Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Thursday, February 21, 2008

2008 Kansas City Royals Preview: The Humble Beginning of a New Monarchy?

2007...the season that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The Kansas City Royals fielded another losing team in 2007, going 69-93. Once an annual contender, the Royals have now had 12 losing seasons in 13 years. However, the season did not totally suck. A number of young players began to make an impact and team management seems to no longer be the running joke that it had been for years. While the franchise certainly has a long way to go, things are looking up for the first time in many years.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Scoring runs was a struggle for the 2007 Royals. No member of the regular lineup except possibly Mark Grudzielanek had a season as good as or better than expected. Highly touted rookie Alex Gordon struggled through a poor first half, first baseman Ryan Sheely was hurt and slugged a pitiful .308, leftfielder Emil Brown slugged just .347, and neither right fielder Mark Teahen nor catcher John Buck hit as well as was hoped.

CF David Dejesus
2B Mark Grudzielanek
RF Mark Teahen
LF Jose Guillen
DH Billy Butler
1B Ross Gload
3B Alex Gordon
C John Buck
SS Tony Pena Jr.

I've seen worse lineups. From this franchise. Recently. Dejesus is never going to be the star that the Royals had hoped for, but he can get on base reliably. Butler has a chance to develop into a devastating hitter; he put up a .292-.347-.447 line as a 21 year old. I still think that Gordon will become on of the best in the AL at his position. Guillen is a jerk, but he's a jerk that can hit. The Royals will probably score at least 50 runs more in 2008. That's not enough to be a contender, but it's real improvement.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Pitching and defense were the big stories for the 2007 Royals. They cut almost 200 runs allowed off of their abysmal 2006 total. New GM Dayton Moore didn't hesitate to swing the broom and clean out non performers, like Scott Elarton, Odalis Perez, and Todd Wellemeyer, guys of the type that the previous adminstration collected and held onto. Gil Meche, widely criticized by almost everyone as one of the worst free agent signings ever, gave the Royals 216 fine innings and was a rotation anchor. Octavio Dotel, another free agent signing, saved 11 games and then was wisely flipped to the Braves for Kyle Davies. Zach Grienke pitched well over the middle of the season in relief and then as a starter towards the end.

SP Gil Meche
SP Brian Bannister
SP Zach Grienke
SP Kyle Davies
SP Jorge de la Rosa

CL Joakim Soria
RP Yashuhiko Yabuta
RP Jimmy Gobble

Having been wrong already on Meche, I now see no reason why he can't give the Royals more of the same in 2008. I think that Grienke is one of this year's breakout candidates. The rest of the rotation doesn't have a lot of upside, but that's ok; this team isn't going anywhere this year. All they need to do is to hold the fort until reinforcements from the minor league system show up. Mike Maroth and Hideo Nomo are nonroster invites hoping to earn a shot at the back of the rotation, and Brett Tomko, who is actually on the roster for some reason, also will take a shot. Soria was terrific as a 23 year old who made trading Dotel a no-brainer.

Witnesses for the defense

The defense was not a huge part of the dramatic cut the Royals made in allowing runs. They were below average in both defensive efficiency and in fielding percentage. Teahen in right and Gordon at third are the bright spots. Teahen would have won a Gold Glove if the rules specified a right fielder rather than allowing three centerfielders. Gordon has a Gold Glove or two in his future, unless Evan Longoria monopolizes them for the next ten years. Pena was an improvement at short over the ridiculous Angel Berroa. Dejesus is steady in center and Guillen will be an upgrade over Emil Brown.

Farm aid

Luke Hochevar, the number one pick in the 2006 draft, should take over a rotation spot by midseason. Hochevar has the potential to be a number one starter, but there are questions about his makeup and he needs more time to harness his talent. Outfielder Chris Lubanski was a first round pick in 2003 who has been something of a disappointment so far, but is still only 23 and could take a step forward. Pitcher Carlos Rosa has a chance to move into the rotation by later this season; he's no ace in the making but could become a reliable starter in the middle of the rotation. The best prospect in the system is shortstop Mike Moustakas, who will be entering A ball this year and is about 2 1/2 years and a position change away.

Watch out for that tree!

A team like the Royals shouldn't have guys in this category, and for the most part they don't. Meche has had an injury filled past, although he was healthy all of 2007. Grudzielanek is the most likely falloff, being a 38 year old second baseman who loses range every year. By the end of this season Alberto Callaspo may take his job.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This is the first time in many years that my preseason writeup isn't just a beginning to end mocking of this franchise. With Butler, Gordon, Greinke, and Soria already in the lineup and a new GM who is more interested in developing good young players than bringing in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse, the Royals are moving ahead. They are a long way away from where the Brewers are, or the Rays, but it's a promising start. This team could break .500 this year, although it's a longshot. But it's been quite a while since one could make even that modest a statement.

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