Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Royals' 5 Biggest Problems, Continued

3) Where are the corner outfield prospects? The Royals are loaded with middling to fairly promising prospects around the infield and at pitcher (but not top studs), but the cupboard is bare at the corner outfield positions. This... is bad, because most real teams rely upon these positions for power and run scoring potential. Last season the Royals received a pathetic level of production from the combination of Guiel, Gonzalez, Stairs, Nunez and all of the other scrubs who filled in here and there. The Royals head into 2005 with Abraham Nunez penciled as the starting right fielder, and a obese-salaried platoon of Terrence Long and Eli Marrero in left.

DeJesus is entrenched in center, and he'll be a fine player barring injury or a surprising turnaround. The Royals are counting on Nunez to become a legitimate major league baseball player, and they're trying to get him to stop switch hitting to boost his confidence and production. But the fact is that Nunez is not going to be good. He's been riding a false wave of tools-envy and a 2003 AAA season in Albuquerque that was park-aided and clearly a career year. The bottom line is that he's going to be 28 at the beginning of next season and he's shown little ability to produce on a consistent basis. Long and Marrero are clearly retreads - servicable retreads, no doubt, but they do not figure into the Royals long term plans.

So what's on the horizon? Chris Lubanski is a recent first round pick and touted as a potentially goodoutfielder, but he was a major overdraft, a signability pick with tools but considerably less upside for any player drafted that highly. He's turns 20 in March so he's still young, but his A ball line of .273/.298/.364 does not bode well for the future. Even if he were to develop a better batting eye and plate discipline, I don't think he has enough power to play corner outfield.

Otherwise, I see little on the way. The Royals will be tempted to move Justin Huber to the outfield to relieve the logjam at first base (even though he's technically a catcher, word is that he won't be for much longer), and that might make sense, but I'm convinced that the 1st base situation won't sort itself out with a Sweeney trade, the expected Harvey fall from grace and Pickering's inability to stay below 300 pounds. Mitch Maier is another possibility, though he's another catcher cum third baseman who would be shifted to the outfield. Since the Royals moved the fences back, they need outfielders who can cover a lot of ground and hit with gap power, and I'm not certain that either Huber or Maier fit that bill.

Ultimately, the Royals may find themselves trading from their minor league positions of strength to build the outfield, or will keep trying to pry away blocked players who have a chance to be pretty good (Jason Michaels, Chris Snelling). As of now, they'll find it difficult to promote from within.


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