the infield last year compared to other AL teams. A breakout performance in the outfield would definitely make the offense fun to watch while we wait for all minor league pitching to arrive.

  3. TCreecy
    January 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I think Ka’aihue will be a pleasant surprise to those who wrote him off. I think .250/.360/.440 20 HRs 70 RBIs is reasonable and that might be on the low side. To me, Gordon is the key. If he can provide a .800-.850 OPS then he, Butler, and Ka’aihue will definitely make this offense at least average. I have little confidence in Francouer. The only way he’s going to be productive is if he has a fluke season and hits .290(like you said.) Otherwise he’ll likely provide a .300(or lower) OBP. My fear is that he actually has that fluke season and then KC picks up his option(hurting the 2012 club when he becomes Jeff Francouer again.)

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