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You'd think Royals fans would want to throw in the towel after another last-place finish to cap a 25-year run without a playoff appearance. You'd think the trading of 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, the team's one and only star player, would represent the proverbial last straw. You'd think.
But now is actually the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon with the organization on the verge of fielding its best team since the days of George Brett and Brett Saberhagen.
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Oh, yes. On the surface, the Royals appear a collection has-beens and never-weres posing as something competitive, but what lurks beneath in the minor-league system is an embarrassment of riches, the long-awaited payoff for all those early-round draft picks and departed superstars.
True, the only prospect with a chance of making a significant impact this season is Mike Moustakas, but by the end of 2012, Eric Hosmer and William Myers will be anchoring the middle of lineup, and Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Aaron Crow and Jake Odorizzi, one of the key pieces of the Greinke deal, will be trying to force each other to the bullpen.
It's Tampa Bay all over again. Shoot, it's Atlanta all over again, and it's almost, almost time.
Of course, Fantasy owners care mostly about the here and now, and as of now (and here), the Royals have only two must-draft players: Billy Butler and Joakim Soria. But the blank canvass the Royals have created will allow some virtual unknowns to emerge off the waiver wire. Players like Jeff Francis, Jeff Francoeur and Vin Mazzaro get a second chance with a new organization, and players like Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar and Kila Ka'aihue get one last chance to show the Royals they can contribute.
If any of them do, by this time next year, the Royals will have gone from having no idea who to put in the lineup to having no idea who to leave out.
Breakout ... Billy Butler, 1B
Perhaps you say this should have happened last year. Perhaps you lost heart when, instead of continuing his upward climb, Butler regressed from 21 homers to 15 and from 93 RBI to 78. But you have to remember he has yet to turn 25. He already has better bat control, his strikeouts dropping from 103 to 78, than most middle-of-the-order hitters ever achieve in their careers, suggesting his career-high .318 batting average is just the beginning. He may never develop into a 30-homer threat, but if he's competing for batting titles and smacking 20 homers, that's more or less elite, even at a deep position like first base. The Royals showed their faith in him by signing him to a four-year extension, which means they want him to be a part of next year's metamorphosis and not just another trade chip. If a perpetually rebuilding organization is willing to buy into him long-term, why can't you?
Sleeper ... Kila Ka'aihue, 1B
Ka'aihue has never gotten much attention from the scouts, but you've no doubt heard his name mentioned more than once over the last few years. You've heard it because his numbers demand recognition. They're insane. At long last, the Royals decided to see what the 26-year-old could do, promoting him in August and giving him everyday at-bats. True, he hit only .217, which some will claim as another victory for the scouts over the statisticians, but he clearly got more comfortable over time, hitting .261 with six homers and an .878 OPS in September. This is it for Ka'aihue, his one great chance to stake his claim before the big rush of talent, and the Royals are giving him every opportunity to do so, leaving first base open for him all offseason. He could amount to nothing, but if everything clicks for him the way it did in the minors, he could be the hottest waiver claim this summer.
Can't-miss prospect ... Eric Hosmer, 1B
The Royals have more candidates for this category than any other organization, but if you want the one prospect least likely to disappoint and most likely to become early-round material in Fantasy, it's Hosmer. LASIK surgery turned the 2009 disappointment into more than the Royals could have hoped for when they selected him third overall in 2008. He doesn't have any discernable flaws, striking out only 66 times in 520 at-bats and repeatedly driving the ball the other way instead of trying to yank everything out of the park the way young power hitters so often do. He has already mastered Double-A, which is usually the biggest reality check for minor leaguers, so Triple-A is little more than a formality. He will arrive before the end of 2011, and by all indications, he will succeed right away. You'd have to stash him too long to justify drafting him in a seasonal mixed league, but you'll want to claim him as soon as he gets the call.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Lorenzo Cain||CF||1||Luke Hochevar||RH|
|2||Mike Aviles||3B||2||Jeff Francis||LH|
|3||Billy Butler||DH||3||Kyle Davies||RH|
|4||Kila Ka'aihue||1B||4||Bruce Chen||LH|
|5||Jeff Francoeur||RF||5||Vin Mazzaro||RH|
|6||Alex Gordon||LF||Alt||Sean O'Sullivan||RH|
|7||Brayan Pena||C|| |
|8||Chris Getz||2B||CL||Joakim Soria||RH|
|9||Alcides Escobar||SS||SU||Robinson Tejeda||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Blake Wood||RH|
|R||Wilson Betemit||CI||RP||Jeremy Jeffress||RH|
|R||Melky Cabrera||OF||RP||Jesse Chavez||RH|
|Former second overall pick finally blew up with .999 OPS last year. Should reach bigs later this year.|
|Third overall pick in '08 may be best hitter in all of minors. Age won't stop him from debuting in 2011.|
|Improved stock last year. Gets nod here over team's other pitching prospects mostly because he's the oldest.|
|In virtual tie with Duffy, Lamb, and Dwyer for title of future ace but was drafted highest of the bunch.|
|5||William Myers||20||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|Converted catcher showed potential on level of Hosmer last year. Position change should hasten arrival.|
|Best of the rest: John Lamb, SP; Chris Dwyer, SP; Christian Colon, SS; Jake Odorizzi, SP; Aaron Crow, SP; Lucas May, C; Jeremy Jeffress, RP; Jarrod Dyson, OF; Brett Eibner, OF; Johnny Giavotella, 2B; Louis Coleman, RP; Timothy Melville, SP; Tim Collins, RP; Patrick Keating, RP; Greg Holland, RP; Salvador Perez, C; Clint Robinson, 1B; Jeff Bianchi, SS; David Lough, OF; Will Smith, SP; Noel Arguelles, SP; and Kevin Pucetas, SP.|
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