Shhhh. Don't jinx it!
It may be a tough concept to even fathom, but Royals baseball has become fun to watch again, and the team hasn't even started winning yet.
That may sound silly, and sure, some nights are better than others, but this development is undeniable.
Forget about David Glass, Dayton Moore, past mistakes, and unbreakable trends. The Mission 2012 talk was not only geniune — it's on schedule. Look at Tuesday's starting lineup for example. No hitter in the Royals' batting order is older than 27. Need more? Of those players, all are under contract or club-controlled (affordable) through the 2012 season, and most will be so through 2014.
So the "homegrown" part of Moore's plan — most or all of the roster having been developed, in some form or another, in the Royals' system — seems halfway done.
Can they hit, though?
I say, emphatically, yes. The Royals are amongst the top half of the majors in runs scored and sixth in hitting. And that's with the likes of Chris Getz and Kila Ka'aihue wasting plate appearances for a good part of the year.
Standout youngster, Eric Hosmer plays the game with the composure of a 10-year veteran and is a solid candidate to win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
|Royals' young, star-first baseman, Eric Hosmer.|
Billy But... excuse me... Country Breakfast's second half power surge has him pacing for 20 home runs, and more importantly, has taken a step back in the right direction as a slugger to be feared in the middle of the lineup.
Alex Gordon is having an absolute breakout season with the bat and glove, teaming with surprise contributors Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur to form one of the most talented outfields in baseball.
If I'd predicted this in March, you would have said I was crazy.
Alcides Escobar has been a human-highlight reel at shortstop. New catcher, Salvador Perez picked off two runners in his first game. The trend is obviously going north — and in a hurry.
The second half of Mission 2012, judging by the major league squad's current record, is quite obviously the most important. This is where Moore will make his bones with the Royals going forward.
This team needs pitching. Luke Hochevar has shown just as many signs that he'll never be a viable top-of-the-rotation starter as he has shown that he can be. Danny Duffy may prove to be a gem, but that's yet to be determined. Bruce Chen has been fabulous as a stop-gap veteran, but frankly, how long can a team go with Bruce Chen as their best starting pitcher? Tommy John surgery has set back the team's most talented pitching prospect according to Baseball-America, John Lamb. Mike Montgomery, another high-ceiling starter in the club's farm system, has been inconsistent-at-best this season and it might be a stretch to expect him to make much of an impact early in 2012.
So Moore has to be aggressive in free-agency and with trades this offseason, and he has the means to do so. The team has an abundance of hitting prospects who could very well be the final piece in a trade that brings back a starter or two. The team's payroll is about 15 years outdated, so the free-agent market shouldn't be untouchable, either. At least one, if not two proven big-league starters would make a world of difference for the outlook of this team next season.
Compliment that with a young and improved bullpen in 2012, filled with hard-throwers everywhere you look, and hey — we may be on to something here.
I must admit, even through this past spring training, all the hype around the Royals' farm system, and Mission 2012, I was a non-believer. Regardless of being reassured — "this time is for real" — I just felt, in the back of mind, in the back of my heart, well... these are the Royals. It can't be good, right?
I guess I had to see it, at least some of it, with my own eyes, because I believe now.
I've never actually witnessed a Royals team with this much talent in my life. It really is something to behold. I can't stress it enough: If this group of young Royals can't make going to Kauffman Stadium fun again, if they can't win, the Royals will never win again. And no questions asked. That's it.
So now we wait. With a productive offseason, some will predict a division title in Kansas City next year, and you may call them crazy for doing so.
Fine. This team looks ready to make believers out of you, too.