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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Are the Royals fixed?

I wrote a long post about "fixing" the KC Royals on June 3. At the time, including the loss suffered while I completed the entry, my favorite team's record stood at 13-40.

Going into today's game against Boston, the Royals record stands at 54-89. Instead of becoming one of the all-time worst teams in baseball history, the Royals since early June have been merely subpar at 41-49. If the team can win 9 of its remaining 19 games, it will finish with fewer than 100 losses for the first time in several years. That certainly seemed all but impossible on June 3.

What happened? Are the Royals "fixed"?

That day, the Royals recalled 3B Mark Teahan from Omaha. He had been killing the baseball down on the farm and I'm glad to report that he also hit very well in KC over the last few months of the season. His season ended a few days ago (the day before his 25th birthday) because of injury, but his 2006 totals were very promising: a .290 batting average, .357 on-base percentage, and .517 slugging average.

David DeJesus, a 26 year old outfielder (about half his games have been in center), returned from the disabled list on May 26 (he had only about 30 at bats in April and May), and has hit .296/.366/.436 to-date.

While those performances helped return the Royals to mediocrity, they don't really address the problem I discussed in my post. What about the long-term moves needed to make KC a contender?

Well, just as I recommended, new GM Dayton Moore made a series of trades involving a number of KC's mediocre players. Mostly, the Royals received minor league pitchers in these deals, though the team also acquired 1B Ryan Shealy from the Colorado Rockies. So far, his 2006 audition has gone fairly well: .298/.350/.450 in 43 games. Hopefully, he'll hit for more power as he gains experience.

Meanwhile, as I urged, the franchise continued to develop some potential quality players: class AA 3B Alex Gordon (commonly called one of the top two prospects in baseball) and very young OF/DH Billy Butler hit almost as well as advertised in Wichita -- and their teammate starting pitcher Zach Greinke appeared to get his career back on track.

A few days after my post, the Royals followed my advice and drafted top-notch college pitcher Luke Hochevar, who the LA Dodgers had not been able to sign after the 2005 draft. The kid didn't pitch many innings in 2006, but he had a promising beginning.

I'm not ready to declared "mission accomplished," of course. The Royals starting rotation has progressed only from putrid to bad, the bullpen remains a disaster, and there are still some glaring holes up the middle. The starting catcher and shortstop have OBPs below .300 and the slugging average of the new centerfielder acquired by Moore is .277!

Still, there's enough hope now to "wait 'til next year."

Or maybe 2008.

For more on the Royals potential turnaround, check out Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli.

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