Rolling Along

Mike Aviles

Mike Aviles is ready to prove his rookie season was no fluke

Last year, as you’ve probably heard by now, the Royals were second over-all in the Majors in team batting average, but ranked twentieth in runs scored. At the same time, the team dominated the basement of all pitching statistics (28th in quality starts, 29th in ERA, WHIP, and BAA).

In short, the Royals could hit the ball, they just couldn’t score, protect a lead, or defend very well.

The addition of defenders who can actually make plays like Alcides Escobar, and (I know, I know) Jeff Francoeur should help out a team that has had to suffer through the woeful defense of Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo. But our rotation, which will probably be one of the worst since 2005 when Jose Lima, a young Zack Greinke and Runelvys Hernandez combined to win 18 decisions out of 94 starts, isn’t going to do us any favors.

So again the slim chance of the Royals playing respectable baseball falls upon our offense. I’ve taken a look at our best offensive players who finished 2010 strong and could keep the momentum going into 2011.

Billy Butler:

Triple Slash: In 2010: .318/.388/.469, Career: .299/.359/.457

Billy is without a doubt the best bat on the team, and one of the few thing the Royals have going for them. Last year, Butler led the team in runs batted in, extra base hits, walks, batting average, hits, on-base percentage and most other offensive categories sabermetricians can dream up. Pretty impressive stuff.

As the season wore on last year, Butler was very consistent with the exception of a comparatively slow July and August when he only hit .279 and drove in 23 runs. In September he got hot and averaged .361, drove in 14 runners and popped four homers. He’s not particularly fast on the bases though. He grounded into a career high 32 double plays last year and has only one stolen base to his name.

Butler is a legitimate star and I am confident one day he will challenge for the AL batting title. Last year he finished 6th in average, 7th in on-base percentage, and 3rd in hits. Every year since his full-time debut in 2008 he’s gotten better. Each season, he’s walking more, striking out less, getting on base more often, raising his average and getting more hits.

I’d expect him to carry his momentum into the Cactus League and the regular season. In fact, at times this season, expect him to be the team’s offense.

Wilson Betemit

Wilson Betemit, Fantasy Sleeper?

Wilson Betemit:

Triple Slash: In 2010: .297/.378/.511, career: .266/.334/.447

Betemit is the most surprising name on this list and put up a few eyebrow-raising numbers last season. He played only 84 games last year but was hitting the ball well. In 276 at-bats, he stroked 43 RBIs, 13 home runs and 82 hits. He led the team in slugging with a .511 slugging percentage and runs created per 27 outs with 7.21 runs. Given more plate appearances, he would have challenged Butler in most offensive categories.

He took 4.14 pitches per at-bat at last season and walked 33 times, but his base on balls per strike out (.49) left much to be desired and his 74 strike outs in 276 at bats don’t inspire much confidence either.

Betemit was johnny-on-the-spot when he made the line up in June and July. In July he averaged .323 in 68 at-bats. After the Callaspo trade, he took over at 3rd base and the magic wore off a bit but he continued to get on base and slug well. In 181 at-bats during August and September he knocked in 28 RBIs and maintained a .271 average, while getting on base 35.2 percent of the time and slugging .481.

He’s carried this momentum well into the Dominican Winter League where he plays for the Gigantes de Cibao. In 100 at bats in la liga dominicana he’s put together a .290/.354/.470 BA/OBP/SLG line and drove in 25 runs. Based on this performance, as well as his late season consistency, I’d argue Betemit will be one of the better hitters and maybe the best slugger next season.

Finding a place for Betemit in what should, by the All-Star break, be a crowded infield may be tough since his defense isn’t superb. If he’s hot through July and Mike Moustakas is pushing for a call up, don’t be surprised to see Betemit on the trading block.

Mike Avilés:

Triple Slash: 2010: .304/.335/.413 Career: .298/.327/.422

Mike Avilés has had quite the young career. In three years in the majors he’s been a Rookie of the Year candidate, dead in the water, and a fantasy darling all over again. For my money, Avilés has the potential to be one of the better infielders in the AL. He had an unreal rookie year for a terrible Royals team and bounced back from Tommy John surgery very well.

With the exception of a patchy July and August when he did not play often, Avilés had a very impressive 2010 season where he showed he is capable of proving his rookie season was no fluke. He ended up finishing second among Royals still on the team in batting average, stolen bases, and runs scored. Among all 2nd basemen in the major leagues, Avilés finished only behind Robinson Canó and Martín Prado in batting average.

His performance in September was particularly inspiring. In 98 at-bats druing that month he hit .357, while getting on base 37.9 percent of the time and slugging .612. He smacked in 14 RBIs and robbed six bases in seven attempts while only striking out nine times.

Aviles said last year he was feeling healthy enough to play short stop again, but the addition of Alcides Escobar should keep that from happening. The pair, and the impending arrival of Lorenzo Cain, could make the Royals a strong defensive team up the middle.

Barring another injury, Aviles doesn’t show any signs of a Berrora-esque drop-off and should be considered an essential part of The Process

Melky Cabrera

The man blocking Lorenzo Cain from the majors

It should also be noted that Lorenzo Cain has the potential to be up here if he gets enough time on the field. Last season Cain got limited time in center for the Brewers in the late summer and posted a .306/.348/.415 triple slash in 147 at-bats.

Cain played sporadically at the end of last season, but had several multiple hit games, including a pair of 4 hit games against the Reds, in the waining weeks of September and the three October games.

Nothing suggests he shouldn’t be able to keep this up while playing solid defense and capturing the hearts and minds of Royals fans. However, all metrics at the moment indicate Cain’s time in the field will be blocked by Ned Yost’s preference for Melky Cabrera.

Let’s all pray Cain turns heads in Spring ball.

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Tags: Alcides Escobar Angel Berroa Billy Butler Jeff Francoeur Jose Guillen Jose Lima Lorenzo Cain Mike Aviles Ned Yost Runelvys Hernandez Wilson Betemit Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke

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