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Royals 2011 Preview Part II - The Lineup
In 2010, there wasn't much that the Royals did well, so saying that their offense was probably their best component is damning with praise. You'll get no argument from me, but it is a little surprising that they had a somewhat decent offense. They scored 4.17 runs per game, which was good for 10th in the American League. Not great, but that's the highest the team has ranked in that category since 2003 when the team was 4th and won 83 games.
The 2011 version of the lineup should be at least as good if not better offensively and it's one of the reasons that the team should be at least somewhat improved in the win-loss column in 2011.
Projected Starting Lineup
1. Mike Aviles 3B - Usually the leadoff spot is reserved for speedy guys who can get on base, however the Royals won't have a guy like that, so placing Aviles up top is an inspired choice. He's one of the best hitters on the team and should be able to set the table. He'll start the season at third base, but as soon as Mike Moustakas is promoted he'll almost certainly going to move to second where he's best suited anyway.
2. Melky Cabrera CF - The Royals never really needed Melky Cabrera. He hasn't been as good as Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco recently, but he's still young and has been raking in Spring Training. He's a good bet to be traded to make way for Lorenzo Cain who the Royals acquired in the Greinke deal.
3. Billy Butler 1B - One of the best hitters in baseball and he's still only 24 years old. People talk about how many double plays he grounded into, but the GIDP leaderboards are littered with some of the best hitters in the game. If he develops some power this year, he could become an elite offensive player.
4. Kila Ka'aihue DH - He's got fantastic patience at the plate and a true power stroke. It's a combination rarely seen and therefore rarely appreciated. Kila will likely get the entire season to prove to the Royals he is a Major League caliber player. He might be auditioning for the rest of the league since top prospect Eric Hosmer is breathing down his neck.
5. Alex Gordon LF - The one-time top prospect has lost some of his luster and he's now moved from third base to left field. He was solid defensively in 2010, but his bat is going to have to get even better to justify a corner outfield spot. He spent the off-season completely re-tooling his swing with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and has been hitting .349/.500/.651 in Spring Training.
6. Jeff Francoeur RF - He had one good season with the Atlanta Braves, but since then has been one of the worst offensive players in baseball. He is still a very good defender and he's young, but he doesn't have a future with the ball club. He's likely to be trade-bait if he can somehow find what made him successful when he first came up.
7 Brayan Pena C - Jason Kendall will start the season on the DL so Pena is likely to get the nod as the primary catcher. He isn't great at anything, but he's good enough to play the position and he's a significantly better hitter than Kendall. He and Lucas May will be vying for the role of "guy who isn't dropped" when Kendall makes his inevitable return to the team.
8 Chris Getz 2B - He's fast and a fantastic base stealer. Unfortunately Getz hasn't gotten on base enough to make use of that skill. He's a good defensive second baseman, but if he can't hit any better than he's shown so far in his career he'll be relegated to a utility role in short order.
9 Alcides Escobar SS - Prior to the 2010 season Escobar was considered the best shortstop prospect in baseball. His meager batting line of .235/.288/.326 knocked him down a peg, but it's not unusual for a 23 year old rookie to struggle at the plate in his rookie season. Its also one of the reasons the Brewers were willing to let him go in the Greinke trade. Scouts say his defense could be Gold Glove caliber, so he won't have to improve his batting line too much to make him a valuable player.
It's not a lineup that will strike fear in many pitchers, but there are a lot of young talented players who could take a step forward in 2011. A lot of "ifs" will have to happen for the team to be a top ranked offense, however they should improve as the season moves on and top prospects like Mike Moustakas begin to make an impact. I don't believe it's going out on a limb to say this could be the best offensive Royals team in at least the last five years, but it's been a bad five years.