|KANSAS CITY ROYALS|
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The June amateur draft became something of an opiate for Kansas City through the 1990s. In the grand delusions of Royals brass, these names, many now icons of wasted potential and misplaced trust, would one day be exalted just below the immortals on the center-field scoreboard. These young men, Herk Robinson plotted, would revive the glory days of Saberhagen, Quisenberry, and Brett. It was about the only dope the team could find, to look towards the future, and every June the seemingly endless string of top-tier draft picks could temper the pain of losing for one wonderful week.
Top Picks, Kansas City Royals, 1993-Present Year Player Pick No. Career WARP3 1993 Jeff Granger 5 -0.3 1994 Matt Smith 16 --- 1995 Juan LeBron 19 --- 1996 Dee Brown 14 -0.1 1997 Dan Reichert 7 7.2 1998 Jeff Austin 4 0.0 1999 Kyle Snyder 7 1.9 2000 Mike Stodolka 4 --- 2001 Colt Griffin 9 --- 2002 Zack Greinke 6 9.3 2003 Chris Lubanski 5 --- 2004 Billy Butler 14 --- 2005 Alex Gordon 2 ---
Herk Robinson was quite wrong.
Allard Baird took hold of the GM reins just after the 2000 draft, so Mike Stodolka is the final faux pas that can be blamed on Robinson. Three of the five picks since–Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and the freshly signed Alex Gordon–appear very promising, and Chris Lubanski probably has some type of future in the majors as well. The Royals might have the least amount of organizational talent in the game, but with Butler and Gordon in the oven, and as Justin Huber hones his bat, this lineup could get interesting quickly.
The main obstacle seems to be positioning. Gordon played third base at University of Nebraska; Butler played third base for the first half of this year before shifting to left field. Of course, Mark Teahen just finished his rookie year at the hot corner, and the Royals have repeatedly stated their confidence in him as a player and defender. Yes, Teahen needs to add some pop to be a major asset, and PECOTA was leery of his prospects in doing that–but in his debut he was a league-average fielder at third. That, coupled with the fact that Teahen is the alleged prize from the Carlos Beltran deal, might extend his window of opportunity to fend off Gordon, regardless of whether it’s the wise move.
The Royals are sending all kinds of mixed signals on who their third baseman of the future is, but it’s professional experience that matters most for Gordon at this point. The 2005 Golden Spikes Award winner is now making his professional debut for the Surprise Scorpions at first base. The Royals sent him to the Arizona Fall League to replace Huber, who was shut down due to a sprained Achilles. Huber is expected to fit somewhere into the Mike Sweeney/Matt Stairs mess at first base and DH, but could end up in an outfield corner.
Tom Gorman gave us the low-down on Butler recently, but it should be re-emphasized that Butler is just 19 and his bat would make a 22-year-old a solid prospect. He has an astounding minor-league resume in just a year and a half. Gordon probably isn’t far behind even with his 0-for-5 pro career through Monday (is that a bigger compliment for Butler or the 21-year-old Gordon?).
This isn’t Jim Thome vs. Ryan Howard; these kinds of positioning problems have a way of working themselves out. By the time all three are together in Kansas City, the rest of the roster might look very different. The organization will probably have refined their ideas of who fits which positions best, and Sweeney could be out of the picture.
We could cite Mike MacDougal‘s vastly improved control, point out that Greinke isn’t 22 yet and just might jump back aboard his Hall of Fame train, then hope that Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos stay healthy, that Jeremy Affeldt might put the last two years behind him, and Runelvys Hernandez and Denny Bautista might miraculously “click.” We could put hope in the Royals’ pitching staff, but it’s all kind of silly. The Royals desperately need pitching to threaten the rest of the AL Central. They’re only a year or two away from having a major-league caliber offense, however, and if things break right, it might even become one of the more dangerous ones in the league.
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Luis Rivas‘ days in Minnesota are over. After six years of subpar hitting–he never got his EqA above .246, and even that peak was in just 58 ABs–and a mean Carlos Febles impression, Rivas officially wore out his welcome.
Rivas closes the book on his Twins career with a line of .262/.307/.383, a cumulative EqA of .238, and a better defensive reputation than Clay Davenport’s fielding numbers attest (he was also dead last among second basemen in MGL’s Ultimate Zone Rating from 2000-2003). His best WARP season was 2004, largely fueled by an aberrant jump in his fielding numbers. There’s nothing linear or particularly descriptive about his defensive numbers alone, but even if his highest ratings were mostly accurate, they certainly wouldn’t justify the pay hike he’d likely get as an “everyday player.”
The Carlos Febles comparison is only partly accurate. Febles came up with the Royals as half of “Los Dos Carlitos” with Carlos Beltran, while Rivas was supposed to be part of a slick-fielding infield tandem with Cristian Guzman. “Los Dos Jugadores del Cuadro”? Doesn’t have the same ring. Febles and Rivas both had impressive debuts at a young age, though both of those impressive debuts came in extremely small sample sizes, and so were only superficially neat. To be fair, Febles had a minor-league track record of slugging more than .400, and showed good plate discipline while climbing the ladder.
Perhaps Febles’ fate will be instructive: after toiling in the minors in Pawtucket in 2004, Febles resigned with Kansas City on a two-year minor-league deal before the 2005 season; he tore a ligament in his knee and missed the whole year, but the Royals have been hoping he can coach in the organization.
Rivas gets no such love, though, as there’s no indication from the Twins front office that his offensive ineptitude was outweighed by any sort of attractive intangible. Light-hitting infielders are everywhere, though light-hitting infielders with good clubhouse personas may get their resumes moved to the top of the pile. His days of being a regular major-leaguer are over, and he’s probably coming soon to a Triple-A town neear you.
In hindsight, Rivas didn’t start out promising so much as he started out young. As a 21-year-old full-timer in 2001, his .319 OBP put him on a short list of second basemen to hit that well at that age (thanks to the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia):
- Bobby Doerr (twice)
- Roberto Alomar (twice)
- Lou Whitaker
- Luis Rivas
- Joe Morgan
- Frankie Gustine
- Johnny Evers
- Delino DeShields
- Rod Carew
- Jerry Browne
But Rivas showed that the enthusiasm after that season was misguided; he’d never post an OBP that “high” again.
It’s a bit early to discuss likely replacements. Some of the internal solutions don’t seem to be any better than Rivas, frankly. Speculating on external solutions seems pretty premature (and you wind up thinking about absurd-on-paper-and-in-real-life things, like, oh, trading Corey Koskie for Justin Morneau).
Luis Rodriguez is probably the best internal option for full-time duty, but the Twins have already been publicly interested in bringing back Brent Abernathy, who hit .239/.316/.299 in limited duty with them this past year. Available via free agency are Mark Grudzielanek, D’Angelo Jimenez, Tony Graffanino and Frank Menechino, among others (though depending on how you feel about the jilted Jimenez, the “others” may not be to your liking). One thing is clear, though. If all you want out of a free-agent second baseman is someone to outplay Luis Rivas, you have to work awfully hard to screw it up. If Abernathy is anything more than a replacement for backup Nick Punto, then Terry Ryan’s off to an embarrasingly bad start. You do not solve problems with Brent Abernathy.