*Disclaimer: These posts are obviously extremely preliminary, and while they probably aren't really that applicable until the END of the season, it's the only way to distract myself from the current free-fall the Twins are experiencing. So this is solely for entertainment. Also, all numbers below are from the '09 season unless otherwise specified.
The Royals were a trendy pick to be the surprise team of '09 much as the Rays were last year. Unfortunately, their surprise has been being slightly more ridiculous than before, despite a stellar season by Zack Greinke and a rather surprisingly solid rotation in general. At the very least, the Royals were thought to maybe finish in 4th, and despite Cleveland's fire-sale and Minnesota's recent ability to throw away every lead, even 4th place would be an accomplishment for Kansas City at this point.
So, could next year be their year? Well ... let's take a look at what they've got coming back in 2010:
Zack Greinke, RHP, 11-7, 2.33 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
*After struggling for a few years to get settled in the majors, Greinke's hit his stride in a major way. In fact, running into the All-Star break it was a neck-and-neck race with Roy Halladay and Kevin Slowey for the AL lead in wins -- which was later snagged by Josh Beckett. That's some pretty good company Greinke's keeping, and on a team that perpetually finds ways not to win games. He'll be frontlining their rotation next year and is part of the core that Kansas City hopes to build back to their old glory.
Gil Meche, RHP, 5-9, 4.62 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
*After missing a large portion of July and August with back problems, Meche returned this past week to cause problems for the Twins. After signing a large contract with Kansas City in '07 and being severely miscast as their staff "ace", Meche could be a very nice veteran presence for their young rotation which now has Greinke (and probably soon Hochevar as well) taking over the "ace" title. Meche should be back and post similar career numbers although hopefully with enough offense behind him to pad his win column more.
Luke Hochevar, RHP, 6-6, 5.73 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Brian Bannister, RHP, 7-9, 4.26 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
Kyle Davies, RHP, 4-8, 5.92 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
*Despite posting mediocre major league numbers, Hochevar has quite the ceiling. Just like Greinke he probably only needs another year or two to help Greinke compete with the Tigers on having the best 1-2 starters in the AL Central. And what's even better for Royals fans is that Greinke's signed through 2012 and Hochevar's under team control until 2013. To round out their rotation, Brian Bannister is a solid back of the rotation starter, similar to the Twins' own Nick Blackburn -- a groundball machine who relies on his defense and putting the ball in the play. Davies isn't much to write home about at this point and the if the Royals were so inclined they could probably look at the free agent market for another innings-eater, but when they're so far off from a title run, why not just let their young pitchers develop a little longer? And initially, the outlook was pretty good on phenom Daniel Gutierrez being close to breaking camp with them in 2010 or 2011, although he is currently still sitting in High A. Also in High A is the Royals' top pitching prospect, Danny Duffy, who is also still a couple years away from helping out the major league team.
C: Miguel Olivo, .240/.272/.473, 16HR, 42RBI
1B: Billy Butler, .297/.352/.480, 14HR, 61RBI
2B: Alberto Callaspo, .300/.353/.438, 7HR, 44RBI
SS: Yuniesky Betancourt, .238/.268/.338, 3HR, 30RBI
3B: Alex Gordon, .198/.300/.313, 3HR, 11RBI
LF: David DeJesus, .263/.334/.410, 8HR, 54RBI
RF: Mark Teahen, .275/.330/.413, 9HR, 39RBI
*The biggest question heading into next season for the Royals is what to do at Center Field. Their answer has been Coco Crisp, on whom they hold an option next year, but my gut says they'll buy him out. Crisp is coming off a season in which he was hitting .228/.336/.328 before falling to shoulder injury in early June. It's questionable if he'll even be ready in time for Spring Training, and I doubt the budget-limited Royals want to shell out for such a big question mark when they could pick up another reasonable option like Endy Chavez, Rick Ankiel, Andruw Jones, or simply just go with what they've been doing now and sending Willie Bloomquist, Josh Anderson, and Mitch Maier out there everyday (although none of them really turn any heads.)
*Another big point is that I believe Callaspo will be their starting 2B. Mike Aviles had that role going into the season but, like Crisp, has been sidelined with an injury while posting an uninspiring .183/.208/.250, and he probably won't be ready until Spring Training either. The Royals had been hoping for a much better year from Aviles, who was probably their version of Alexi Casilla this year (and just like Casilla he flopped). Callaspo, on the other hand, has posted career numbers this year. And despite some earlier character issues, he will probably win the role in 2010, with Aviles making the roster as a utility infielder.
*The real keys to their line-up are the under-performing Alex Gordon, and their best hitter: Billy Butler. Typically the Royals are even more hesitant with rushing their prospects than the Twins are, but Alex Gordon might be the exception. He probably could have spent some more time in the minors but instead has been trying to work things out with the big-league club to somewhat lackluster results. His struggles are probably why top prospects Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are being coddled somewhat more slowly and are probably spending more time at High A than they need to. (They will be the real core once they reach the majors and complement Butler and Gordon.) Billy Butler has actually been a very good player, despite drawing somewhat unrealistic comparisons in TV commercials. He's still young enough that his ceiling probably hasn't been reached yet, but young Eric Hosmer could supplant him in a couple years if Butler hasn't become the super-star that Kansas City is hoping for.
Joakim Soria, RHP, 2.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 46/10 K-BB ratio, 36.2 IP in 32 games.
Juan Cruz, RHP, 6.17 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 35/27 K-BB ratio, 46.2 IP in 43 games.
Kyle Farnsworth, RHP, 4.24 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 25/6 K-BB ratio, 23.1 IP in 27 games.
Doug Waechter, RHP, 8.44 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 3/3 K-BB ratio, 5.1 IP in 5 games.
Robinson Tejeda, RHP, 4.98 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 44/28 K-BB ratio, 34.1 IP in 25 games.
John Bale, LHP, 6.20 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 21/17 K-BB ratio, 24.2 IP in 34 games.
* Kansas City will lose relievers Ron Mahay and Jamey Wright to free agency at the end of the year, but neither of them have been particularly inspiring. Actually, most all of Kansas City's bullpen has been rather depressing outside of the dominant Joakim Soria. Kyle Farnsworth was somewhat of a pleasant surprise with a nice strikeout-to-walk ratio and a decent WHIP, but when he's their second best reliever, their bullpen has issues. Juan Cruz was supposed to be the answer but has been nothing short of disappointing. The Royals will have to either overpay on the free agent market for more question marks just like Cruz, or else they simply need to wait for some of their top talent from A-ball to start making their way up to the majors before their bullpen woes come to an end.
Kila Ka'aihue, 1B-DH, .259/.395/.458, 16HR, 49 RBI (AAA stats)***
Mike Jacobs, 1B-DH, .233/.306/.422, 15HR, 41 RBI
Jose Guillen, OF-DH, .245/.317/.371, 9HR, 40RBI
John Buck, C, .208/.275/.400, 4HR, 25 RBI
Brayan Pena, C, .326/.360/.500, 3HR, 10 RBI
Mike Aviles, MIF, .183/.208/.250, 1HR, 8RBI
Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF, .256/.300/.356, 4HR, 25 RBI
Josh Anderson, OF, .240/.277/.302, 0HR, 18RBI
Mitch Maier, OF, .241/.320/.333, 0HR, 16RBI
Luis Hernandez, INF, .318/.368/.409, 1HR, 19RBI (AAA stats)***
*Kila Ka'aihue and Mike Jacobs are essentially the same player, except Ka'aihue's name is much more fun to say and he probably still has more untapped potential than Jacobs does. That said, I expect Jacobs to beat him out as he has a larger major league track record, although Ka'aihue is a fan favorite in KC. Guillen could always play a corner outfield post and let DeJesus slide into center to solve their CF dilemma, but either way he'll definitely make the team. Bloomquist will be their super utility man, and he'll post similar numbers as these aren't out of line with his career. Mitch Maier and Josh Anderson are uninspiring 5th outfielders at best, but there really isn't anyone else in their system right now unless they hit the free agent market. For the back-up catcher spot, Brayan Pena has been getting an audition as of late and has posted career numbers that lead one to believe either he's miraculously turned a corner or he's playing well above his head. As good as he is right now, I don't think they're going to part ways with KC stalwart John Buck who will be playing out the final year of his arbitration in KC. The last player on the list, Luis Hernandez, has very solid numbers at AAA, but his major league slash is a very uninspiring .204/.235/.204 through 22 games filling in. It's doubtful he'll outperform Aviles or Bloomquist for the backup IF spot.
*It's hard to find much hope in this team. If things magically come together and their top prospects start lighting it up and make it to the majors next year where they happen to shine ... maybe they will be a force to be reckoned with. But I don't think they'll be a realistic pick, and I don't see them passing up even the woeful Indians. They have a solid young staff with a nice veteran presence. They have one lock-down reliever surrounded by a mess of duds in their bullpen. In terms of bats, their only stand-out major leaguer is Billy Butler, although DeJesus, Callaspo and Teahen can all be capable role players.
Ludicrously early prediction:
68-94, 5th place, AL Central