Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Let's get this out of the way: the 2011 Kansas City Royals are going to be bad. Really, really bad. They've currently got Major League-quality starting ballplayers at designated hitter, and possibly first base, shortstop and left field; they've got a couple number four or five starters and a quality closer. And that's pretty much it. They managed not to be the worst team in the AL last year -- they were third-worst ahead of Baltimore and Seattle, the final two stops on my half of the 3 Questions series -- but it'll be awfully hard for them to repeat that, er, accomplishment again in 2011.
So there's really no question about that. What are some questions we can talk about?
1. Is it now for Alex Gordon, or is it never?
It's impossible to say, from the outside, what happened with Gordon. Was it his fault, or the team's, or neither? Taken second overall in the 2005 draft, ahead of the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce, Gordon hit .325/.427/.588 in his pro debut at AA in 2006, and went into 2007 as Baseball America's #2 prospect (behind Diasuke Matzusaka). Baseball Prospectus, who didn't list Matzusaka as a prospect, ranked Gordon #1 and wrote: "While not nearly as good with the glove, on the offensive side, he falls somewhere between Scott Rolen on the low end and Mike Schmidt on the high."
Well, that didn't quite happen. Since a solid but mildly disappointing MLB debut in 2007, he's continued to rake in the minors with almost no carryover to the majors; he's a career .321/.438/.578 hitter below, but since 2009 is just a .222/.319/.365 hitter above. And his defense has proven to be much worse than merely "not nearly as good" as two of the greatest ever to play, to the point where the Royals aren't even comfortable playing him at third base anymore.
Gordon is 27. He's still an immensely talented player, as his minor league track record shows, but he's pretty close to out of time. If he's going to be a Royal when the Royals are relevant again (or, really, if he's going to play anywhere in 2012 and beyond), especially as a defensively challenged left fielder now, he'll really have to hit a lot closer to his minor league self than his big-league self to date, and he'll probably need to start this year.
2. What kind of pitcher is Luke Hochevar?
Hochevar is another 27 year old, taken first overall (ahead of Longoria, Kershaw, Lincecum, Morrow and Scherzer) a year after Gordon went second overall. Unlike Gordon, though, Hochevar was viewed as a stretch even at the time, and has never had a sustained stretch of success in the majors or the minors. He has looked blindingly brilliant at times, though, mixing gems with clunkers more thoroughly than any other pitcher around. Overall, he's been OK, and bad luck and bad defense appear to have obscured a significant improvement in 2010; in which he put up a 3.93 FIP in a little over 100 innings. Hochevar throws hard and gets his share of strikeouts, with pretty good control. The key for him -- especially now, when the one area in which the Royals do appear to have improved themselves over the 2010 squad is on defense -- is keeping the ball down and avoiding the home run.
Hochevar is the team's de facto number 1 starter now, with Zack Greinke gone. He's very unlikely ever to justify that label, but he still has the stuff to be a solid number two or three. As with Gordon, it would appear to pretty much be now or never with Hochevar.
3. Is it 2013 yet?
Hosmer, Myers, Moustakas, Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy. Six Royals made Keith Law's top 100, with a number of near misses, giving the Royals (as far as I can tell) the unanimous choice for best farm system in the bigs; clearly the best system this year, and the best anyone has seen in a very long time. I have to think that if I were a Royals fan, I'd spend a lot more of my time and energy in 2011 (and possibly 2012) following the goings-on in Omaha and Northern Arkansas than the ones in Kansas City.