by Will Overton
At the beginning of the season no one would have touched any of the Kansas City Royals outfielders except for maybe taking a flier on Alex Gordon or drafting for depth in an AL Only league. Yet at the end of the season all three regular outfielders were top twenty outfielders on most player rater systems and top ten on a lot of them.
Alex Gordon, Jeff Franceour and Melky Cabrera have a lot in common. All three of them were highly touted prospects who failed early on in their careers. All three of them are coming off breakout seasons, all at the age of 27. And all three outfielders had very similar statistics in 2011. The three are so similar that I am going to take a look at all three of them in one post. The reason is that the big question is the same for all three; Can they maintain the new found success they had in 2011 or is a disappointment in store?
Let’s take a look at each guy on an individual basis:
Jeff Franceour: At one time this was the guy who was going to lead the next era of Braves baseball taking the torch from Chipper Jones. He showed the promise with back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in 2006 and 2007, but things went downhill in a hurry from there. Franceour had a dismal 2008 season, an average 2009 and a 2010 that ended with a .249 batting average. He did show signs of life at the end of 2010 though when he was traded to the Rangers and hit .340 in limited playing time. The 2010 ending was enough of a glimmer of hope for the Royals to take a chance on him and he ended 2011 with the following stat line:
.285 BA, 77 R, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 22 SB
The power ability goes without question, Franceour has always had power and he should be hitting 20 HR’s or more every single season. The average however has always been inconsistent. Franceour has three seasons hitting .260 or under and three seasons .280 or better. The .285 average last season isn’t unsustainable because we’ve seen it before, but it is really hard to predict. As for the speed it’s not something we’ve seen before, but the Royals love to run and Franceour isn’t afraid to take advantage. Franceour might be the most unpredictable of the three outfielders, but he has the most power potential and could easily surpass 30 HR’s. I don’t expect him to be a top 20 outfielder, but I don’t expect a dramatic fall off. The steals may go down, but the power could very well go up.
Melky Cabrera: This is the one that may have come the most out of nowhere. Melky Cabrera was once a prize prospect in the Yankees farm system, but he has never really lived up to that. The Royals signed him to split time in centerfield and he ended up winning the job and putting up the following numbers:
.305 BA, 102 R, 18 HR, 87 RBI, 20 SB
There was the least amount of hope for a breakout in Cabrera, but he ended up with possibly the best numbers of all. Cabrera has never shown anything to make us think he could be a 20-20 player, but he was seriously close to it last season. Cabrera did have a .332 BABIP which is considerably higher than we have ever seen from Cabrera. Cabrera also hit a career high in homers which came without much change in peripheral numbers. Cabrera isn’t going to disappear, but I’m not sure if he can improve much on what he did last season. A .280 average and 15-15 seems more likely from him, but that’s still good enough to own him in all five outfielder leagues.
Alex Gordon: Of all three guys none had the same kind of hype surrounding him as Alex Gordon. Gordon was supposed to be the next big thing for a long time, and it never happened. And when everyone finally gave up on him being a legitimate fantasy player, he breaks out in 2011 to the tune of this following stat line:
.303 BA, 101 R, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 17 SB
Unlike with Cabrera who I question how much room for improvement he has, I don’t think Gordon has seen how far his potential can go. In Gordon I think you’re looking at a guy who could see .300, 100, 30, 100 for many seasons to come. I’ve made the mistake of going all in on Gordon before, but now we’ve seen a taste of what he’s capable of and I’m excited to see what’s still to come. I don’t know if Gordon will ever be quite as good as what people were calling for back in the day, but I can see Gordon reaching the top ten as an outfielder. It might be a trap, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you draft Gordon next season.
I can honestly see all three of these guys having nice seasons once again. Gordon is above the others based on the fact I can see him getting better and I am not sure if the other two have much higher of a ceiling. Cabrera I think might be the biggest risk because I think he will be drafted higher than Franceour and even if Franceour falters in some areas I think he will still hold some value because of his power. Don’t overpay based on one season, but don’t just assume these guys are one hit wonders either. The Royals lineup is getting better and these guys are going to be a big part of it.
What do you think of the Royals trio of outfielders? Which of these guys is the biggest risk in your opinion and which one’s have the highest upside?