Big questions surround the big Hawaiian entering 2011. Is he really the real deal? Can he keep mashing at the MLB level, or is he just another AAAA masher who can't hack it in the bigs?
Kila is undoubtedly a fan favorite. The chips are definitely stacked against him. A 15th round pick out of high school whose path to the big leagues has been blocked by wet mops like Ross Gload and Jose Guillen. It's safe to say that the fans are in his corner.
Kila had his struggles last year, but he came on late, hitting .261/.367/.511 in the final 30 games of 2010. Also, six of his eight homers came in the last 30 games of the season. Kila's BABIP was also .297, a sign that he was hitting the ball hard.
Of course, one can point to the fact that this all came in September (let the Ryan Shealy comps come rolling in). But I think there's more to the story when it comes to Kila.
Kila had multi-hit games against (ERA in parenthesis) Nick Blackburn (5.42), Fausto Carmona (3.77), Gio Gonzalez (3.23), Edwin Jackson (4.47), Rick Porcello (4.92) and Tommy Hunter (3.73). Those guys aren't your run-of-the-mill September call ups.
To me, Kila's early MLB numbers combined with his minor league stats scream "Carlos Pena 2.0". Unfortunately, Pena bounced around until being uncovered by the Tampa Bay Rays a few years ago. If the Royals are as committed to OBP as they say they are, Kila should be a fixture in this lineup for several years.
But much like Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles, Kila is in a precarious spot, as he is occupying a position that will likely be taken over by a prospect in the very near future. Eric Hosmer will likely be with the club sometime either this season or next season, giving Kila very little time to prove that he has a spot on this team.
Most people will ask for Kila to be traded when Hosmer is ready to make his big league debut, but Kila can also force the Royals hand by turning in a dynamite first half. He's under team control for the next five seasons. As a 27-year old, Kila's contract will be Royals' property all the way through his prime.
PECOTA has Kila projected at 25 home runs and a .387 OBP. I'm sorry, but that's not something you just trade away, even to make room for an uber-prospect like Hosmer. Plus, I don't think the market for Kila would even be good enough to warrant a trade. The point is, Kila's value goes beyond home runs and on-base percentage. I'm not a scout, but I think Hosmer would transition to the outfield very easily. Of course, Hosmer, much like a Lance Berkman, has a future at first base, but in the mean time, could be a very serviceable and possibly even good major league outfielder while Kila holds down first base and DH duties for the next few seasons.
The worry on my end is that Kila has placed a ton of pressure on himself to perform. I can't blame him. This is his shot. He's got one chance to impress. Of course, he might get one down the road, but if he wants to be a big leaguer, this year is critical for him. The Royals had shown little faith in him up until last summer. But if Kila is mashing at the K on a 30+ HR pace come July and Eric Hosmer is banging the door down in Omaha, the Royals have a choice.
My belief is that Kila will be kept around, his contract is incredibly valuable. It seems that the Royals are very careful with service time. If Kila lives up to the promise, he is an extremely valuable player.