In the second installment of reviewing the Kansas City Royals 40 man roster we take a look at the first base position. Unlike catcher, there isn't any question going into spring training about who will be the starting first basemen on March 31st at Kauffman Stadium. There currently sits three first basemen on the Royals 40 man roster, incumbent Billy Butler, Kila Ka`aihue, and Clint Robinson.
The 24 year old Butler already has 533 major league games under his belt in a Royals uniform and will be counted on to lead the offense in 2011. Butler has already stepped up as a vocal leader this winter, speaking out after the trade of Zack Greinke. There has been talk recently about whether the Royals should ponder trading Butler in order to obtain more pieces to infuse with the wave of you talent rising through the Royals minor league system. While I do see the value in obtaining more talent, Butler is still young enough that Kansas City should continue to use him as a building block. Without Butler, Kansas City has no true vocal leader at the moment to lead the current big league club.
Billy has not yet shown the true power you often look for in first basemen, but you certainly can not discredit his value at the plate. In each of the last two seasons Butler has finished in the top four in the American League in doubles, and last season he finished sixth in the AL in batting average (.318) and third in hits (189). These numbers should remain fairly consistent as he gains more experience, and hopefully he is able to improve on his ability to hit more home runs as well. I would say we can expect roughly a .305 batting average from Billy with 20 home runs and 80 RBI this season.
However, while Billy has shown he is a well above average hitter he certainly has areas to focus on this year as fans look for signs of improvement. Billy must be more patient at the plate and learn to draw more walks. The knock on his batting has been that he often treats each pitch like he already has two strikes and feels the need to fend everything off. Last season Butler lead the league in grounding into double plays with thirty-two, which can be attributed to his nature at the plate.
On defense he will never be confused with a gold glover, but has shown the ability to pick a ball out of the dirt. This may be nice, but he will very likely be shifted to designated hitter once Eric Hosmer is ready to join the major league roster. When I think of Butler on defense, the phrase it is what it is, comes to mind. He's a serviceable first basemen but is never likely to improve much upon where he is now.
Kila Ka`aihue, who will be turning 27 two days before Opening Day, is a player who turned heads during 2008 with 38 home runs and 95 RBI between Northwest Arkansas, Omaha, and a short September stint with Kansas City. The 15h round selection of Kansas City in 2002 struggled a bit in 2009 before returning to more of his '08 form, last season. 2011 should be his first true experience at the major league level for an extended period. Minus the batting average his offensive stats could look much like Billy Butler's, and it's very likely Kila will have a higher walk percentage as well. Surprisingly, Ka`aihue isn't that bad at first base, where last year he posted a 2.9 UZR in 34 games. The fans have been waiting for the big Hawaiian to get a long-term chance with Kansas City and 2011 appears to be the time. It will be interesting to follow and see if he can improve his batting against major league pitchers, and not just turn into another AAAA hitter for the Royals.
Clint Robinson is the other first basemen on the Royals 40 man roster and figures likely to be the everyday starter for the Omaha
Royals Storm Chasers. Hailing from Jefferson City, Missouri, the 6'4" 225 lb Robinson burst onto the scene last season at Northwest Arkansas winning the Texas League triple crown posting a .335 average, 29 home runs, and 98 RBI.
Robinson, a product of Troy University, will be turning 26 in February and was added to the Royals 40 man roster just before the Rule V draft so the Royals wouldn't risk losing him. The Royals originally selected him in the 25th round of the 2007 draft. He is very similar to Ka`aihue in the fact that neither was a heralded prospect but has shown the ability to put up great minor league numbers. It is unlikely Robinson will see time this year in Kansas City as he hasn't played any game above AA yet, but he is worth following to see if 2010 was a fluke or if he is someone who could factor in the future. Hosmer will likely pass him very soon, but it is nice knowing there is depth at the position.