The Road Once Traveled

April 2, 2007 was supposed to be the turning of a franchise, the day the semi-local kid that grew up a Royals fan was supposed to be the cure to a two-decade-long drought of awfulness and bring the organization back to relevance.

Looking back it was probably too much to put on the kid. Heck, at the time it was probably too much to put on the kid. For someone that had never played a game above Double-A miracles and amazings were expected, and there was little room for error.

The story since that first at-bat strikeout has been well documented. Alex Gordon went from receiving a standing ovation in his first career plate appearance, to being the poster-child for a decade of failures and why this franchise hasn’t been able to turn it around in the last five. He is the ultimate polarizing Royal – you either love him, or hate him, there is no in between.

It seems more than a little odd, and perhaps a bit funny, that the fans of a franchise that has known little more than heartbreak and losing for nearly twenty seasons – or heck, nearly thirty – would allow themselves to head down that road again with another player in that can’t miss line towards superstardom, Eric Hosmer.

Hosmer’s call-up from Triple-A Omaha caught every Royals fan by surprise because not only did it signal a willingness to break from the traditional methods of prospect handling in MLB, but it also signaled a willingness from the Royals to replace a struggling young-ish player with another in hopes of winning now.

It’s that “winning now” part of the equation that’s the most shocking because even though Hosmer is considered to be major league ready by many of the prospect and scouting honks, this season wasn’t supposed to be the season the Royals contended. They still may not, but it is nice to see the Royals recognizing that there is little downside in upgrading in talent, regardless of age, and seeing the possibility for that talent to help the team chase the pennant.

Or better yet, maybe the 2012 timetable just got accelerated once this season got started. Maybe Dayton Moore, seeing the progression in the first month of players like Alex Gordon, Aaron Crow, and the defense of Alcides Escobar in Kansas City, started thinking that the more players he could get to the major leagues this year and established, the more 2012 could be a legitimate AL Central push.

Maybe none of this is true and Hosmer was just flat-out ready, and there was little reason to leave him in Omaha putting up video-game like numbers.

No matter the reasoning Hosmer does look the part. The patience we saw Friday night against one of the better left handed curve balls in the AL from Gio Gonzalez was a thing of beauty, and the kind of plate discipline we’re not used to seeing in the Dayton Moore era. And the RBI double he had in Sunday’s game off of Tyson Ross, well, that ball was smoked, and shows the kind of bat speed/power combo we’ve only read about.

There are parallels between Hosmer and Gordon both from a talent perspective and an attention one, but something about this top-prospect-to-the-big-leagues story just feels a little different than the first.

As bloggers we tend to downplay the effect team chemistry and leadership can have on a team and on a young player. There’s no doubt that this year’s version of the Royals looks like a team with better chemistry than it has in years past. So maybe this is the best case scenario for Hosmer to play and succeed and not have the weighty expectations placed on his shoulders that were placed on Gordon’s.

Then again, talent has the greatest effect on a team, and the 2011 Royals have a lot more of that than the 2007 team did, so maybe that will be the biggest difference between a young-Gordon and a young-Hosmer.

Who’s Next?

So now that Hosmer has made his debut it’s time for everyone to throw a name in the hat so we can draw out the one that will receive the next call-up. The consensus seems to be a pitcher and there’s little argument that can be made against that because the starting rotation has been downright awful through the first six weeks.

But the guess here is it will be a second baseman. Surprised? So am I.

Chris Getz continues to struggle and even though Mike Aviles has started to get some more playing time at second base over the last week, there’s still little doubt that the Royals would much rather have Getz there. No one still really knows why.

As long as opposing defenses continue to play the “scoot in” kickball alignment against Getz and his extreme lack of power though, his value to the Royals lineup greatly diminishes because the things that he supposedly does well that Aviles doesn’t – speed and defense – get exposed for being two skills that really aren’t that different at all.

His speed is nearly a wash as Getz has never been all that fast despite what the narrative would want you to believe, and his defense can only be considered marginally better, again, despite what the narrative would want you to believe.

KoK favorite Johnny Giavotella would presumably be the first to get the call, and although he seems like a better candidate to spend a full year in Omaha rather than just a couple of months, a four-to-six weeks trial as the teams second baseman starting in June and see how it goes from there, doesn’t seem like something that would be at all out of the question.

What about Cain?

Melky Cabrera has been Melky Cabrera. The best thing to happen to Cabrera’s career was for him to be signed and come up as a Yankee. If he hadn’t he wouldn’t still be given these chances to play every day, in centerfield, in a major league uniform.

By playing around other more recognizable and considerably better players, Cabrera was afforded a certain level of recognition that’s allowed him to hang on this long. He isn’t that good defensively and he never really has been, and his .305 on-base percentage is doing the kinds of things to the lineup this year that Jason Kendall was doing to it last year.

Lorenzo Cain had options coming out of spring training and that coupled with some bazaar promise to Cabrera led to his demotion to Triple-A. But with Cain’s .402 on-base and .475 slugging in Omaha, the Royals are nearing the point that Melky Cabrera’s services are no longer needed, much the same way Kila Ka’aihue’s weren’t.

The Royals have started the ball rolling on 2012 and the First Wave of prospects headed to the major leagues. There’s little reason to stop there when the players coming up will be upgrades over the ones they would be replacing.

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Tags: Alex Gordon Chris Getz Eric Hosmer Johnny Giavotella Kila Kaaihue Lorenzo Cain Mike Aviles Royals

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