While the Royals ride a wave of success to start the season, there is a longer-term issue to be resolved. Which of the current players will be with the team next April, and the April after that?
No one really expected this team to contend. In fact, most people believed this team would lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 ballgames. But Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery aren’t expected to do it all themselves when they arrive in KC in the near future. They will need a supporting cast.
For that reason, there are several players who are essentially in a one-year audition for a spot when the farm system sends up its ballyhooed group of prospects. They have leased a position with the option to buy. Will they be in, or will they be out?
Some guys don’t fit this discussion. Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson, Nathan Adcock, Matt Treanor, Wilson Betemit. Whether they end up in or out, it doesn’t really matter. So they don’t merit discussion.
Bruce Chen won’t be around long. No matter how well he does, he’s just keeping a spot warm for one of the young guns on the farm.
If Brayan Pena is part of the team, it will be in the same role he holds now. He’s not ever going to be the Royals every-day catcher. The team will have to fill this position somehow, and my guess is there isn’t anything more than a stop-gap guy in the organization right now.
For now we can assume Alcides Escobar will be the shortstop for the long term.
I think we can also pencil in Luke Hochever. For all his inconsistencies, the team isn’t going to give up on him. When Montgomery and others start pressing for a spot in the rotation, Hochever will most likely be reserved a spot. At least for a couple more seasons.
I’ll say for now that I think the team will give Jeff Francoeur a long-term opportunity. He’s a team guy, a power guy, and there aren’t any corner outfielders to make him expendable.
But that leaves a host of other guys on the hot seat. It’s make or break time for them.
Here are the players who I see in an audition situation. Some of these players may be here next year, but if they don’t prove now that they can be contributors on a playoff team, they won’t be around come 2013.
Kila Ka’aihue – He’s waited for this chance for years, but now his window of opportunity is tiny. If he doesn’t prove right now that he can hit big league pitching, he won’t make it through the season. Eric Hosmer won’t be held back for anyone. If Kila can’t cut it, he’ll be traded or demoted to make room whenever the club deems Hosmer ready. So far, the results have been anything but convincing. No one is throwing him fastballs and he hasn’t adjusted to big league breaking balls.
Chris Getz – The guy has been a fireball to the first couple of weeks and may well be the long-term answer at second. But there is a line forming to replace him. Christian Colon is expected to move to second, joining a crowded house already in the system. Johnny Giavotella is a fan favorite and he’s slowly but surely climbed to AAA. Another talented guy is making the move from shortstop to second at AA – Jeff Bianchi. Each of these three has been highly regarded and might push Getz if he doesn’t prove this year to be able to hit.
Mike Aviles – He’s already been nudged out by Wilson Betemit, and his days may be numbered. His best hope may be to stick as a utility man because he can play second, third and short. But his struggles at the plate haven’t offset his poor fielding. His stellar rookie campaign is looking more and more like an aberration.
Melky Cabrera – I would bet he’ll be trade bait by mid-season. Not because of anything he’s done wrong, but because the team probably doesn’t see him as a long-term answer. I think that’s too bad, based on what he’s done so far this year. But if the team continues to win and Melky continues to lead, he might prove too good to just write off.
Kyle Davies – He’s got to be about at the end of his rope. The team can only put up with his act until Montomery and others are ready. He’s had ample opportunities and just can’t seem to get it done.
Vin Mazzaro – His first start at Omaha was a disaster. He now won’t be getting the fifth spot on the Royals rotation until he shows he can do better at AAA. Were it not for the good start by the Royals outfielders, the David DeJesus trade would look like a disaster.
Sean O’Sullivan – Even worse than the Mazzaro/DeJesus trade. Alberto Callaspo is proving adequate at third for the Angels, while O’Sullivan is combustible in the relief role. Mazzaro’s start at Omaha was so bad, the Royals are now going to give O’Sullivan a chance to start. If he fails in that role, I don’t see any hope for him to stick long term.
Jeff Francis – Based on early returns, Francis may earn a spot with the Royals. But if he shows he has value, he might also be shipped off when the playoff races heat up. Best of luck to a guy trying to bounce back from injury. Whether he’s a Royal long-term or not, he looks like a great pick up.
The train is leaving. Stud pitchers, power hitting corner infielders and some other quality prospects are just a phone call away. The members of the Royals discussed above either must prove now they can contribute to good teams in the future, or they’ll be left behind.
Win or lose, this season bears watching to see which of these guys will be on board when the Royals start competing.