Written by Robert Democh
Published: 24 February 2009
The Royals are light years removed from the days of being a playoff fixture. Many of their current starters waddled in diapers when Kansas City last made a postseason appearance en route to capturing the 1985 World Series. The quintessential small market club celebrates its 40th anniversary this season, still struggling to attract and retain top talent against deeper pocketed rivals. This is regrettable, as the Royals are renowned for their legions of loyal fans. They clawed their way to a 75-87 mark in 2008 and expect further advancement. Unfortunately, the lack of power and a weak rotation will limit their competitiveness. Don’t overlook their valuable fantasy talent that others may undervalue given the team’s low profile. Top Tier
Joakim Soria (RP): The most popular Mexican export since Selena, Soria has enjoyed a rapid ascent into the upper echelon of fantasy relievers. Consecutive seasons of excellence (converting 59 of 66 save opportunities) can facilitate that. Soria has been virtually untouchable, assembling a .169 batting average against, 0.86 WHIP, 3:1 K:BB ratio and 42 saves last season. He’s a good bet for 40 saves in 2009, meaning he should be targeted no later than the ninth round of mixed league drafts.
Zack Greinke (SP): Greinke is a borderline Top Tier selection but needs one more season of excellence to earn it. His stock is clearly on the rise, as many fantasy pundits are touting him as a prime breakout candidate. After overcoming serious emotional problems that led to his taking a leave of absence from baseball in 2006, Greinke righted his ship and returned with a vengeance last year. Amassing 200 innings, he won 13 games, fanned 183 batters and posted a 3.47 ERA. Expect more of the same this season. He will anchor the Royals rotation for years to come after inking a 4-year, $38 million dollar deal in January. That’s serious change for a team like the Royals, but locking in a future Cy Young award winner represents a prudent investment.
Alex Gordon (3B): Like an expectant father pacing the floor awaiting the birth of his child, Royals fans anxiously anticipate the day when Gordon, one of the most sought after prospects of the decade, delivers on his enormous potential. So far, he has shown traces of that marvelous talent, but his tools need additional sharpening. Judging by the numbers, Gordon’s second season wasn’t substantially better than his rookie year. He mashed 16 homers with nine steals and a .260 average. He continued showing limited patience at the plate, however, racking up 120 whiffs in 493 at bats. Assuming he reduces the strikeouts, better things await. For instance, he cracked 35 doubles and some of those should soon reach the seats. He may slip in drafts, so if you can net him in the 12th round or later, you should reap the rewards of a 20 homer, 75 RBI campaign.
Gil Meche can give you innings and a few strikeouts, too.
Gil Meche (SP): Meche arrived in Kansas City to great fanfare, signing a long-term deal to anchor the rotation. Things got off to a rocky start in 2007. Meche, no doubt feeling pressure to live up to his ace billing, struggled mightily en route to just nine wins. Last year, though, he relaxed and pitched masterfully, hurling 210 innings and notching 14 wins while recording 183 strikeouts and a 3.98 ERA. That probably represents a ceiling, given his limited offensive support. Meche is durable, keeps the ball in the park and strikes out batters at a steady clip. Target him as your fifth starter in mixed league formats.
Mike Aviles (SS): If you’ve participated in any mock drafts this year, you might be wondering about the hype surrounding Aviles. Opportunity knocked and Aviles answered resoundingly in 2008. He didn’t assume starting shortstop duties until June, but quickly established himself as an offensive juggernaut, finishing with a .341 average and 41 extra base hits (including 10 homers). His dual shortstop/second base eligibility in many mixed leagues has seen him typically chosen in the 11th round. There’s much to like but some caution is in order. For instance, his batting average on balls in play was a scorching .357 in 2008, far exceeding anything he had done previously. Expect that to dip somewhat this year. Aviles doesn’t strike out much, so the potential is there for an encore. The 10 homers, however, is probably his limit so don’t pay expecting more.
Mike Jacobs (OF): Jacobs joins the Royals after clubbing 32 home runs with the Florida Marlins last year. He is a bona fide big league slugger but may not find the move conducive to his power stroke, as Kauffman Stadium has become one of the harder AL parks to go yard in. He had a pedestrian .299 OBP last year and a career .262 batting average further limits his attractiveness. Left handers dominate him (career .235 batting average against), so don’t go overboard for 25 homers and a .250 average. Third Tier:
Billy Butler (DH): Will he or won’t he? Butler has been the fair haired boy of numerous fantasy publications but hasn’t yet turned heads. Slow afoot, this stone-fingered defender better start hitting because his glove will continue collecting dust. He has a batting stroke to die for but it has yet to generate significant power (just 19 homers in 772 major league at bats) while his batting average dipped from .292 in 2007 to .275 last year. He exhibits good bat control and keeps the ball in play, averaging just one strikeout per six at bats. Butler turns 23 in April and still has a time to harness that great swing into something special. The problem is the Royals have other options and are growing short on patience. Butler is worth no more than a late round investment in case this is the year he delivers on that potential.
Jose Guillen (OF): Guillen must enjoy traveling because Kansas City is the tenth stop of his 12-year major league. career. This man in constant motion has a penchant for picking arguments with teammates and fans, accounting for his many early exits. A lesser talent would have disappeared long ago, but when focused Guillen is highly productive, smacking 20 or more home runs five of the last six seasons. His 20 dingers and 97 RBI easily paced the Royals last year, making him one of the few legitimate power threats in their lineup. He tends to run hot and cold, but the hot streaks are memorable. Over a 40 game span last June and July, Guillen hit a sizzling .380 with 10 homers and 20 doubles. If you can handle the peaks and valleys, you could do worse than Guillen as your fourth outfielder. Question Mark:
Coco Crisp (OF): Following three years languishing on the Red Sox bench, Crisp seeks vindication as the Royals center fielder. The man bearing a name cereal marketers adore will be given a chance to demonstrate he can still be an everyday contributor. We can confidently predict he’ll steal 20 or more bases; he did that as a part-timer each of his three seasons in Boston. Crisp is not a prototypical leadoff hitter. He doesn’t walk much (once every 13 career at bats) and sometimes reaches for the fences (a career high 16 homers in 2005). Provided he remains healthy, he should receive 550 at bats in Kansas City, translating into 30 steals with 90 runs, 8 homers, 50 RBI and a .275 average. Those steals make him a particularly attractive fifth outfielder, so target him as your draft winds down.
Kila Ka’aihue (1B): The Hawaiian native feasted on minor league pitching last season. Splitting time between Class AA and Class AAA, he powered 37 homers and 100 RBI while compiling an impressive .315 average in just 400 at bats. Earning a September cup of coffee with the Royals, Ka’aihue hit .286 in limited action. His future is murky, simply because the Royals have a plethora of 1B/DH types, including Butler, Jacobs and Gordon. If he continues to shine, Kansas City may have little choice but to market Ka’aihue to address other needs. Prospect Watch:
Mike Moustakas (SS): The Royals top prospect, he’ll appear in a Kansas City uniform as soon as practicable. Just 19, Moustakas offered a tantalizing peek at his potential by spanking 22 homers to lead the Class A Midwest League last season. And shaking off early jitters, he batted a lofty .321 during the second half. Moustakas is a name worth remembering, as that type of power from a middle infielder should usher in fantasy stardom by 2011.