The Monday Rant


Today is the MLB Rule IV First-Year Player Draft, which is to say today is the day the Royals will either take a player that can make it to the big leagues quickly, or someone that is more of a project and they need to develop. One thing is for sure though: either way, people will lose their minds.

For as much credit as Dayton Moore and Co. get for their drafting strategy over the past six seasons, the first round hasn’t been all rainbows and roses as the narrative would lead to believe.

The drafting of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas would seem to be a success simply from the point that the Royals have two starting position players under contract for six years. There’s value there. Where those two picks become franchise-altering (perhaps some hyperbole there) is when one or both become the superstars fans want them to be.

The other four first-round picks however haven’t been all that great.

The best of the bunch so far is Luke Hochever* and no matter what a fan thinks of Hochevar, selecting him No.1 overall while not the kind of thing you write in your organization’s record books, but at the very least he’s provided innings for the team while there were so many to go around and not enough talent to take them.

*Yes, I know that Dayton Moore says he had nothing to do with that draft, and that’s fine. It was a point of debate in a post I did last year that we don’t need to get back into now. Moore gets credit for the pick because at the time of the draft he was already hired/an employee of the Royals. If he didn’t have anything to do with that draft, well then, he should have because he was already hired/an employee of the Royals.

Aaron Crow, Christian Colon, and Bubba Starling are where things get a bit foggier and look at the drafting narrative with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

Crow was drafted, presumably, with an eye towards getting a pitcher that could move quickly through the system to match up with the same window as the position players in the organization. Not a bad idea if the college guy you’re drafting can stay a starter, but drafting a reliever that high in the first round isn’t the greatest use of the selection because he’s unlikely ever to see more than 80 innings in a year.

Colon, due to a perceived positional need of shortstop at the time, was plucked along with the fabled “leader” trait even though many had their doubts he would ever a) stick at short or b) hit enough to be considered a major league starter. So far it would seem that both concerns are valid as he’s now 23 and in Double-A and has yet to establish himself as a top prospect. Colon is having a good start to his season this year with encouraging power numbers, but a move off short remains eminent and taking a second baseman as high as Colon was taken is not usually a recipe for success.

Starling is the mystery. Not that the Royals drafted him but that he’s almost 20 years old and he’s yet to play a professional baseball game. Read that sentence again. We’re a year from the 2011 draft now and the local hero has yet to put on a pair of cleats in a game that matters. The tools are obviously there and many are incredibly excited about the prospects of a 6-5 centerfielder than can remain at the position, throw, hit, and run enough to be a star. But, there’s still much worry tied to his selection.

The Royals have had a great run of paying over-slot for post first-rounders to really bolster the overall value of the system, but now with the changes in the CBA that will make it harder for them to continue that strategy, the focus on the top pick becomes all the more important.

There are plenty of mock drafts out there, like the one Greg Schaum did or the one at BullpenBanter, with the consensus seeming to be that there is no consensus. This year’s top picks seem to be less predictable than in the past which may have more to do with the overall talent of the 2012 crop than the CBA, but no doubt a little of both are a factor.

The real question will be once all the chips fall where they do if the Royals take the best talent available again like they did with Hosmer and Moustakas, or if the reach on the talent and future projection of a player in hopes that he fits the time frame of contending, and can move faster through the system. It should be interesting, and something to keep an eye one.

The Good

Over their last 32 games, the Royals are 20-12. How about that? Twenty wins in 32 games is a far cry from losing the first 10 home games and only having seven five home victories through the latest series with the A’s. Can the Royals keep it up? Gosh, do we all hope.

The bullpen has been consistently fantastic this year even though there’s still worry that at some point they’ll all fall off the Being Productive Cliff because of being overworked. The Royals bullpen has been used the most in baseball this season, and it’s not particularly close. That they are as a group still as good as they are is nothing short of remarkable. Something, or someone, somewhere, needs to step up.

And perhaps it’s on offense. Alex Gordon seems to be slowly pulling his way out of his 6-weeks of slumps, but Billy Butler has found his way into one at the same time. That’s just bad timing.

Since there aren’t any reinforcements on the horizon for the starting rotation (here’s looking at you, Mike Montgomery) the offense needs to catch fire and have some high scoring games, allowing the rotation to get into the later innings, giving the bullpen a rest. And with the schedule coming up, they should be able to do just that.

The Bad

Yuniesky Betancourt. There’s no longer an excuse for the crowd that said it was a good thing to sign one of the worst everyday players in baseball this offseason as a backup. Why? Because it should have been known from the start that there was no way we would ever be relegated to backup or utility roles, and most of us knew better.

The amusing part of the Yuni Experiment is the correlation between the position battle at second to the position battle in center. Of course, in Royals terms, “battle” amounts to little more than firing Nerf Guns at each other while sitting on opposite couches in a living room. There’s never a clear winner and it’s really only something to do to pass the time away.

What’s funny about the situation between Jarrod Dyson versus Mitch Maier in center is that some KC media members, well one in particular, was fond of using the reasoning: “we know what Maier is and need to find out what Dyson is, so Dyson needs to play.”

Now while we could argue circles around that…ah screw it, I will.

We also know what Jarrod Dyson is at this point. He’s an all speed player with little other tools to either a) play up his speed or b) make his speed useful for being something more than a novelty. But, because the Royals need to find out what they have in Dyson, he plays. No harm, no foul. His speed is a better bet to impact games than any of Maier’s tools, so the reasoning is understandable.

The problem with the whole thing is the philosophy of player usage that is applied to one position – where the skills of the players is a relative wash – and not at another position where the skills are not a wash at all.

We know what Yuniesky Betancourt is, and we’ve known for awhile now. A limited (zero) range infielder with an inconsistent glove and a visceral aversion to walks and/or offensive outs in general. Betancourt giveth; Betancourt taketh away. And it rarely benefits the Royals.

But there sits Johnny Giavotella. A 24-near-25 year old who’s shown ability at every stop to get on base at a high rate and hit for enough power as a second baseman to be a valuable player. Is the defense shaky? Well sure, I don’t think anyone is arguing that it isn’t. What people are arguing however, and rightfully so, is that if you can watch Betancourt play and watch Giavotella play and come away thinking that Yuni is a far better defensive performer, well then you’re just not watching.
Even if Betancourt is better with the glove his career .293 wOBA more than proves that he isn’t capable of swinging a bat well enough to be considered a starter.

And if this is just some clever ruse to build value in Betancourt for a potential trade in July, I’m not buying. Utility players are usually somewhat of a commodity around the Trade Deadline, but Betancourt’s versatility centers around his ability to have his name written next to next different numbers on a lineup card, not his ability to play any of those positions well.

Sure, this is #OurMissionTime2012 and all, and it’s been pinpointed as a year to compete. But if you’re going to use the excuse of “we need to find out what we have” in a player that’s two years older than Giavotella, why isn’t that same reasoning not being used to find out what we have in him?

The Upcoming

The spelling of “Twins” really needs to have more “o’s” and “l’s” so I could make some variation of TwiLOLns. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Shucks.

What is a bit of fun though is watching the Twins circle the drain back to the Royals in the standings. The years of the vast superiority and the managerial genius of Ron Gardenhire has been replaced by his team’s talent being unable to overcome the fact that he can turn a 27 offensive out game into a 22 offensive out game like nobody’s business.* Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are fine, half of the time at least, it’s just the rest of the roster that leaves much to be desired.

*By the way, I was on a podcast and said this exact thing. I’m stealing from myself! Pretty neat. And, give it a listen.

As Rany Jazayerli pointed out a couple days ago, the Royals schedule for June sets up pretty nicely for them to really turn things around. Enough was said after the Royals slow start (well, it was said after the 12 game losing streak, conveniently) that the team would probably struggle for the first half of this season because of their youth. A 20-12 record over the last 32 games would lend some hope to the youth figuring some things out, and that anticipated second half surge has been bumped up a few weeks, and now the Royals are ready to make some noise.

Six games against the Twins and three against Pittsburgh, Houston, and Milwaukee should help the team rebound from a slow April. Then six against St. Louis and three against Tampa Bay and of the toughest nine games during the month, six are against a National League opponent and six are at home, where you would think things would start to turn around.

The Royals are currently 23-29 and 7 games back in the division. Another good month and (hopefully) the gap closing to the top of the division, and a month of July which would have ordinarily been looked at as the time to start unloading players for younger minor league talent, could drastically change. And a July where the Royals are actually knocking on the door of contention would be awesome, weird, incredibly, confusing, emotional, and a lot of fun.