Speed Kills


The Royals of yesteryear were built for (then) Royals Stadium.  With wide alleys and fast turf, outfielders required speed and range to cover enough ground.  With deep and high fences, the stadium was unfriendly to sluggers so speed and defense became the focus.

Players like Amos Otis, Willie Wilson, Freddie Patek patrolled the field (infield in Patek’s case) and also caused problems for opposing pitchers on the basepaths.

They say you can’t teach speed – it’s either there or it isn’t.  While speed itself isn’t enough to be a capable baserunner or basestealer even, it sure helps and the threat alone can be distracting to the opposition – a manager has to keep the first baseman on the bag instead of playing back, a pitcher has to go to the slidestep, maybe the catcher takes his eye off the ball for a split second and it bounces away.

Speed disrupts.  The Royals (in 2011 at least) might have some speedsters to create some havoc of their own.  That aspect of the (potential) opening day roster gives this group a chance to be very entertaining, even if they may not win a lot of games.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but the fact still surprises me.

Chris Getz has been successful in 41 of 46 career stolen base attempts.  Since coming up with the White Sox in 2008, and then playing last season with Kansas City, Getz has made 670 plate appearances – basically a full season’s worth – in accumulating those 46 attempts.  He was 15 for 17 for the Royals last year.

Back in April, Getz was showing the kind of scrappy, pesky play that gets middle infielders anointed by baseball announcers or manager as a gamer.  It’s the David Eckstein, Mickey Morandini, Mark Lemke syndrome.  Heck, it’s the Willie Bloomquist syndrome.  Getz could have more ability than any of those players, but for now, he fits that kind of mold.

That career line of 670 appearances and that kind of success on the bases shows that if he can figure out the hitting side of things – he has a career OPS of .635 – he could be an exciting player to watch.  In the long-term, with Johnny Giavotella and Christian Colon coming up, he’s probably not long for this town, but in 2011, second base is more or less his, meaning we’ll see him stealing bases and likely being successful at it.

Also up the middle is Alcides Escobar, the key component to the Zack Greinke trade.  One of the top prospects in baseball going into 2010, Escobar had improved his basestealing to the point that during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, he was swiped 76 bases, getting caught 18 times.  It wasn’t quite a Getz-ian success rate, but it was enough to expect a lot of speed from the Brewers top prospect.

Escobar struggled to get on base in his first full season but when he did, he wasn’t looking to steal very often either.  To look at his scouting reports, he’d be expected to take off quite a bit, but the Brewers don’t run very much; Ken Macha sent a runner 212 times over two full seasons from 2009-2010 according to the Bill James Handbook for 2010.  Escobar should see an increase in attempts this season.  Ned Yost managed 127 games for the Royals and there were 127 stolen base attempts during that period.

Escobar isn’t the only speedster coming over from the Brewers.  Lorenzo Cain responded to a fan’s question at FanFest in January asking how fast he could run by stating his 60 yard dash time of 6.26 seconds.  That’s pretty fast if it’s accurate – Derrick Robinson is considered the fastest runner in the Royals system (perhaps in professional baseball) and ran a 6.19 60 yard dash before the 2006 draft.  Cain stole seven bases in 43 games last season as a rookie and was caught once.  Prior to debuting in Milwaukee, he’d been successful in 124 of 159 attempts in the minors.  He’ll also cover a ton of ground in the outfield once he gets to Kansas City.  It’s a crowded outfield picture though, so it may not be opening day.

My hunch is that Gregor Blanco has a leg up on some of the other outfielders for a roster spot.  Once he came over last year from Atlanta, Gregor Blanco was given the green light and took advantage of it.  He stole 10 bases as a Royal, getting caught just twice.  With the Braves, he’d been bottled up, attempting just 23 steals in parts of three seasons.  While coming up in the Braves system, Blanco attempted 290 steals and was successful 200 times.  It’s not the best percentage, but he got the opportunity to run.

The X-factor (assuming Derrick Robinson spends all of 2011 in Triple A) is Jarrod Dyson.  After rehabbing from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of action until midway through 2010 where he went from getting back into game shape in July to making his major league debut in September.

He made an impression on me at the time.  I’d largely overlooked him and with the improved hitting of Derrick Robinson, I wasn’t sure he’d be around past this season in the organization.  Instead, I found myself advocating he be named the starting center fielder in 2011.  While I still think he’ll end up starting the year in Omaha, his speed and range make him an intriguing candidate.  He gets on base as well.

Oh, and he stole nine bases in ten tries at the big league level.  Small sample size (18 games) or not, that’s impressive.  That comes after a track (no pun intended) record of success on the basepaths in the minor leagues.  Dyson stole 131 bases and was caught just 32 times before making his debut.  He’ll have to hit a bit to stick in the majors if he makes it back, but he’s got game-changing speed and instincts and is a solid defender as well.

Interesting side note about Dyson – seven of his twelve major league hits went for extra bases.  One of his stolen bases came as a pinch runner, but otherwise, when he was getting to first base, he was looking to take off.

Going into 2011, as a fan you can look at this season in a few different ways.  You can grumble and moan about how this team never wins and we’re never going to, or complain that all these prospects are wasting away down in Arkansas.  You can see this season as a transitional year as the group of talented players we expect to lead us on to the playoffs fine-tune their skills before reaching the majors.  Or you can take a look at what we have now and see what could be entertaining to watch.

It’s not realistic to expect the Royals to win in 2011.  They’re too young and the talent isn’t there yet.  They won’t be a total waste to watch, though.  Throughout the season, the Royals will have a lot of young players on the field, some of which are long-term hopefuls, some who might be around a couple of seasons only.  This year, though, they’ll have a lot of quick guys on the base paths looking for the right move to go for second.

Those will be important players to have in the lineup while Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers are driving the ball all over the place.  Most likely, those speedy guys will be the runners they drive in.

It’s going to be fun to watch – just don’t look at the scoreboard until 2012 or so.

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