What the Tampa Bay Rays did last year gives hope to all teams and their fans who have been stuck in losing ways for a long time. The Rays were the worst team in the A.L. for a long time and rose spectacularly to the top this past year. For a team like the Kansas City Royals, can such a hope be possible for them? It seems unlikely.
The poor Royals have been bad for a long time. Teams relished the opportunity to play them and for good reason. But some small signs have been floating up to the surface in recent years, notably in starting pitching and a good young infield. But there are some glaring holes.
The most glaring hole for the Royals is their bullpen. Yes, Soria is a stud of a closer and should be one of the best in the game for a long time. But how do you get to him? The Royals hoped to make that easier by signing Kyle Farnsworth. But that is certainly a wing and a prayer. Farnsworth gave up a homer in every four innings of relief last year. He has a big time fastball, but it's a straight fastball and he doesn't bring it over 100 MPH anymore. The rest of his bullpen mates all had ERA's over five last year.
Let's look at some of the bright spots. Miguel Oliva is a terrific defensive catcher who throws a lot of base runners out. He's not that bad a hitter either. Buck is a reliable backup. Alex Gordan is going to get better at third. He's a good young player and if he can get his batting average up, can be a star. Mike Aviles burst into the majors last year and looks like a terrific shortstop with good range, good patience at the plate and batted over .300. The Royals also had another kid named Gallaspo who also played some short and batted over .300. That combination seems to end the hopes of Tony Pena (after a disastrous year at the plate) of any regular playing time.
Mike Jacobs adds some pop as the new DH and Shealy has a lot of star potential at first. Greinke and Gil Meche are a legitimate one, two in the rotation and Bannister has the potential of being very good. The club seems to have the talent to have a decent rotation.
The outfield will get a boost from Coco Crisp. Crisp is excellent in center field and can get the bat on the ball. His experience with the Red Sox should help the young team a lot. David DeJesus has turned into a really nice player as well.
The weak spot seems to be Jose Guillen. Another Dominican with substance whispers in the past, Guillen just seems like one of those players that coasts on his abilities. Yes, he has a big time arm. Yes, he has some pop in his bat with a slugging average over .500 (47 doubles and 27 homers are good numbers). But he only walked 23 times in 600 plate appearances. 23 times! His lack of plate discipline gave him an OBP of less than .300 last year.
Teahen seems to be the odd outfielder. He regressed at the plate last year and has too low a slugging percentage to be a star out there. There has been some talk of moving him to second base, but he is 6 foot, 3 inches and that seems like a stretch. The Royals would be better off moving Gallaspo to second.
The A. L. Central is a relatively weak division. Each team has some holes and if the Royals have five or six guys have career years, stranger things have happened. But a leaky bullpen could sink them more than anything else. At least the team looks much better on paper than they have for a long, long time.