The 2011 Kansas City Royals may have won only 71 games, but the season was very important. It was the genesis of the major wave of minor league talent graduating to the bigs, and it came with mixed results. There were also a couple veterans who came back from the dead to post good years, but the pitching still held them back from a .500 season.
The biggest story of the team was the breakout of Alex Gordon. After showing glimpses of greatness his first few years, he put it all together in 2011. A .303/.376/.502 slashline (141 wRC+) along with +10 defense in LF gave him over 6 WAR. His .358 BABIP and +10 UZR may not be sustainable, but you can expect 4-5 WAR for the next few seasons. Jeff Francoeur rebounded from three years of replacement-level production to produce about 3 WAR and a 2-year, $13.5M extension. His career-high ISO and above career-average BABIP shows that he will likely regress towards average at the plate again. Melky Cabrera also suddenly remembered how to play baseball again last year, but he is now in San Francisco. Lorenzo Cain is the likely 2012 starter in center field, looking to maintain his progression last year in AAA. Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson are the likely backups.
The future corner infielders spent most of the season together in Kansas City last year. Eric Hosmer had a solid debut at first base, with his 5% UIBB rate being the only worrisome rate. All defensive metrics had him around -10, but his greatest skill is his scoops, which is not included in such metrics. I believe he is an average fielder for the position. Mike Moustakas debuted at third base, and things didn’t go nearly as smoothly. His ISO was only .104, after spending most of the minors around .200. Along with only 5 HR in 365 PA, his IF/FB% was above 20%, meaning he wasn’t squaring the ball up well. His plate discipline may not improve much, but I expect his power numbers to be better. Alcides Escobar took over at shortstop, playing great defense and not hitting at all. Second base will be the weak spot of the infield, with Johnny Giavotella having the best chance to start. Chris Getz will also get some starts at 2B. Yuniesky Betancourt is there, finally not guaranteed a starting spot anymore. Kevin Kouzmanoff is also a NRI with a chance to make the team if Moustakas falters greatly or gets injured.
22-year-old Salvador Perez is the frontrunner to start most of the games behind the plate this year. He stung the ball well in 40 ML games last year, though his hyper-aggressive approach will limit his production over the year. Behind him, Brayan Pena and Manny Pina will fight for the backup catcher role. Billy Butler has not shown the power he was expected to possess, limiting his value as the DH. He only turns 26 in April, but if he doesn’t develop great power, he will never be more than an average player.
The strongest starting pitcher last year for the Royals was Felipe Paulino. After coming over from Colorado, Paulino put up a 3.51 FIP and 3.66 SIERA, using his big fastball and good slider to get whiffs. A career .340 BABIP allowed shows his lack of command, so his ERA will be higher than expected until that is resolved. Luke Hochevar has also underperformed his average peripherals over his career, struggling with stranding runners. Bruce Chen had a nice 3.77 ERA, but his 4.39 FIP and 4.63 SIERA show a high likelihood of regression. Jonathan Sanchez came over in the Melky trade and brings him enigmatic arm to the AL. He has always struggled with control, but his walk rate spiked to 15%, a rate which nearly impossible to sustain success. He must get his BB rate near 10% to succeed in the AL. Danny Duffy will man the last spot in the rotation. The 23-year-old debuted with a 5.64 ERA, struggling with LD% and walks. He’s a lefty power arm who should improve his walk rate, though his low GB% limits his potential. Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan will likely get any spot starts.
Closer Joakim Soria struggled a bit last year, but he has some help this year. Greg Holland used his 95 MPH fastball and hard slider to rack up major strikeouts, much like his new bullpen mate Jonathan Broxton. Tiny Tim Collins and Aaron Crow are another couple young arms to watch.
The Royals saw a lot of young players begin their big-league careers last year. Many more are on their way, including pitchers Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi and big bat Wil Myers. The pitching is behind the hitting at this point, but 2013 and 2014 are the target years of playoff contention for the Royals. By then, more names will be in the rotation and this stockpile of prospects could become a good team.
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