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February 21, 2012 posted by Nick Raducanu

2012 Fantasy Baseball – Top 5 Questions: Kansas City Royals

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Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals, 1B

I don’t hail from the Kansas City area so I can only imagine how depressing it must be to be a Royals fan. Their last division title came at a time when George Brett was the team’s best player, and they haven’t finished higher than third in their division since Boyz II Men were topping the charts.

After years of suffering, a turnaround may be in Kansas City’s future as they’ve developed some promising young talent over the past few seasons. The turnaround likely won’t come this year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value here for fantasy purposes. With an average age of 26, the Royals boast the league’s youngest roster and offer plenty of young players that could lead fantasy owners to the Promised Land in 2012.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at 5 questions that fantasy owners should have be asking themselves about the Kansas City Royals  going into 2012:

5. Is Eric Hosmer overrated?

Eric Hosmer is 22 years old and is coming off a rookie season during which he hit .293 with 19 home runs, 11 steals, and 78 RBIs. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, and most impressively, accomplished all of this in only 128 games. Hosmer looks the part of a big, brawny first baseman and the plate discipline he showed in the minors will only help as he matures into a big-league player. With all of this potential, Hosmer can only get better and has a chance to be a top 5 first baseman in 2012 if a player or two gets hurt. At least that’s what his biggest supporters would say…

The Devil’s Advocate to this argument would tell you that even though Hosmer only played in 128 games, he still had 523 at-bats (most players usually get around 600 in a season). If you extrapolate those numbers, his full season stats of .293, 22 home runs, 13 steals, and 90 RBIs are nice enough, but they aren’t quite as impressive as you might have originally thought. Furthermore, Hosmer is more a line-drive hitter and has never shown the propensity to put up big home run numbers (his minor league high was 13). I’m not saying he’s a bad player, but I’d like to see Hosmer hit more than 25 home runs and knock in more than 100 runs before I declare him a top 40 player.

As with anything in fantasy baseball, the answer to my original question is all about perspective. If you can get Hosmer somewhere around the 5th round, then he’s not overrated in the slightest. However, overrated is the perfect word to use on that loud-mouth owner that takes Hosmer in the 3rd round and then wants to tell you how stupid you are for not taking him.

4. Was Alex Gordon just a late bloomer?

Anyone that’s played fantasy baseball for more than four years can tell you all about Alex Gordon’s enormous potential. Gordon was more talked about in fantasy baseball circles than Jeremy Lin is on Twitter nowadays. Ok, maybe not, but you get the point…

Five seasons after his Major League debut, Gordon finally delivered on his unrealized potential with a 2011 season that fantasy owners had been hoping for since George W. Bush was President. Gordon stayed healthy and surprised everyone by posting totals of 23 homers, 17 steals, 87 RBIs, and 101 runs. He benefited from a high BABIP of .357 in hitting a career-high .303, but Gordon’s season was still very impressive nonetheless. Should we expect more of the same in 2012 or will the once top-prospect revert back to his disappointing ways?

Gordon is 28 and is just entering his prime, so there’s nothing to say he can’t build upon his breakout 2011 season. Even though his average may dip a bit as his BABIP reverts to the norm, Gordon still possesses 20-20 potential and has a very realistic shot at 100 runs and 100 RBIs. The Royals will never be accused of being an offensive powerhouse, but Gordon will benefit from Hosmer’s growing presence and is worth a look in the 6th round.

3. Does the Royals’ starting rotation have anything to offer?

The short answer to this question is no, but since my wife says I need to work on expanding my vocabulary beyond one-word responses, let’s take a look at some of the starting pitchers the Royals offer for those of us in deeper leagues:

Bruce Chen

I typically like to draft pitchers with high K/9IP rates, but Chen is still a decent option if you’re searching for an innings-eater at the end of your draft. He had a high 1.30 WHIP and only 97 K’s, but Chen is well-worth a late-round flier if you can make up for those blemishes elsewhere. I had him on a couple teams last year and I couldn’t complain about 12 wins with a 3.77 ERA.

Luke Hochevar

Hochevar’s career hasn’t exactly turned out how the Royals expected when they took him with the number 1 overall pick of the 2006 draft. His overall 2011 numbers (11 wins, 4.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 128 K’s) were a continuation of that disappointment, but there is a silver lining here. He is still only 28 and his post-All Star games numbers (3.53 ERA, 68 K’s, 24 walks in 79.1 innings) showed a lot of promise as we head into 2012. Hochevar isn’t worth drafting in most leagues, but keep an eye on him in case he maintains his momentum from last season.

Jonathan Sanchez

Sanchez has been overvalued by fantasy owners for years because of his high K-rate, but he’s ultimately been more of a tease than anything. He may benefit from a change of leagues as he moves from San Francisco to Kansas City, but he’s also moving from a pitchers’ ballpark to more of a hitters’ park. At 29 years old, what we’ve seen is what we’re going to get from Sanchez. His high K-rate last year (9K/9IP) was typically great, but he once again had control issues (a league-worst 5.86BB/9IP). Put the wax in your ears and avoid the sirens’ calls here.

2. Will any of the youngsters deliver?

Most of the Royals’ top prospects are still a year or two away from the big leagues, but they do have several younger players that should be on fantasy owners’ radars in 2012. While none of these players are worth more than a late-round flier, let’s take a look at a few Royals’ youngsters who could make you look like a genius this year:

Lorenzo Cain

Once part of the Zack Greinke deal, Cain hasn’t turned into the prospect the Royals thought they had acquired. That being said, he’s still only 25 and posted 16 home runs and 16 steals in the minors last year. He’ll be starting in center field and will be batting in the number two spot where Melky Cabrera scored 102 runs last year. Don’t overreach, but Cain has 10-20 potential and is worth a look at the end of your draft.

Mike Moustakas

Moustakas’ promotion last year received quite a bit of fanfare from fantasy owners whose third base position had been decimated by injury. He only hit .263 with 5 home runs and 30 RBI’s in 338 at-bats, but he did finish the year by hitting .352, with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs in September. While Moustakas isn’t a starting third baseman, he’s only 23 years old and could be a late-round steal if he can put it together this year.

Johnny Giavotella

Giavotella could be a savior for fantasy owners who neglect their 2B/SS spot in the draft this year. He’s only 24 years old and will lay claim to the starting job at second base for the Royals. Giavotella struggled during his time in the majors in 2011 (.247, 2 home runs, 21 RBI’s, 5 steals in 178 at-bats), but he does have 10-20 potential and could be a great late-round grab if Ned Yost sets him loose on the base paths.

1. Can we really trust Billy Butler and Jeff Francoeur?

Billy Butler is another player that fantasy owners have been talking about since he entered the league at 22. As he begins his fifth season, Butler hasn’t turned into the player we all expected, but he can still offer value as long as the expectations aren’t too high. Let’s call a spade a spade: Butler is a doubles hitter, not a home run hitter. Butler will still offer you a high average and somewhere around 18 home runs/90 RBIs, but he’s never hit more than 21 home runs or knocked in 100 runs so it would be foolhardy to expect otherwise.

Jeff Francoeur has had quite a few peaks and valleys in his career, and is an enigma when compared to Butler. He hit 29 home runs as a 22 year-old in 2006, and then dropped to just 11 home runs in 2008. Last year marked another peak for the 28 year-old outfielder, as he hit a respectable .285 and topped the 20-20 mark for the first time in his career. The steals (22) were a career-high (so we should expect some regression there), however, Francoeur is entering the prime of his career and we shouldn’t be surprised if he tops the 20-20 plateau again.

Butler and Francoeur have both disappointed fantasy owners in their own ways over the years, but they can both be very useful players if you understand their limitations. Francoeur has 20-20 potential, but also has a high bust-potential based on his history. Butler has 20-100 potential and will provide great value, as long as you don’t draft him expecting 30-120 because that just isn’t happening.

2012 Outlook: Despite their cellar-dweller status in the minds of most baseball fans, the Kansas City Royals have the potential to be a very useful team for fantasy owners in 2012. Hosmer, Gordon, Butler, and Francoeur are a talented young core and have the talent to lead this team toward respectability. Moustakas, Giavotella, and Cain are all unknowns at this point, but there’s a very good chance that one of that trio will become a very useful fantasy tool for owners this season. As long as owners are aware of the risks and limitations that the Royals’ roster offers, there is plenty of value to be had in Kansas City. Just steer clear of their pitching…

Nick Raducanu finished 2011 ranked in the top 20 on ESPN’s Fantasy site, and is the mystery man behind the TraderX persona at www.FantasyTrade411.com. You can follow him and ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @FantasyTrade411.

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