Royals Shields and Davis Baseball

2013 Preview: Kansas City Royals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Kansas City Royals.

The Big Question: Are the Royals finally ready to contend?

For a while the Royals were a popular preseason “sleeper” pick because of their stacked farm system, but the actual big-league impact from those many top-ranked prospects has been underwhelming so far. And so instead of waiting for the next wave of young talent to arrive, led by elite outfield prospect Wil Myers, general manager Dayton Moore decided to trade Myers (and Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard) for veteran pitching help in James Shields and Wade Davis.

Now the Royals are a popular preseason “sleeper” pick again, with the premise being that a totally rebuilt rotation and some natural improvement from a young lineup is enough to make the leap into contention. I’m not sure I buy it, at least not for 2013, because adding Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana, and a full season of Jeremy Guthrie to a team that went 72-90 last year and hasn’t won more than 75 games in a decade doesn’t scream 85-plus wins to me.

Don’t get me wrong, Shields is very good. However, he’s been helped by the Rays’ pitcher-friendly ballpark and defense. For his career Shields has a 3.33 ERA in Tampa Bay compared to 4.54 everywhere else. None of which is to say he’ll fall apart, but Shields isn’t quite as good as he looked in Tampa Bay. And it’s worth noting that for as well as Davis pitched out of the Rays’ bullpen he has a 4.22 ERA with just 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter. Guthrie and Santana aren’t without value, but Guthrie is 34 years old with a 4.47 ERA since 2009 and Santana served up an MLB-high 39 homers on the way to a 5.16 ERA last season.

There’s no doubt the Royals’ rotation is improved, but Shields and four guys who aren’t particularly strong bets to post an ERA under 4.00 is nothing special. And if the rotation is merely mediocre despite all the resources Moore pumped in is the rest of the team good enough to equal a dozen-game improvement? The bullpen has a chance to be a huge strength with tons of power arms, but the lineup scored the AL’s third-fewest runs and is basically unchanged. If the Royals are going to contend I think it’ll be based on young hitters (Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella) breaking through, not veteran pitchers.

What else is going on?

• Alex Gordon deserves recognition for shaking off an early “bust” label to become one of the most underrated players in the league. He hit .298 with an .850 OPS during the past two seasons while playing 312 of a possible 324 games and the former No. 2 overall pick has turned into an excellent defensive left fielder after beginning his career at third base. Billy Butler gets more attention, but Gordon has been the Royals’ best all-around player in back-to-back years.

• Getting back to that part about the Royals’ bullpen being stacked with power arms: Last season 19 relievers in the AL threw at least 60 innings while averaging 93 miles per hour or higher with their fastball and four of them are in the Royals’ bullpen. Kelvin Herrera led the AL with 98.5 mph, Greg Holland ranked seventh at 96.1 mph, Aaron Crow was 12th at 94.5 mph, and Tim Collins was 19th at 93.2 mph. And while the jury is out on Luke Hochevar as a reliever after he stunk as a starter he should be able to join that group after averaging 92.6 mph as a starter.

• The projected starting lineup features two hitters (Gordon and Butler) who had an on-base percentage above .333 last season. I’d bet on Hosmer topping that mark–and remain pretty bullish on him overall long term–but Moustakas, Perez, Chris Getz, Alcides Escobar, and Jeff Francoeur are all hackers. It’ll be an issue for a team that drew the fewest walks in the league last year.

• This year’s Royals payroll includes $34 million going to Santana, Guthrie, Hochevar, Francoeur, and Bruce Chen. I don’t really have anything to add to that, but I just wanted to make sure everyone realized it.

• Joe Posnanski can probably write something similar again next spring.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League Central

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 24:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Rich Hill made his long-awaited Dodgers debut last Wednesday, out-dueling Giants starter Johnny Cueto. The lefty hurled six shutout innings, yielding only five hits (all singles) with no walks and three strikeouts. Of the 81 pitches he threw, a whopping 32 (39.5 percent) were curves compared to 41 fastballs.

That’s been the trend for Hill over his career, spanning parts of 12 seasons: highly reliant on the curve. It’s worked out well since resurrecting his career last year with the Red Sox and continuing it this season before the Athletics sent him along with outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on August 1.

As we’ve noted in this space several times, the Dodgers have dealt with more than their fair share of injury woes, including to ace Clayton Kershaw. The club has used 30 different pitchers, including 14 different starters. Yet they enter Tuesday’s game against the Rockies a game and a half ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While the NL East, NL Central, and AL West races aren’t particularly interesting at this point, the NL West division race figures to be one of the most enthralling over the final month-plus of the season.

Hill will oppose the Rockies’ Tyler Anderson at Coors Field in an 8:40 PM EDT start. The second-place Giants will send Johnny Cueto to the hill at home to oppose the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke in a 10:15 PM EDT start.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jerad Eickhoff), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo) @ Detroit Tigers (Daniel Norris), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler) @ New  York Mets (Seth Lugo), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Andrew Albers) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 7:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Boston Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), 7:10 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Tim Tebow’s workout: power, speed but not much else

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Tim Tebow is, as we speak, working out for some 40 scouts from 20 organizations and an untold number of members of the media. So far he has run and jumped and thrown and, in a moment or two, will take his hacks. First BP swings, then live, full-speed BP off of a couple of former major leaguers.

His 60 yard dash time was supposedly excellent. On the 80-20 scouting scale he’s supposedly in the 50-60 range, according to people tweeting about it who know what they’re talking about. The guy is certainly big and strong and in amazing shape and that’s not nothing.

Also this:

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That’s from MLB’s Twitter, which provides us with some more in-action shots.

Here he is playing right field out there in the distance someplace:

UPDATE: Tebow’s workout is over. On the “pro” side, based on the assorted tweets of journalists in attendance, many based on quick conversations with scouts in attendance, Tebow’s power was described as “nuclear,” and graded out at an 80 for at least one scout. That’s as good as it gets. The speed in the 60, as mentioned above, was also excellent.

On the “con” side was his fielding, which was considered sub-par, with a scout saying that his routes were circuitous and inefficient and his arm, while alright, was nothing special, especially for a guy of his obvious physical strength.

As far as non-power hitting goes, it was also not great. His stance was very, very wide and did not leave much room for adjustments, scouts said. This was born out by his being fairly consistently baffled by former big leaguer David Aarsdma’s changeup, at which he swung-and-missed three of four times. He was one for six in simulated at bats against minor league journeyman Chad Smith, with that one hit being a single. He also drew a walk.

Maybe that power — both hitting power and star power — is too great for an organization to ignore. Maybe someone takes a chance. But as a prospect Tim Tebow sure sounds a lot like a big strong fast guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of baseball skills.