Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Royals 2011 Season Preview

It's here. Baseball starts today and I'm more optimistic about this team since June of 2009. Predictions for the boys in blue have been all across the board, from 100+ losses to flirting with .500. I'm not entirely ready to drink a tall glass of optimism with rose colored glasses on, but I am entirely ready for another season of the greatest game on earth, baseball.

For the Royals, obviously all eyes are focused on the future. But to get to Mission: 2012, we must endure 2011.

In 2011, there will be hair pulled out of our heads, remotes thrown and season tickets threatened to be cancelled. But the sun is starting to rise, the night is darkest before the dawn, what have you. So what will we see when we look back on the 2011 season?

I'm not entirely sure. What I see is a team in the truest form of transition, trying to make do with what they already have on the roster. Needs were addressed in the offseason, mainly in the outfield. But instead of going out and grabbing whatever old veteran was left on the scrap heap, the Royals signed guys with upside. Sure, Jeff Francouer, Jeff Francis and Melky Cabrera may not be the ideal candidates to improve a young team, but they are guys with some upside. Francouer was the next big thing when he came up with the Braves as a 21-year-old, but he sucks now. There's some upside still there. Not a whole lot of upside, but anything we get from these place holders should be viewed as a bonus.

Now that I addressed the three biggest question marks on the roster, it's time to guzzle down a high ball of optimism. Kila Ka'aihue is finally going to get his shot. I am pretty enthusiastic about this. Kila came on strong late last year and mashed seven homers in Spring Training this year. Kila has showcased the ability to get on base not seen in these parts in the last five years. Couple that with the encouraging projections from Bill James and PECOTA, and we might see the emergence of a cult hero in Ka'aihue.

Billy Butler has been relegated to DH duty and this seems to be the right idea. Butler is the textbook definition of a "professional hitter". Baseball history points to a big jump in Billy's overall power numbers, which seems absurd considering he hits close to 60 extra base hits every season. But if Billy turns into a Edgar Martinez carbon copy, are we really going to be that upset? I'd rather have a guy who is consistently putting the ball in play and getting on base than a guy who will mash 25 homers and strike out 150 times in the DH role.

Alex Gordon was going to be my #1 "wild card" for the Royals this season, but I figured I'd consolidate an entire post into a paragraph or two about Gordo. This is it for him. Be great, or be league average. The Royals are all-in with Alex Gordon for this year, shown by Ned Yost penciling him into the #3 hole in the Opening Day lineup. Gordon showed great plate discipline early on in spring and a new hitting approach mixed in with a shiny new swing have Royals fans thinking about a breakout season. He will get every opportunity this season to prove that he belongs on this team beyond this year and be privileged to stay with this team when our farm system begins yielding results. I'm going to shy away from completely jumping on the Gordon bandwagon, but I do reserve the right to jump on when he has 15 bombs and an .850 OPS at the All Star break...

But of course, I can go on and on about how I am much more optimistic about this team than in the past couple of seasons. The truth is that 2011 will be a waiting game. Us Royals fans are going to be like dogs waiting at the front door of our house, waiting for our family to come home after a long, 25-year vacation from winning. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Mike Montgomery and the whole motley crew are stampeding towards Kauffman Stadium. The question is how long will it be until they get here?

Well, they might already be here. Not the crown jewels of the system, but some of the integral pieces to what will be a franchise resurgence the likes which have never been witnessed.

In the bullpen.

Yes, the bullpen is where this all begins and ends (puns are punny). Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Nathan Adcock and Aaron Crow are all slated to be members of the Royals' bullpen come 3pm today. The bullpen hasn't seen this much youth in a long, long time, if not ever. Three rookies alone in the bullpen, soon to be joined by the fourth, Louis Coleman whenever the Royals see fit to promote him. In my mind, Coleman will make the trip down I-29 with Moustakas and/or Hosmer in May or June. The question here is whether or not the Royals' starters can get late leads to this bullpen.

So that's that. I know I missed a few things ("improved" speed and defense, but Dick Kaegel was not available for comment), but I covered what I feel are the biggest storylines headed into this season. Who's ready for some predictions? You're not? Too bad, here they are:

Record: 71-91
Division finish: 4th
MVP: Billy Butler
Pitcher of the Year: Joakim Soria
Rookie of the Year: Tim Collins
Managerial changes: 0
Fan walkouts: 0

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