Flanny’s Take: Royals should stay true to youth movement

By Jeffrey Flanagan
February 18, 2011

It’s one thing to lose 90-plus games � Royals fans have become all too accustomed to that.

But losing 90-plus games � a distinct possibility for this year’s Royals with their league-low $35 million payroll � will be even more devastating if the Royals, in fact, don’t make significant strides with their latest (and hopefully) last youth movement.

As the Royals get ready to start their position and pitching battles this spring training, it will be critical for general manager Dayton Moore and skipper Ned Yost to keep in mind that Royals fans can tolerate a lot, as long as they see progress in a long-term plan.

Moore has done an admirable job of trading veterans in the past year to acquire young talent that will mix in with the team’s own prospects as they forge ahead with their long-term plan.

Let’s hope we see that young talent right from the start this season, despite what it might mean to the win-loss column.

The battle for the outfield spots is perhaps the most intriguing.

The Royals are hinting strongly that they’re prepared to enter the season opener with Alex Gordon in left, Melky Cabrera in center and Jeff Francoeur in right. That would leave out the two fastest players on the roster � Lorenzo Cain, obtained in the Zack Greinke trade, and Jarrod Dyson, who wowed fans last September with his blazing speed in center field and on the base paths.

Handing Gordon the left-field job makes complete sense. The Royals have to find out once and for all if he will ever make the transition from Triple-A superstar to at least above-average major leaguer.

Handing the jobs to Cabrera and Francoeur makes me a bit more uncomfortable in regards to the long-term logic. Neither player figures to be part of the team’s bright future, and worse yet, playing them regularly will slow the progress of Cain and Dyson.

Granted, Cain and Dyson both have options left and could play every day in Omaha. But why not have them learn and develop in the bigs? What is there to lose?

I also understand that the Royals are crossing their fingers that Cabrera and Franceour each will have breakthrough years (just like Gordon, in a sense). But even if they do, neither player figures to be included in the long-term forecast, not nearly as much as Cain and Dyson might.

In the past, the Royals have had little choice but to bring in stop-gap free-agents or veterans such as Cabrera and Francoeur just to fill outfield positions, simply because there wasn’t anyone else on the roster to develop. That’s not the case now with Cain and Dyson (you can even add Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier to the discussion).

Thankfully, the Royals seem committed to finding out just what they have in Kila Ka’aihue, and he will get regular playing time at DH and first base along with Billy Butler.

The Royals also lucked into having to develop Brayan Pena because of the Jason Kendall injury (although Kendall now is making hints he will be ready sooner than expected). Pena just might surprise some people this season.

I’d have no issue with pushing Mike Moustakas into the third-base spot sooner rather than later. He has dominated at every level of the minors and has had a taste of Triple-A. He can probably develop just as well in the bigs as he would by humiliating Triple-A pitchers for another season. It also would allow Mike Aviles to step over to second base and replace the light-hitting Chris Getz (this offense will need all the help it can get).

Also, thankfully, the Royals have a young shortstop in Alcides Escobar who already has the job and will continue to develop. He should be fun to watch.

The Royals should keep the same developmental philosophy as they fill out their rotation and bullpen. Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro need to get as many starts as possible to determine their long-term value. It would behoove Moore and Yost to get a sneak peak at a young prospect (Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, or Everett Teaford) in the fifth spot. Bruce Chen had a great bounce-back year in 2010, but like Jeff Francis, is not part of the future. And we’ll find out, just as we will about Gordon, whether the perplexing Kyle Davies has a future here as well.

In the bullpen, the Royals will have little choice but to go with youth. Behind Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejada, the best pitchers also happen to be the best prospects � Blake Woods, who was strong last season, newcomer Jeremy Jeffress, and Tim Collins.

Here’s the bottom line: Royals fans have been asked to exist on hope for quite some time. But that hope depends on those fans believing in the logic of the Royals’ long-term plan, which is to develop a young team that can be a force in the American League Central a year or two from now. Don’t waste time, Royals.