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Baseball Is Back

It’s here! Today’s the day! Optimism reigns supreme on the first day of Spring Training, and I’m no different in spite of some of my viewpoints throughout the offseason. I was actually pretty okay with the offseason moves made this year, but I had my qualms with a few different things. For some reason, though, today is the day when I feel that Melky Cabrera can put it all together or that Jeff Francouer can break out and provide a power bat in the middle of the order. Today is the day where I feel that Alex Gordon finally goes .290/.375/.500*. Today is the day when everybody on the roster has that chance to break out and become an All-Star.

*I was thinking about this the other day how it’s just sort of sad how far expectations for Gordon had fallen. When he was in the minors, if you were to tell me that in 2011, Gordon would hit .290/.375/.500 you wouldn’t be upset, but you’d have to assume that it was a down season. I think Gordon’s got a fantastic player inside him, but I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll ever see it in Kansas City. If we do, though, it’ll have to start in 2011.

The rule is that bad teams can become good, but they have growing pains. They don’t one year win under 70 games and then the next year win 95+. People don’t focus on the rule, though. They focus on the exception to that rule. People look at the Royals in 2011 and think about the 2008 Rays or the 2007 Rockies or the 1991 Braves. They don’t think about the early days of the Royals who just kept getting better until they were finally at the top. They don’t think about a team like even the Yankees who built their farm system in the late 1980s and early 1990s before they became the ridiculously high spending juggernaut they are today.

Today, though, it’s hard not to think about the Royals making that dramatic turnaround. What if Moustakas tears up AAA and leaves the Royals no choice but to bring him up in late April? What if Danny Duffy just can’t be held in the minors anymore and is in the Royals rotation for most of the season? What if Mike Aviles’ September was an indicator of things to come and he becomes a .300/.350/.450 second baseman (after Moustakas comes up of course)? While this team could lose 100 games, they are in a far different place than those teams of 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Those teams were just plain bad. The 2011 Royals may be bad, but they have potential at every single position in the organization. Every position has a chance to improve throughout the season.

Going around the infield, Billy Butler was fantastic last season, but was playing most of it with a bad hand, which sapped his power. If he can add more pop to his already excellent offensive game, we’re looking at a superstar. The second base position can hardly be worse than it was last year. We’ll probably start the season with Getz there, but if he doesn’t perform well, his replacement will just across the diamond and can move over when Moustakas comes up. Alcides Escobar almost can’t be worse than Yuniesky Betancourt would have been in 2011. The odds are pretty good that Betancourt’s fluke power would not have showed up again and he would have reverted back to the old Yuni. Escobar just needs to get on base at about a .300 clip and play good defense in order to be an improvement over that. And at third base, I think we’re going to see good production there all year starting with Aviles and ending with Moustakas.

In the outfield, Gordon has a chance to break out in a big way this year. I think the expectations are off him and he has a chance to relax. Plus, he seems like he’s finally settled on an approach at the plate, so we’ll see how well that pays off. In center, I don’t have huge confidence in Melky Cabrera actually being worthy of a roster spot, but if and when he fails, Lorenzo Cain will be an instant upgrade. I might be more excited for Cain than anybody not named Moustakas in 2011. In right field, either Francouer finally has a good season or he doesn’t and is replaced by someone like David Lough. Either way, by the end of the year, the right field position will be in good hands.

We’ve talked about the starting pitching all off-season long. I’ve been big on the Luke Hochevar strong season wagon, and that hasn’t changed with the most optimistic day of the year. Vin Mazzaro will also benefit from the strong defense behind him. The only pitcher who I’m not terribly optimistic about who is projected to be in the rotation is Kyle Davies, though even he has upside potential that could turn him into the guy we saw in 2008 rather than who we’ve seen the last two years. I like Bruce Chen’s chances to be a quality back of the rotation guy and then a swing man when the prospects start rolling in. I even think Jeff Francis could end up as the bargain signing of the winter by Dayton Moore.

The bullpen is the part of the team that I think most people are optimistic about. There are hard throwers galore out there and it’s all backed up by one of the two or three best closers in baseball, Joakim Soria. This bullpen will issue its fair share of walks, but it’ll get more than its fair share of strikeouts. As we’ve mentioned in the past, this is the area of the team where the prospects will have their most immediate impact. When I go to games in April and May I’ll almost root for an early exit from the starter just to see those arms come out and blow everyone away. I’m not to that point yet, but it’ll be a fun group to watch.

The reality of it is that this will probably be a tough season to watch at times. 100 losses is a real possibility, but this team has a real direction and it looks like it’s heading the right way. Regardless of what happens, the world is most definitely a better place when there’s baseball going on.

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