It’s always fun to generate and debate lists. We’ll continue with the All-2000 to Present Royals Lineup.
C – Salvador Perez
1B – Mike Sweeney (Barely edges out Eric Hosmer)
2B – Mark Grudzielanek
3B – Mike Moustakas
SS – Alcides Escobar
RF – Carlos Beltran
LF – Alex Gordon
CF – Lorenzo Cain
DH – Billy Butler
SP – Zack Greinke
SP – James Shields
SP – Yordano Ventura
SP – Jason Vargas
SP – Jeremy Guthrie
Closer – Greg Holland
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays

One of the most interesting storylines so far this year has been the resurrection of Alex Gordon. As of April 23rd, he is hitting .361 with 14 RBI and is entrenched in the number three hole for the Royals.
The second overall pick in the 2005 draft hit the majors in 2007, with people calling him the next George Brett. Injuries and prolonged slumps have had Gordon back and forth between Triple-A and the majors. In 2010, Gordon made the switch from third base to the outfield.
In spring training Gordon led the majors in RBI with 23, and he has carried the momentum into the regular season. Those who think this is a fluke point to 2008, where he also had a hot April only to have it fall apart and hit .235 from May 1st on. The optimistic ones point to the fact that for all the ups and downs Gordon has now hit the magical 27 year old hitter’s prime and he may be blossoming late a la Jose Bautista last year.
While Gordon has only hit one  HR, he has ten doubles and a triple. He mashed 35 HRs in his only full season in the minor’s, so the potential is there for the doubles to start going over the fence. At some point Gordon will cool off, but the talent has always been there and it seems his confidence is at an all-time high. He should put together a productive season if he remains healthy.
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Kansas City Royals

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Evan Longoria, Josh Hamilton, Chase Utley, Rafael Furcal. There have been a number of ailing fantasy baseball stars.What looked like an offense that only featured Billy Butler as a fantasy option has produced several players with hot starts.
Wilson Betemit leads the team with a .379 batting average. The third baseman has scored eight runs, drove in five more, and swiped two bases. He’s not Evan Longoria, but he has been productive.
Alex Gordon and Josh Hamilton were both early draft picks picks. Until this year the comparison ended there. Gordon though is hitting .346 with ten runs, one HR, and seven RBI. Obviously he can’t carry your fantasy team like Hamilton, but he can help soften the blow and fill your outfield void. Jeff Francoeur (.292-8-1-8-2) and Melky Cabrera (.286-7-1-6-1) are also decent outfield options.
Chris Getz won’t confuse anyone for Chase Utley, but the second baseman is hitting .342 with six runs, five RBI, and two stolen bases. You’re not going to get any pop from him (two career HRs), but he should help you in the stolen base category.
Alcides Escobar is struggling (.229 batting average), but the shortstop has the speed to give you some of the stolen bases you’re missing with Rafael Furcal out. Escobar has five runs, five RBI, and two stolen bases.
These aren’t George Brett’s Royals, but they are scoring some runs. They are also winning. They are currently tied for the fourth best record in the American League and the seventh best in all of baseball. It may not last into the summer, but I can’t think of any fans more deserving of their early success.

2011 AL Central Preview

28 February 2011

LestersLegends.com is teaming up with EE Sports World.com to break down all the divisions in baseball. My assignment was the AL Central. I’ll review the teams in the order I expect them to finish.

First Place:  Minnesota Twins
The key to the Twins success is the health of Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Minnesota did an excellent job piecing things together last year with Jim Thome, Michael Cuddyer and company, but if they want to repeat as American League Central Champions, they’ll need Morneau’s bat. The Twins always seem to get by at closer so this isn’t nearly as primary a concern. Even if he falters, they have Matt Capps as an insurance policy.
The Twins added Tsuyoshi Nishioka in the offseason to bolster their middle infield. The rest of their moves were just securing their free agents, namely Carl Pavano and Jim Thome. Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were pleasant surprises for the Twins last year while Michael Cuddyer once again showed his versatility. Denard Span struggled at times, but should bounce back.
Francisco Liriano shined in the rotation, which will be the key to the Twins success. If they can get strong efforts from Liriano, Pavano, Scott Baker, and company there is a good chance that Ron Gardenhire pulls the right strings again to maintain A.L. Central dominance.

Second Place:  Chicago White Sox

The White Sox added some firepower in the offseason by bringing in Adam Dunn to join the likes of Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, and Carlos Quentin. Juan Pierre will once again set the table, and Gordon Beckham looks to break out.
The White Sox have a solid rotation, and should get a nice boost when Jake Peavy returns from shoulder surgery around the All-Star Break. Until then, it will be up to John Danks, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson to carry the load. The White Sox lost Bobby Jenks in the bullpen, but Matt Thornton and Chris Sale should be up to the task.
Ozzie Guillen will be entertaining, or annoying depending on your point of view, once again. You cannot accuse him of not speaking his mind. The White Sox seem to have a mental block that keeps them from getting past the Twins. If they can overcome it, the division is theirs for the taking.

Third Place:  Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera is the most talented player in the division, but he may also be the most troubled. Good news for Tigers fans and his fantasy owners that his arrest happened before the season started. He’s dealing with a serious issue though that is bigger than baseball. Fortunately the structure of the season could be what he needs to keep his life in order.
On a less serious note, the addition of Victor Martinez gives the team a little more firepower. With Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, Carlos Guillen, and Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers could have a potent offense in 2011. Justin Verlander anchors the pitching staff with Max Scherzer living up to his promise. There are question marks in the back end of their rotation, which makes it hard for me to imagine they can surpass the Twins or the White Sox.

Fourth Place:  Cleveland Indians
The Indians could actually surprise some people this year. Shin-Soo Choo is one of the most underrated players in the American League. Grady Sizemore is trying to recover from knee surgery. He was one of the most exciting players in baseball, and could really help their offense. Carlos Santana looks like one of the best young catchers in the league while Orlando Cabrera will provide veteran leadership. If players like Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta can take the next step, the Tribe have an outside shot of taking third place.
That is, if they get the pitching they need. Fausto Carmona had a strong year, but if he loses his mechanics on his sinker, he can go south fast. Justin Masterson has the goods, he just needs to work on his control issues. Too many free passes lead to big innings. Chris Perez is a solid closer, but the rest of the pitching staff is loaded with question marks.

Fifth Place:  Kansas City Royals
Zack Greinke is gone. Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Vin Mazzaro do not intimidate opposing batters. Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the American League, but how many leads will he be able to protect? Speaking of protecting, who is going to protect Billy Butler in the Royals’ lineup? Mike Aviles had a strong finish to last year and Kila Ka’aihue has a cool name and some pop, but this is a team that is going to struggle to avoid 100 losses.

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It would be easy to overlook Mike Aviles. After all, he plays in Kansas City, who are down to two fantasy mainstays (Billy Butler and Joakim Soria) now the Zack Greinke is with the Brewers. I urge you to show some love for Mike Aviles, and not just because it’s Valentine’s Day.
After having just one April at bat, Aviles hit .305 or better in four of the next five months en route to a .304 final average. His overall numbers weren’t overly impressive as he posted a .304-63-8-32-14 line in 424 ABs, but they are adequate for a backup second basemen or middle infield position.
The most encouraging aspect is how strong he finished. Aviles came alive in September scoring 20 of his 63 runs and slugging six of his eight homers. He also combined for 11 stolen bases in August and September.
His first-half and second-half splits illustrate how consistent he truly was last year.

Pre-All-Star:  55 games, 210 ABs, .305, 29 runs, two HRs, 14 RBI, two SBs, .718 OPS
Post-All-Star:  55 games, 214 ABs, .304, 34 runs, six HRs, 18 RBIs, 12 SBs, .777 OPS
While I don’t expect Aviles to continue his September slugging and smash 20 HRs this year, he does have a history of moderate power. He had ten HRs in 419 ABs for the Royals in 2008 and a combined 27 in 752 ABs for Triple-A Ohama in 2007 and 2008.
Aviles is going on average, according to Mock Draft Central, with the 157th pick, which puts him in the 14th round. He has second base eligibility, could possibly have SS eligibility in your league, and potentially 3B eligibility as he’s the likely starter at the hot corner for the Royals in 2011. That positional flexibility makes him more attractive.
If you’re looking to round out your bench or add a middle infielder, don’t forget about Mike Aviles.
What are your thoughts on Aviles for 2011?

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Whenever your star closer breaks camp to have his surgically-repaired elbow looked at, all the excitement surrounding the start of a new year comes to a screeching halt. The joy of finally having outdoor baseball in Minnesota again is replaced with the fear that they will suffer a similar fate as the Mets in their new ballpark. 

For now they are just running some tests on the elbow, but is certainly is concerning. Hopefully they are just being extra cautious. As long as Dr. James Andrews is not mentioned regarding Nathan, I can breathe a little easier as a Joe Nathan owner. Still, I can’t help put feel something in the pit of my stomach after plunking down $18 of my fictional $330 in a slow auction for his services. My fingers are crossed.

In other news, Dodgers catcher Russell Martin will be out four to six weeks with a strained groin, putting his availability for the season opener in question. It’s unfortunate because Martin beefed up 25 pounds in an effort to return to his former All-Star level.

Not nearly as important as Nathan and Russell, Kansas City’s Alex Gordon will miss nearly a month with a broken thumb. He could also miss Opening Day.

Image courtesy of Icon SMI

Billy Butler hit .301 with 21 HRs and 93 RBIs last year. Was that just the tip of the iceberg?  While I don’t see the soon-to-be 24 year-old cranking out 30+ HRs and 120 RBIs, I think he continues to progress.

His first half resembled what he has done for most of his career hitting .290 with 8 HRs , 38 RBIs, and a .789 OPS. Solid numbers, but nothing that would make fantasy owners drool.

Then came his second half. Billy hit .314 with 13 HRs, 55 RBIs, and a .925 OPS. All of the sudden he has fantasy owners clamoring for him.

That and his newfound ability to hit righties. In his first two years he hit .272, .715 OPS and .244, .597 OPS. Last year however, he made great strides hitting .289, .805 OPS. Suddenly Butler is a complete hitter.

Though he’s not a big name, I wouldn’t mind having him as my #1 fantasy first baseman (click to see 1B rankings).

Prediction:  .310,  90 runs, 25 HRs, 105 RBIs, 2 SBs

Past profiles:
Arizona Diamondbacks:  Brandon Webb
Atlanta Braves: Yunel Escobar
Baltimore Orioles:  Adam Jones
Boston Red Sox:  Clay Buchholz
Chicago Cubs:  Geovany Soto
Chicago White Sox:  Jake Peavy
Cincinnati Reds:  Joey Votto
Cleveland Indians:  Grady Sizemore
Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
Florida Marlins: Cameron Maybin
Houston Astros: Lance Berkman

1. Can Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios bounce back?
Quentin has missed significant time the past two years because of injuries. Juan Pierre was brought on board to help set the table. His foot has healed and as long as he can avoid the injury bug, he should be a high-end OF again.

Rios was having a disappointing season even before he was dealt to the White Sox. He hit a brutal .199 for his new club with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs in 146 ABs. The bad news for Rios is he’ll be playing his home games outside. His AB/HR in outdoor parks is 43.5 compared to 29.9. Minnesota no longer has a dome, which would also work against him. His average and OPS have been on the decline the past four seasons.

2. How about Jake Peavy?
Peavy likely won’t be as dominant this year as in year’s past. He has to face a steady dose of American League hitters without the comfort of PETCO Park. Working in his favor though is the absence of the World Baseball Classic. I believe that threw off his April last year, which led to his bloated 5.74 ERA in April.

3. And Grady Sizemore?
He battled through an elbow injury and a hernia to still put up respectable numbers (73 runs, 18 HRs, 64 RBI, 13 SB in 436 ABs). Don’t let his numbers get you down on him though. Not many players can bring we he can to the table. Bump him down a few spots from where you had him ranked going into last year, but don’t let him slide too long.

4. What will the Indians do with Michael Brantley?
The Indians have a good problem having four quality OFers for three spots. Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta, and Shin-Soo Choo are blocking the path for Brantley, who hit .313 after replacing Sizemore last year. LaPorta can play some First Base, which would allow Brantley to play in LF. LaPorta is one of the Indians’ few right-handed hitters though so don’t expect him to be out of the lineup very frequently. Brantley can play all three OF positions, which will help his cause. The Indians could choose to send him to Triple-A so he can get steady playing time. In any case, take the wait-and-see approach with him.

5. Can Austin Jackson replace Curtis Granderson?
He certainly doesn’t have the power, but he has flashed his speed stealing 24 bases to go along with nine triples last year for Triple-A Scranton. He hit .300 as well. He’ll be challenged by Clete Thomas and Ryan Rayburn. Watch that battle during Spring Training.

6. Will Zack Greinke get some help?
Gil Meche should be better for starters assuming his back and arm are healed. His ERA surged above 5.00 after being below 4.00 in his previous two years with the Royals. Luke Hochevar has a world of talent, and the former #1 pick should be better. He can’t get much worse. I’d hold off on drafting him unless he shows some promise during Spring Training.

7. What will the Twins’ new ballpark bring?
All you have to do is look at the two New York ballparks, and you know they can be unpredictable. The Yankees play in a launching pad while the Mets saw a power outage. The Twins won’t get as may infield hits as they move to grass. See where Justin Morneau ranks among fantasy First Basemen.

8. Will J.J. Hardy rebound?
Hardy was terrible last year, but a change of scenery could do him wonders. He goes to a club that is starving for solid Shortstop play after they dealt away Jason Bartlett a couple years back. Hardy averaged 83.5 runs, 25 HRs, and 77 RBIs in 2007 & 2008. In a lineup that features Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span, a resurgence is very likely.

9. What will the Twins do at Third Base?
This is an annual issue. Nick Punto plays a great Third Base, but can’t hit. Brendan Harris had his moments. Joe Crede returning isn’t out of the question. No matter what their “solution” is, it’s not a fantasy friendly one. Look elsewhere.

Images courtesy of Icon SMI

Image courtesy of Icon SMI

The Royals got some good news when All-Star Closer Joakim Soria was activated from the 15-Day DL.  Soria was 7 for 7 in Save Opportunities before injuring his shoulder.  He was also 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and 10 Ks in 8-2/3 Innings.  Soria was second  in the AL with 42 Saves last year.  If you have Soria on your fantasy team, activate him ASAP.

Sidney Ponson was put on the 15-day DL to make room for Soria.  Ponson has no fantasy value.


Some reasonably available players to assist you in the Runs and/or RBI categories.

Alberto Callaspo, Kansas City Royals
– Alberto scored the most Runs (9) in the league over the past week.  He was brilliant at the plate going 11 for 27 (.407) with a HR and six RBI.  He’s crushing it on the year hitting .379 with 16 Runs, 2 HRs, and 11 RBI.  He is owned in 48% of Yahoo, 9.6% of ESPN, and 33% of CBS Sportsline leagues. 

Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals – Alberto’s teammate Billy Butler was solid as well.  He scored eight Runs while hitting .385 (10 of 26) with 2 HRs and 8 RBI.  He raised his average to .258 and has 13 Runs, 2 HRs, and 11 RBI on the year.  He is owned in 25% of Yahoo, 4.6% of ESPN, and 40% of CBS Sportsline leagues.  Billy is also a contributor in the RBI category.

Mark Teahan, Kansas City Royals – I guess the Royals scored a lot of Runs last week.  Teahan had seven of them.  He hit just .192 (5 for 26) though with 1 HR and 2 RBI.  Despite the mini-slump he’s hitting .292 on the year with 16 Runs, 3 HRs, and 9 RBI. He is owned in 55% of Yahoo, 13.4% of ESPN, and 59% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

Willie Bloomquist, Kansas City Royals – This is getting ridiculous with Royals.  He scored seven as well last week.  He went 9 for 19 (.474) with 1 HR, 2 RBI, and 3 SBs.  On the year he’s hitting .378 with 10 Runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI, and 4 SBs.  He’s owned in 5% of Yahoo, 0.6% of ESPN, and 2% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

Franklin Gutiérrez, Seattle Mariners -  Finally, a non-Royal.  Gutiérrez scored six Runs last week while hitting .500 (11 for 22) with 2 HRs, and 6 RBI.  On the year he’s batting .291 with 14 Runs, 3 HRs, and 13 RBI.  He’s owned in 8% of Yahoo, 3.3% of ESPN, and 10% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

Gary Matthews, Jr., Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Gary picked up 7 RBIs last week while hitting .333 (6 for 18) with 1 Run.  On the year he’s hitting .288 with 9 Runs, 0 HRs, and 12 RBI.  Clearly he’s a two-category player at this point.  He’s owned in 2% of Yahoo, 1.5% of ESPN, and 4% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota Twins – Cuddy also had seven RBIs last week.  He went 9 for 20 (.450) with 5 Runs, a HR, and a SB.  On the year he’s hitting .266 with 12 Runs, 2 HRs, 13 RBI, and 3 SBs.  He’s owned in 8% of Yahoo, 2.7% of ESPN, and 21% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

José Guillén, Kansas City Royals – Someone had to drive all those Royals in.  Guillén had seven RBI last week.  He went 9 for 24 (.375) with 5 Runs and a HR.  On the year he’s hitting .306 with 8 Runs, 3 HRs, and 11 RBI in just 14 games.  He’s owned in 38% of Yahoo, 11.6% of ESPN, and 48% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

John Buck, Kansas City Royals – Buck picked up 7 RBIs last week while hitting .263 (5 for 19).  On the year he’s hitting .250 with 5 Runs, 3 HRs, and 17 RBI.  He’s owned in 21% of Yahoo, 12.1% of ESPN, and 18% of CBS Sportsline leagues.

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