For years, the mere mention of the Kansas City Royals has sparked gales of laughter among baseball fans, fantasy or otherwise. Aside from a Carlos Beltran here or a Mike Sweeney there, for the better part of two decades, the Royals' fantasy cupboard has been bare. In the last ten years, the only truly noteworthy things to come out of Kansas City have been Zack Greinke and a viral video featuring George Brett discussing his gastrointestinal problems. Most years, Kansas City was regarded as a dead zone on draft day. However, as Roger Waters might proclaim in a pretentious concept album, the tide is turning.
The stacked Kansas City farm system is just now starting to bear fruit at the major league level, and any astute fantasy manager should keep a close eye on what is transpiring in the Royals lineup. The team wielded a surprisingly potent offense last season and looks poised to become even more imposing as their young hitters develop further. For the first time in a long time, the Royals are projected to feature a collection of major fantasy producers, and if you're paying attention, you're the one who stands to benefit.
Let's get the big one out of the way first. Eric Hosmer made waves in the big leagues in 2011 by bashing 19 home runs and putting his name in the running for AL Rookie of the Year. His sweet swing and power potential have had scouts drooling since he was drafted. He has legitimate 30 homer/100 RBI ability that could manifest itself as soon as this season and he could realistically turn into a Top 10 first baseman at the tender age of 22. Other managers might fall all over themselves going after Prince Fielder, but Hosmer might be nearly as good for half the cost.
He's not one of the young 'uns, per se, but Alex Gordon is Exhibit A for why high-round talents continue to get myriad opportunities in the big leagues. After being essentially written off as a bust, Gordon finally had the year we knew he had in him, bashing 23 home runs, OPSing .879, and even stealing 17 bases. Gordon has always had the ability to post these kinds of numbers, and I don't think there's good reason to think his 2011 was a fluke; sometimes it just takes certain players longer to click. While it would be nice if he were doing this while still third base eligible, Gordon is a solid mid-round pick for your outfield and there's an outside chance he could be a 30 homer guy.
Next we come to two of my favorite 2012 sleeper picks on the team. Mike Moustakas was horrible upon being called up to the majors this year, and if you're lucky, that bad stretch left a lasting impression in the minds of the other managers in your league. Moustakas absolutely mashed in the final month of the season and I'm predicting a major breakout from him this season. This is a guy who bombed 36 home runs between AA and AAA as a 21-year-old in 2010. He's going to be a monster, and with the overall lack of quality at third base, he could be an insane bargain this year.
The other super-sleeper candidate is Salvador Perez, the 21-year-old catcher who stole the starting catcher job with the big club when they got tired of the craptastic stylings of Matt Treanor. Perez had a rep as a defense-first catcher in the minors, but his hitting got better at each level and he raked to a .334 tune in his two-month stint as a regular in Kansas City. He probably doesn't project to hit for much power but, come on now, he's a catcher who can hit .300 and he's definitely worth a late-round flyer. The Royals are known for self-immolation and could go the Bryan Pena route, but if Perez is announced as the starter, take a very long look.
Johnny Giavotella is a player whose production would be uninspiring in a vacuum, but at the barren second base position, his ability to hit .300 with doubles power makes him a person of interest. Like Perez, Giavotella was given a starting role for the last two months of the season when the Royals realized they had been starting a charred husk (i.e. Chris Getz) at the position. There have been rumblings that Giavotella doesn't have the glove to handle second base, which would suck for any potential buyers. For now, however, second base is his to lose and he could be a nice source of batting average and steals at a position that is hard to fill with quality.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention one of my favorite prospects, masher Wil Myers. Myers' future as a catcher is officially dead, but his bat, which includes opposite field pop and a knowledge of the strike zone to die for, should pretty much play anywhere. The Royals bafflingly decided to extend Jeff Francoeur for two more seasons, effectively blocking Myers's path to the majors, which means Myers is headed to AAA to start the season. However, if he rakes enough and Francoeur reverts back to his feeble pre-2011 ways, Myers could come in and have a major fantasy impact in the second half of the season. Think something along the lines of, well...Jeff Francoeur in 2005, only with way more walks and a lot less clueless hacking. He's a must for keeper leaguers, but everyone else should at least keep an eye on him.