For this week’s Ask the Expert, I had the chance to pose questions to Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star (to read from him click here). He gave us an inside look at the upcoming season for the Royals, a team filled with questions. Among the players discussed include Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria, Mike Aviles and so much more. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at what he had to say:
1. Billy Butler or Alex Gordon? Who do you think has the better chance of finally realizing their full potential in 2009 and why?
Sam Mellinger: Gordon is closer. He’s older, and besides having one more year in the bigs, he was showing real signs last year. His OPS jumped the second half of the year, those flashes of big-time power are coming more often, and he’s taking more walks, which scouts will tell you is a promising sign that a guy’s about to emerge.
2. Joakim Soria emerged as one of the best closers in baseball last season. What can you tell us about his stuff and why he could duplicate the performance he put on last season?
Sam Mellinger: We’re past the point where we need to worry about whether Soria is for real. He is. He’s just ice cold, never rattled, and gets good hitters out the same as the bad ones. His fastball is low 90s, but he’s got terrific command, very good at hitting his spots and keeping it at the knees. With two strikes, he sometimes goes to this loopy curveball, almost an eephus pitch, that shows up on the radar gun in the 60s and is the pitch that often makes hitters take some of the weakest swings you’ll see. The Royals don’t have a lot of guys who are among the very best in baseball at what they do, but Soria is one of them. Actually, he’s probably the only one. For fantasy purposes, your only hesitation should be whether you want a closer who pitches on a team that’s on the wrong side of .500.
3. The Royals outfield appears to be full of under performers in David Dejesus, Coco Crisp and Mark Teahen. Can Dejesus finally breakout? Will Crisp realize the potential he once showed with Cleveland? Can Teahen get back the power surge of 2006? Basically, what do you think of their OF situation in ’09?
Sam Mellinger: Left to right, it will be DeJesus, Crisp and Guillen. DeJesus hits much better when he plays a corner position instead of center, and the Royals are hoping a permanent move to LF will help him offensively and also just to avoid the wear of playing CF (he’s been injury prone).
Crisp says his finger is 100 percent for the first time since he was in Cleveland, so if you believe him on that and believe that that will make a big difference, sure, he could be the guy from Cleveland again. If you look at his numbers in August and September, when he says he was first feeling 100 percent, it’s encouraging.
I wouldn’t bet much on Teahen becoming that 2006 guy again. He might be worth a small risk, but he’ll be trying another new position in spring training (2B) and if he doesn’t win the job there, he’ll be in a sort of super-utility role. I’m also not convinced the Royals won’t trade him.
4. The starting rotation appears to be one of the biggest question marks for the team, especially after Gil Meche and Zack Greinke. Do you see those two performing like top of the rotation pitchers once again? How do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?
Sam Mellinger: Barring injuries, yeah, Meche and especially Greinke are legit. Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the American League, and nobody really seems to know it. But listen to opposing hitters, and they’ll tell you all you need to know. He’s absolutely filthy, an effortless fastball that gets into the high 90s (he cracked 100 a few times as a reliever), great command, lots of movement, good curveball, he’s the whole package so long as his mental issues are under control.
Kyle Davies and Horacio Ramirez are solid bets for rotation spots. My guess is Luke Hochevar gets the fifth spot, but it could be Brian Bannister.
5. After seemingly coming out of nowhere, how do you see Mike Aviles performing in his sophomore season? Is there another young player in the pipeline people should be watching for?
Sam Mellinger: You’re right about coming out of nowhere. The Royals didn’t know what they had, or else they wouldn’t have left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and nobody else in baseball knew about him, or else someone would’ve selected him.
I think Aviles is good. I’d expect his batting average to drop a bit, and his power to increase a bit. Watching him everyday, he hit a lot of line drives and also did well against good pitchers, not just the bad ones.
I don’t know. I could be dead wrong on him. The Royals had a shortstop a few years ago who had a monster rookie year. His name is Angel Berroa.
Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.