Category: Rank Em!

2012 AL Central Position Rankings

I’m not going to claim that there is any science behind my rankings here. I based them off of last year’s performance, their age, injury history, and whether their career is on an upward trend (+), a downward trend (-), or maintaining (=). So with no further ado…

Catchers

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1. Alex Avila – Tigers +

Alex Avila is also on the rise after a breakout year in 2011 which saw him make the All-Star roster. He’s always had great hands behind the plate, but his bat came around in a big way last year.

2. Carlos Santana – Indians +

Carlos Santana is young switch-hitting catcher who hits for power and plays well enough to stick behind the plate. He’ll continue split time at 1B/DH a la Victor Matinex (his idle and mentor), but will start behind the plate most days. Guys with talent along his lines will always be highly coveted.

3. Joe Mauer – Twins =

Joe Mauer has really seen his career take a wrong turn, due to both injury and a power-sapping ballpark. His bat will always be there, but his power seems to be fading along with his ability to stay behind the plate.

4. Salvador Perez – Royals +

Salvador Perez is young, defensively sound, and already has the trust of the Royals’ pitching staff. Even if he hits .250, he’ll be a top 10 catcher for years.

5. A.J. Pierzynski – White Sox –

A.J. is getting old, his arm is deteriorating, and Tyler Flowers will soon replace him in the White Sox lineup.

First Base

1. Prine Fielder – Tigers +

Prince is clearly the best 1B in the division. His weight and defense will move him to DH permanently in the somewhat-near future, but his bat is what separates him from the rest of the pack.

2. Paul Konerko – White Sox =

Paul Konerko seems to get better with age, but his time will soon be up. His age will soon push him from the field, though his bat will hold value for at least 2 more years. Until then, Pauly will continue to serve as the White Sox captain.

3. Eric Hosmer – Royals +

Hosmer could the second best 1B on this list right now. He’s already proven that he can compete at the highest level despite only being 22 years old. He hits for power and average and will win a Gold Glove one day.

4. Justin Morneau – Twins –

Justin Morneau might not ever fully recover from his concussion a few years ago. That said, barring a huge 2012, his career appears to be closer to over than in it’s prime.

5. Casey Kotchman – Indians =

Casey Kotchman had a great season with Tampa Bay in 2011, but it only earned him another 1-year deal. He’s known for his premium defense and lack of power for a 1B. He’s destined to platoon 1B this year with either Matt LaPorta or Russ Canzler.

Second Base

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1. Gordon Beckham – White Sox =

Second Base is easily the weakest position within the division. So as the only guy at the position to receive full playing time over the past few seasons with the division is Gordon Beckham. He basically wins by default. He has seen his production dip in each of his three big league seasons so far though since he moved from 3B to 2B.

2. Jason Kipnis – Indians +

Kipnis is a plus hitter and a fairly good defender which he showed all throughout his time in the minors. He got a taste of the bigs last season and should win the starting job in Spring Training.

3. Johnny Giavotella – Royals +

Gio technically hasn’t earned the starting job in Kansas City. But all he has to do is out-hit Chris Getz this spring, which shouldn’t be too daunting of a task considering that’s what Gio does. His defense will be good enough as long as he hits like he did in Triple A in 2011.

4. Ramon Santiago – Tigers =

Ramon Santiago has been a serviceable career switch-hitting backup infielder who will battle Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge this spring for the starting spot in Detroit.

5. Alexi Casilla – Twins =

Alexi Casilla is yet another 2B within the division who enters ST as the starter, but will have to battle Luke Hughes and Tsuyoshi Nishioka for playing time. He’s a switch-hitter with good speed, but has yet to start or even play for an entire season.

Shortstop

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1. Asdrubal Cabrera – Indians +

Asdrubal had a career year in 2011, earning his first All-Star appearance and placing 20th in the AL MVP voting. Known more for his speed and flashy defense, Cabrera showed legitimate power for the first time in his career.

2. Jhonny Peralta – Tigers +

Jhonny Peralta is having a career renaissance since coming to Detroit and being moved over to 3B. But with the signing of Prince Fielder shifting Miggy back to 3B, Peralta is forced to move back to SS. He’s definitely good enough offensively to stick, but his range at short has to improve if the Tigers want to be even average defensively.

3. Alexei Ramirez – White Sox =

At 30 years old, the Cuban Missile keeps on producing. He hits for a respectable average, flashes power, plays solid defense, and has never missed any significant time. Aside from Pual Konerko, he’s the most stable and consistent guy on the White Sox roster.

4. Alcides Escobar – Royals +

Alcides Escobar may be the best defensive SS in the division. He may also be the worst offensive SS in the division, but that’s easy to say when he’s matched up against the likes of Asdrubal, Jhonny, and Alexei. He stepped up his offensive game big time after the All-Star break in 2011. His glove is good enough to be Gold and he’s quick between the bases. If he can hit .265 consistently, he’s a prototypical SS.

5. Jamey Carroll – Twins –

Jamey Carroll has never been “the man” at a position at any time in his career. But the Twins are giving him a chance this year, a year in which he turned 38 years old, to win the everyday job at short. He’ll battle Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe for playing time. He’s always had a good eye at the plate and still shows the ability at 38 years old to swipe a base or two when needed. Given his Utility background, his defense is average at best.

Third Base

Photo Credit: USA Today

1. Miguel Cabrera – Tigers +

Miggy is the best hitter in the division, and arguably in all of baseball. At his current pace, he’s well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. In 2012, he’ll switch back to 3B, the position he played back when he was traded to Detroit. He was moved over to 1B two weeks later for obvious reasons. The question is: Will he be able to effecitvely make the transition back to third without letting it impact his offense?

2. Mike Moustakas – Royals +

Moose has the highest potential of any 3B in the AL Central apart from Miguel Cabrera. He struggled for most of 2011 in KC, but found his stroke in the last few months of the season. As he gets more acclimated to big league pitching, his power will really begin to show.

3. Danny Valencia – Twins +

Danny is a solid everyday major league 3B. His offense won’t wow you and neither will his defense. He’ll always be a middle of the pack guy in my opinion. 2011 was his first full season in Minnesota, so it’s reasonable to expect his performance to improve.

4. Brent Morel – White Sox +

Like Valenica, 2011 was Morel’s first full big league season. His offense hasn’t been anything to brag about, as he is known more for his defense. He’ll continue to hit in the bottom third for the White Sox in 2012 barring a miracle offensive breakthrough.

5. Jack Hannahan – Indians =

Jack Hannahan is a prototypical bench guy. He’s a light-hitting, solid defensive 3B/1B who should be a late-inning defensive replacement. He got significant playing time with the Tribe in 2011. But 2012 should be different. Although he’s listed as the starter on the current depth chart, he’ll be battling top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. I fully expect Chisenhall to win that battle this spring and Hannahan to return to the bench.

Left Field

1. Alex Gordon – Royals +

Gordon has always had the potential to be great, and in 2011 he finally proved that he could be. Alex was arguably the most valuable guy on the royals roster last season. He set career highs in almost every category, lead the league in OF Assists, and won his first Gold Glove. So it’s safe to say that the position switch went well for him.

2. Delmon Young – Tigers =

For a while, it seemed like Delmon Young was finally realizing his true potential in Minnesota before being trade to the Tigers last season. He seems to have lost his way at the plate, seeing his power numbers take a big dip. He also seems to have lost a step or two in the field, as he appears to be visibly slower in the field and on the bases. But he’s only 26, so he has plenty of time and talent to right the ship.

3. Dayan Viciedo – White Sox +

Viciedo is a legitimate power hitter in the mold of Miguel Cabrera. He’s a short, stocky hitter who will mash the ball at the big league level. His defense will probably never come around, but his bat will be good enough to find him a position. He’s played both LF and RF as well as 1B and 3B. His future may be as a full-time DH.

4. Michael Brantley – Indians +

Michael Brantley is an interesting player. He’s a guy who has been called upon mostly to replace the oft-injured Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo until last season, where he proved he was capable of taking over the everyday job in left. He possesses good speed and a little bit of pop and is good enough defensively to be an everyday CF, which is where he’ll begin 2012 due to Grady Sizemore’s back issues.

5. Ben Revere – Twins +

Ben Revere is another young guy who earned his initial playing time due to an injury (Denard Span). Although he’s primarily a center fielder, a healthy Span means Revere will get most of his playing time in left. He should be a great leadoff hitter for the Twins in the years to come and he’ll always be one of the quickest guys on the field.


Center Field

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1. Austin Jackson – Tigers +

Austin Jackson may be the best overall athlete in the division. He can hit for average and a little bit of power, which should come with experience. He strikes out a ton, which right now puts a hamper on his ability to be a leadoff hitter, which is where he belongs. He’s a great defensive center fielder and will probably earn a Gold Glove or two before his career is over.

2. Grady Sizemore – Indians –

If he could stay healthy, Grady Sizemore could be one of the best players in baseball. He has it all: a good eye, power, speed, a Gold Glove, and iron guts. But if his body keeps him from displaying his skills, he may never get to show off his full potential.

3. Denard Span – Twins +

Despite an injury-riddled 2011, Span is still a solid outfielder. He and Ben Revere are essentially the same player, although Span’s bat has a little more pop. Great defense, good speed. He’s a quality leadoff guy. If he can stay healthy, he should be a key player for the Twins.

4. Lorenzo Cain – Royals +

If it weren’t for the career years by Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain would have been in the lineup everyday for the Royals in 2011. He’s a great athlete who plays terrific defense and has shown he can be solid at the dish. Right now, he’s the biggest question mark in the KC lineup.

5. Alejandro de Aza – White Sox =

Alejandro de Aza is relatively unknown at this point in his career. He’s been around the league a while, serving primarily as a backup OFer capable of playing all three positions well. He is capable of hitting well and has a good eye at the plate, but lacks average power. He could wind up as either their starting CF or LF, depending on who wins the battle between him and super-sub Brent Lillibridge.

Right Field

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1. Jeff Francoeur – Royals +

Like the other two Royals outfielders in 2011, Jeff Francoeur revitalized his career. He’ll always be a hacker at the plate and will never take as many walks as he should, but Frenchy seemed to figure out how to be successful in spite of those parts of his game last season. He has one hell of an arm (just ask Michael Taylor of the A’s) and plays surprisingly good defense (just ask Dustin Ackley of the Mariners). Here’s to hoping Frenchy’s 20/20 season was no fluke.

2. Shin Soo Choo – Indians =

You may argue that Choo should be at the top of the RF rankings, and you’d probably be right and completely justified. Choo missed almost half of the 2011 season due to multiple injuries, but before those injuries his season was a far cry from his 20/20 season in 2010. He has 30/30 potential and possesses one of the better outfield arms in baseball.

3. Josh Willingham – Twins =

Josh Willingham should be the equivalent to Jason Kubel in Minnesota. His average will hover around .250-.260 and his defense could use some improvement, but he’s the thumper that you want in the top half of your lineup. And given the losses of Kubel and Cuddyer and the injuries to Morneau and Mauer, he may be the only Twinkie who hits 20+ HR in 2012.

4. Alex Rios – White Sox –

Rios had a terrific season for the Pale Hose in 2010, but a forgettable 2011. Alex used to be one of the premier up-and-comers in baseball before coming to Chicago. He saw his plate prowess take an enormous hit and his power numbers dwindle. At 31 years old, Rios appears to be on the wrong side of his career arc.

5. Brennan Boesch – Tigers +

Brennan Boesch is one of the better unknown or un-thought of hitters in the AL. He has shown he can hit for average and power (of both gap and HR variety) while maintaining the ability to get on base. His defense and speed are average at best, but his bat is his key. I can see him as Nelson Cruz-type hitter in the coming years.

Designated Hitter

1. Billy Butler – Royals +

Country Breakfast is arguably the best DH in baseball today. Most people forget that he’s only 25 since he’s been in KC for the better part of four years. He’s always been a solid gap-hitter (evidence by three stright 40+ doubles campaigns), but fans and coaches alike are waiting for his power to really surface. He’s shown up to ST in better shape, hoping to earn some reps during the season at 1B. But no matter the outcome of that, his bat will be a mainstay in the Royals’ lineup.

2. Travis Hafner – Indians –

Pronk hasn’t been able to play a full season since 2007, back when he was one of the most feared hitters in the league. But when healthy, Pronk can still deliver the long ball, especially against righties. But his key, especially at 34, is to stay healthy. He holds no defensive value, so he has to hit to keep his job.

3. Adam Dunn – White Sox –

The Big Donkey had the worst year of his career in 2011, and possibly one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history. Now we all know about Adam Dunn. He is a “Three True Outcomes” kind of hitter, meaning he’ll mostly either hit a home run, strikeout, or take a walk. At his size, and given Paul Konerko, Dunn will probably serve as a DH for the rest of his career. But in order to do so, he has to be able to stay way above the fabled Mendoza line.

4. Ryan Doumit – Twins =

Ryan Doumit has always been an offense-first catcher, a quality that typically doesn’t last too long in the majors. But as a backup catcher, 1B, RF, DH, Doumit has real value. He could be one of the more interesting players in the Twins’ lineup this season.

5. Ryan Raburn – Tigers =

The DH position is going to be a revolving door for Detroit for the foreseeable future, given the presence of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fiedler, and Victor Martinez. But with V-Mart out for the season, the job may fall mostly into the hands of Ryan Raburn, who will also be battling for the 2B job. Raburn has power, but not much plate discipline. So the DH spot in their lineup may just go to whoever has the hot hand at the time.

*Seriously, I love that the big 3 DH’s in this division have some of the best nicknames in the league. That’s just awesome.*

Aces

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1. Justin Verlander – Tigers +

Two no-hitters. An AL MVP award. Need I say more?

2. Ubaldo Jimenez – Indians =

Ubaldo Jimenez has all the tools to be a truly dominant pitcher, including a fastball that sits in the upper 90’s. He managed to out it all together back in 2009 and 2010, but seemed to struggle for both the Rockies and Indians last season. He’s still young, projectable, and has ace upside.

3. John Danks – White Sox +

Danks, too, had a rough go of it in 2011, especially at the beginning of the season through the end of May, where he went 0-8 in 11 starts. He rebounded to finish the season respectfully, however. The White Sox gave Danks a large extension this offseason, showing that they believe in his upside. He is easily the best left-handed starter in the division.

4. Carl Pavano – Twins –

Carl Pavano has enjoyed late-career success with the Twins, and is truly the leader of their pitching staff. He hasn’t missed a single start over the past two seasons, showing that his Yankee injuries are behind him. At 36, Carl likely only has a few years of pitching left in him. But his mustache seems to have brought some virility to the veteran.

5. Luke Hochevar – Royals =

As a former number one overall pick, Luke should be higher on this list. He’s struggled mightily up until after the All-Star break last season, where he posted a winning record, a decent ERA, and one of the best ground ball rates in the league thanks to a quality sinker. Luke needs to keep up what he started last year if he wants to keep his place in the Royals’ rotation though.

Closers

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1. Jose Valverde – Tigers +

Papa Grande was the best closer in baseball in 2011, converting 100% of his save opportunities on his way to winning the MLB Delivery Man of the Year award. So with Verlander starting games and Valverde finishing them, the Tigers have the perhaps best starter-closer combo in the MLB.

2. Joakim Soria – Royals +

Joakim the Dream had his worst season to date last year due to a cutter that just wouldn’t cut. He set career worsts in blown saves and ERA, and even lost his closing role for a week in June. Soria rebounded to finish the year in typical fashion, however, leaving little doubt to his role with the team in 2012. He still has the potential to be the best closer in Royals history and could be even better than that.

3. Chris Perez – Indians +

Chris Perez has become a filthy closer for Cleveland after solidifying the role in mid-2010. He earned himself his first All-Star invite in 2011 and handled left-handed hitters even better than righties. The Tribe has formed a formidable bullpen, and Perez is right at the hear of it all.

4. Matt Capps – Twins –

As a set-up man, Capps has been solid. He even had a good season as a closer when he split a season between the Nationals and the Twins, earning him a spot on the All-Star team. He filled in for an injured Joe Nathan upon becoming a Twin, but never could win the job away from him, converting only 15 of 24 save opportunities in 2011. He enters 2012 as the de facto closer for Minnesota, but will have to be better than he was last season.

5. Addison Reed – White Sox +

Addison Reed made his major league debut last season, appearing in six games and finishing two of them. He’s been rated as one of the top 100 prospects by Baseball America and projects to be the White Sox’ closer of the future. Given they have no other real formidable options at the position, Reed has the best shot of earning the job this spring.

The 10 From the ‘Pen

In order to make this process a little easier on me (which didn’t really help at all), my reliever rankings are based on who I project could be potential 8th and/or 9th inning guys.

10. Tyler Sample RHP (Wilmington) age 22

As of right now, Tyler Sample is trying to work his way through the Royals’ system as a starter. After a good showing in 2009, he’s been dipping ever since; and 2011 was his worst season yet. He went 7-12 in 27 games (22 starts), averaging less than 6 innings per start, serving up a 5.25 ERA and 10.1 H/9.

Once a top 20 organizational prospect, control issues have caused Sample’s stock to fall a bit. His career 1.42 K:BB ratio (289:204 incase you were wondering) as a starter has lead me, along with fellow Royals blogger Landon Keefer at Royal Revival, to believe that Tyler would greatly benefit from a shift to the bullpen.

Sample has a huge frame, standing tall at 6’7″ and weighs in at a cool 245-250. Not many guys with similar frames find long-term success as a starter simply due to the fact that the size of a starter’s workload takes a bigger tole on bigger pitchers. So with Sample coming out of the bullpen, he’ll be able to hone in on just a few batters and really let his arm do the talking.

Grade: C+. Tyler is still young and learning how to pitch, so I’m sure he’ll get more reps as a starter. But if he begins to struggle early on this season, I fully expect the Royals to make the switch. He should start the season in Kane County.

9. Jeremy Jeffress RHP (Kansas City/Omaha/Northwest Arkansas) age 24

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I’ll admit that I was pretty excited to see Jeremy Jeffress’ name included in the Royals’ haul of the Zack Greinke trade. After all, the guy was a Top 50 prospect who could throw upwards of 100 mph and had the capabilities of one day being a part of the KC rotation. He had been racking up K after K in the Brewers system and had all the potential in the world.

But Jeffress came to the Royals with some baggage.

Back in 2007, he was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for marijuana. But that wasn’t his first failed test. Apparently he had failed before, but the MLB doesn’t suspend first-time failures if they tested positive for marijuana. In June of 2009, Jeremy again failed a drug test, technically his third offense, and was served with a 100 game suspension. If he fails one more test, he will be banned for life, no questions asked.

Jeremy also suffers from another problem: control. Although he does have a career 10 K/9 in the minors, he also averages 5.7 BB/9. The ability to be consistent has been his kryptonite. He made the Royals bullpen out of Spring Training last season. But in 15.1 IP for the Royals, he gave up 11 BBs to 13 Ks, which averages out to 7.6 K/9 to 6.5 BB/9. He was then demoted to Omaha, and it didn’t get any prettier from there. He was sent to Omaha to be transitioned back into a starter, but only managed to get in 3 starts before being shifted back to the bullpen. His 7.12 ERA and 6.8 BB/9 in only 24 IP earned him another demotion; this time to NW Arkansas.

He was inserted into the Natural’s rotation, going 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in 31 IP (9 games 8 starts). Yet he still could not figure out the strike zone, and his BB numbers finally eclipsed his Ks (22 BB, 20 K). No doubt, a discouraging sign.

Grade: C-. Jeffress has the potential to grade as high as a B+ reliever in my opinion. He just has to somehow figure out what the hell is going on out there. Right now, he’s just a thrower. He wants to go to the mound and throw every single pitch at 99-100 mph, hoping he’ll gas every batter he faces. He needs to learn how to pitch, bottom line (very similar in stuff and inconsistencies to Edwin Jackson). Once he does that, he has the stuff of a potential closer. But until then, he’s just a guy moving in the wrong direction.

8. Brandon Sisk LHP (Northwest Arkansas/Omaha) age 25

Photo Credit: MiLB.com

Despite all of the famed lefties in the Royals’ glowing farm system, Brandon Sisk is the lone lefty on this list. Sisk split last season between AA NW Arkansas and AAA Omaha and put up fairly good numbers at both levels. In Arkansas, he had a 3.77 ERA in  28.2 IP with a 4:1 K:BB ratio and a 1.047 WHIP (BB+H/IP) (which is exactly what you would want out of any pitcher). He earned a promotion to Omaha and threw even better. In 32 IP, he had a 1.41 ERA, a WHIP of 1.0, and 2 Saves. His K:BB ratio struggled, as he had 30K’s to 16 BB’s (1.88:1 ratio).  But other than that, he had a solid season.

That solid season earned Sisk a non-roster invite to Spring Training 2012. He has an outside shot of making the Opening Day roster this season. I expect him to start the year in Omaha and could make his big league debut this summer.

Grade: C. He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Affeldt. He’ll never have a “true” role in the bullpen, meaning he could serve as sort of a Utility reliever.

7. Patrick Keating RHP (Northwest Arkansas) age 24

Photo Credit: Royal Revival

At 6’0″, 220 lbs., Patrick Keating is built like a stocky-power reliever a la Greg Holland. His fastball consistently sits in the mid-90’s and possesses an above-average slider- a great complimentary pitch that every reliever needs.

After being drafted by the Royals out of the U of Florida in 2009, Patrick has been used exclusively as a reliever. Keating had a solid 2010 campaign in Wilmington and NW Arkansas with 101 Ks in 71 IP and a 2.28 ERA, and has a minor league career average of 12.2 K/9 to 3.2 BB/9.

2011 was a rough season for Pat, as he got knocked around a bit in his first full season at the Double A level. In 38 IP, he had an ERA of 6.16 and a WHIP of 1.421. His strikeout numbers fell a bit to 10.4 K/9, but he was able to lower his number of free passes to 2.8 BB/9. He suffered a shoulder injury in mid-June which consequently lead to a stint on the DL. The injury no doubt had a role to play in Keating’s numbers last season.

Grade: C+. I think Keating, barring anymore injuries, could open up the season in Omaha. He looks the part of a serviceable major league reliever who could possibly come in late/close games (31 career saves). He’s been a K machine this far, so he has that going for him.

6. Louis Coleman RHP (Omaha/Kansas City) age 25

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Out off all of the rookies that made their Royals debut last season, Louis Coleman’s rookie season appears to be the one that is most commonly overlooked. In 59 2/3 innings in 48 appearances in 2011, he struck out 64 while walking 26, had an ERA of 2.87, and had the 5th best Inherited Runners Scored% in the MLB at 12.8%.

Coleman doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball. But given his sidearm angle, his slider is just vicious. His Swinging Strike rate was 22%, compared to the league average of 15%. Most of that can be contributed to Coleman’s extreme release point, as he’s able to hide the ball longer more than most pitchers and seems way too far in on right-handed hitters and way too far outside on left-handed hitters.

Grade: C+. Although I doubt Sweet Lou will ever become a closer, he has the ability to shutdown opposing hitters. Down the road he may be more of a specialist pitcher, entering the game in situations that call for a righty-righty matchup. But he shows a great ability to make hitters miss, and that can never be overlooked.

5. Yordano Ventura RHP (Kane County) age 20

Photo Credit: MiLB.com

Yordano Ventura is a 5’11”, 150 lbs. (when wet) starter right now in the Royals system. In his first full season as a starter in 2011, he made 19 starts, went 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA, giving up 82 hits in 84.1 innings pitched, with 88Ks and 24BBs. While this was no make or break season, given it was his first one as a full-time starter, I think Ventura is destined for a future in the bullpen.

Ventura is a max effort pitcher, often able to get his fastball in the 95-99 mph range. Given his body and delivery type, he would have an extremely hard time making it to the bigs as a starter. Being in the bullpen would allow him to pitch to his true style, dialing up fastballs for one inning 3-4 times a week, thus allowing his arm to last as long as it possibly can. He needs to develop a quality second pitch if he wants to move up quickly though.

Grade: C+. Ventura has drawn many comparisons to Pedro Martinez, given their similar size and arm strength. But odds are he’ll be a bullpen fixture sometime soon. If that does happen, he could be this year’s Kelvin Herrera.

4. Kelvin Herrera RHP (Wilmington/Northwest Arkansas/Omaha/Kansas City) age 22

Up until 2011, Herrera had been used exclusively as a starter and spent 3 straight seasons in Single A (2008-10). He was shifted to the bullpen this past season, and what a difference it made. He skyrocketed through the entire system, making stops at all of the Royals’ upper-level minor league teams, and eventually made it all the way to Kauffman for a few cups of coffee at the big league level.

Given his time as a starter, he has the ability to throw 3 pitches that are at or around the major league level, including a fastball that consistently flirts with 100 mph, an above average change-up, and a curveball that could one day be another plus-pitch.

Herrera will get a shot to make the Royals 25-man roster out of Spring Training as a middle-relief/set-up reliever.

Grade: B. It’s extremely hard to judge any reliever’s potential. But given how fast he rose through the Royals’ system, I have little doubt that he’ll be successful. He definitely has the stuff of a future closer.

3. Jonathan Broxton RHP (Los Angeles Dodgers/Albuquerque) age 27

Even though he’s only 27, it seems like Broxton has been around forever. The 6’4″, nearly 300 lbs. hurler had a rough 2011 season as a member of the Dodgers. He began the season as the closer for LA, but was placed on the DL due to pain in his right elbow. Before being placed on the DL in May, Brox racked up a 5.68 ERA and only 7 Saves. He made a few rehab starts in Triple-A before being shut down again. Hopeful to return to the team in September, Broxton tested his elbow by throwing from a mound. When it was clear his arm wasn’t ready, he was shutdown again for the remainder of the season and became a free agent after the season ended.

Brox has pretty decent career numbers thus far, compiling 84 Saves in 117 official chances (roughly 72% Saves converted) in 2+ seasons as the Dodgers full-time closer. Not a great conversion rate by any means. Just decent. But his career ERA of 3.19 is a plus, and along with that comes 503 K’s in 392 innings and the fact that he’s only given up 25 HRs in 7 pro seasons. Before 2011, it seemed like Broxton was in line for a big payday as he was heading into free agency for the first time, but his elbow derailed that dream for at least another season.

After a hunting trip with Ned Yost, Jeff Francoeur, and Jeff Foxworthy in his native Georgia, Broxton was convinced to sign a one-year, $4 mil. deal with the Royals. He’s in line to be a 7th/8th inning guy, along with Greg Holland, setting the table for Joakim Soria.

Grade: B. Broxton is a 2-time All-Star and a pure-power pitcher. His fastball has consistently sat in the upper-90’s throughout his career, but also possesses a power slider to complement it. This, to me, looks like a show-case season for Broxton, who’s looking to prove he can still effectively close games. If the Royals are out of contention by the trade deadline, expect to see him in a different uniform to end the season.

2. Greg Holland RHP (Omaha/Kansas City) age 26

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Greg Holland was one of the most effective relievers in all of baseball last season. Over 60 innings, Greg had an ERA of 1.80, 74 K’s to 19 BB’s, and had an MLB best 6.1 Inherited Runners Scored % in his first full season in Kansas City.

Holland has been a K’s machine throughout his baseball career, so that number never caught anyone off guard. But the fact that he allowed just 37 hits in 60 innings (.175 AVG) and only 2 of 33 inherited runners to score leads many to believe, myself included, that the Royals could shift him into the Closer role if something were to happen to Soria (converted 4 of 6 save opportunities and recorded 18 holds in 2011).

Grade: B. Holland definitely has closer potential, given his ability to locate his high-90’s fastball, an 11.1 K/9 ratio, and the ice water that apparently runs through his veins.

1. Joakim Soria RHP (Kansas City) age 27

Joakim Soria has been arguably one of the best Royals relievers of the last 20 years outside of Jeff Montgomery and the late Dan Quisenberry. Over his 5 year career, Soria has compiled a 13-15 record, 160 Saves, a 2.40 ERA, and 341 K’s (3.92:1 K:BB ratio) in 315 Innings Pitched.

Although he has been a top-tier, lights out closer thus far in his career, 2011 was undoubtedly his worst season to date. He blew 5 of his first 12 save opportunities, and was eventually replaced by Aaron Crow as the team’s closer for a few games. During that stretch however, the Royals didn’t play a single game that required a closer, and Soria resumed his familiar role about a week later.

There have been rumors and talk about the Royals shifting Soria to the rotation ever since he came to KC. Soria definitely has the skill-set to be a quality starter, as he possess 3 plus-picthes (FB, Curve, Change) and the cool, calm, and collected demeanor necessary to be a starter. Just after he was selected by the Royals in the Rule V draft in 2006, he threw a perfect game in the Winter League. So it goes without saying, he’s more than capable of making the switch.

But for now, Joakim is the team’s closer for 2012 and beyond.

Grade: B+. If he didn’t basically implode last season, I would have given him at least an A-. Given the shelf life of closers anymore and how they’re not as big of a commodity as they once were, Soria needs to come back in a big way in 2012 and re-prove himself to the Royals Faithful.

Other names to watch: Tim Collins, Ryan Verdugo, Kendal Volz, Blaine Hardy, Buddy Baumann, Michel Mariot, Bryan Paukovitz

The Royals 10 Best Outfielders Right Now

Even though the real strength of the Royals minor league system lies within it’s pitching ranks, the OF isn’t far behind it in terms of potential. And given the Royals major league outfielder’s performances last season, this talented list becomes that much better. Here’s my top 10 OFers for 2012. Enjoy with a healthy side enthusiasm!

10. David Lough (Omaha) age 26

Photo Credit: Gage Matthews / Kings of Kauffman

Up until now, some of you may have never heard of David Lough. For those of you who fall into that category, here is a glimpse at what David Lough is:

-11th round selection in 2007 draft, Mercyhurst College

-5 Minor League seasons, career .299/.354/.468, 52 HR, 38 3B, 65 SB, 1.93:1 K:BB ratio, .980 Fld%, all the while logging significant innings at all 3 OF positions.

David has spent the past two seasons in Triple A Omaha, biding his time until his name is called. He’s been nothing but consistent, both in the field and in the batter’s box. So why hasn’t Lough seen any time in Kansas City?

Mitch Maier.

Grade: C+. I actually really like Lough. He draws a lot of comparisons to David DeJesus but with much better speed. As a Royals fan, that’s great news to me. Now if he could only pry that 4th OF spot away from the likes of Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson. This guy will get his shot sometime soon, but not necessarily in Kansas City.

9. Jorge Bonifacio (Burlington-Rookie) age 18

Photo Credit: Clint Scoles / Pine Tar Press

Jorge Bonifacio is still extremely young and a relatively unpolished prospect. But from what scouts have seen from him so far, they have no doubt that he will be an impact bat in the middle of the Royals’ lineup one day. He is projected to have terrific power and will play above-average defense while possessing good speed. He still needs to work on his pitch recognition, as he often finds himself out ahead of breaking pitches. But he’s got quick hands and a projectable body that will add mass in time, and mass+quick hands= power.

Grade: B. I can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season of work under his belt. His position isn’t set as of now, but he’ll be either a LF or a RF.

8. Jarrod Dyson (Omaha/Kansas City) age 27

Dyson doing what he does best

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

We all know what Jarrod Dyson is: speed. If he makes the opening day roster, it will be for that reason, and for that reason only. His speed literally changes the game. He can turn a sac bunt into a single, a walk into a double, and a lazily played double into a triple.

He won’t ever really hit for average in the majors without consistent playing time due to the fact the he generally enters the game in low-success situations (sacrifices/bunt single attempts), or he enters as a pinch runner. He doesn’t get relatively great jumps on fly balls, nor does he run great routes. And his arm has never and will never be there. But his speed more than makes up for it.

Grade: C. Dyson is “Juan Pierre-lite” at his best, and “Joey Gathright-lite” at his worst. His speed will keep him in/around the majors for years to come, whether it be in Kansas City or anywhere else. There’s no denying the fact the he simply changes games.

7. Elier Hernandez (Instructional) age 17

Photo Credit: Pine Tar Press

The Royals signed Elier Hernandez this past summer out of the Dominican for a $3.05 mil. bonus, setting a club record for the International signing period. As of now, Hernandez is still relatively unknown. But at 6’4″ and 200 lbs at the tender age of 17, he’s already got the body of a big leaguer. At that size, scouts project him to be a corner OF, most likely RF due to the fact that he will probably slow a bit as he adds on weight and muscle mass. Because that’s all 17 year olds do. He’s described as a “quick-twitch athlete” and “a high-risk, high-reward type”.

Grade: B. Note- I’m handing out this grade without Hernandez ever playing in a professional game. His power potential is though the roof, and he could work his way into the Royals’ list of top 10 prospects by season’s end. Keep this in mind: Hernandez is just 17 years old. The Royals are going to give him as much time as he needs to fully develop on and off the field, so don’t expect to see him in Kansas City until at least 2016-2017.

6. Brett Eibner (Kane County) age 23

Photo Credit: royals.scout.com

Eibner, now primarily a CF, was a two-way player at the University of Arkansas, leading many to believe that he could have been drafted as either an OF or a pitcher. If he were to enter the draft as a pitcher, he would have most likely gone in the 1st round, mostly due to his 97 mph fastball. But luckily for the Royals, he chose to hit, and fell right into their lap in the 2nd round.

Thus far, Eibner has been bitten by the injury bug, hampering his ability to really show the plus-power that he possesses at the plate. He’s known as a bit of a free swinger, and that may never go away. But he does show the ability to take a walk, evidenced by his 90:48 K:BB ratio and his .340 OBP in 2011, despite his .213 AVG in 76 games. He did manage to flash some of his God given power by sailing 12 balls over the fence. He also has a solid glove (.994 Fld% / 1 error) to go with the gun attached to his right shoulder.

Grade: B. He needs to evade the DL this coming season if he wants to progress quickly through the ranks. He’s a great athlete who has the ability to stick at CF, but may be more likely to end up in RF because of his extremely strong arm. If he sticks at CF though, he could be on the fast track to supplant Lorenzo Cain within 2 years.

5. Lorenzo Cain (Omaha/Kansas City) age 25

Photo Credit: Rob Tringali / Getty Images

Another piece of the Zack Greinke/Yunibomber trade, Cain may have outperformed all of the former Brewers that came along with him to the Royals, with an inspiring slash line of .312/.380/.497, with 16 HR, 28 2B, 7 3B, 81 RBI, 16 SB, 40 BB, 102 K in 128 games in Omaha, all the while hitting for the cycle and leading the Storm Chasers to the PCL championship. So why was Lorenzo just another September call-up?

Because the Royals’ outfield last year was just that damn good.

Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy all revitalized their careers. Many saw Melky and Frenchy as guys whom Dayton should have flipped at the July 31 trade deadline, and he very well could have. Just dealing one of them would have paved the way for Cain to Kauffman. But GMDM decided to keep the record setting group together for the rest of the season. So save for a cup of coffee at the big league level as a September call-up, Lorenzo was just plain old blocked. But with the trade of the Melkman to San Francisco, the way has been cleared for Cain.

Grade: B-. Cain is probably a better athlete than he is a baseball player. But he has the potential to be a Gold Glove-caliber CF who can steal 25+ bases and eventually become the leadoff hitter, moving Alex to the middle of the lineup where he belongs. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Cain can do at the K this summer.

4. Jeff Francoeur (Kansas City) age 28

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga / AP Photo

I couldn’t wait to put this picture up…

To say Fenchy surpassed all of our expectations last season is an understatement. He blew them out of the freaking water.

Nobody was surprised last winter when GMDM inked the former Atlanta Brave to a one-year deal. We all, Dayton included, believed this to be another one-year, low-risk signings that the Royals would flip at the deadline for future puzzle pieces a la Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. Afterall, Frenchy’s career appeared to be on a downward slope at the ripe age of 26. He was traded from his hometown Braves in 2009 to the Mets for Ryan Church, a career backup OF. He was with the Mets through the first half of 2010 before they shipped him off to Texas in exchange for Joaquin Arias, another underachieving former top prospect. He platooned while with the Rangers, getting most of his playing time against lefties, earning him 6 AB’s in the World Series.

Dayton Moore snatched him up that winter, and the rest is history.

Frenchy tore it up last season, hitting .285/.329/.476, 20 HR, 47 2B(career high), 87 RBI, 22 SB (career high), becoming the Royals first 20/20 player since Carlos Beltran. He also formed 1/3 of arguably the best OF in all of baseball last season, contributing 16 OF assists (and a handful of ridiculous plays – see bottom) while only committing 5 errors. Not to mention, the guy is a bonafide leader in the clubhouse as well as a total media darling.

Grade: B-. Frenchy is just an all-around great guy. He’ll always be a hard-hacking, homerun-hitting, low-walks kind of guy who will give his team everything he’s got on any given day. His 3 year extension this offseason came as a surprise, given he could regress to his old ways. But with Wil Myers presumably waiting in the wings in Omaha (just like Hosmer did last year), be assured that Jeff will be on his game in 2012.

Frenchy’s ridiculouness:

Francoeur nails Peralta at third

Francoeur robs Ackley

Francoeur takes a single away from Taylor

3. Bubba Starling ( Instructional) age 19

Photo Credit: Lincoln Journal Star

Everyone in Kansas City already knows the name Bubba Starling. The local two-way high school super star took Royals Nation by storm last summer, when he dangled Kansas City by a string while he attended summer football workouts at Nebraska. In the end (a few seconds before the signing deadline, to be exact), Bubba decided to take his talents to Kansas City.

This kid is a freak athlete. He has all of the intangibles to become a top-tier major leaguer. And given the fact that he’s a CF, and projects to stay there, his stock is ever rising within baseball circles. He is a legitimate 5-tool guy and could become the face of the franchise before his first major league at-bat.

Grade: A. I really debated between him and Wil Myers for the number2 and 3 spots on this list. Ultimately, I put Starling at 3 just because he doesn’t have any professional experience yet. But ask me again tomorrow and I may flip these two. Think Matt Kemp-level talent. Can’t wait.

2. Wil Myers (Northwest Arkansas) age 21

Photo Credit: James Garner / MiLB.com

To me, Wil is the top prospect in the Royals system right now, and he’ll get a chance to show off his talents this coming season for the good folks of Omaha, Nebraska.

To accelerate Wil’s timetable to the bigs, the Royals converted Myers from catcher to RF. And with Sal Perez in Kansas City already, that decision looks like it will pay off. Possibly as soon as this summer.

Myers is one of the top hitting prospects in all of the minors given his ability to hit whatever is thrown at him with authority. He’ll hit for average and power and will get on base at an above-average clip. He has the arm strength and athleticism to stick in RF and become a potential star.

Grade: A-. Can you imagine this OF in 5 years? Gordon, Starling, Myers. That could be a lethal threesome. Combine them with Hosmer, Moose/Cuthbert, Butler, and Perez, and you have the best lineup in the AL in 2017. Screw the Yankees.

1. Alex Gordon (Kansas City) age 28

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel / AP Photo

Alex was arguably the best player in the entire Royals organization last season, breaking out to the tune of .303/23 HR/87 RBI. Oh yeah and he also won a Gold Glove. So there’s that. In his first 3+ seasons in Kansas City, to say Alex struggled would be putting it nicely. ’07 and ’08 were decent (.247/15/60, including a Royals rookie record of 34 2Bs, and .260/16/59). The 2008 season ended with Alex taking a groundball off the schnoz; and he was never the same at 3B after that.

His real struggles begain in 2009. He struggled to begin the season, then tore labral cartilage in his right hip, forcing him to spend 12 weeks on the DL. A month after he recovered, he was demoted to Omaha where he would stay until the annual September call-ups. Final: 49 games, .232 AVG, 6 HR

During Spring Training 2010, Gordo suffered another set back by breaking his thumb, causing him to miss the first few weeks of the season. In May, he was again demoted to Omaha. But this demotion was diferent. Alex was sent to Omaha to get work in LF. After mashing in Triple A, Gordon was reinstated to the big league roster in July to replace former Royals great David DeJesus. Alex seemed to be right at home in LF, thus making a seemless transition to the OF.

And in 2011, Alex just went off (see first sentence). On his way to winning the AL LF Gold Glove, he lead the lead the league with 20 outfield assists (which also broke the Royals’ highest single season marks set by Jermaine Dye and Mark Teahen). Now Alex is in the midst of the arbitration process. The Royals need to handle this situation by locking Gordo up for the next 3-5 years.

Grade: A-. Alex has become the complete player that the Royals hoped he would be after selecting him 2nd overall in 2005. He’s a legit 4 to 5 tool player who can hit anywhere in the lineup, given his ability to get on base, hit in the gaps, hit for power (both pull and oppo), and steal a base. Just as everyone in KC (myself included) was ready to cut their ties with him, he pulls himself together and has a terrific, and more importantly consistent, season. Bravo, Gordo.

Other names to consider: Mitch Maier, Terrance Gore, Yem Prades, Brian Fletcher, Whit Merrifield, Derrick Robinson, Tim Smith, D’Andre Toney

Royals Top 5 at the Hot Corner

The Royals have two of their top power hitting prospects at 3B, and just graduated perhaps it’s top power prospect last season. The organization is fairly deep at the hot corner, and it should be a good position to keep an eye on in 2012 and beyond.

5. Mario Lisson (Northwest Arkansas) age 27

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Photo Credit: John Owens/Naturals

At 27 years old, Mario Lisson is already a career minor leaguer. The Royals signed him out of Venezuela in 2002 as an athletic, raw infielder. He’s toolsy enough to play virtually any position. In his 9 minor league seasons, he’s logged 501 games at 3B, 207 at SS, 33 at 1B, and even 2 at C. His glove is average at best, but his ability to play all over the field disguises it. His bat isn’t anything to brag about either, but he has shown the ability to work walks at a decent pace (2:1 K:BB ratio), and he did hit 15 HRs and 21 2Bs in 89 games for the Naturals last season. He stole bases at a good clip in his first few minor league seasons (133 from 2004-2008), but has slowed down a little recently (26 from 2009-2011).

He’s never had a true “breakout” season to date, which is probably why he has yet to make it to the bigs.

Grade: C-. Lisson is a true baseball player. He can do anything you need him to, but likely not much better than most others. He’ll most likely never make it to KC, but could be a fit anywhere.

4. Patrick Leonard (Instructional) age 19

Photo Credit: kcscoliny16

Leonard is a 6’3″ 3B/OF prospect who played primarily SS/3B/P in high school who the Royals picked in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He had a strong commitment to the University of Georgia, but was lured away to the tune of a $600K signing bonus.

Due to his large size and raw power at the plate, Leonard was switched from SS (much like the Royals did with Moustakas) to 3B by the Royals. While some see him staying in the infield, others think he’ll eventually be moved to a corner OF position. His glove and arm are and will be good enough to do either.

Grade: B-. Patrick’s power swing will be good enough to help him advance rather quickly through the Royals’ farm system. So it all really depends on which position he sticks at.

3. Kevin Kouzmanoff (Colorado Rockies) age 30

Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America

Kouz was signed by the Royals last month as an insurance policy to Mike Moustakas. He possesses decent power and a great glove and would serve as a great bench player for Kansas City this season. For more on Kouzmanoff, check out this post: Royal Sign Kevin Kouzmanoff .

Grade: C. If he can make the team out of Spring Training, Kouz will be good for a start a week, pinch hit for Moose against tough lefties, as well as against tough lefties in tight games.

2. Cheslor Cuthbert (Kane County) age 19

Photo Credit: scout.com

Cheslor Cuthbert is ranked as the number 5 prospect in the Royals system for 2012 by Baseball America, as well having the best infield arm within the system. At only 19 years old, he looks the part of a big leaguer. In 2011, Cuthbert played the entire season at A-ball as an 18 year old, which is fairly young for that league. He had a line of .267/.345/.397, flashing some of the raw power that scouts claim he possesses (8 HR in 81 games), and displayed slick hands and a powerful arm.

Grade: B+. With his size, soft hands, and plus power potential, Cuthbert has drawn some comparisons to Adrian Beltre. And if he becomes anything like Beltre, he’ll have one hell of a career. No prospect in the system excites me right now more than Cuthbert. At just 19, he’s still got plenty of time to grow within the ranks and could possibly supplant Moustakas within the next 4-5 years.

1. Mike Moustakas (Royals) age 23

Photo Credit: Zimbio

Ever since the Royals selected Mike as the 2nd overall pick in 2007, the Kansas City fanbase has been in love with the power potential Moose would one day bring to the lineup. That day came last June in Los Angeles.. or Anaheim.. wherever it is the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim play. After the series against the Angels, Moose just seemed to lose his way at the plate, slumping all the way through June, July, and most of August, seeing his AVG fall all the way to .182, with only 1 HR to show for it all (which came in his second career game). But something started clicking, and his AVG began to creep its way back to respectability. He hit .283/.324/.343 in August and a terrific .352/.380/.580 with 4 HR in September and October.

Moose had a little trouble on defense, making an errant throw every now and then, but did pretty well for the most part (ranked 5th in the AL with a 2.57 range factor). But Mike’s true value comes from his bat, specifically his HR potential.

Grade: B+. I expect Mike to be a typical power hitter, with a line of around .260/25 HR/80 RBI. He’ll benefit by being placed behind Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Jeff Francoeur in the lineup for the next few seasons, allowing him to see better pitches. His bat is what brought him to KC, and with guys like Leonard and Cuthbert behind him on the organizational depth chart, it will have to be what keeps him here.

Other names to watch: Mark Threlkeld, Ryan Stovall

Shortstops: The Five Names to Know

The Royals have a lot of young, raw SS’s within their system that need a lot of time to develop. But at the major league level, they seem set for the next half-decade.

5. Mike Antonio (Idaho Falls) age 20

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Photo Credit: milb.com

The Royals selected Antonio in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft out of high school. He is seen as more of a high-risk, high-reward type player. At 6’2″, 190, he’s already big for the position, leading many scouts to ponder a position change for him in the near future. But nonetheless, the Royals seem inclined to leave him alone at SS for now.

Mike is known more for his prowess at the plate than in the field, displaying a lack of range to both sides(his speed is below average as far as SS’s go), making routine plays look “flashy” (like Yuni), while botching a routine play every now and again (like Yuni, too). And with his poor .891 Fld% in 97 games thus far, you can see why many believe he won’t stick at SS for too much longer. But in 103 games with the bat, he owns a positionally exceptional line of .266/.311/.453, 12 HR, 27 2B, 6 3B and a 62:26 K:BB ratio.

Grade: B-. Right now, Mike is a work in progress. He’s a still raw, but very toolsy and athletic player. With him being selected out of high school at the ripe age of 18, the Royals absolutely should take their time with him. If the Royals were to put him on the fast track to Kansas City, he’d be either at 3B or in the OF by now. As of now, though, he’s still a project player with great potential upside with a plus bat.

4. Irving Falu (Omaha) age 28

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Photo Credit: Minda Haas

For those Royals fans are as nerdy as I am, the case of Irving Falu is a terribly confusing one. He’s a 28 year-old, switch hitting utility infielder with a 9 year career minor league AVG of .275, OBP of .342,  170 SB, and a decent .968 Fld%. So why hasn’t this guy ever got a shot at being the Utility infielder for the Royals yet?

Is he great? No. No by any means. But he has value. How many teams would love to have a guy who can play SS, 2B, 3B every few days and can fill in at all three OF positions if the circumstance should arise? My guess would be probably about 100% of them. So who knows why Irving hasn’t been given a shot in Kansas City yet.

Grade: C-. He is what he is. Breeding a utility player isn’t something that GM’s dream of, but it happened. He may be more valuable to a team in the NL, given its nature of substitutions.

3. Orlando Calixte (Kane County) age 19

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Photo Credit: scout.com

Dayton moore signed Calixte, an International free agent out of the Dominican, in 2010 for $1mil.,along with other top Royals prospects Cheslor Cuthbert and Noel Arguelles. At 5’11” and 160 lbs., he has the ideal frame for the position and has enough speed to stick there without any problem. Scouts project him to hit for average and have some above-average power for a SS.

Thus far, Orlando has struggled at the plate (.211/.275/.273), but has of his 75 hits thus far, 15 have been for extra bases. He hasn’t looked great thus far with the bat, but two factors really come into play when it comes to his numbers: he’s only 19 years young, and he’s already competing in a league consisting of a lot of seasoned college pitchers.

Grade: B. His bat should come along, and his quickness will keep him at SS. He’s got plenty of time to figure out his swing and put it all together.

2. Yuniesky Betancourt (Milwaukee) age 29

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Photo Credit: Ed Zurga AP

You know, I could sit here and Yuni-bash all day long. I could say something like “He’s statistically the Worst Player in Baseball”, but we’ve all heard that before. So if you really want to know what I think about him, you should look back at my Yuni post from last month.

Grade: C. Yuni has power potential, and will be best utilized from the bench backing up Escobar, Moose, and Gio. And that’s all I have to say about him.

1. Alcides Escobar (Kansas City) age 25

ImagePhoto Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

As of now, Alcides Escobar is the prize of the Zach Greinke trade (Jake Odorizzi pending), which wasn’t good news for the Royals faithful until June. Up until then, he was hitting a meager .216. His fielding was as graceful as could be though, conjuring up visions of Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel (both of which were/are superb fielders that more than made up for their lack of plate presence).

But once June hit, so did Escobar, hitting .305/.353/.432 with 8 extra base hits for the month. He cooled off a little after that, hitting .253 in July and .224 in August. He became red hot once again in September and October, putting up a .324 AVG in the last month-plus of the season.

The moral of the story is: no matter how poor or great his offense seemed, his defense never faltered, which can happen to players who find themselves in a prolonged slump.

Escobar possesses great speed as well, leading the team with 26 SBs and 8 3Bs.

Grade:B. Escobar will be one of the better fielding SS’s in the league for the next 4 or 5 years and should have enough of a bat to keep him in the lineup nearly everyday. I expect him to hit in the 9 hole for KC this season and be at or around the top of the team in SB’s.

Other names to watch: Jack Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Alex McClure

Second Base: The Fatal 5

Second base is without a doubt the position the Royals have the most unanswered questions about. Johnny Giavotella, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Chris Getz all have very legitimate shots at making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. One will win the starting job, one will be the back up, and one will be sent to Omaha or released. It’s not particularly a deep position within the organization, but it contains a few names that are worth keeping an eye on.

5. Tony Abreu- (Reno – Dbacks) age 27

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The Royals signed Tony Abreu, a switch-hitting IF, to a one-year minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training this past December. He spent all of last season in Reno (the Dbacks AAA affiliate), where he .292/.335/.429, though he has a career line in parts of three big league seasons with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks of .251/.279/.309. He showed a little bit of power last season (10 HR, 26 doubles), but failed to earn a big league promotion. For his career he’s hitting left-handed than right-handed, but not by much (.255 to .241), and has almost a 4:1 K/BB ratio, which doesn’t bode well for him.

His value though lies in his versatility on the defensive side of it all. In the majors, he’s played 49 games at 3B, 38 games at 2B, and 22 at SS; though in the minors he’s played 531 games at 2B, 105 at SS, and only 28 games at 3B. His defense itself leaves a lot to be desired (career dWAR of 0.03), but as a guy off the bench who can play twice a week and occasionally pinch hit, he holds some value.

Grade: C-. Tony mainly provides the Royals with organizational depth this season with the potential of playing in a handful of games in Kansas City this summer barring injuries. His value lies in his utility-ness (submit that one to Webster’s) and his ability to switch-hit. He’ll be in Omaha for sure.

4. Rey Navarro- (Northwest Arkansas) age 22

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Up until this past season, Rey Navarro was a primarily a SS in the Diamondbacks organization (the Royals acquired him 2010 for Carlos Rosa). After becoming a member of the Royals, he was switched over to the other side of the bag, however. After a hot start to his season that started in Single-A Wilmington, hitting .285 with 8 HR and 7 triples in 72 games, he was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He cooled off a bit after the promotion, but maintained a decent ability to get on base (.332 OBP) and a 2:1 K:BB ratio. He is a high contact middle infielder, which is why I am fairly high on him.

Grade: C+. I see Navarro starting the season in Northwest Arkansas. Though if he starts the season off on the right foot like he did in 2011, he could quickly earn a call-up to Omaha. As far as his position, I’m not quite sure though. It all depends on if the Royals plan to keep Christian Colon at SS for another season. Rey’s ceiling may be as a Tony Abreu-type player, given the fact that he is also a switch hitter and has the ability to play all over the field.

3. Chris Getz- (Royals) age 28

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More affectionally known as “Getzy”, Chris Getz will find himself this Spring competing for a spot on the 25-man roster. Last season, Getz struggled to stay consistent. He was above average in May and June, hitting .274 and .292. He cooled off quickly after that though, hitting .233, .217, and .235 in the remaining three months of the season; thus losing his job to the Royals organizational hitter of the year, Johnny Giavotella.

After Gio’s call-up, Getz was relegated to Utility duty, backing up at 2B, SS, and 3B. He would occasionally pinch run in the later innings of close games for Billy Butler due to his speed (84% career SB rate).

Grade: C. If Getzy is on the 2012 Opening Day roster, it will be as a UTIL player. His defense is sub-par (as well as his arm) and his bat is not good enough to make up for it. But a speedy, left-handed hitting utility infielder who is regarded as the best bunter on the team could be of value as Ned plans to make more in-game substitutions this year.

Christian Colon- (Northwest Arkansas) age 22

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SS Christian Colon was the Royals first round pick (4th overall) out of Cal-State Fullerton in 2010. Regarded as a slight reach, but one of the safest picks in the draft, Colon signed quickly enough that he was able to get in 60 games at Wilmington where he hit .278/.326/.380 with 17 extra base hits while playing exclusively at SS.

He spent all of the 2011 season at Double-A NW Arkansas, where he was solid, but unimpressive, hitting .257 with 24 extra base hits. The most exciting thing was his nearly 1:1 K:BB ratio (51:46). His advanced plate discipline and ability to consistently make contact have put Christian on the fast track to Kansas City.

Due to his slower speed (as far as shortstops are concerned) and lack of range for the position, I see him moving to 2B full-time this season (he played 15 games at 2B in 2011).

Grade: B-. Colon has a real chance at making an appearance at the K this September if his transition to 2B goes smoothly. He has the ability to become a steady player at the big league level, but he most likely won’t be a star. He is very comparable to Orlando Cabrera.

1. Johnny Giavotella- (Kansas City) age 24

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Although Gio’s debut in Kansas City left a lot to be desired, he absolutely killed it in Omaha last season, hitting .338/.390/.481, including 34 doubles, 9 HR and a 57:40 K:BB ratio. Putting up numbers like that will always get a player recognized, earning him the Royals’ George Brett Hitter of the Year award, a spot on the Topps AAA All-Star team, and a promotion to Kansas City.

Johnny’s bat is what got him here and it’s going to have to be what keeps him here, as his defense leaves a lot to be desired (-0.6 dWAR) and he’s not particularly quick on the basepaths (though Doug Sisson will probably change that). His line drive stroke though is too sweet to overlook. Some of those deep gap doubles will turn into HR’s as his pitch selection improves.

Grade: B-. To me, Giavotella is one of the most exciting young players on the roster right now. He’s a “lightning in a bottle” type of player who gives everything he’s got for all 9 innings. I’m not sold on his defensive staying power yet, but if he can come close to replicating what he did in Omaha last year, his bat will be more than enough to keep him around.

Next time – Moving our way across the diamond: Shortstops

Royals Top 5 First Basemen

The Kansas City Royals first base situation right now is the best that it has been in a long, long time. So let’s get right into it.

5. Richard (Dean) Espy- Rookie (Idaho Falls) age 22

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Heckuva last name, right? The Royals selected Espy in the 15th round of this past year’s draft. He projects as more of a line-drive type of hitter given his level swing path. He has never hit for very much power for a first basemen (as evidenced by his 7 HR’s this past season in Idaho Falls), but was able to hit 17 doubles in those same 62 games. His defense is average to above average, so think along the lines of Casey Kotchman. Grade:C+. He did hit .318/.391/.489 in his first pro season, showing he can handle the bat thus far. But being in the Rookie league at 22, while Hosmer is in Kansas City at age 22, does not bode well for him.

4. Murray Watts- A (Kane County) age 24

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Never mind that Murray Watts has the same name as your grandfather. At 6-7, 255-270 lbs. (depending on who you ask), Watts is nothing short of an intimidating force at the plate. Like Espy, the Royals selected him out of the college ranks, so he is going to be older than most other players in his league. He is a pure masher, and a “Three True Outcomes” guy, which means he will most likely strikeout, walk, or hit a homerun in any given AB. For instance, in his first two minor league seasons (169 games), Watts has 31 HR, 110 BB, and 193 K’s with a slash line of .244/.364/.447. To give you a comparison, think Adam Dunn. For his career, Dunn has a 162 game average of .243/.374/.503, 38 HR, 110 BB, 197 K’s. Those two sets of numbers are eerily similar. Given their similar body types, Watts is also destined to be primarily a DH. But if he can avoid going totally anaemic like Dunn did in 2011, he could be a major league contributor in some capacity in the next few years. Grade: C. Odds are, given his older age and lower level, he may be more of a Craig Brazell than Adam Dunn. He has to improve his plate discipline and make more of a home at 1B though if he wants to be a big league hitter. The guy could be a monster in Japan right now, much like the next Royal on my list.
3. Clint Robinson- AAA (Omaha) age 26
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Clint Robinson will forever be mentioned with the likes of former Omaha greats Kila Ka’aihue and Craig Brazell. In 2010 at Northwest Arkansas, Robinson won the triple crown award, leading the Texas League with a .335 AVG, 29 HR, and 98 RBI. He did little to disappoint in Omaha last year as well, hitting .326, 23 HR, and 100 RBI. So, with numbers like that, some would probably wonder: What are the Royals waiting for?
Well, it’s pretty simple. Robinson has been blocked ever since he can remember. First by Billy Butler and Mike Jacobs, then by Billy and Kila, and now by Billy and Eric Hosmer. A lack of a big league promotion doesn’t mean that he isn’t worthy, and if he were on almost any other team he would be in the bigs right now. It’s the fact that he is now stuck behind two young, promising and producing former first-round picks. As you can see, it’s not his fault that he hasn’t played an inning at the big league level yet. He’s an injury away from making his debut though.
Grade:B-. Robinson would be a welcome addition to any AL team looking for a 1B/DH with plus power (and who isn’t?), since his glove isn’t much to brag about. Trade bait.
2. Billy Butler MLB (Kansas City) age 25
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Billy Butler has been the Royals most consistent hitter for the past four seasons. Although his power still isn’t quite where Royals fans want it to be, you can’t complain with what you get from him. Afterall, the man can’t help but hit doubles. He has had at least 44 doubles in each of the past 3 seasons. Over time, as his swing matures, his power will definitely come; turning some of those doubles into home runs.
“Country Breakfast” is on this list because, even though he is the epitome of a DH, he is still technically a 1B. I don’t believe I need to elaborate more on him, since I’m sure we all know enough about him by now.
Grade: A. Billy hits. Period. He’ll anchor this lineup for the next 4-5 years at least.
1. Eric Hosmer MLB (Kansas City) age 22
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I bet you didn’t see this one coming…
Hosmer is going to be the best player on this roster for the for the near distant future. He has every intangible you want in your 1B: size, Gold Glove potential, Silver Slugger potential, above average speed for the position, a great clubhouse guy, and a team leader. Forget about him being the best 1B in the organization, he may be the best all-around player. Hoz did well enough in his rookie season to garner a second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Being as good as he is, combined with how young he is, the Royals need to do themselves a favor and lock him up to a substantial contract now.

Grade: A+. This may be the only A+ I hand out, and if you can present an argument against, I would love to hear it. Enough said.

Up next: Second baggers.