One of the things I enjoy about travelling so much is that I get outside of the Kansas City hype bubble. Inside that bubble, we feel like we’ve got a bright future, great prospects, and a winning team. But what does the national media think? I know that you’ve got to earn the respect on that level & it takes winning in order to do so. Until the Royals prove that they can win, they’ll be known as the AL Central bottom-dwellers and the farm team for others with more money.
One morning last week, as I slipped out of my hotel room and found my USA Today waiting for me, I noticed the headline “50 Names to Keep an Eye on for 2012″. Of course, like any fan, I wanted to see how many of my guys were on that list. Especially since this is what Royals fans are hedging the future of the franchise on – guys to keep an eye on.
#1 on the list is Yu Darvish of the Rangers, who has been a dominant pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. He was 18-6 last year with a 1.44 ERA and a ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio of 276 – 36. Everyone will be watching to see if the talent follows the hype across the Pacific Ocean.
I was happy to find four of our guys on the list, good for second-most next to Oakland. You know that the A’s are always going to be at or near the top of a list like this, but recently, the Royals have been as well. The A’s have five on the list, including Brad Peacock, who was 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 3 starts for Washington last season. The Mariners also have four prospects on the list (the Royals top them in aggregate score, 98-93) including Catcher Jesus Montero, who the Yankees traded away. Odds are that Montero will DH for the M’s in 2012 after slugging .590 in limited action last season.
All in all, 14 clubs have multiple players on the list, and a total of 26 teams are represented with at least one player to keep an eye on. The Phillies, Tigers, Twins, Mets, and Yankees were shut out. Apparently, they won’t have to keep an eye out for anyone in the state of New York this year. Also, this would appear to be good for Royals fans, having two other AL Central teams with little coming down the pipeline. It can be a bit misleading though, because the Tigers have experience and aren’t banking on prospects for their title run.
As for the Royals on the list?
-#12. 2B Johnny Giavotella, 24: “He’s a solid defender, but he’ll succeed because of his offense. He hits. He walks nearly as much as he strikes out. And he might have the most energy among the three infielders promoted last year.”
Giavotella was the Royals’ Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2011, despite his August call-up and 46 games in KC. His walk to strikeout ratio was impressive in Omaha (40 BB/57 K), but he’ll need to improve upon that at the big league level, as he walked just 6 times compared to 32 strikeouts.
-#14. C Salvador Perez, 21: “Even if he doesn’t repeat the hitting as the starter this year, he’s a strong defender. His success could depend on whether major league pitchers exploit his reluctance to walk.”
Perez surprised everyone by hitting as well as he did during his time in Kansas City last year. He’ll have to be ready to make some serious adjustments and be ready for what American League pitching coaches have been cooking up for him over the winter. When they speak of Perez’s reluctance to walk, he showed that more in Arkansas and Omaha than in Kansas City. He walked just 16 times in the minors last year, and drew 7 walks in a third of the time while in KC.
-#32. OF Lorenzo Cain, 25: “He was the one who was left behind last year as Kansas City moved its collection of prospects into the majors”
We know that Cain was “left behind” only because the Royals were stacked in the Outfield in 2011. I’m sure that at the beginning of the year, he was on Dayton’s list along with the guys who did make it to the show. Nobody could have predicted any or all three of last year’s starters’ success, which kept Cain out of Kansas City for all but just 6 games. With Melky Cabrera gone, the path is clear for Cain to shine in Kansas City. As the starter going into spring training, he’ll need to prove that he’s worthy before the Royals break camp.
-#48. RHP Kelvin Herrera, 22: “The Kansas City bullpen is full of young talent, but hard-throwing Herrera is among those with the best chance of eventually taking over for closer Joakim Soria.”
While in the minors last year, Herrera spent time in A, AA, & AAA uniforms. He pitched in 45 games and racked up 70 strikeouts in 67 2/3 Innings. He made his big league debut on September 21st and earned a Loss. He gave up 3 Runs in his inning of work. He was better four days later, but in a total of 2 innings for the Royals last year, he did not strike out one batter. In order for him to be successful, he’s going to have to figure out what worked for him in the minors and make that happen against big league hitting. The Royals need Herrera to be reliable if there’s any chance of seeing him as a closer in the future.
(#49 on the list is Bryce Harper…)
Now, I know that lists are sometimes lists for lists sake. It’s almost impossible for someone to sit down & come up with a list like this. Like coming up with the “Top 50 songs of all time” or the “Top 10 Steak Restaurants in America”, it’s simply a conversation starter. There’s no way to truly measure it. Nobody will scrutinize this list at the end of the season and hold its author responsible. Know this though – we will surely be watching these guys (and many others) in Kansas City. Now, maybe others will as well. The bottom line is that if we’re all watching, these guys need to show us something.