The Royals' future has already started arriving. Two weeks ago, first baseman Eric Hosmer was called up from Triple-A Omaha after terrorizing the Pacific Coast League, and the 21-year-old hasn't disappointed, hitting .242/.333/.515 with a .297 True Average in his first 39 plate appearances. Today, left-hander Danny Duffy will be called up from Omaha to start for the Royals tonight against the Rangers in Kansas City.
Third baseman Mike Aviles, like everyone else in the Royals organization, is excited about the young talent that is percolating in the minor leagues. The Royals believe the youngsters can turn around a franchise that hasn't been to postseason play since capturing the franchise's lone World Series title in 1985.
"We have a good mix of veterans and young players now, and the guys coming through the farm system are very talented," Aviles said. "What I really like about the young guys is that you can tell they are going to fit in really well when they get to the major leagues in spring training. We developed a real good chemistry, and I'm looking to the day when we're all together and winning."
Hosmer was one of five players in the Royals organization ranked as a five-star prospect when the season began, along with left-handers John Lamb and Mike Montgomery, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and outfielder Wil Myers.
The influx of so many young players is inevitably going to create roster shuffling. Some players currently on the major-league roster are going to lose their jobs. Other established players may have to take a lesser role, and one of these could be Aviles, who is playing the same position as Moustakas is at Omaha.
Aviles made it to the major leagues in 2008 as a shortstop, missed most of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, then played primarily second base last season. While he is a natural shortstop, the position is now is manned by 24-year-old Alcides Escobar, a key piece who came from the Brewers in the off-season trade for 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. Royals manager Ned Yost is adamant that Escobar is part of his team's long-term future, despite his .204 TAv in 154 plate appearances this season.
"He's already one of the best defensive shortstops in the game," Yost said. "And he's going to hit. I'm sure of that. It might not be this year, but he's going to hit at some point. His hands are too good and too quick for him not to eventually hit."
Second base is a possibility for Aviles, as incumbent Chris Getz is not necessarily a long-term piece of the Royals puzzle and has a .229 TAv in 138 plate appearances. However, the Royals also have a second base prospect on the cusp on the major leagues in Omaha second baseman Johnny Giavotella.
The 30-year-old Aviles, who has a .273 TAv this season, knows the Royals will eventually face a roster logjam, but insists he isn't sweating it.
"It can only be a good thing if a team has too much talent," Aviles said. "We need more talented players. We haven't won here in a long time, and it's important for us to stock up on as much talent as we can. I believe I've proven I can play at the major-league level and be an asset. That's why I'm not worried about what happens when some of the other young guys get here. They're only going to make us better, and I believe there will still be a role for me. I definitely want to be part of it when the Kansas City Royals become a winner again."
Yost will invariably have to make some decisions that will bruise feelings, but as he says, "There are worse problems to have as a manager."
Aviles may not be nearly as talented as Moustakas. Aviles has never been chosen to an All-Star Game or won a Silver Slugger or Gold Glove during his four-year career. However, he has his uses. Furthermore, he is a player who is easy to root for because he overcame some steep odds to reach the major leagues.
Aviles wasn't heavily recruited during his high school career in Middletown, New York and wound up attending Concordia College in his home state. He was not drafted until his senior year of college, when the Royals selected him in the seventh round after he led Division II in five major statistical categories with a .500 batting average, 20 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs and 65 RBIs in 45 games.
Aviles was never considered a top prospect in the Royals system and spent two full seasons and part of a third at Triple-A Omaha before finally being called up to the major leagues in late May of 2008. In many ways, he is the anti-Hosmer and anti-Moustakas.
"For me, it's never been a walk in the park," Aviles said. "I've had to fight for every at-bat and every inning I've played. It's made it worth it to prove to people that I can do this, and it helps me sleep well every night when I put my head on the pillow."
Thus, Aviles will continue to sleep well while the cavalry continues its approach toward Kansas City. After all, it seems as though it was meant for Aviles to be with the Royals.
On Mother's Day in 1990, when Aviles was 9 years old, he decided to blow off Mom and go with his aunt, a Yankee' season-ticket holder, to see the Yankees play the Royals that afternoon in the Bronx. Aviles and his aunt were visiting Monument Park before the game at Yankee Stadium when a batting practice home run landed at his feet. Aviles doesn't know who hit it, but he does know it was a Royals player.
"I remember my mother being pretty mad that day, but everyone in my family knew that baseball was the most important thing in my life," Aviles said. "It's really weird how it all turned out with the ball and everything. I can't help but think when I put this uniform on that it is the uniform I am supposed to be wearing."
Rumors & Rumblings: Twins GM Bill Smith insists he isn't thinking about being a potential seller at the trading deadline, but he will have a number of chips to offer if his team doesn't climb back into contention, including left-hander Francisco Liriano, right-hander Kevin Slowey, closer Matt Capps and outfielders Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young. … Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson will be activated from the disabled list on Thursday, the first day he is activated, while Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal is expected to join the active roster next Monday. … Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez could be activated from the DL as soon as tonight, though he will be eased back into action after being out all season with irritable bowel syndrome. … Phillies right-hander Jose Contreras will begin a rehab assignment tonight, and manager Charlie Manuel will have an interesting decision to make when the veteran returns. Will Manuel put Contreras back into the closer's role or stick with Ryan Madson, who has been very effective closing games lately? … Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee is likely headed to the DL with a strained oblique, which could open the way for Jake Fox to get more at-bats. Felix Pie figures to benefit the most, though, since left fielder Luke Scott will likely get the majority of starts at first.
Padres shortstop Jason Bartlett: "If he were a little more disciplined at the plate, he would be a really good hitter. He does a good job of hitting when he gets two strikes on him, but he gets himself out on pitcher's pitches too often early in the count."
Tigers right-hander Joaquin Benoit: "I know his ERA is high, but he is throwing the ball really well. His slider is untouchable right now. [Tigers general manager] Dave Dombrowski took heat for giving him a big contract over the winter, but when it's all said and done, he'll earn his money this year."
Blue Jays right-hander Kyle Drabek: "I love this kid. He's got good stuff, and he's a bulldog who is always attacking the hitters. He needs to learn to command his pitches, but that should come with time and experience. Nothing scares him, and I like that."
Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee: "Everyone wants to know what's wrong with Cliff Lee because he hasn't won in six starts. Well, there's nothing wrong him. The six walks against St. Louis [on Monday night] notwithstanding, he's been pounding the strike zone with all his pitches, getting ahead in the count and finishing hitters off. He's just been the victim of some bad luck in the form of no run support."
Nationals closer Drew Storen: "His fastball command is just outstanding for a young pitcher. He's aggressive with it and hits his spots with it. He has so much poise and confidence for a kid that's barely two years out of college. You get the feeling he's just scratching the surface."