Royals Outpost

The heart-felt musings of a Kansas City Royals fan who isn't always right, or logical, but does always care.

25.7.06

Summer Drags on, as do the Royals

It's been a season of one step forward and two steps back, a familiar dance for the Royals and their loyal fellowship. What few pleasant surprises and near successes are so easy to lose track of against a backdrop of mounting losses, failed signings, injuries, and a general sense of helplessness amongst the organization.. no clue what direction to go, and no means to move in one, anyway.

The biggest disappointment has to be that, with 98 of the season's 162 games completed, Zack Greinke has yet to throw a pitch for Kansas City. Much of a crucial recovery year, lost. What little time he does get in the Majors this year will be difficult to gauge. Because of this, it seems the potential the 22-year old righty possesses is being discredited, that he wasn't "the real deal". Greinke is still a legitimate talent with major upside, and considering our current shortage of starting pitching, he could well be the most pivotal player in the organization.

Zack still has plenty of youth on his side, but his arbitration clock is running, and I know I want to see as much of him in a Royals' uniform as I can. Greinke has a 2.33 ERA in his last four starts, so the Royals can't be far from bringing him back.

Denny Bautista's 2006 campaign is nearly as unfulfilled. In 2006, he has seven starts, a 5.80 ERA, has allowed 38 hits and 17 walks in 35.0 IP, and has 22 K. In 2005, he had seven starts, a 5.66 ERA, allowed 36 hits and 17 walks in 35.2 IP, and had 23 K. He is not improving, and will be 26 next month. Recurring arm problems have skeptics calling for him to move to the 'pen, but with the depth of his arsenal, that would be a waste. All he needs right now is health and experience -- and perhaps a bit better control.

Andrew Sisco.. has just about completely fallen apart. After a stellar 2005 that saw him post a 3.11 ERA and 76 K over 75.1 IP, his lack of command has earned him a 7.32 mark for 2006. He's no longer a Rule V player, so the Royals are free to demote him, and I can't understand why they haven't. He's only losing confidence, at this rate.

Mike MacDougal has only recently made his season debut and is off to a quick start, which is fantastic news, since the third member of KC's trio of hard-throwing relievers, Ambiorix Burgos, has also failed to repeat his success from last year. Twenty-six walks in 48 innings has led to a 5.25 ERA, up more than a run from last year's 3.98.

Angel Berroa, with all the talent he's been touted for having since he shocked the Junior Circuit by swiping Rookie of the Year out from under Hideki Matsui's nose in 2003, is having perhaps the worst season of any starter in major league baseball. His .269 OBP is the worst of any starter out there, and I don't even have to check that. Combine that with the worst average of his career and a mere 22 extra-base hits, and it's a shocking crime that he still has his job, without challenge. Andres Blanco, for all his offensive ineptitude, can certainly get on base as much and play some dazzling defense in the process.

These are the instances of lackluster performances that stand tallest, in my opinion. But there are many others worth mentioning Runelvys Hernandez has started just eight games, and has a 6.75 ERA. Jeremy Affeldt and Mike Wood (third and fourth on the team in IP, respectively) have both been rotten. Affeldt has 42 walks to 27 strikeouts and Wood has allowed 82 hits in 62 innings. Joe Mays was able to get in six horrific starts before KC got wise to the fact that he was clearly still playing for Minnesota. Jimmy Gobble's 4.88 ERA is the lowest of any KC pitcher to start a game, and his 50 K in 59 IP is definitely noteworthy.

Mike Sweeney, the face and captain of our hapless anti-heroes, has again been absent, due to his troublesome lumbar region. In 68 at-bats, he is hitting .176 with two home runs. He will begin a AAA rehab assignment, but it is far too late to have any impact, one way or another.

Two of the four "big" signings have also proved unwise. Scott Elarton's ERA had risen each month before he went down for the year, and Reggie Sanders has not been able to provide the production he put out with St. Louis last year, and is also now on the mend. He could well be traded before he is healthy again.

Between Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Justin Huber, the top three prospects in the system, none of them have been given a fair chance to get experience at the big-league level, despite all three posting solid or strong seasons in the minors thus far.

However, it's easy to let all these poor performances, wasted signings, and questionable organizational alignments blind us to the handful of positives for the Royals in another wayward season.

In exchange for lefty reliever Fabio Castro, the Royals have enjoyed the utility services of Esteban German, who they plucked from Texas' AAA affiliate. Filling in at third base, shortstop, and in the outfield, the 28-year old Dominican has posted a sparkling .331 average and 20/21 K/BB rate. His defense hasn't been as impressive, but the speed and versatility he's afforded Buddy Bell has been welcome.

Mark Redman and Mark Grudzielanek have largely played to expectations. The soft-tossing lefty leads the team in wins (and in fact is the only pitcher with a winning record), and continues to absorb innings, taking some strain off of a bullpen that usually has to expect to pitch most of the game. The Grudz' is hitting for a solid average, submitting steady glovework, and helping to lead a group of young players. Nothing short of blue collar.

But perhaps Doug Mientkiewicz's free agent acquisition was the best. Coming off a season with the Mets that saw him hit just .240, Dougie has resurrected his contact-and-discipline approach to hitting, which has led to a .283 average, .360 OBP, and 24 doubles. And, of course, some of the flashiest defense you can get from a first baseman. Definitely a worthy signee.

A couple righties with good stuff and major control problems, Brandon Duckworth and Luke Hudson, have made their way to the team, and have been good.. by comparison. Duckworth, 30, posted 167 K in 163 innings with Philly in 2002, but high opponent batting averages eventually led Philadelphia, Houston, and Pittsburgh to let him go. In eight starts, Duckworth has turned in four good outings -- and, of course, has a 1-4 record to show for it.

In nine 2004 starts with Cincinnati, Luke Hudson, 29, posted a 4-2 record and 2.42 ERA over 48.1 innings. He followed that up with a 6.38 ERA in an injury-tainted '05, but he flashed a strong fastball and sharp curve, as well as a fair bit of resilience when his control faltered. To me, he's a bulldog-type pitcher who could be a contributor as a back-end starter/spot starter.

Alas, Allard, I'm sure you were a good guy, but I doubt you could have made a good deal like this. J.P. Howell was a good young prospect, but Joey Gathright is ready now, and walks enough for his world-class speed to come into play. The speed demon will man center and bump Mr. DeJesus to left, and I can only say bravo. For a team that was known for it's speed in it's glory days, it's a shame we've gone so long without a guy with these kind of wheels. Faster than Ichiro, than Chone Figgins, than Juan Pierre? Oh yes.

And lastly, but far from least, a couple of our young hitters are picking up some of the slack for the rest of the zombified offense. While again fighting injuries, David DeJesus is having the best year of his brief career, batting .300 with a .382 OBP. But the nicest surprise has to be Mark Teahen rebounding from a .246 average in '05 and a demotion after a .195 start in '06. After a two-homer game tonight to lead KC to a 7-5 victory against Baltimore, he is hitting .270 with team-leading marks in homers (11) and SLG% (.500). With Alex Gordon providing constant pressure, it's good to see Teahen beginning to perform. Even if Gordon does overtake him in the next couple years, Teahen could find a home at another position, or be traded for a positional need. I do have to admit, though, that he's growing on me.

So, in a nutshell, that's the lowdown on the baseball season in Kansas City, to date. Many things that could have been better, but what few things that have gone right really feel like the beginning of a foundation.. something for the future to develop around. It's impossible to tell, but I think this is the last year of 95+ losses for awhile. At least I hope it is, heh.

Addendum:

In the time it took to begin and finish this post, Dayton Moore has instituted some major in-house changes. Mike MacDougal has been shipped to the White Sox for a couple minor league starters (Tyler Lumsden for ROY in '07!), Elmer Dessens was sent back to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez and two more minor league starters (Legitimate steal!), and Tony Graffanino was dealt to Milwaukee for the injured Jorge De La Rosa lefty in the Ricky Vaughn mold; he throws hard, but where it goes is anybody's guess. Mr. Moore is very wisely stockpiling the minors with it's sorest need, starting pitching, in exchange for parts we simply don't need. Kudos, Dayton, for beginning the work that needs to be done. Odalis should find the rotation quickly, and De La Rosa easily could, too. Hopefully Mark Redman and Grudzielanek are the next to go. Nothing against them, but we can't leave a good job half done. Keep it up, Mr. GM!

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