It’s a little surprising, and perhaps discouraging, to realize that all three Opening Day outfielders for the 2010 Kansas City Royals are no longer with the team.
Starting left fielder Scott Podsednik was lost in a mid-season trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and shortly after center fielder Rick Ankiel, who fought injuries during much of his tenure in Kansas City, was traded to Atlanta. (Incidentally, both Ankiel and Podsednik were non-tendered by their new teams, and their 2011 destination is as of yet unknown.)
The Royals’ most recent move sent right fielder David DeJesus to the Oakland A’s in return for a couple of pitchers.
But that’s not the real story for the Royals’ outfield in 2010. The real story was the guys who came to replace Podsednik, Ankiel and DeJesus (who succumbed to a season-ending injury in July).
In fact, it was a replacement who actually spent more time in the outfield than anyone else: Mitch Maier, who ended up starting 103 games and playing in 11 more (including two innings at first base).
Maier didn’t play too badly in 2010, his second season seeing semi-regular duty. Over 421 plate appearances, Maier batted .263 with a .333 on-base percentage, collecting 98 hits, five home runs and 41 walks. But he also committed five errors in the field, more than any other outfielder on the team.
As good as Maier has been as a fill-in player the last couple of years, most people are fairly convinced he’s not a part of the long-term solution. But here’s a startling fact: with the DeJesus trade, it’s almost certain now that Maier will earn a starting spot on the 2011 team, my guess is in right field, unless another deal is made to bring in an outfielder.
Another surprise in the outfield for the Royals in 2011 was the appearance of Alex Gordon, who started the year as a third baseman. Gordon struggled at the hot corner early on and was sent down to the minors, where he was converted to a left fielder. He came back to the big leagues and took over the left field spot vacated by Podsednik.
Gordon’s 2010 numbers are skewed by a terrible start before he was sent down, but it ain’t pretty: an average of .215, an on-base percentage of .315, and only eight home runs over 74 games.
However, Gordon is the incumbent in left field in 2011, and he has promised to “dominate” at the plate. We’ll see.
So that gives us our corner outfield spots for the 2011 team. Who will be the starting center fielder?
There’s a bit of competition, but the guy I’m rooting for is Jarrod Dyson. He played in only 18 games as a September call-up in ’10, and he batted only .211 during that stretch. But Dyson is lightning fast – he swiped nine bases in 10 attempts. And he knows how to get on base, too: his on-base percentage was .286, which is bad but surprising considering his batting average. He drew six walks in only 57 plate appearances. And, he’s an ideal leadoff hitter, something the Royals need now that DeJesus is gone. I think of Dyson as Joey Gathright with more tools besides just speed.
Let’s take a quick look at the other Royals players who spent time in the outfield in 2010:
Scott Podsednik: Second only to Maier, Podsednik played 92 games for the Royals before being traded. In his time here he batted .310 and stole 30 bases. The Royals were able to successfully flip him for prospects.
David DeJesus: He shall be missed. The most consistent player in the Royals’ lineup, DeJesus was having a career year in 2010 before his injury. He batted .318, a career high, compiling 112 hits and five round trippers. DeJesus started 87 games in 2010, mostly in right field.
Gregor Blanco: Received in the trade that sent Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta, Blanco was a pleasant surprise in the second half. Blanco played in 44 games for the Royals, mostly in center, and he batted .274 (.283 on the year) with 10 stolen bases and a .348 OBP. If Dyson doesn’t get a starting outfield spot in 2011, Blanco probably will; he could also bat leadoff.
Willie Bloomquist: The utilityman played 35 games in the outfield, including 25 starts, before being traded. He batted .265 with three homers as a Royal in 2010 over 72 games total, mostly in the infield.
Jose Guillen: How could we forget? Although he mostly DH’d, Guillen played 22 games in right field (21 starts) before a midseason trade to San Francisco. Prior to the trade, Guillen batted .255 and clubbed 16 home runs over 106 games – which was still enough to tie him for the team lead.
Jai Miller: Another former Royal – Miller was another September callup and actually played a bit more than Dyson. In 60 plate appearances, Miller batted .236 with a home run and a stolen base. There’s a decent chance Miller will make the opening day roster, but probably as a backup outfielder.
Wilson Betemit: Betemit was terrific for the Royals in 2010, but he only played two games in the outfield.
There you have it. The Royals used 11 outfielders in 2010, and no fewer than seven at each of the three positions.
We know we’ll have an entirely new starting outfield on Opening Day. So here’s hoping for more stability – and more production – from those guys.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.