It’s hard to believe a team that finished 20 games below .500, fourth in their division and hasn’t been to the playoffs since Marty McFly cranked that Delorean up to 88 mph and changed history would be happy with its line up. So much so it traded a 27-year-old switch hitter with a championship ring.
That 27-year-old is Melky Cabrera, and he’s coming off a career year in which he bested his previous career highs in every major offensive category. But that’s where we find the 2012 Kansas City Royals. GM Dayton Moore decided to take a page out of the Tampa Bay Rays’ book and build a team through the draft, player development and cost-effective veteran pick-ups. The Rays are the gold standard for successful small-market teams, and with the Royals attendance ranking 27th out of 30 teams, you can see why this is necessary. However, this lack of cash-flow and focus on not finding an expensive body to fill space, has pushed the Royals to develop one of the more exciting young lineups in baseball. Let’s break this down by the projected line up:
Center Field: Lorenzo Cain — Okay, this may be bold, but I’m guessing the Royals are going all-in with Cain. First, there was a log-jam in the outfield prior to the 2011 season for the Royals. Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Cabrera are potential-filled talent, especially for a team like the Royals. However, how do you not start a guy that turned 25 in the beginning of the season? Did you think you were going to be a contender and that Cabrera was the guy who was going to put you over the top? I get that he was paid a bit over a million dollars for the year. That’s a steal. I get it, but if Cabrera is only worth a million, then why he is so imperative to start over a key prospect in the Zack Greinke deal that showed serious potential in his first stint in the majors? It doesn’t make sense.
Say hello to the post-George Brett Royals. Either way, Cain has all the skills of a “pure” lead-off hitter. The real treasure of Cain is his glove, and the Royals outfield would be the baseball equivalent of the NFL’s Houston Texans defense this season. The casual fan might not know how good it is, but they are a stingy defense. Side note: The Texans defense is number two in the NFL. Seriously, look it up. I digress, Cain is going to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup. I know I’m talking in absolutes, but it would take a catastrophic event for him not to be the 2012 starting outfielder for the Royals.
Left Field: Alex Gordon — Arguably the face of the franchise, the perpetual question in the City of Fountains: Will Gordon take the next stride in becoming the superstar everyone excepts him to be? Last year was a giant step forward after a horrendous injury-riddled 2010 campaign. Gordon’s AVG was .088 points higher, his HR were seven more than his career best in his rookie season, and he too had career highs in every major offensive category. Can 2012 be the same? Will he become the All-Star, let alone superstar, everyone expects him to be? Everyone appreciates the Gold Glove, but he needs to continue to grow offensively especially with this starting rotation.
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler — A solid player, and at 25 years old, you can expect a power surge when he hits his prime. As good as Carlos Beltran was for the Royals, when you’re talking about the next icon in franchise history, Mike Sweeney has to be the comparison. Butler strikes me as a “Sweeney-type guy”. He may not hit for the average Sweeney did, but he is going to be a rock for years to come in that lineup. Butler has sufficient pop that’s only going to increase, he will continue to grow in the three spot where they mentality is different than he’s ever experience. He shows flashes of hitting for average while keeping the RBI and HR numbers up. He may never hit 40 HRs, but this there’s a real possibility of his stat line being .308 AVG, 28 HRs and 104 RBIs.
First Base: Eric Hosmer — Bursting onto the scene last season, Hosmer was just as good as advertised. It’s a shame the Royals were so bad or else Hosmer may have won the Rookie of the Year award. Then add on the fact that he didn’t make his first appearance until May and Hosmer had the potential to dominate that race. At only 21 years old and the pedigree of the number-three overall pick, Hosmer is expected to continue to develop into an elite player. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t if the man behind him can protect him.
Right Field: Jeff Francoeur — Once highly regarded, and a personal favorite of mine, Francoeur’s fall from grace finally hit a trampoline that catapulted him back up in the baseball community. Francoeur is only 27, but the wiley veteran has a wealth of experience. He has hit the high and lows and provides stability in the five spot. Inconsistent throughout his career, Francoeur’s pay raise is a smart buy by the Royals and could provide huge dividends. With the talent in front of him, Francoeur could be in a position to hit 100 RBIs for the for the third time in his career.
Third Base: Mike Moustakas — Another young talent, Moustakas has a ton of potential and is buried in he sixth spot. He was completely overshadowed by Hosmer but had a decent season for a 23-year-old. As bad as Moustakas was in his initial time with the Royals, his resiliency is admirable. That mental toughness could be a good sign for the future. As with most sports, repetition is necessary. If we are going to stick with football analogies, third baseman are the tight ends of the diamond. There’s a lot to learn, they are focused on protection and offense at the same time. Moustakas is Heath Miller but has the potential to be Vernon Davis.
Catcher: Salvador Perez — Best-case scenario, he is a Carlos Ruiz-type. He has excellent potential defensively and the Royals are counting on him to dominate that aspect of the game. Anything that he can add to the offense is a plus. They moved one of their top prospects, Wil Myers, from behind the plate to the outfield because of Perez. That should tell you how much confidence they have in him handling this lackluster staff.
Second Base: Johnny Giavotella — After a Chris Getz played the stop-gap role for the 2011 season, they keys are ready to turned over to Giavotella at second base. Offensively, Giavotella, won’t “wow” you but he is the man of the future and the Royals are hoping to all they can out of another one of their farmhands.
Shortstop: Alcides Escobar — A defensive wizard, Escobar is an intriguing guy. He has Gold Glove written all over him but the question is: How bad will Escobar be at the plate? He showed some ability last season and if he can stay in the .260 range, the Royals will be happy. Escobar reminds me of another former Royal and New York Met, Rey Sanchez. Sorry to bring that name up Mets fans. A serviceable guy offensively and a major asset defensively, Escobar has the makings of a solid career.
Expectations are the hardest things to manage — right, Alex Gordon? So, if Royals fans can keep them in check and be patient with the 7-8-9 hitters and not expect the moon from the others, this could be a fun team that makes some noise. They were over .500 for the months of April and September, and if they can fill in the gaps, we might be talking Royals postseason. A more realistic goal is for this team to improve its total offense ranking. Last season they finished 10th out of 30 teams, if all goes well they might be a top-five offense.