A decade ago, a new era in KC Royals history was ushered in. Highly-touted prospects Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez were mid-season call-ups in 2011, Danny Duffy joined the starting rotation, and the outfield had a makeover.
Remaking the outfield actually began the season before. Because he wasn’t finding success at third base, the Royals moved 2005 first round draft pick Alex Gordon to left field in 2010. His .985 fielding percentage caused the club to keep him there for the 2011 season.
Then, two free agents that the Royals took a chance in signing after the 2010 season ended—Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera—joined Gordon.
Francoeur, who’s up-and-down career we recently recounted, was looking for a resurgence after experiencing a swift downward spiral after his hot rookie start with his hometown Braves. Cabrera, after spending his first five big league seasons with the Yankees, found himself traded to Atlanta after the 2009 season, then released by the Braves after hitting .255 in 2010.
Francoeur and Cabrera both signed one-year contracts with the Royals a day apart in December 2010.
So, the scene was set for three players with their own struggles to fill out the Royals’ outfield. Chances are none predicted 2011 would be what it was for them.
With new horizons, the 3 KC Royals outfielders each had excellent seasons.
After failing to find consistency with the Braves, Mets, and Rangers, Francoeur had his first real standout season on offense since his 2005 rookie campaign. He slashed .285/.329/.476 with 20 home runs, 87 RBIs, 47 doubles, 77 runs scored and 22 stolen bases.
Cabrera, after suffering his disappointing season with Atlanta in 2010, surged to a .305/.339/.470 line and hit 18 homers, drove in 87 runs and scored 102, stroked 44 doubles, and stole 20 bases.
And then there was Gordon who, after slashing a combined .244/.328/.405 his first four seasons, was an entirely new man in left field. He slashed hit .303/.376/.502 with 23 home runs, 87 RBIs, 45 doubles, 67 walks, 101 runs, and 17 stolen bases, all of which were then career highs for him.
Gordon, Francoeur and Cabrera were three of five major leaguers late that 2011 season to record at least 40 doubles, 15 home runs, and 15 stolen bases, and Cabrera became the sixth Royal to record over 200 hits (201) in a single season, and the first since Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney accomplished the feat in 2000.
Combined, the outfield trio posted 280 runs, 557 hits, 136 doubles, 61 home runs, 59 stolen bases, and 261 RBIs. Oddly enough, each man had 87 RBIs apiece.
Gordon, Francoeur and Cabrera also stood out defensively for the KC Royals.
The 2011 outfielders didn’t contribute only on offense. When each entered the 2011 season, their defense was never a question—Francoeur, Cabrera and Gordon could field with the best and they continued to do so in 2011.
In right field, Francoeur posted a .986 fielding percentage, had 16 assists, and turned four double plays. In center, Cabrera had a .991 fielding percentage, 13 assists and seven double plays.
And Gordon fared the best. He led all American League left fielders with a .991 fielding percentage, 312 putouts and 20 assists to secure his first of eight career Gold Gloves.
Gordon’s 20 assists led the majors that season and Francoeur’s 16 were second. Together with Cabrera, they became the second group of outfielders in club history to record double-digit assists.
Looking back, there’s no doubt Gordon, Francoeur, and Cabrera put up historic numbers, and what’s even more amazing is that it all aligned for them in the same season.
The 2011 Kansas City outfield of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur remains one of the best in club history.