Youth Movement is Starting to Flower

The Royals fielded the youngest team in the majors in 2011, but the experience gained should lead to more victories in 2012, and team officials hope Kansas City will vault into playoff contention by 2013.


When the Royals opened the season on March 31, Mike Aviles was the starting third baseman and batting leadoff. Kila Ka'aihue hit fifth and started at first base. Matt Treanor was the catcher, and Chris Getz started at second base.

By August, the Royals' youth movement was in full bloom. Eric Hosmer was at first base, Johnny Giavotella at second base, Mike Moustakas at third base and Salvador Perez behind the plate. Hosmer was promoted May 6, Moustakas June 10, Giavotella Aug. 5 and Perez Aug. 10. Giavotella, 24, is the oldest of the quartet.

In addition, left-hander Danny Duffy, 22, joined the rotation May 18. The bullpen included rookies Aaron Crow (the Royals' lone All-Star Game representative), Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Nate Adcock and Louis Coleman.

By the time the season ended, Aviles was traded to the Red Sox, Ka'aihue to the Athletics and Treanor to the Rangers. Getz remained with the organization as a utility infielder.

The Royals fielded the youngest team in the majors in 2011, but the experience gained should lead to more victories in 2012, and team officials hope Kansas City will vault into playoff contention by 2013.

While the starting outfield of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur was a question mark entering the season, the group put up historic numbers. Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur became the first outfield trio to each record at least 40 doubles. Cabrera finished with a career-best 201 hits. Gordon and Cabrera each hit higher than .300. Gordon, who was converted from third base to left field in 2010, led big-league outfielders with a club-record 20 assists.

Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the lone infield constant, played Gold Glove-caliber defense, shoring up a porous defense from 2010. Hosmer, 21, is one of the best young players in the game -- offensively and defensively -- a superstar on the horizon.

While the bullpen was a strong suit, it often wore down, as the starters had difficulties pitching deep into games. Closer Joakim Soria, however, had an off year with seven blown saves in 35 opportunities, and he missed the final 2 1/2 weeks with a hamstring injury.

The rotation needs improvement in 2012 if the Royals are to make a quantum leap forward. Luke Hochevar, the first player picked in the 2006 draft, Felipe Paulino and Duffy all return. Veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, who led the team in victories for the second consecutive year, is a free agent, but the Royals would like to bring him back.


  • 2B Johnny Giavotella underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right hip Oct. 20 in Vail, Colo., the team announced. The procedure usually requires a recovery period of two to three months, so Giavotella should be ready for spring training. He hit .247 in 46 games with the Royals this year but had an eye-opening year at Class AAA Omaha: .338 with 34 doubles, nine home runs and 72 RBI in 110 games.
  • OF Bubba Starling's stay in the instructional league was cut short because of a quad injury. The injury to Starling, 19, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, was first reported by the Kansas City Star. However, the injury is minor, and Scott Sharp, the Royals' director of minor league operations, said the organization is simply being cautious about it.
  • The Royals have said goodbye to pitching coach Bob McClure and bench coach John Gibbons, the team and manager Ned Yost announced the day after the season ended. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, first base coach Doug Sisson, third base coach Eddie Rodriguez and bullpen coach Steve Foster will return.

    McClure lasted six seasons with the Royals. The staff's 2011 ERA was 4.44, which ranked 27th in baseball.

  • 1B Eric Hosmer was not promoted from Class AAA Omaha until May 6, but he certainly made his case to be the American League Rookie of the Year. Hosmer led all AL rookies with a .293 average, 153 hits, 66 runs and 42 multi-hit games. He ranked second with 27 doubles, 243 total bases and 49 extra-base hits. He hit .357 in the final 34 games, and he was chosen the AL Rookie of the Month for September.
  • 3B Mike Moustakas was hitting a paltry .182 on Aug. 16, but since then he hit .379 (53-for-140) to raise his average to .267. Moustakas started a 15-game hitting streak, matching the longest rookie hitting streak in franchise history, on Aug. 17. He hit .428 in his final 18 games.
  • LHP Bruce Chen was magnificent in three of his final four starts, going eight innings in each and allowing one earned run overall. He pitched eight scoreless innings in the Royals' season finale but got a no-decision in a 1-0 loss at Minnesota. Chen finished with a 3.77 ERA, a career best for a season in which he threw at least 100 innings.
  • C Salvador Perez hit .375 with 13 RBI and 14 runs in September. He had 12 RBI in his last 12 games. In his final 30 games of the season, Perez hit .375 (43-for-115) to finish with a .331 average. Perez, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, will be the Royals' No. 1 catcher entering spring training after beginning this season with Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
  • Rick Knapp, who was fired July 3 during his third season as the Tigers' pitching coach, was hired as the Royals' minor league pitching coordinator on Sept. 28. He replaces Mark Davis, the 1989 National League Cy Young Award winner with the Padres who pitched 1990-92 for Kansas City. Davis will remain in the Kansas City organization as a pitching coach, but he prefers to be with one club instead of roving. Knapp was the Twins' minor league pitching coordinator from 1997-2008. Knapp pitched five seasons in the Rangers farm system before getting into coaching in 1988.
  • OF Bubba Starling, the Royals' first-round pick in the June draft, was cited for underage alcohol drinking after the Arizona State-Southern California football game Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. Starling, 19, received a franchise-record $7.5 million signing bonus in mid-August. He is in the Phoenix area for the fall instructional league. Starling was also an all-state football quarterback and basketball player at Gardner-Edgerton (Kan.) High, in a Kansas City suburb, and he eschewed a Nebraska football scholarship to sign with the Royals.

    Two other unidentified Royals prospects in the instructional league were also cited for underage drinking with Starling.

    "The players involved, which included Bubba Starling, put themselves in jeopardy by having a drink and not being of legal age," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It was not a good decision on their part. We're disappointed in their actions, and we'll deal with it internally."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 31-24 -- The Royals' record when LHP Bruce Chen and RHP Luke Hochevar started. They went 40-67 when anybody else started.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We made progress defensively. We made progress offensively. We made progress on the bases. And in the month of September, we made progress on the pitching side, too. Every phase of our game (improved). We're coming to spring training next year in as good of shape as we have in a long time." -- Manager Ned Yost.

    ROSTER REPORT The Royals are a young team -- the youngest in the majors in 2011 -- that should only get better in 2012. Kansas City has been rebuilding its farm system since Dayton Moore took over as general manager on June 8, 2006, and it is beginning to pay off with the arrivals of 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas, C Salvador Perez, 2B Johnny Giavotella and LHP Danny Duffy. The offense is potent, but the starting pitching is suspect. It will be difficult for OFs Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur to duplicate their 2011 offensive numbers. The Royals also had a healthy 2011 with few players landing on the disabled list.

    BIGGEST NEEDS: The Royals need starting pitching. Their starting lineup is set going into spring training. The bullpen is packed with power arms, although another left-hander to go along with Tim Collins would help. Kansas City may have to trade some of its young talent or one of its starting outfielders for a proven starting pitcher this offseason, as the free agent market for rotation candidates appears lacking.

    FREE AGENTS: LHP Bruce Chen, LHP Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall.

    Chen led the Royals in victories for the second straight year and is a clubhouse leader. He is 34 and is seeking a multiyear deal, which he was unable to get last offseason on the free agent market. The Royals want him back. Francis, who had shoulder surgery in 2009 and missed the season, did not miss a start in 2011, and he pitched better than his 6-16 record would indicate. If the Royals can bring back Chen, it is doubtful they would make an offer to Francis. Kendall missed the entire year after having a second shoulder operation, which makes it unlikely he will be able to catch in 2012. He is 37 and could have caught his last game. Even if Kendall does return next year, it won't be with the Royals, as they've turned over their backstop duties to 21-year-old Salvador Perez.

    ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Luke Hochevar, RHP Felipe Paulino, RHP Joakim Soria, C Brayan Pena, CF Melky Cabrera, LF Alex Gordon, OF Mitch Maier, 2B Chris Getz.

    There is a $6 million option for Soria, so expect the Royals to pick that up instead of the $750,000 buyout. Cabrera and Gordon had career years, and they could have bank-breaking salaries if they should go to arbitration hearings. The Royals likely will talk to Gordon about a multiyear contract during the offseason. Paulino turned around his career after the Royals picked him up in May from the Rockies. Hochevar, who was the Royals' Opening Day starter, went 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA in 31 starts, also his best numbers. He, too, is due for a nice raise. Pena, Maier and Getz are all reserves. The Royals will either sign the trio to what they want to pay them or likely non-tender them. They won't be going to arbitration with any of them.

    IN LIMBO: CF Melky Cabrera, RHP Joakim Soria. Cabrera had a career year with 201 hits and a .305 average, but he could be trade bait for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher. The Royals have Lorenzo Cain, who was one of four players acquired from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade, waiting in the wings to play center field. Soria had only 10 blown saves in 132 opportunities entering this season, but he blew seven saves in 35 chances in 2011. He pitched so poorly in May that he was removed from the closer's role for a couple of weeks. Soria's 4.03 ERA was a career worst. The Royals could turn the closer's role over to RHP Greg Holland, RHP Aaron Crow or RHP Louis Coleman, all rookies in 2010, if Soria could be dealt for a dependable starting pitcher.

    MEDICAL WATCH: C Jason Kendall (right shoulder surgery in September 2010 and in July 2011) was the lone Royal on the disabled list at the end of the season. He is likely out for most if not all of the 2012 season, and he is a free agent.

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