Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Royals players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Minnesota Twins.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Royals finished fourth in the AL Central with a 71-91 record in 2011. If your response to that fact is a shrug, a yawn, and a vague suggestion about how typical that is, I don't know that I can argue with it that much. However, there are signs that maybe this ship will right itself some time in the near future. Alex Gordon finally lived up to his potential. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer made their much-anticipated major league debuts. After a slow start, Moustakas put in some some strong performances at the end of the year to pull his numbers up to the respectable level. Hosmer didn't have that problem, as he mashed from the start. Yes, the offense was fine. They actually ranked in the top 5 as a team in almost every statistic (but would it kill you to talk a walk once in a while?).
The struggles were with run prevention. Kansas City was a bottom 3 team in the American League when it came to pitching, and it doesn't look like help is coming in the short-term. The Royals will not contend in 2012, and it's mainly because their staff stinks. However, this should be a pivotal year for the franchise. If the offense can stay on the right path, and one or more of the current pitchers significantly outperforms their projections, we may be looking at a team that is only a couple of pieces away from challenging for the division title down the road.
Depending on which metric you use, beautiful Kauffman Stadium is either the second or third stingiest ballpark in the bigs when it comes to home runs, which is sort of surprising when you look at how the team is built. There's really no need to penalize visiting hitters too much, though, given the quality of pitching they get to see.
Manager & Coaching Staff
What can we say about Ned Yost? When he left the Brewers in 2008, they actually got better. He has a reputation for being a great manager for a young ball club, but until he can prove otherwise, the other half of that equation will be that he can't lead a team to the promised land.
Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is turning into something of a mythological figure. Alex Gordon, who had a breakout season in 2011, gives Seitzer all the credit. Jeff Francoeur bounced back in a big way, and now he says Seitzer is the only person he talks to about hitting. Mike Moustakas gave him credit for helping him rebound midway through the season. Alcides Escobar has similar things to say. The list goes on and on. The guy is a wizard. If anybody can help Gordon and Francoeur avoid the regression monster, it's him.
Expected Position Battles
Second base will belong to either Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz, but this job was always Giavotella's to lose. He's having a good spring; Getz is not. Ned Yost appears determined to add Yuniesky Betancourt to the mix, which makes me question what his main job description is. Is he trying to manage the Royals, or make everybody hate baseball?
Kansas City also has several players competing for a rotation spot, as two of them are reportedly available. The candidates:
Felipe Paulino - The best bet for strikeouts in the group. Maybe a guaranteed spot in the rotation will do him some good.
Danny Duffy - To say he struggled when he got his cup of coffee is an understatement, but there's hope in his AAA numbers. Worth keeping an eye on, at least.
Aaron Crow - Doesn't really possess the repertoire of a starter, and his time in the bullpen (instead of AAA) has hindered his chance to develop a third pitch. If I were the GM (and there are at least 3 million reasons why I'm not), I'd send him to the minors instead of letting him waste away as a long man.
UPDATE (1315 CDT): (h/t Jeff Zimmerman)
#Royals move RHP Aaron Crow to bullpen in wake of injury to Joakim Soria.
Sean O'Sullivan - Like Duffy, his major league numbers are atrocious. Unlike Duffy, there's not a lot of upside to waiting around for him to figure it out.
Vin Mazzaro - See O'Sullivan, Sean.
Mike Montgomery - Took a step back in his development last year. With some more minor league seasoning, we could be talking about him as a rotation mainstay this time next year.
Luis Mendoza - Last year's PCL Pitcher of the Year. I'll believe he can translate his success to the big leagues when I see it.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Alex Gordon - LF
Giavotella/Getz/Betancourt - 2B
Billy Butler - DH
Eric Hosmer - 1B
Jeff Francoeur - RF
Mike Moustakas - 3B
Lorenzo Cain - CF
Brayan Pena - C
Alcides Escobar - SS
Our own Marc Normandin wrote about the Royals rotation yesterday.
As you probably know by now, all signs point to Tommy John surgery for closer Joakim Soria. There are two major candidates to replace him: Free agent signing Jonathan Broxton, who has his own history of elbow problems, and Greg Holland, who seemingly does nothing but strike people out. As I'm writing this, Ned Yost hasn't yet announced who he will go with, but honestly either one is a fine option. Broxton fell off the table in Los Angeles, but his problems appear to at least be partially related to injury, and a change of scenery could work wonders as well. Meanwhile, Holland appears to be the closer of the future, so why not get him started now?
The third candidate would be Aaron Crow, whom I discussed above as a better bet to either stick in the bullpen as a long man or get sent to AAA to work on his repertoire. However, he does seem to have the skillset that many successful closers have (plus fastball that misses bats, can work around high walk total thanks to a low BAA, doesn't seem to have a home elsewhere). Watch this rumor closely.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
There's a non-zero chance that Lorenzo Cain steals 20 bases and hits 10 home runs this year. In this lineup, he'll get plenty of RBI opportunities, and shouldn't kill your batting average. I like him better than many of the guys being drafted in front of him, including Carlos Quentin, Brennan Boesch, and Alex Rios.
Spring Storylines to Watch
I spent a ton of time reading about new pitching coach Dave Eiland so that I could write something about him in the coaching staff section, but I didn't really get a good grasp on what to think about him. Yost seems to like him, which is nice, but I'm watching to see how the Royals pitchers (especially the young ones) respond to Eiland's instruction.
Follow the Team
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.