If the Royals are going to contend in 2013, it’s going to take more than just the stars coming through. If Alex Gordon struggles, Eric Hosmer keeps spinning out of control and others falter, it won’t matter, but baseball needs more than just the stars. Role players have their contributions to make.
Part of the scenario that puts the Royals in position to win enough games next season assumes that the bench will step in and be replacement level or, hopefully, better. Players get hurt, slump, lose their roles. Other players have to fill in the gaps.
Last year the Royals played five different players at second base. Each of those players appeared in at least 20 games. There have to be options available. Even with Gordon and Jeff Francoeur healthy all year, there were a total of seven different outfielders (not counting Eric Hosmer’s attempts in right field). So I took a look at some players who may be hidden keys to next year’s team’s success. If they’re pressed into action, they could be the difference between having a big, gaping hole in the lineup or keeping everything rolling as before.
I was strongly in favor of Falu getting his chance early in 2012. It was obvious early in spring training that Johnny Giavotella wasn’t going to start the year at second base and the idea of Yuniesky Betancourt as a utility guy seemed absurd.
Falu isn’t flashy. He’s been an organizational depth player over the last few years and only made his major league debut last year a month before his 29th birthday. He’s a low-strikeout, low-power kind of guy, but he can play anywhere in the infield and could sneak into the outfield in an emergency situation. He’s best suited for second base, but played some inning at third base and some at shortstop. Long-term you don’t want him in there unless absolutely necessary, but in his time in the big leagues, he hit.
He’s probably not going to hit .341 again, but he’s been a .280 hitter as a minor leaguer, so to jump in he’d be capable. And he’s a switch-hitter, too. Even more flexibility!
I’m probably never going to be a believer in Dyson, but with the possibility of Jeff Francoeur being on a short leash and Lorenzo Cain‘s injury history, he’s next in line if something happens. In his September callup in 2010, he was exciting, made some plays, showed off his speed and before Cain was acquired and Melky Cabrera was signed, could have been the favorite to be the regular center fielder.
He’s best suited as a fourth or fifth outfielder. He doesn’t have a lot of power and his best tool is his speed, but Dyson’s shown some promise in spurts. If he can get some consistency, he could be a fine stopgap. He’s walked in 9.2% of his plate appearances as a big leaguer over 448 plate appearances. It’s not enough to say he’ll be great at getting on base, but his 8.6% walkrate in the minors suggests it’s not a fluke. He made a lot more contact in 2012 than in his 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Let’s say Francoeur struggles and is gone by the end of May. The Royals don’t have a lot of outfield depth in the minors. Xavier Nady would probably be the first guy up, but how reliable is he going to be? Nady hasn’t been effective since 2008. Most likely, the Royals would try out Cain in right field and Dyson in center. If that happens (or if Cain gets hurt, or, heaven forbid, Gordon), Dyson could see four months (or more) as an everyday player. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, but if so, we ought to hope the trends continue to show improvement.
We’ve written about how Marks made some big strides this offseason. He was the Royals best player in the Arizona Fall League and earned a spot on the Royals 40 man roster. Bruce Chen hasn’t been very healthy or – last year – very good. If he got hurt, the first couple of options for a long-reliever or fifth starter would end up being Will Smith, Everett Teaford, Luis Mendoza or Nate Adcock.
Adcock has been fine in his time in the big leagues, but I get the sense the Royals don’t see much upside with him. While much has been made of the Royals young bullpen, for a time in 2011, Teaford was the oldest member of the ‘pen. Older than veteran Joakim Soria, even. Mendoza might be able to stick around league average, but you should know by now that I just don’t trust him to keep it up. Smith could be a dark horse and did a good job of eating innings late last year, so he’d be most likely to step in for a Chen injury if one occurred.
In Marks, the Royals would have a lefty with some upside. He’s going to have to blow everyone away in Surprise to make the team out of spring training (he had just one start of 1.2 innings in Triple A last year), but once he’s gotten more experience at that level, the Royals could have worked through the other options and decided to make a change. He’s a long shot, but he’s on the radar. Nobody figured that Francisley Bueno or Roman Colon would see any innings last year, after all.
I bring up Navarro because he has a couple of things going for him.
Basically, it comes down to this – if Irving Falu can be seen as a capable fill-in, so can Navarro. The two are similar. Navarro has played third base, shortstop and second base over the years. He’s been similar at the plate with slight power (better than Falu, at least), low walks and, over the last two years, better than average contract rates. He’s also a switch-hitter. Navarro is listed as 5’10″ 175 pounds. Falu? 5’10″ 180 pounds. They’re even both from Puerto Rico.
Navarro came into the Royals organization in 2010 from the Diamondbacks in exchange for former star pitching prospect Carlos Rosa, who is now pitching in Japan.
His potential advantage over Falu is his age. Navarro is similar to what Falu is now, but has room to grow. He’s shown improvement since joining the Royals organization and if he can continue to make contact and walk perhaps just a bit more, he could be just as likely a second baseman candidate as Giavotella is or Christian Colon could be. In fact, he’s seven months younger than Colon but he’s been a pro ballplayer since 2007 and has seen twice as many games and plate appearances. Colon has the inside track by virtue of being a former first round draft pick, but Navarro’s leads the Puerto Rican Winter League with a .361 batting average.
If Giavotella continues to struggle, Chris Getz can’t stay healthy and the Royals don’t trust Tony Abreu or Falu, there’s a better than zero chance Navarro could get a look (though he’d have to be added to the 40 man roster). He’s at least got a shot at seeing some time in September.
Ideally, none of these players are put in a situation where they have to play everyday. Ideally Francoeur gets back to 2011 form, all the pitchers stay healthy, and Johnny Giavotella brings the same bats he used in Omaha to Kansas City. But ideal situations can’t be assumed, and backup plans become necessary.