Saturday, April 04, 2009

It’s a Wrap

We’re down to the final couple of roster spots after Ryan Shealy was sent to Omaha on assignment after clearing waivers. Tony Pena is in. He probably shouldn’t be, but he is. Mitch Maier was sent to Omaha. That was expected. So, it comes down to Brayan Pena or Shane Costa. The theory behind Pena makes sense—he could be a third catcher and give Hillman the ability to DH John Buck or Miguel Olivo. He can also play a little first, third, and outfield. Costa hit .455 this spring though and that’s hard to ignore.

Mark Teahen will start at second base on Opening Day. I like that move. He’ll probably struggle defensively for a while, assuming he keeps the position, but I expect him to adapt over time, and I think he’ll put up decent numbers for a second baseman.

So, on to my 2009 predictions.

As a team, I think the Royals will go 81-81. Their rotation is coming together. Their bullpen is solid. They’ve added some power in Mike Jacobs and a legitimate lead off hitter in Coco Crisp (.489 OBP this spring). The Royals finished at 18-14 this spring and most analysts believe they have a shot to contend for the AL Central. Not many people think they have a shot at winning it, but just being in contention has a nice ring to it.

Now for the rotation. I expect Gil Meche to put up similar numbers to last season—maybe going 15-13 with a 3.86 ERA. Zack Greinke struggled this spring, ending up with a 9.21 ERA in eight starts. But he’s 21-17 since the Royals fed him to the lions in 2005 and he’s too good not to win 14 games. I predict he’ll go 14-10 with a 3.66 ERA. But I think he has the talent to be the best starter on this team. Kyle Davies had a good spring. He also had a solid 2008 campaign. Assuming he doesn’t get off to a disastrous start (I know, I’m hedging my bet and making myself sound like a weather man), I can see him being around .500 with an ERA in the mid 4.00s. I’m not even going to venture a guess about how Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez are going to do. I simply have no idea.

On offense, I have a feeling that Coco Crisp is going to have a career year in stolen bases. David DeJesus should fit nicely in the two hole. Will he drive in 73 runs again? I don’t know. I’d be happy if he repeated his numbers from last season (12 HR, 73 RBI, .366 OBP). This is Mark Teahen’s chance to finally prove that he’s everything we’d hoped for when we obtained him. He hit 7 HR this spring in 19 games and I’m going to drink the Mark Teahen Kool-aid and say he’s going to hit 20 HR for the first time in his career. Jose Guillen will be Jose Guillen. He’ll hit 20 HR and drive in 90 runs and offend nearly everybody he comes into contact with. Mike Jacobs will have another big year. I’m not sure he’ll hit 32 home runs again, especially playing in Kauffman Stadium, but I expect 25 out of him. I don’t have a prediction for Billy Butler or Alex Gordon. I just hope they find their way and establish themselves this season. Miguel Olivo is supposed to start the majority of the games. I can see him hitting 17 HR. Mike Aviles? Who knows, but I’m convinced he’s the real deal.

I can’t really predict bullpen numbers. Although I could venture a guess as to how many saves Joakim Soria might get. His 5.87 ERA this spring doesn’t scare me. And if he saved 42 games on a losing team last season, I don’t see why he wouldn’t do the same thing this season. When you look at Ron Mahay, Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, and Robinson Tejeda, you have to like the Royals’ chances if they get the ball to the pen with a lead. I’m not high on Jamey Wright or Doug Waechter, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Our fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are total question marks. Kyle Davies might even be question mark. Our offense is improved, but still doesn’t have enough power. I still say we are playing a few guys out of position defensively and that’s a concern. And it’s always hard to scare away the dark cloud that seems to hang over a losing organization.

A lot has to happen for the Royals to make a run at the Central. But for the first time in a long time, I think they have a legitimate shot. First they need to play .500 ball for the better part of the season. If they do, they might just be doing a little scoreboard watching come August or September.

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