Royals Report Cards: The Position Players, Part 2
I’m going to try to wrap this up today. I know I talk too much, you don’t have to tell me. My sisters used to tell me that all the time. No more pre-grade commentary. Let’s move!
Wilson Betemit - I know that Moustakas actually ended up playing third base more than anybody but I wanted to start with Betemit to talk about what a fantastic pickup he was before the season last year. In every effort to toot my own horn, I’d like to remind you all that I loved the signing. Now, I didn’t think he’d do what he did in 2010, but I still loved it. Of course, the Royals brought him back in 2011 on a pretty cheap deal for $1 million. He wasn’t as good in 2011 as he was in 2010, but he remained a valuable member of the team and the organization until he was dealt to the Tigers in July. He hit .281 with a .341 OBP. His slugging was way down, which caused him to lose some value and he has never been anything to write home about defensively, but he’s a good guy to have on your roster. He adequately manned third base until Mike Moustakas was deemed ready and then he shifted to a utility role that he is simply not suited for.
Mike Moustakas – To say that Moose was a disappointment in his first season in the big leagues would be a bit of an understatement. I think a lot of people expected way more power from him. He really turned things on in the last month to month and a half and ended with an almost respectable line of .263/.309/.367. I, along with a lot of other people, predicted that he’d struggle at first and I even thought it might be as bad as he did, but I never believed that he would lose all of his power in the process. I think that was the most disturbing thing missing from his game. He hit four homers in September, and I’m hoping that’s a sign of better days to come for him because for the Royals to compete in 2012, they need Moustakas to hit 25-30 homers or more. I think I mentioned a little while ago that I expect him to be the second Royal to pass the 36 home run barrier, but I don’t see that happening in 2012. If I was grading him in mid-August, he’d get an F, but his last month and a half really helped his season out.
Alcides Escobar - With the other positions, I had to list the plural of the position, but with shortstop, there’s just one. Sure, a couple of guys played some innings at shortstop other than Escobar, but he was out there almost every day playing outstanding defense. We’ve talked a lot about Escobar throughout this season, so I won’t spend a ton of time on him in my effort to conserve words, but his turnaround was nothing short of amazing and he ended the season hitting .254/.290/.343. Make no bones about it, that’s not good, but for the defense he puts up, it’s acceptable. If he can somehow find a way to hit .280/.330/.390, then he’s outstanding. I think it’s unlikely, but he could win a gold glove this year and then for years to come. I’m glad he’s on our side.
Before I get into any one player, I’d just like to give the outfield as a whole an A grade. They were outstanding from game one to game 155 or so when Ned Yost decided they had played enough for the season. I don’t think we can expect to see a season like that from this outfield next year, but it sure was a joy to watch.
Alex Gordon – Let’s get started with the Royals player of the year. I feel like talking about him even more than we already have all year isn’t going to do him justice. He proclaimed that dominance was on the horizon last season and people scoffed. He went 0-5 on Opening Day and people thought it was the same old Alex. Then he just started hitting and kept on doing it. He also mixed in 20 outfield assists. If someone fell into a coma in 2006 and then woke up today and saw Alex Gordon’s .303/.376/.502 line from 2011, they might think, “Yeah, that’s about right.” They wouldn’t know the struggles that Gordon has gone through to get to this point. He’s fought injuries, general ineffectiveness and a position change to become the player that he is today, and that’s is a bona fide MVP candidate on an up and coming young team. He had 72 extra base hits including 23 homers and was the best leadoff hitter the Royals have had since Damon and potentially the best in team history. Just a great all around year for him.
Melky Cabrera – I suppose I have to keep bringing this up because I deserve it. I absolutely hated the Melky Cabrera signing. I thought he was fat, bad defensively and couldn’t hit. He’s still not good defensively, but he worked to get in shape and had the best season of his career hitting .305/.339/.470. I think he’s due for some regression and I don’t think he’ll be a Royal in 2012, but it was fun to watch the Melk man throughout the season doing his thing. He looks like he’s having fun out there, and that’s something that is a joy to watch. Fox Sports Kansas City had a poll after the All-Star break about who would lead the Royals in average and Cabrera was one of the choices. I didn’t think he had a chance to do it. He did. He was fun to watch. One quibble with his game is that he doesn’t walk as much as he used to. If he could put his former plate discipline together with the power he showed this year, he’d be one of the game’s very best.
Jeff Francoeur – Here’s another signing I did not like. And I’ll tell you this right now. I don’t like his extension. Maybe that’ll give us two more good years of Francoeur. He had a really nice season and he provides some pretty good defense in right field, though it comes with somewhat limited range. I think a .285/.329/.476 line is about the best we could have expected from Frenchy this season, and I hope he finds a way to replicate that over the next two seasons because he’s a Royal for better or for worse. The encouraging thing is that while his on base percentage doesn’t reflect it, he actually was a much more patient hitter in 2011 as he took more pitches and swung at less bad ones. The walks didn’t come, but they may at some point. I think Seitzer had a pretty big impact on Francoeur in terms of changing his approach to put him in better hitting situations.
Mitch Maier¬†- I’m tempted to give Mitch an imcomplete as he did the nearly impossible with being on the roster the entire season and only getting 113 plate appearances. I like Maier and I want him to succeed, but he’s simply nothing special. Though he is a very good fourth outfielder. He plays good defense and he takes a walk, but he has very little power. He’ll hang around for years getting the occasional opportunity and I assume will try to pick up some first base and get back to third base to market himself as a super utility player who could be extremely valuable on a National League roster.
Billy Butler, aka #Countrybreakfast – Butler had a typical¬† Butler season only a little bit worse. His power and production was pretty much non-existant in the first half of the season and then he turned it on pretty suddenly and was driving the ball the rest of the season. He ended up with 44 doubles, 19 homers and 95 RBI after looking like he was in danger of not getting anywhere near those numbers. His average was a little down this year at .291 and he had a .361¬† OBP. For Butler to reach the next eschelon of hitters in baseball, he needs to get on base a little bit more and hit for a little bit more power. A .300/.390/.500 season is well within his reach, though, as we have to remember that he’s just going to be 26 next season. I think there’s a chance he’s not a Royal, though, as he might be prime bait in bringing back a starting pitcher. Still, a 125 OPS+ in a down year is something for Royals fans to be very thankful about.
I did it! I didn’t think I’d get through all of this in just one post, but I did. The Royals offense was truly fun to watch in 2011 and I think it’s only going to get better in 2012. We can probably expect some regression from guys like Perez and Francoeur, but even if Perez regresses, he’ll still be better than what the Royals got for most of the season out of the catching position. And hopefully Francoeur’s regression and the lesser line that Cain puts up is made up for by improved outfield defense.
Tomorrow, I’ll grade the front office, the coaching staff and the owner.
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