Saturday, March 12, 2011

Royals Wild Cards for 2011: #2 Luke Hochevar

Luke Hochevar once again finds himself on this list after holding down the #3 spot in last year's Royals Kingdom wild card list. Hoch had a pretty respectable 2010 until he was derailed by injury in the middle of the season. Before he went down, you could see him putting it together. Also, when he came back in September, he turned in two quality starts before the season ended.

So what is it with Hoch? I've heard that he has confidence issues, that he still struggles with his control, so on and so forth. The Royals have all but named him their Opening Day starter, so if that doesn't help out at least a little bit with his confidence, we might see more of the same from Hochevar in 2011.

Consistency is what we need from him.

The issue with Hochevar is not him not developing into a front of the line starter, but solidifying himself in the rotation as a good, if not great #3 starter. With a ton of left-handed starting pitching prospects about to flood the roster, Hochevar has to be a guy the Royals can lean on in the future. Hoch's service time isn't much of an issue, but he's about to enter the prime of his career this season as he will turn 28 in September.

The time for Hochevar to make a difference is now. He's got to become a reliable starter, not a guy who will go out and get shelled for four runs in five innings. He's been branded the next Derek Lowe, so take that as you may.

Maybe Hochevar is one of those guys who develops late, maybe he's just a bust. I can't help but think what could have been if the Royals had gone in another direction in that 2006 draft. Tim Lincecum, Evan Longoria, the list goes on and it's littered with guys who are worlds ahead of Hochevar.

So what do we expect from Hochevar in 2011? In my mind, you have to be happy with anything less than a 4.50 ERA. Which is pretty pathetic, but Hoch's influence on this franchise goes much beyond what he accomplishes in 2011. If Hoch doesn't finally become the guy we thought he would be, this is what we're looking at for a rotation in 2012 and beyond:

1. Mike Montgomery (rookie lefty)
2. Chris Dwyer (rookie lefty)
3. Luke Hochevar (below average righty)
4. Danny Duffy (rookie lefty)
5. Everett Teaford (rookie lefty)

In other words, not very good as far as strategy goes. Now, of course, all of those rookies might hit their potential in their first season or so and become above average, even good or great major league starters. But having Hochevar turn into a solid middle of the rotation arm is incredibly valuable to this team. It provides flexibility in the rotation and allows the Royals to not have to worry about match ups against lefty heavy lineups and so forth.

Hochevar's wild card goes much beyond this season. That seems to be a common trend developing in my wild card series. Let's hope Hoch can find some rhythm and success this season. If a healthy Hoch can do what he did when he was healthy last season, then we don't have much to worry about.

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