Kansas City Royals 2010 preview

Kansas City Royals preview By Ryan Fagan

The 2009 season was a different kind of disappointment for the Royals. Coming off a 75-win campaign in 2008 — their highest win total since 2003 — there was hope that they would contend in the wide-open AL Central. When Kansas City started 18-11 and held a three-game lead on May 7, it looked like the franchise finally was turning the corner. But the Royals went 5-16 to end May and finished in a last-place tie in the division.

Will Zack Greinke have a better supporting cast this year?
Will Zack Greinke have a better supporting cast this year?

Three questions

1. What impact will the free agents have?
Rick Ankiel, Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik join the starting lineup. Kendall is a below-average hitter who was brought in to improve the defense behind the plate. Podsednik revived his career with the White Sox last season (.353 on-base percentage) and will lead off. Ankiel will take over center field.

"Obviously we have a lot of acreage in our ballpark in the outfield, and we need a player who’s experienced and has good reads and good routes," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "Rick has shown that in his short center field career. And he helps us if we can get his bat back to his offensive numbers of a couple of years ago." Ankiel hit 25 homers in 2008 and was just starting to heat up in 2009 before crashing into the outfield wall at Busch Stadium. He posted just a .285 on-base percentage last season and hit .110 (10-for-91) in his first at-bat against that game’s starting pitcher.

2. Will the supporting cast be more supportive?
The Royals have a trio of promising young stars in Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria and Billy Butler. Greinke, 26, is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner. Soria, who turns 26 in May, is 72-for-78 in save opportunities the past two seasons. Butler, who turns 24 in April, led the Royals in homers (21), RBIs (93), batting average (.301), on-base percentage (.362), OPS (.853) and doubles (51).

Still, the Royals finished with just 65 wins. Five of the nine players in this season’s projected lineup hit .245 or worse last season. Of the five projected starters, four had ERAs of 4.73 or higher. Those performances must improve for Royals to contend past May.

3. Will Alex Gordon claim the third base job?
The Royals would like Gordon to win the job with a huge spring, then establish himself as a rising star during the season. One AL scout thinks that is possible: "Gordon has a chance to be that (breakout) guy this year. He had a chance to be that guy last year, except for the injuries." The No. 2 overall pick of the 2005 draft, Gordon hit .247 with 15 homers as a rookie in 2007, then .260 with 16 homers in ’08. In an injury-marred ’09, Gordon hit .232 with six homers in 49 games.

Gordon is the front-runner at third, but the Royals have a backup plan in Josh Fields. Fields hit 23 homers in just 100 games for the White Sox as a rookie in 2007. He spent much of 2008 in the minors and began 2009 as the starter. But he lost the job to rookie Gordon Beckham after struggling offensively (.222 average).

Projected lineup
1. LF Scott Podsednik: .304 AVG, 30 SBs for White Sox in ’09.
2. 2B Chris Getz: .261 AVG, 25 SBs as White Sox rookie last season.
3. RF David DeJesus: ’08: 12 HRs, 73 RBIs; ’09: 13 HRs, 71 RBIs.
4. 1B Billy Butler: 1.027 OPS at home; .679 on road.
5. CF Rick Ankiel: HRs dropped from 25 in ’08 to 11 in ’09.
6. DH Jose Guillen: Injuries limited him to 81 games, 9 HRs.
7. 3B Alex Gordon: Career .250 AVG in three MLB seasons.
8. SS Yuniesky Betancourt: Impatient: career high is 21 BBs.
9. C Jason Kendall: Has hit .242, .246, .241 past three seasons.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Zack Greinke: Cy Young winner had 2.16 ERA, 242 K’s.
2. RHP Gil Meche: 5.09 ERA, only 23 starts in injury-marred season.
3. RHP Brian Bannister: 3.66 ERA in first half; 6.63 ERA after break.
4. RHP Luke Hochevar: 5.17 ERA at home; 8.14 on the road.
5. RHP Kyle Davies: Righthanders hit .284 vs. him; lefties hit .239.

Projected closer
RHP Joakim Soria: Career 2.09 ERA, 10.0 K’s per 9 IP.

Grades

Offense: D. The Yankees had a team .362 on-base percentage last season; Butler’s .362 OBP led the Royals. Alberto Callaspo, who hit .300 with a team-high 79 runs and had more walks (52) than strikeouts (51) will move to the bench in favor of Chris Getz, a superior defensive player. There is much work to do.

Pitching: C. Even with A-plus guys Greinke and Soria, this unit is a concern. If Gil Meche is healthy, that would be a big plus; he won 23 games with a 3.82 ERA in his first two seasons with K.C. Trying to convert Kyle Farnsworth from a setup man to a reliever is a long shot at this point in his career.

Bench: B. Callaspo should be an offensive asset, assuming the demotion doesn’t affect him. Brian Anderson and Mitch Maier can cover all three outfield spots, and Willie Bloomquist and Mike Aviles — when healthy — can play multiple infield spots.

Manager: C. After the 75-win season and the strong start to the 2009 season, things came crashing down for Trey Hillman. The challenge this season is to not only get off to another strong start, but to learn from the mistakes of last season and maintain it.

Sporting News prediction: The Royals have a great young core with Greinke, Butler and Soria, but there aren’t many other reasons to expect better than a fourth-place finish in the AL Central.

Coming Monday: Cardinals preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

Kansas City Royals preview By Ryan Fagan

The 2009 season was a different kind of disappointment for the Royals. Coming off a 75-win campaign in 2008 — their highest win total since 2003 — there was hope that they would contend in the wide-open AL Central. When Kansas City started 18-11 and held a three-game lead on May 7, it looked like the franchise finally was turning the corner. But the Royals went 5-16 to end May and finished in a last-place tie in the division.

Will Zack Greinke have a better supporting cast this year?
Will Zack Greinke have a better supporting cast this year?

Three questions

1. What impact will the free agents have?
Rick Ankiel, Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik join the starting lineup. Kendall is a below-average hitter who was brought in to improve the defense behind the plate. Podsednik revived his career with the White Sox last season (.353 on-base percentage) and will lead off. Ankiel will take over center field.

"Obviously we have a lot of acreage in our ballpark in the outfield, and we need a player who’s experienced and has good reads and good routes," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "Rick has shown that in his short center field career. And he helps us if we can get his bat back to his offensive numbers of a couple of years ago." Ankiel hit 25 homers in 2008 and was just starting to heat up in 2009 before crashing into the outfield wall at Busch Stadium. He posted just a .285 on-base percentage last season and hit .110 (10-for-91) in his first at-bat against that game’s starting pitcher.

2. Will the supporting cast be more supportive?
The Royals have a trio of promising young stars in Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria and Billy Butler. Greinke, 26, is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner. Soria, who turns 26 in May, is 72-for-78 in save opportunities the past two seasons. Butler, who turns 24 in April, led the Royals in homers (21), RBIs (93), batting average (.301), on-base percentage (.362), OPS (.853) and doubles (51).

Still, the Royals finished with just 65 wins. Five of the nine players in this season’s projected lineup hit .245 or worse last season. Of the five projected starters, four had ERAs of 4.73 or higher. Those performances must improve for Royals to contend past May.

3. Will Alex Gordon claim the third base job?
The Royals would like Gordon to win the job with a huge spring, then establish himself as a rising star during the season. One AL scout thinks that is possible: "Gordon has a chance to be that (breakout) guy this year. He had a chance to be that guy last year, except for the injuries." The No. 2 overall pick of the 2005 draft, Gordon hit .247 with 15 homers as a rookie in 2007, then .260 with 16 homers in ’08. In an injury-marred ’09, Gordon hit .232 with six homers in 49 games.

Gordon is the front-runner at third, but the Royals have a backup plan in Josh Fields. Fields hit 23 homers in just 100 games for the White Sox as a rookie in 2007. He spent much of 2008 in the minors and began 2009 as the starter. But he lost the job to rookie Gordon Beckham after struggling offensively (.222 average).

Projected lineup
1. LF Scott Podsednik: .304 AVG, 30 SBs for White Sox in ’09.
2. 2B Chris Getz: .261 AVG, 25 SBs as White Sox rookie last season.
3. RF David DeJesus: ’08: 12 HRs, 73 RBIs; ’09: 13 HRs, 71 RBIs.
4. 1B Billy Butler: 1.027 OPS at home; .679 on road.
5. CF Rick Ankiel: HRs dropped from 25 in ’08 to 11 in ’09.
6. DH Jose Guillen: Injuries limited him to 81 games, 9 HRs.
7. 3B Alex Gordon: Career .250 AVG in three MLB seasons.
8. SS Yuniesky Betancourt: Impatient: career high is 21 BBs.
9. C Jason Kendall: Has hit .242, .246, .241 past three seasons.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Zack Greinke: Cy Young winner had 2.16 ERA, 242 K’s.
2. RHP Gil Meche: 5.09 ERA, only 23 starts in injury-marred season.
3. RHP Brian Bannister: 3.66 ERA in first half; 6.63 ERA after break.
4. RHP Luke Hochevar: 5.17 ERA at home; 8.14 on the road.
5. RHP Kyle Davies: Righthanders hit .284 vs. him; lefties hit .239.

Projected closer
RHP Joakim Soria: Career 2.09 ERA, 10.0 K’s per 9 IP.

Grades

Offense: D. The Yankees had a team .362 on-base percentage last season; Butler’s .362 OBP led the Royals. Alberto Callaspo, who hit .300 with a team-high 79 runs and had more walks (52) than strikeouts (51) will move to the bench in favor of Chris Getz, a superior defensive player. There is much work to do.

Pitching: C. Even with A-plus guys Greinke and Soria, this unit is a concern. If Gil Meche is healthy, that would be a big plus; he won 23 games with a 3.82 ERA in his first two seasons with K.C. Trying to convert Kyle Farnsworth from a setup man to a reliever is a long shot at this point in his career.

Bench: B. Callaspo should be an offensive asset, assuming the demotion doesn’t affect him. Brian Anderson and Mitch Maier can cover all three outfield spots, and Willie Bloomquist and Mike Aviles — when healthy — can play multiple infield spots.

Manager: C. After the 75-win season and the strong start to the 2009 season, things came crashing down for Trey Hillman. The challenge this season is to not only get off to another strong start, but to learn from the mistakes of last season and maintain it.

Sporting News prediction: The Royals have a great young core with Greinke, Butler and Soria, but there aren’t many other reasons to expect better than a fourth-place finish in the AL Central.

Coming Monday: Cardinals preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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