2 Days: Until Pitchers & Catcher report for Spring Training
15 Days: Until the Cactus League Opener
48 Days: Until Opening Night
We have reached the day when I usually consider the baseball off-season over. College Baseball got underway last night. In fact, MLB Network is televising two college games this afternoon. Spring Training will start on Monday. From here until the last out of the World Series there will be some genuine baseball news to consume. Not just speculation and sabermetric rankings. Those things can be fun, but let’s be honest, real baseball is more fun that those things. So, you will find no more off-season whining from me. Seems like I did a lot of that, of which I’m making no apologies.
As a Royals fan this Spring Training is going to be different in that there are less questions than what normally accompanies a Royals Spring Training. I think the team knows, and the fans know who their position players will be on Opening Night in Anaheim. The prospects that were discussed last spring are finally in the majors, or projected to be in the majors this season. It’s one thing to be a prospect; it’s another to produce at the major league level. We are at that point with this Royals team. Other Royals bloggers and the #royalstwitterfamily endearingly refer to this as Dayton Moore’s “Process”. The “process” of turning the Royals from the laughing stock of the major leagues to a contender through it’s minor league system.
In the weeks leading up to Opening Day I’m going to profile players that are key parts of “The Process”. These players must turn from prospects to productive or star caliber major leaguers in the next two seasons. I was tempted to start with the young pitchers that display more question marks than answers, and will have a greater impact on “The Process”. However, I’m going to start with a player I forgot the Royals even had. He was buried at Omaha behind a resurgent Melky Cabrera. Of course, you know that I am referring to Lorenzo Cain.
I consider Cain a key part of “The Process” because of what the Royals had to give up to acquire him; Zack Greinke. Cain needs to produce in part so the Zack Greinke Trade does not go down in the same train-robbery-category that has plagued the Royals franchise the past ten years. Specifically the trades of Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran, those trades yielded the Royals next to nothing. Maybe John Buck for a few seasons? Really? Granted there are other parts to the Greinke Trade, but none of those players have established the trade as a push or a win.
Lorrenzo Cain will be 26 on April 13th. He has played a grand total of 49 games at the major league level. While this is a small sample size, during that time his BA/OBP/SLG line is .302/.343/.402 with 1 HR and 14 RBI’s. Only one of those RBI’s came during his 6 games with the Royals last September. The majority of that production was during the 2010 season with Milwaukee. Last year with the Storm Chasers he hit .312/.380/.497 with 16 HR and 81 RBI’s. A solid season for sure. Cain will be tasked with replacing Melky Cabrera’s 18 HRs, 44 doubles, and 87 RBI’s.
I’m not sure Cain will be able to match that production in his first full year in the majors. I don’t think he needs to, at least not this year. He will most likely bat in the 7th or 8th spot in the batting order. His defense will not make up for the lost run production, but center field defense should improve with Cain on patrol. I think if Cain develops into a “Raul Ibanez when he was with the Royals” type player, that Royals fans would love him. Hopefully the Royals as a team would be successful at the same time. If this scenario played out the Zack Greinke trade could not be called a complete disaster.
If Cain establishes himself he will be the youngest out of the other two starting outfielders; Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur. The Royals will have control over all three players for at least two seasons establishing more line-up consistency. If things go well for Cain and the Royals he’ll be worthy of a long term contract extension in 2014. “The Process” will have made a legitimate contribution to the major league roster and we can quit making fun of it. However, the success of the “The Process” is more than producing one player that can produce at the major league level.