The 2011 campaign is now officially in the books, but for the Royals, the season was finished by mid-summer. Early season auditions for Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur turned by mid-season to development projects for Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas. And then late season tryouts were held for Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez.
The only thing left on the calendar: September call-ups – when rosters were expanded from 25 to 40.
From September 1st to the end of the season, any player that is on a team’s 40-man roster is eligible to play in a major league game. Minor league playoff races kept the Royals from bringing some players up at the very start of September. But then the Royals weren’t exactly anxious to get their regulars off the field, anyway. September games allowed several of the day-to-day Royals a little more time to blossom.
In late September, Cabrera reached 200 hits, Hosmer made a run at Rookie of the Year, and Perez and Moustakas got extended action to prove they belong. So, the Royals’ September call-ups really only saw significant action the final week of the season.
The Royals’ farm system is still pretty well stocked with talent. But there weren’t many of those top prospects eligible for this September call up. So the team spent the week checking out a few players who could play minor roles in its future. The appearance of two players was worthy of note, however. One minor-league all-star got his long-overdue chance in the Royals’ outfield, and the team’s top relief prospect completed the astonishing climb from the A-ball level to the big leagues.
No one expected when the Royals dealt Zack Greinke to the Brewers that Lorenzo Cain wouldn’t make his first appearance in KC until September. Cain was a key piece in the deal, and it was presumed that he would be the Royals’ starting centerfielder. Even with Melky Cabrera signed as a free agent, it looked like only a matter of time before Cain patrolled center. After all, it was Melky Cabrera we were talking about. But who would have expected Cabrera to post 201 hits? The Royals just kept riding out Cabrera’s success, and the season elapsed with Cain doing all that could be asked for in Omaha. The Royals will have to do something with Cain next year, whether it’s carry him as a fourth outfielder, give him a crack at centerfield full time, or trade him. So for Cain, the last week of September wasn’t so much an audition as a sneak peak to 2012. Cain played six games, in two of which he recorded two hits. His totals for September – 6 for 22 with a double, and an RBI.
While Cain’s arrival in KC was long overdue, Kelvin Herrera’s appearance couldn’t have been much more unexpected. After all, going into 2011, he had pitched in a mere 34 professional games, and none above low A-ball, but Herrera was all but unhittable this season. At just 21, he was unflappable too, pitching at each level like a savvy veteran. That is, until he took the mound in KC. Suddenly he looked like the fresh pup that he is. First pitch? Plunk. Then a few moments later, game winning homer. Herrera’s nightmarish first inning probably means nothing, but it certainly was painful to watch.
Herrera bounced back from that disaster to put up his typical line in his other appearance – one inning, no hits, no walks. Absent only were his customary strikeouts, but he’s likely to record plenty of those before he’s done.
If any of the other September call-ups play a role in KC in 2012, it will likely be a minor one. We’ve seen most of them before, and what they bring to the table amounts to very little.
Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro – like gas and flame, Sully and Maz proved to be a combustible combination in the second to last game of the season. In his one September start, O’Sullivan dutifully loaded the bases. And Mazzaro predictably unloaded them with his first pitch. September was no more dreadful than the rest of 2011 for O’Sullivan and Mazzaro, and Royals fans can only hope this is the last time they are seen in KC.
Luis Mendoza – his age and his track record could cause his appearance in KC this September to be overlooked. But unlike O’Sullivan and Mazzaro, Mendoza quietly made himself a candidate for the team’s rotation for next season. After winning the Royals’ minor league pitcher of the year award, Mendoza pitched flawlessly in two starts in KC. Mendoza shut down playoff-bound Detroit for seven innings, allowing just one earned run. Then he went a bit further, holding the White Sox to one run in 7.2 innings. Altogether, he scored two wins with a 1.23 ERA. With that showing, Mendoza has to figure in the running for a spot in the 2012 rotation.
Jerrod Dyson – his role will probably always be as a pinch runner and outfield fill-in. Cain may squeeze him out in 2012. Dyson went 4 for 15 with 3 RBI’s in September.
Yamaico Navarro – he may well play a key role in KC’s fortunes in 2012, as the team needs a versatile sub. Navarro can play second, short, third and the outfield, so his chances of making the team next year are good. Navarro played in just four games in September, recording 4 singles in 16 at bats.
Jesse Chavez – predictably gave up a ton of runs in just 6.2 innings in September. The only way he should be in KC next season is if the team needs a batting practice pitcher.
Manny Pina – filled in when needed in August, but Perez has doomed Pina’s future in KC. Pina didn’t appear in September.