Monday, February 7, 2011

Royals Wild Cards for 2011: #4 Kila Ka'aihue

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.

Royals Wild Cards for 2011: #5 Wilson Betemit

This is something I did last year in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them. Enjoy.

Wilson Betemit burst on to the 25-man roster late last May and hit the ground running. Betemit finished the season hitting just below .300 while getting on-base at a .378 clip. Not too shabby for a guy who came to the Royals' 2010 Spring Training on a minor league deal. Betemit slugged an outstanding .511 and finished the year with a 141 OPS+.

Of course, this was only in 315 plate attempts, but that's more than a small sample size. Over 600 PAs (roughly a full season of work at the plate), Betemit would have finished with 26 HR, 86 RBIs and 66 XBH if he stayed on his pace. Fangraphs had Betemit at 1.3 WAR for 2010. That's pretty good for a half-season's work. Betemit's 74:36 K:BB ratio also shows that his numbers in 2010 weren't necessarily a fluke.

Looking ahead to 2011, it could be likely that Betemit could continue his success in Royal Blue. Betemit was the top ranked prospect in the Atlanta Braves' system (go figure) in 2001 and 2002. This is a move by Dayton Moore that has gone overlooked in my mind. Betemit has never been a full-time player in his career, but he certainly thrived when he was given the chance to play every day in 2010.

The reason Betemit is a wild card is due to the fact that he apparently has no position on this team. He filled in well as a third baseman last year, but it is obvious that the Royals are focusing on defense this year (see signing of Feliz, Pedro). Not a good thing for Betemit, who posted a rough .929 fielding percentage and a -10.4 UZR last year at the hot corner.

The Royals seem to be leaning in favor of Mike Aviles at third. It is unfortunate, as Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue seem to be the everyday 1B/DH combo, leaving Betemit without a position on the field.

The outfield isn't an option for Betemit either, as the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield will likely be occupied by a combination of Jeff Francouer, Melky Cabrera, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Gregor Blanco and/or Mitch Maier, who are all superior defenders than Betemit.

The problem for Betemit is not only in his defense, but also a soon-to-be crowded 25-man roster. Mike Moustakas is breathing dragon breath down Aviles and Betemit's necks at third base, and could very well kick either player to the bench come April, May or June.

The defined role for Betemit will be a player who comes off the bench in the late innings, to spell the paper thin bats of starters Chris Getz, Lucas May/Brayan Pena and Alcides Escobar. He will definitely be valuable if Butler, Aviles or Ka'aihue hit the DL early in the season. If Betemit continues to hit off the bench the way he did in 2010, then the Royals will definitely have one of the better bench power bats in the AL Central. But if Betemit wins a starting job in Surprise, then we will definitely get to see whether or not his 2010 punch will carry into 2011 and beyond.