Click here for the Royals’ 2006 depth chart

Yellow light C John Buck: His one notable injury as a pro was traumatic (a broken hand in 2003). After last year’s green light, a shift in the risk baseline for young catchers is the only reason for this warning.

Yellow light 1B Doug Mientkiewicz: We all know Mientkiewicz is always good for word games, whether Scrabble, spelling bees or tongue twisters (“so, is his torso as sore as his psoas?”). The question is how long the Royals will let him cramp the collective style of Justin Huber, Matt Stairs and Mike Sweeney. Given Mientkiewicz’s chronic wrist and otherwise injury-speckled past, it’s likely that something, sometime this year will shelve him and open the door for a more prolific bat.

Green light 2B Mark Grudzielanek

Green light 3B Mark Teahen

Green light SS Angel Berroa

Green light LF Emil Brown

Red light CF David DeJesus: Red-lighting DeJesus will surprise some, but there are many factors in play. The last two months of the season were quite painful. He got his head knocked while running the bases and suffered a concussion. Later, he was nagged by a strained rib cage. Then came the kicker, an AC sprain in his right (glove side) shoulder that essentially ended his season five weeks early. Reportedly, that’s healed now, but such an injury leaves the shoulder slightly more vulnerable in the future. The red light could be a bit high, or the system might know something we don’t.

Red light RF Reggie Sanders: He broke his leg, he’s old, and he’s shifting from left to right field, hence the red light. That said, Sanders is pretty spry for an old guy. Don’t be too concerned.

Red light DH Mike Sweeney: Obviously, the less he plays in the field, the fresher his chronic back will be. With the reputedly slick fielder Mientkiewicz in tow, the Royals expect Sweeney to stick to DH more often. (Sweeney’s played first base between 45 and 55 games for each of the past three years.) Last season, elbow, wrist and oblique problems heaped even more work on Head Athletic Trainer Nick Swartz and his staff. Sweeney dropped about 15 pounds from a year ago; that won’t hurt.

Green light SP Mark Redman

Red light SP Zack Greinke: At this stage of Spring, is there a greater man of mystery? Not to shroud the phenom Greinke in suspicion, but he wowed every opponent in 2004, got hammered in 2005 but said it was more fun than he’d ever had playing baseball, filled out this winter, and now he bolts from camp. It’s a strange development, but it’s not entirely fair to speculate about personal matters, or whatever is really happening.

Yellow light SP Scott Elarton: Elarton surprisingly stayed healthy all year, short-armed delivery and all, to start a career-high 31 games. He’s still a major risk, between his mechanics and long injury history.

Yellow light SP Runelvys Hernandez: His Tommy John comeback season ended in a minor train wreck, derailing at about the same time this workload article was published. Hernandez lost velocity when his lower back went stiff and his shoulder started hurting, and it was probably all fatigue-related. John Buck liked what he saw in Hernandez’ first bullpen session, but watch that shoulder…and that waistline.

Red light SP Joe Mays: Another “survivor” from Tommy John surgery, in the literal sense of the word, but the 17-game winner was buried a long, long time ago. As far as the procedure has progressed over the years, complications still haunt some pitchers, and there’s no guarantee anyone will fully recover. Unfortunately, Mays is proof.

Yellow light SP Mike MacDougal: Finally MacDougal stayed healthy a full year and harnessed his control. It seems like there’s always something small bugging him, but 2005 was a resounding success, and bodes well for 2006.

The Royals entered 2005 reasonably healthy. With the exception of Sweeney, their big-ticket players (try not to laugh) did not shoulder any major concerns. En route to 106 losses, the Royals logged 1025 days on the DL (ninth most in baseball) and lost 22.59% of their payroll to the DL (sixth most). Brian Anderson was still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Sweeney did his time, a groin strain (not blisters) shelved Jeremy Affeldt, and neither Denny Bautista nor Ken Harvey could escape mid-May in one piece. Injuries make a lousy season seem twice as long.

This year, the impact players carry more of the risk. Eyeballing Kansas City’s depth chart, we notice the team has red lights on their ace pitcher, leadoff, third, and cleanup hitters. It’s especially troubling that youngsters DeJesus and Greinke, both green a season ago, now register as red. The bullpen, widely lauded as Kansas City’s core strength, has its share of concerns as well. Ambiorix Burgos missed a month with shoulder tendonitis, hardly a surprise given that, prior to his debut, he’d thrown just 12 2/3 innings above low-A ball. Affeldt is Affeldt. Andrew Sisco looks pretty strong going forward, having made a mechanical adjustment that worked well for him. Free agent signee Elmer Dessens missed two months with bone spurs in his shoulder. The potential is certainly there for the bullpen, but will they have to fight for time in the trainer’s room?

Rushing raw, young players (especially pitchers) to the Majors has been one of the Royals’ many big problems over the years. The Royals have no real pitching talent in the upper levels of the minors–low-A-baller Luis Cota was Baseball America‘s only pitcher in the team’s Top 10 prospects (number six), and you can certainly forget about our Top 50–and as such, it becomes extra important to keep the mediocre veteran pitchers healthy.

Dave Haller is a staff writer of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Dave by clicking here or click here to see Dave’s other articles.

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