In moving on to the second part of this series, it is time to discuss some best case scenarios for the young position players on the roster. There are a lot more here than there were with the pitching side of things. Remember, I’m not necessarily defining best case based on win-loss totals this year. Inevitably, that would happen if these players performed as we want them to. But I care more about improvement and reliability going into the future. So without further ado, let’s take a look at a few players.
I’ll begin with a player that’s been on this list the last few years, and that’s Alex Gordon. His partner in crime at the minor league level was Billy Butler, and he’s done his part to stamp his name into the organization, but thus far Gordon has not. I really want to believe that this is the season that Alex can put things together and become a productive hitter. Superstar? Forget it, we’re past that. But that doesn’t mean Gordon can’t still become a steady offensive and defensive player in left field. Defensively, he might already be where he needs to be. He looked fairly good and, for what it’s worth, UZR liked his defense in the left field, where he checked in with a rather surprising 9.1 UZR/150. Offense is of course another story, but his approach at the plate was good last year and it should lend to improvements in 2011. It may not be particularly likely, but I like his chances more than fellow corner outfielder Jeff Francouer. I won’t get into Francouer too much, we’ve all heard enough about him. Do we want him to finally figure things out so he’s a nice trade chip at the deadline? Ha! Does anyone really think the front office wouldn’t try to extend him the first chance they got in the event he actually did improve? I don’t like not rooting for players on my favorite team, but…
Now let’s move to the infield where we have newcomer Alcides Escobar taking over at shortstop. At this time last year, Escobar was being billed as the next big thing at the shortstop position, checking in at #12 on Baseball America’s top 100 list for 2010. Defensively, as expected, Escobar did his part, posting a 4.7 UZR/150. That’s a number that can and should get higher as he continues to iron out his play, which is still a little raw. On offense though, Escobar only managed an OPS+ of 67, which as we know is pretty bad. Worse than his predecessor, hard as that is to believe. That said, there are reasons for hope – his line drive percentage and his BABIP were not really in line with each other, and should rise significantly this season. Escobar doesn’t have the tools to be a star offensive player, but if he can hit .280, steal a few bags, and play great defense, no one will complain. If Escobar can solidify the shortstop position, a position that has been historically awful for the Royals, that would be a huge step in the right direction.
We have another player who will be getting a chance to improve on his rookie year, a player completely different than Escobar, and it’s Kila Ka’aihue. Kila has a chance to turn a potential log jam into a potential clusterf*** of awesome at the first base/DH spots in 2011 and the future. A long time fan favorite, Ka’aihue should get a shot for the full 2011 season to see what he can do at the Major League level. He should promise down the stretch in September by hitting .261/.367/.511. One projection system, PECOTA, projects Kila to have a .380 OBP with 25 HR’s in 2011. Now a lot of fans are expecting that Ka’aihue will eventually get traded so uber-prospect Eric Hosmer gets his day in the sun, but those are not the kind of numbers you just trade away without thinking about it. Kila can make the 1B/DH situation very, very interesting with a good season.
There are two young catchers that should get a shot at least early in the season. Best case scenario, is that one of them separates themselves as a potential starter or strong backup going into the future. Brayan Pena is the fan favorite, and he’s probably the better defender of the two, and has the advantage of being a switch hitter. Lucas May is a more raw behind the dish, but I personally believe that he has a little more upside with the bat. These guys will probably split time until inevitably Jason Kendall comes back, and let’s not kid ourselves; he absolutely is coming back sooner or later. For all the good fortune in the Royals minor league system, there is only one potential starting catcher that is within three years of Kansas City, so it would be great if one of these two stepped up.
Next on the list will be the prospects in part three. That’s the fun one.