On a Sunday when many are watching football and have the Super Bowl on their mind, we turn our attention to baseball, namely the outfield of the Kansas City Royals. In the latest installment of looking at the Royals by position, we find what may be the most crowded situation currently on the 40-man roster.
The Royals currently feature seven outfielders on the 40-man roster and will have to shed some room heading into the 2011 season. One name you won't see on the roster is David DeJesus whom was traded in November to the Oakland A's. The only true veterans back who have been with the Royals long term are Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier, and even they haven't spent much time patrolling the outfield of Kauffman Stadium.
Starting in left, we know Gordon will be the everyday guy. The 2005 first round selection out of Nebraska, Gordon was supposed to be second coming of George Brett. After dealing with injuries and underachieving on the field, Gordon was jettisoned to the outfield last year, spending the first portion of the season in Omaha learning to man the outfield and also regain confidence at the plate. I believe he will be fine with the glove, as he did have a 9.1 UZR/150 rating last year, which was much better than he ever had at third base.
The biggest question with Alex will be improving his bat. We know the power is there, he just hasn't been able to put it all together yet. Alex needs to be patient and work to better handle his strikeout to walk ratio. This is a make or break season, as Gordon is healthy and has no excuse to not show growth at the plate.
In right field, we also know the starter will be the newly acquired Jeff Francoeur. A free agent signing, "Frenchy" was last seen with the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Originally drafted in 2002 by the Atlanta Braves, Francoeur is another first round selection who much like Gordon has struggled as of late. Francoeur broke out with the Braves in 2005 finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting, had a 29 home run 103 RBI season in 2006, and won a gold glove in 2007 while also producing 105 RBI. Since then however, he has struggled at the plate while drifting from the Braves to the New York Mets, and then again to the Rangers.
The Royals should get solid defense from Frenchy and hopefully he too can stop any demons he has had at the plate. One tangible that Francoeur does bring to the table besides regular season experience is playoff experience. He is a guy who has played in the World Series and hopefully that experience can help him give guidance to a young team. Many were frustrated with GM Dayton Moore signing Francoeur, but the contract is only for one year and someone has to be out there to play the game. The more I digest the signing, I don't mind it. Maybe I am just trying to sell myself on not hating it, but he will be a good guy for the clubhouse. If he can put up 15 home runs and 65 RBI and improve his average to the neighborhood of .275 I will be happy. He isn't blocking anyone currently and he will be hungry to show people he can still be the player we once thought he was.
Now center field is where the log jam comes to realization. While I know some of the players will also be backups in both left and right fields, we really don't know for sure who will be starting in center, though we can speculate. We will start with the most known commodity, Melky Cabrera. Cabrera, like Francoeur, is a player who found success early on in the majors but has since fallen on hard times. A former rising star for the New York Yankees, Melky finds his way to the Royals by way of Atlanta. Still just 26, I don't see Cabrera being more than just a warm body in the outfield and hopefully just a fourth outfielder for a year.
Cabrera likely would have been penciled in as the starter if it weren't for the Zack Greinke trade with the Brewers. Part of the package returning was Lorenzo Cain. He is a guy I am extremely excited about more and more. Cain has the speed to cover center and the glove to go with it. He put up a 9.3 UZR/150 rating in his short stint with the Milwaukee big league club last season and the number should be higher this season. He will have to watch his strikeout ratio as he did strikeout 19% of the time last year (that number actually came down as he rose through the minors). However he does have the ability to swipe 30 bases. If Cain can get on base, he's going to be fun on to watch, and with the solid glove I look forward to seeing what he can do in Kansas City.
Then there is the trio of Gregor Blanco, Mitch Maier, and Jarrod Dyson. Blanco came over from the Braves last season in the Farnsworth/Ankiel deal. Blanco is a liability with the arm and his fielding isn't great, but he brings good potential as a utility player.
Mitch Maier may seem to be one of the odd men out this season. It wouldn't surprise me if he is dealt before the year begins. A former first round pick of the Royals in 2003, Maier has been given most of the last two seasons to prove himself, but I just don't think he is a major league starter. I like everything I hear about him as a person in the clubhouse, but with someone who will be 29 by middle of next season, you would hoped to have seen more out of the University of Toledo product.
Lastly we get to Jarrod Dyson. I am fond of Dyson, being he was a 50th round draft selection in 2006. Just the fact he made the majors was beating odds that were stacked against him. In 18 games last season, he had a homerun and an off the charts UZR/150 of 32.7. In an ideal world, I'd rather keep him than Maier. Maier is better offensively, but Dyson has a great glove to go along with great defensive speed. What I look for more in a fourth or fifth outfielder is good defense, and Dyson is two years younger than Maier as well. Going back to Lorenzo Cain, when I think of Cain, I picture in my mind seeing defense like that we saw from Dyson last season in Kansas City.
So there you have it, the Royals outfield review/preview going into 2011. In short, Gordon really needs to come out this season focused and disciplined at the plate. Hopefully Frenchy can surprise me with his bat and show flashes of who he once was. I am extremely excited for Lorenzo Cain, while equally disinterested in Melky Cabrera. Dyson, Blanco, and Maier will all be fighting for scraps, with Maier probably be moved during spring training.