If you’re an Astros fan looking for someone who can relate to what you may be going through, look no further. Royals fans have been there. Back in the mid-2000s the Royals went through a couple of 100-loss seasons too. But the club has been rebuilt from the ground up and the Kansas City roster is now loaded with promising youngsters. Players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez are poised to take the franchise to the promised land. Is this the year the Royals break through?
To get the skinny on the 2013 Royals I brought in one of FanSided’s heavy hitters. Michael Engel, the Senior Editor at Kings of Kauffman, was kind enough to share his expertise with us by answering a few of my questions about the state of the Royals. Here’s my Q & A session with Michael.
CTH: What are expectations like this year in Kansas City and has the big winning streak at the start of Spring Training raised them?
Michael: I don’t know that the streak has done much in that regard, but expectations are higher than in previous years. Last year they were pretty high, but the team showed that they’re still very young and the ran into growing pains. This year, with James Shields and a seemingly rebuilt starting rotation, fans expect .500 and better. Good play in the Cactus League won’t discourage those high expectations, of course.
CTH: How do you feel about the trade that sent top prospect Wil Myers (and others) to Tampa in exchange for James Shields?
Michael: I’ve always liked Shields so I’m happy to have him, but my initial reaction was that it was silly to trade a guy who could be an all-star for years and an immediate upgrade in right field for a player with just two years on his contract. It didn’t seem like Shields alone was enough at the time, and with other free agents available, I’d have preferred they get really aggressive in signing Anibal Sanchez, for instance. Then they still have Myers.
Now, months later, I still don’t like it, but I can’t deny that Shields immediately gives the Royals something they haven’t had the last two years – a legit starter to work at the top of the rotation. Myers is going to be a long-time “What if?” question in Kansas City, but if Shields can lead Kansas City to the playoffs in 2013 or 2014, a lot of people will be more comfortable seeing Myers in Tampa.
CTH: A couple of years ago the Royals farm system was considered to be one of the best in baseball. How does it rank now and who are some of the better prospects still in the pipeline?
Michael: There’s still a lot of talent, but most of it is in the lower levels now. The closest impact prospects to the big leagues are left-handed pitcher John Lamb and right-handed pitcher Yordano Ventura. Both are set to open the year in Double A, but both are also likely to end the year in Triple A, if not the big leagues in September. Lamb’s still getting back after Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2011 and he didn’t get as much time on the mound last year as expected due to some ankle problems that popped up while conditioning before he was throwing again.
Ventura is throwing about 99 mph this spring and has given up just two runs in 8.2 innings. He’s small, but gets everything out of his delivery and has good feel for a changeup and curveball. The Royals are really optimistic about him. Kyle Zimmer’s another good name, but he’s probably more of a 2014 guy. Otherwise, the Royals really have to wait on guys to rise up from A ball and rookie levels while the guys they’ve already graduated work on the big league team.
CTH: Who do you feel is the better option at 2B: Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella?
Michael: My preference is Giavotella. His big league numbers haven’t been there yet, but in his defense, he spent the last month of 2011 playing through a hip injury and last year he was up and down seemingly at random and never got sustained playing time until the end of the year when Getz broke his thumb and needed surgery. There were frequent instances when Gio would get a hit or two in a game and sit the next two days.
Getz is given a pass by many because he fits what a second baseman should look like – scrappy, fast, steals bases, makes plays. But his defense is overrated, he has zero power (31 XBH in almost 900 plate appearances since joining the Royals and none of them were homers), and even last year, which is being pushed as a career year, he only got on base 31 percent of the time. He’s turning 30 this summer and there’s nothing else to gain here.
Giavotella was a second rounder in 2008 and he’s hit at every level in the minors, and has nothing else to prove in Triple A. He may not pan out – he just hasn’t hit like he has in the minors and isn’t as patient as he was either – but the Royals have to know what they have. They should have figured that out last season so that this year they’d know if it’s time to groom Christian Colon for the spot or if Gio can do it every day. If he hits, it’s his job. If he doesn’t he’ll never get past Getz.
CTH: Which Royals player is likely to have a breakout season in 2013?
Michael: That’s a tough one. They’re all still so young so nobody’s really established other than Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. I expect Eric Hosmer to rebound. Mike Moustakas told everyone he wasn’t bothered by a knee injury from last July, but the numbers say otherwise. Salvador Perez is still unproven due to a lack of time in the big leagues but he’s been excellent at and behind the plate.
But if I have to pick one breakout hitter, it’s Lorenzo Cain. If he stays healthy, he could be a decent hitter with some power. Last year, he pulled a groin five games into the year and ran into complications during recovery. In 244 plate appearances, he hit seven homers in the big leagues after returning in July. He got shut down again in mid-September with another injury, though and ran into a hand sprain as spring training games started. He looks like an injury-prone guy, but if he plays a full year 15-20 homers isn’t crazy, and he’s speedy so he could chip in 20 steals as well.
CTH: Thanks a million, Michael. I look forward to talking with you again when the Royals come to Houston for a 3-game series starting on May 20th. Perhaps a wager involving a bottle of each city’s finest barbecue sauce is in order.