Friday, February 26, 2010

Reboot.

There’s still snow on the ground over much of the Midwest, but it’s sunny and warm in Surprise, the entire roster has reported for duty, everyone’s in the best shape of their lives, and Kyle Farnsworth’s changeup is unbelievable. (And his pitching coach is comparing him to Zack Greinke!) Forget the calendar – spring has arrived. Optimism abounds. Hope springs eternal. Again.

So it’s time to reboot. Last year was a nightmare in so many ways, and even after a winter off, I can’t say that the bitter taste in my mouth has completely washed out. But I’m going to try my best to start afresh. I don’t think I can maintain this blog if I have to ride the highs and lows that I did last season. But I’ll try my best to be here, perhaps not as often as before, and perhaps not as emotional – for good or for bad – as before. I’ll try not to let the fact that the Royals and I see baseball through completely different prisms get in the way. I’ll try not to let the fact that in an admittedly bizarre Fox Sports clip with Jim Bowden – I’d link to it, but it’s apparently been pulled from the web – Dayton Moore let it be known that two of his favorite sabermetric stats are “runs scored” and “runs batted in”. That’s like saying that your favorite president was Benjamin Franklin.

So I’ll try to stay positive, but not at the expense of being honest.

But in all honesty, there is reason to be positive about the Royals today, even after an off-season that was spent mostly spinning our wheels. You might think that I’m incredibly bearish on the Royals’ off-season moves based on my posts, but in the big picture, it wasn’t a disaster. Yes, the Royals signed Jason Kendall, and the pundits are still laughing. But aside from Kendall, Moore and friends didn’t make any egregious errors. Brian Anderson looks superfluous. Scott Podsednik is a band-aid. Rick Ankiel is a project. But none of these guys are signed beyond this year, and they’re not – as yet – blocking any better options in the system. (Indirectly, they’re blocking Kila Ka’aihue, but if playing Ka’aihue at DH means that Jose Guillen has to take the field…it’s back to Omaha for you, Kila.)

The Mark Teahen trade brought in Josh Fields and Chris Getz, both of whom are far from sure things, but if either one of them turns into a quality everyday player, the Royals win the deal – they’re both under club control for the next five years. And best of all, the Royals found the time and money to squeeze in the Noel Arguelles signing, adding another Top-100 prospect to the system.

In terms of talent moving into and out of the organization, there’s no comparison: this was a much better winter than last year. (Notice the qualification: the Zack Greinke extension trumps everything, even if it was a no-brainer.)

So I can still see the reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Kansas City Royals. It’s just that, for the umpteenth year in a row, “future” means “after this season”. I mean, yes, it’s possible that the Royals could be a surprise contender this season. If the magic that descended upon Kansas City in 2003 returns this summer, like some sort of seven-year cicada, anything is possible. The Royals still have one trump card up their sleeve that the Rays, the A’s, and the Mariners don’t: they play in the AL Central. If the Central is as weak as it was last year, or as weak as some project it to be this year (the last update of Baseball Prospectus’ projections has the Twins winning the division – with 81 wins, just seven more than the Royals) – hey, anything’s possible.

On the other hand, the Royals also have a lineup in which Yuniesky Betancourt might bat seventh – or, in one of Trey Hillman’s permutations, a lineup in which Jason Kendall bats second. So pardon me for not taking their playoff chances all that seriously.

But that doesn’t mean that 2010 can’t be a successful year for the franchise. It just means that we have to direct our expectations elsewhere – namely, to the farm system, where the Royals have been stockpiling teenage talent through the last three drafts, talent which is only now starting to reach the higher levels of the minor leagues. But it’s there. What’s unusual about the Royals’ farm system is that while they probably have three or four future All-Stars quietly developing, it’s not clear who those three or four guys are. If you look at the most well-respected Top 100 Prospects lists out there – Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law at ESPN.com – the Royals have three or four guys on each list. But it’s a different mix of players on each one.

The highest-rated Royal on any of these lists, as hard as it may be to believe, is Eric Hosmer, who comes in at #34 on Law’s list even though he didn’t make the Top 100 at all on the other two lists. I love getting Law’s input, because he’s at once well-informed yet iconoclastic, which frequently leads to situations like these where his opinion of a prospect differs wildly from the consensus.

I had the chance to speak with Law at some length about Hosmer at the winter meetings, and was impressed with his enthusiasm for Hosmer – so this ranking doesn’t surprise me. We all know the story about Hos – considered the best pure hitter out of the high school ranks in years, but fell flat on his face in his first full season, hitting just .254/.352/.382 in Burlington, and then even worse (.206/.280/.299) after a bizarre late-season promotion to Wilmington. Hosmer’s season then ended prematurely because 1) he couldn’t see properly and 2) the Royals had problems finding him a good pair of glasses, which led to a lot well-earned snickering.

But Hosmer did have LASIK surgery at the end of the year to correct his vision problem, which evidently had only surfaced after he was drafted. It’s important not to let the frustration with how the Royals evidently couldn’t find a LensCrafters anywhere in Delaware (I recommend the one at the Concord Mall) obscure the fact that Hosmer’s astigmatism was, in the big picture, very good news indeed. If there wasn’t a good reason for Hosmer’s struggles last season, that would be very worrisome. But there was a good reason, and evidently that reason has been taken care of – Law’s sources told him that Hosmer was seeing the ball much better in BP after surgery.

And Law also pointed out the other extenuating circumstance for Hos, one that seems to have been lost in the shuffle – he played much of the season with a hairline fracture in one of his fingers. If you take these two health issues together, they actually explain the two biggest deficiencies in Hosmer’s performance last season. You would expect a hand injury to sap him of his power, which it did. You would expect vision problems to manifest themselves primarily against same-side pitching, and Hosmer was terrible against southpaws – he hit a ridiculous .171/.220/.220 against them. (Against RHP, he hit a much more reasonable .273/.376/.435.)

That’s not to say that Hosmer gets a pass for 2009 – he doesn’t, not when he’s a first baseman, not when he got the largest signing bonus ($6 million) in franchise history, not when the Royals could have taken Justin Smoak, who looks to take his Mark Teixeira impression to Arlington this summer, or Gordon Beckham, who’s already established himself in the White Sox infield. But Law’s ranking serves to remind us that all is not yet lost with Hosmer, who after all is still just 20. This is a huge season for him, of course. And of all the minor leaguers on the list, he’s the one guy whose spring training reports are worth looking for. If he’s belting the ball with authority in March, I’ll feel much more comfortable about his ability to do the same from April through August.

More to come…

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Send Dayton Moore to the guillotine!

Shelby said...

Rany,

This was such a well-written post that I don't know what to say.

Your reserved optimism is encouraging.

I'd love to see you elaborate on the question marks this team faces: will Hochevar figure "it" out this season? Will Gordon? Will Aviles have a rebound year? Will Butler regress?

A Sobbing Sluggerrr said...

http://www.lawrence.com/weblogs/sportsbuddaye/2010/feb/26/sports-buddaye-25-live-from-surprise/

Will said...

I'm starting to feel myself getting sucked in as well. Well, not quite sucked in, as somewhat positive. At the same time, I'm still annoyed at how poorly the 2008-9 period went, because with better moves, the Royals could actually be much better positioned for 2010-11. Sure, the Hoz might explode... but when? 2011 at the earliest?

KennyPowers said...

This is the first time I have heard of Hosmer having a hairline fracture in his finger.

Also, I brought up a point I feel is solid. If you look at the splits on Hosmer, injury or not...then look at the splits on Moustakas, it makes you wonder...How effective is our low minors coaching staff..bringing in two high school power hitters in a row, then having them put up ridiculously comparable splits..how are they being coached?

To end up platoon players, instead of solid effective everyday power hitters who can hit righties and lefties?

Other teams farms are promoting solid players..We have drafted in the top 5 (averaged) from 2000-now and we have Zack Greinke and a "hasn't found his way" Alex Gordon to show for it. We should have a plethora of maturing players in KC, and some top level talent ranked top 10 right now on most lists. We don't...so something is broken.

Thinking its time we look into how our kids are coached in rookie, and A ball and see how we are comparing to other teams.

Ryan said...

Of course Law is talking Hosmer up. He was one of Hosmer's biggest fans before the Royals drafted him. He ridiculed anyone who thought the Royals should go with the safer college prospect in Justin Smoak. He looks like as big an idiot as the Royals if Hosmer becomes a bust.

Keith Law said...

Ryan:
Wrong. I had Smoak over Hosmer in my rankings.
Keith

KennyPowers said...

I like to go back and re-read Rany's blogs..This one about whether the Royals should draft Hosmer:

http://www.ranyontheroyals.com/2008/06/i-feel-draft-coming-on.html

jonfmorse said...

Ryan, it seems to me there's a fundamental difference between ridiculing "anyone who thought the Royals should go with the safer college prospect in Justin Smoak" and "chastising someone for claiming that drafting Hosmer over Smoak would be idiocy."

I mean, I just re-checked the relevant thread here, and he never even asserted that Hosmer was a better pick than Smoak; he just called you on the carpet for saying it would be idiotic to draft Hosmer, which is a completely different assertion altogether. Which, combined with your numerous snarky posts in response at the time, surely explains why you're still grudgy over the whole thing 20 months later...

Anonymous said...

Re-reading Rany's thoughts on Smoak versus Hosmer.... like reading a horrible prophecy that comes true. Except that Hosmer was surprisingly patient. Unfortunately, he hit like Jason Kendall otherwise.

Shelby said...

Just be glad we don't have to open up the sports page of the KC Star anytime in the near future and read stupid pun-filled headlines like "Up In Smoak" or "Smoak Signals" or "Where There's Smoak There's Fire" or "Smoakin' Hot" or "Still Smoakin'" or "Smoak 'Em If You Got 'Em" or "Smoak Screen" or "Secondhand Smoak" or "Smoak and Mirrors" or "Blowing Smoak" or "Smoak Rings"

Okay, that's it.

Dave said...

It's waaaay to early to judge that draft and say we lost because Smoak is better than Hosmer. Rany just outlined several reasons why last year shouldn't really matter. Besides, who cares that Smoak is tearing the cover off the board and flying through the minors. We've been there before too.....and it doesn't guarantee anything. See Gordon, Alex.

Anonymous said...

If smoak weren't a switch hitter it would be a reasonable debate. But he is, and it's not. Draft the switch hitting college slugger.

Paul P said...

Shelby- funny. That is SO KC Star.
Man- I think the Royals are going to be awful. I mean, Zack and that's it. Does anyone see Meche coming back and having a good season? Or the middle relief improving from last year? What about our lineup which includes such sluggers as Kendall, Betancourt, Gest, and Pods? I see this team giving up 45 more runs than last year and scoring 85 less. Looks like 95+ losses to me.

KW said...

First of all, loved the Ben Franklin line.

Second, it's not the Royals sucking me in at this time of the year, it's baseball in general. The Royals just happen to be my hometown team, so I've got to live with that.

But baseball is back, and we're all better off because of it.

Scobes said...

Ryan:

Wear that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rany.

Drafting talent is such a crapshoot. The law of averages seems to have been particularly unkind to the Royals, but hopefully some of the talent will break through.

Interesting thoughts on Hosmer. I hope he comes through.

I would be particularly interested in your thoughts on Bianchi, Lough and Parraz. Any chance of any of these guys having an impact this year?

I am rooting for an infield of Aviles at second and Bianchi at short from midseason on.

How long will Wil Myers take to get to the bigs? Will he make an impact?

Always appreciate your comments, and I know its hard to be positive, but I for one appreciate the effort. Keep up the honesty as well.

Dan said...

Thank you for not abandoning us.

TrueBlueCondition said...

I think Rany needs a hug. I know it's spring and this is the time when a young man's fancy and all that but don't go getting all dewey-eyed on us... A little less about your feelings Rany, as a matter of fact a little less about you would be addition by subtraction. Love your writing, usually like your opinions whether I agree or not and respect your research. Stay on point brother....

Jason Dixon said...

Good to hear some of the info on Hosmer. Still don't like the pick, nor was I happy the previous year taking Moustakas over Weiters. If the Royals could have hit on ONE of their top picks in the last five years it would give me a bit of hope. Instead, watching Ryan Braun, Lincecum, Longoria, Beckem, Smoak, Matusz, Porcello, et al, as we all look toward A and AA 3.5 years into this regime is a bummer. Maybe Crow...

Ryan said...

I'm sorry I was snarky & impatient with The Process. I've been a Royals fan my whole life. I just thought it might be common sense to draft college position players who might impact the roster before Greinke's contract expired.

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest, it was IDIOTIC to draft Hosmer. Just like it was IDIOTIC to draft Moustakas.

A prospect's value equals his projected value times the likelihood he'll reach the projected value discounted by the estimated arrival date.

The Royals took shots on two guys with slightly higher projected ceilings who were much more likely to be busts (or non-stars) and were almost certainly going to reach the majors long after some of their similarly projected brethren.

That's the definition of criminally stupid.

And I say that obviously hoping they both pan out.

kcghost said...

As I recall both Moustakis and Hosmer were highly regarded prospects. Maybe not as high as the Royals took them, but highly regarded. Right now I am more worried about Moustakis than Hosmer. Mainly because he is a year further along the trail and still shows no signs of plate discipline.

Neither of these guys represents the gaffe that was Luke Hochevar.

Anonymous said...

Hillman, Pena, Bell, Muser, etc. Has any other team had such a string of incompetent, goofball managers?

Wabbitkiller said...

Can anyone really blame Rany for being cautiously optimistic, or even being skeptical at this point? I'm definitely in a "I'll believe it when I see it" mode at this point. How could anyone NOT be after the past 20 years?

Anonymous said...

did noah lowry sign anywhere yet? i'd love to see the blue crew take a chance on having him in the rotation for the second half.

smh said...

A related question: Has anyone received their email about the Royals pre-sale? It is supposed to start tomorrow and I haven't heard anything from them. Wondering if I didn't get an email? Has anyone gotten theirs? Thanks for the help!

royalsfan16 said...

Hosmer still has time to put it all together. I don't think it's time to hit the panic button just yet. And let's be honest, if the Royals "brain trust" (slight sarcasm intended) would make an attempt to sign Billy Butler long term he wouldn't really need to race through our farm system. It's on Moore's shoulders to get that done now. Moustakas is the more troubling puzzle, since he really hasn't figured out how to see the strike zone, and the Royals don't have anyone in their staff that can teach that.

Rany, I am curious if the Royals have made any inroads into putting together better 'teaching' coaches at the lower levels of our farm system? Since DM started the movement to draft young and mold in our image, is he also putting together a staff that can mold young players into a Major League image?