What happens if Teahen keeps hitting?

Royals' third baseman Mark Teahen has been on a tear since his recall in early June, and his offensive surge has prompted much speculation about what his future holds. Indeed, with top prospect Alex Gordon continuing his assault on Texas League pitching, the Royals have a bevy of important decisions ahead about where their young prospects best fit into the future lineup.

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Last September, Mark Teahen gave the Royals a glimpse of what his future might hold when he closed out the season's final month with a stellar batting line of .295/.346/.505. There was much optimism surrounding him heading into this season, but through the first 23 games and 77 at bats, Teahen hit only .195 with six extra base hits and 23 strikeouts. The Royals sent him to Triple-A Omaha to regain his stroke and his confidence, and Teahen quickly responded by blistering Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of .380/.500/.658 with 14 extra base hits (including two homers) in 79 at bats.

The Royals recalled Teahen on June 3, and he's been on a roll ever since. In 115 at bats since his recall, Teahen has hit .304 with five home runs, five doubles, and two triples. He's steadily raised his overall season line to an increasingly respectable .260/.319/.448, and in nine games this month, he's registered an OPS of 1.047. His strikeouts are down, his walk rate is up, and he's finally begun to show the power that contradicted his large frame for the first year of his Major League career. Nobody is certain if he can maintain a pace anywhere close to the one he's presently on, but if he does, the Royals are going to have to make some tough decisions very quickly.

In Double-A Wichita lurks Alex Gordon, whose performance this season in his first exposure to professional baseball has scouts across the league salivating. The question no longer seems to be if Gordon will one day become an All-Star, but rather how many times over. And it's not just Gordon's offense that is drawing raves, but also his defense, as he's shown an acuity for making plays at third that belie earlier scouting reports that pegged Gordon as merely an "average" Major League third baseman. RC has seen Gordon play extensively, in the Arizona Fall League, spring training, and Double-A this year, and we've seen him show off his natural athleticism and strong arm on many occasions.

The facts, as they presently align, seem to suggest that Gordon WILL BE the Royals third baseman of the future, regardless of what Teahen does. So the question is: What happens if Teahen continues to establish himself as a quality offensive player? Will he move to another position, or will he become trade bait?

Based upon some of our discussions, RC's educated guess is that Teahen is a solid candidate to move to first base if his offensive game continues to improve. Teahen's athleticism is the type that could take well to a move to first base, as he's a big guy who shouldn't have much trouble making the move. If Teahen continues to hit, we expect that the Royals will have him taking throws at first base during the offseason, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him working out at first base next spring.

Of course, Teahen's move to first base has implications for other prospects in the Royals' system. Justin Huber has been viewed as the long-term solution at first base since his acquisition in 2004, but it's starting to become clear the Royals have soured on his defensive ability at first base. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise us one bit to learn that one of the primary reasons behind his promotion earlier this season was so the Royals' Major League coaches could get a first-hand look at his defense around the bag. RC was at the Royals' games in Baltimore this spring, and Buddy Bell hit grounders at him for 15 minutes at a time during BP -- and Huber sure didn't look too good. During Huber's stint with KC, the Royals began having him take fly balls in the outfield, and he's spent the majority of his time since his demotion back to Omaha in the outfield. Although the Royals have refused to declare that Huber's move to the outfield is permanent, it's quite telling that he's spending so much time there, particularly when his defense at first base was cited before the season as the primary reason for his return to the minor leagues. If the Royals truly remained convinced that he's still the long term solution at first base, common sense would dictate that he'd be working on his defense while playing there every day.

Indeed, it's becoming clear that the Royals are still trying to figure out who, precisely, is their first baseman of the future. In fact, it appears the Royals are putting a lot of effort right now into figuring out exactly where all their young prospects fit into the future lineup, and who it would make the most sense to trade. That's why Billy Butler is slated to start taking grounders at first during batting practice, and why Huber's spending all that time in the outfield. Teahen's possible emergence as an offensive threat could go a long way toward sorting things out in the infield, but the Royals could still face some difficult decisions in the outfield, particularly if Butler and Huber prove to be capable corner outfielders. With Joey Gathright in center field and David DeJesus signed to a long-term deal, prospects like Shane Costa, Mitch Maier, and Chris Lubanski appear to have an even more difficult path to the big leagues with both Butler and Huber added to the mix.

The good news is that this is a nice problem to have, and time has a way of sorting these things out. The law of averages dictates that some of the prospects in the upper minors are destined to fail, while others will rise to the top. The Royals are not in a pennant race, so they have time to figure out where everyone fits, and RC is pleased to see that the club has already begun the process. There's much to be settled in the coming year before we can get a solid idea of what the roster and lineup will look like when the young guys begin to emerge, but the one thing that seems beyond doubt is that the Royals have some exciting young mashers in their minor leagues. It will take some time to sort out, but we're sure the Royals will eventually figure out where they'll fit.
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