Since I live outside of the Kansas City area, I recently signed up for my 2011 MLB.tv package so I could catch every one of Jeff Francoeur’s glorious starts. That’s all well and good, but it also allows users to watch 2010 games, at least until the 2011 season starts. So, I fired it up yesterday and watched two games and just started another this morning.
Other than realizing just how happy I am to be rid of Jose Guillen, Rick Ankiel, and Yuni “Plus Hands” Betancourt, I noticed that in each of the games I watched the Royals used a different leadoff guy. Chris Getz, Gregor Blanco, and Jarrod Dyson made appearances at the top of the order in those three games.
I dug a little deeper and saw something that makes sense now that I think back: the Royals used seven different players to bat leadoff. For clarity, this is just the number of players that started off the game for the Royals. With the player turnover and new additions this offseason, things have been muddied a bit going into 2011. So, where does that leave the Royals to start out games?
I mentioned that there were seven guys that led off games in 2010. Here they are in order of number of appearances:
The first thing you might notice is that the Bloomquist somehow batted leadoff in five games. It doesn’t sound like much, but when Maier had fewer and Getz barely had more, it really makes you wonder about the collective sanity of the manager and coaches.
After that, you’ll see that three of those guys aren’t with the club anymore. Podsednik, DeJesus, and Bloomquist are all gone. That opens up 103 games for leadoff candidates.
The other thing to realize is that two of those guys, Blanco, and Maier, will be in a very competitive battle for outfield playing time. With Lorenzo Cain, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur added to the roster, even getting starts in the outfield will be difficult for those two guys. Both Mike and I have talked about it before, but one of those two probably gets a bench spot and the other gets demoted. If Blanco gets the short end of the stick, that’ll be 143 games that will have a new leadoff batter from 2010 to 2011. Basically, we’re looking at a whole new season.
Who gets all those starts? Well, there are several candidates. You can include the holdovers from last year – Blanco, Dyson, Getz, and Maier – and add the newly-acquired guys – Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar. If Joaquin Arias ever spends time in Kansas City, he’d be a candidate as well, but it’s not worth discussing him at this point.
Like last year’s seven players, that gives us seven guys with legitimate chances to lead off a fair number of games. Who makes the cut?
I already mentioned Blanco and Maier, but there are also three other outfielders on that list – Dyson, Cabrera, and Cain. This list of five guys excludes the two other outfielders, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, so obviously at least two won’t even be on the roster to start the season. I’m starting to be swayed toward the idea that the Royals might actually consider playing Cain over Cabrera in centerfield, so I would think he’s a strong candidate for a lot of starts. In his 36 starts with the Brewers in 2010, however, only two were as the leadoff man (31 were in the 6-spot). There’s no way to predict what Ned Yost will do, so it’s wide open. Cain might profile better in the second spot in the lineup, but he’s sure to get at least 10 starts as the leadoff man if he gets most of the centerfield starts. I can’t seem to find a quote from Yost or Dayton Moore about their thoughts of Cain’s starting spot, but 10 starts is probably the lowest cutoff.
I don’t appreciate the signing of Melky Cabrera, but whether he gets a starting spot or not, I would be shocked if he doesn’t get at least 5 starts in the leadoff spot. It just seems to be the way Yost’s mind works and I’m sure Cabrera will be given chances out there.
You can start to debate between Dyson and Blanco, but I think that the Royals really liked what they got from Blanco in the leadoff position last year. If he makes the team, I would guess that he bats leadoff in 90% of the games he starts. That could be anywhere from 20 to 100 games, but unless Escobar’s bat emerges or Dyson gets a lot of playing time, Blanco would get the majority of those starts.
Speaking of Escobar, I’m wondering what Yost will try to accomplish with him this season. Escobar has led off two games in his major league career – one in each of 2009 and 2010, and spends most of his time batting seventh or eighth (remember, he was in the National League). If his bat develops into what was predicted for him, he could get a few more leadoff starts. The other factor to consider is whether Yost plugs him in as leadoff based on faith or to instill confidence. Since Escobar will probably get 140+ starts at shortstop, he’ll have a lot of opportunities. He could be a dark horse candidate to get a bunch of leadoff starts later in the season.
If the Royals start with an outfield of Gordon, Cain, and Francoeur and Blanco either sits or is demoted, the Royals will probably look to Chris Getz. Getz is a fast runner and can get on base, but I wouldn’t consider him your prototypical leadoff batter. He did get seven starts as the leadoff man in 2010 (only 72 games due to injuries), so he could get a fair number of leadoff starts. Without too many other speedy guys likely to be on the Opening Day roster, it really comes down to Getz and Cain. If the Royals prefer Cain in a leadoff spot, he’ll get the most starts there this year. If not, Getz probably gets at least 75% of his starts as the leadoff man.
When it comes down to it, it’s almost impossible to nail down even approximate numbers for leadoff starts amongst the Royals. There are enough positional battles to make predictions difficult. If I were a betting man, though, and if Yost likes Cain leading off, I’d go with this list in order of most to fewest leadoff starts:
Cain and Getz will probably have a nearly equal number of leadoff starts or within 10-15 of one another. The last three could be mixed up in any way, really. Since none of Cabrera, Blanco, and Dyson should/will get many starts in the field, they will simply have fewer chances to lead off. You could argue that Escobar could be mixed in with those three guys as well, but I think Yost will give him a few chances to show that he has the stuff to produce in that position. I also think Escobar will have a better year than 2010 (he almost has to, right?), but that’s beside the point.
Take a look at the list of guys I just put up there and compare them to last year’s leadoff men. Maier and DeJesus were quick, but compared to the guys on this list they don’t have nearly the wheels to get a leadoff spot (even if DeJesus weren’t traded). Even when Cabrera, who is likely the slowest guy on this list, starts, he’s still arguably much faster than the much-loved Willie Bloomquist. Speed should not be a factor with the leadoff guys in 2011. The two biggest problems will be on-base percentage and base-running skills. I give the edge of the former to Cain and Blanco and the latter to Getz, so it could be an interesting interplay of different skills this season.
All right, back to watching the Royals beat the Rays. Wow, Dyson and Blanco just hit back-to-back triples…
Top photo was taken by Minda Haas, whose blog can be found here.