It’s easy to make fun of Dayton Moore for his use of the term Process. There’s a lot of talk about “trusting the Process” and sticking with the Process. In a way, it smacks of having a secret plan to fight inflation (a la Josh Lyman in The West Wing). While there’s obviously a plan in place for the minor leagues (build up scouting and player development; sign high-ceiling draftees who pass through due to money concerns; build up through Latin America), he still has to field a team for the big leagues where it all counts.
At various points, Moore has stated the areas that he sees as most important to a winning ballclub:
- Be strong up the middle.
- “Every championship team has a legit #3 and #4 hitter.”
- “You can never have enough starting pitching.”
Those aren’t the only elements, but they’re the ones Moore likes to mention. While he’s built up the farm system that is now starting to blossom and grow at the big league level, some of these pieces weren’t close to the big leagues as recently as 15 months ago.
Be strong up the middle
This is awfully close to a baseball cliche, but I’ll let it slide this time due to my perception that, hey, I agree with it. Middle infielders have more chances on defense to make a play*. For instance, in the American League in 2011, middle infielders had over 10,000 total chances for both of the shortstop and second base positions. Third baseman combined for just over 6000 chances. In the outfield, center fielders combined for 5777 fielding chances – more than a thousand opportunities than left fielders or right fielders had. Since fielders up the middle have the ball in their area more often, it’s beneficial to have them capable of making the plays.
*First basemen technically get more chances, but most of those are putouts based on assists from other infielders.
A solid catcher is vital as well, both for preventing stolen bases but also for working with the pitchers.
At the end of November 2010, the Royals had the option of Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco or Jarrod Dyson as their center fielder going into 2011. All three are capable defenders, and in Dyson’s case, he’s the best of the group, but all three lack in their offensive potential. Moore signed Melky Cabrera – who isn’t a good defensive player but obviously worked out with the bat.
Then the Zack Greinke trade rumors started to swirl around. Moore made it known that he wanted “up-the-middle position players who are near major league ready” for the 2009 Cy Young winner.
Before Christmas, he’d gotten his wish, acquiring Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar to fill those gaps. While the Royals promised Melky playing time (having not expected to gain another center fielder in a trade at the time), Cain had a shot to win the job. Escobar was Milwaukee’s top shortstop prospect the day he signed with them and was their best overall prospect for a couple of years.
Now, heading into 2012, Cain is set to be the opening day center fielder and his defensive abilities are much greater than Cabrera’s. He’s got a chance to be productive at the plate as well (though anyone expecting 200 hits – from Cain or Cabrera – is probably going to be left wanting). Escobar could be the best defensive shortstop in the league. Despite some lapses at times last year, he showed great range, a strong arm and good instincts. If he hits at all, he’ll be of great value.
The Royals locked up their catcher of the future earlier in the week, but even back in December of 2010, Salvador Perez was still working his way up, getting his chance to be the top catching prospect due to Wil Myers shifting to the outfield. The last piece of the defense up the middle – Johnny Giavotella – is the one spot that doesn’t quite fit the narrative. While Giavotella should be fine with the bat, his fielding has been suspect. Or, more accurately, he’s not expected to be among the elite. I think he’ll work his way into being average at the position, which should be fine.
“Every championship team has a legit #3 and #4 hitter.”
Lets face it, I don’t really have to convince you about Eric Hosmer’s abilities, right? He’s going to hit third or fourth for the next fifteen years.
“You can never have enough starting pitching.”
This is one of Dayton’s favorite lines. It’s also where the “to do list” isn’t quite done. Trading Greinke in December 2010 didn’t help and Gil Meche retiring wiped out the Royals two best starters since 2008. They opened 2011 with Luke Hochevar on the mound and a mix of others filling in while most of the pitching prospects were still yet to start in Triple A. The Paulino pickup last summer and Sanchez trade helped and Danny Duffy made the jump, so the rotation looks better on paper at least.
Moore made it clear that he was looking at trades as a primary source for starting pitching if the Royals were to upgrade this offseason. Free agency would be next, though clearly the Royals didn’t go that route.
They may not have to, either.
For all the woes that the starting pitching provided last year, if you consider only those starts by returning pitchers – Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy – and remove the slough that is Kyle Davies and company*and the group had a 4.49 ERA. The AL average for starters was 4.43.
*not to discourage Nate Adcock fans – he had two good starts out of his three last year, but that third wasn’t so great.
If (and it’s a big if) the rotation can see improvement from Paulino and Duffy and if Jonathan Sanchez can return to what he was in 2010, the Royals will be set. Additionally, they also have Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow as potential fits for the starting five, and even Everett Teaford and Luis Mendoza had strong 2011 seasons that could put them in the mix.
And that’s just for 2012. In 2013, Will Smith (an under-discussed favorite of mine), Jake Odorizzi, John Lamb (hopefully), Chris Dwyer and perhaps Noel Arguelles could all be fighting for a spot in camp.
I won’t say that Moore has landed three out of three here, but in just over a year, he’s managed to stock up the middle of the field, entrenched his bruisers in the middle of the lineup and the pitching, well, it could be worse. That’ll have to do for now, but by the end of the year, there may be optimism that all three goals will be checked off.
Then – we hope – the real fun starts.