It's Kila Time in KC
It's February, when Hot Stove season slows, teams’ depth charts look more or less set, prospect rankings have come and gone, and pitchers and catchers are just beginning to trickle into their respective Spring Training homes. It feels early to start previewing teams in earnest. While we wait for the games to start, even the Spring games, time just seems to drag.
In baseball no-man’s land, projection season tides me over. “No way is A-Rod going to be better than Kevin Youkilis!” Really, I somehow become invested in this stuff. Baseball Prospectus released a revamped PECOTA this year, and I suggest subscribers have a look for themselves. Search by any which way you’d like.
One filter that I ran produced a surprising result. BP has Kila Ka’aihue as the 14th best hitter by True Average in MLB, 8th in the American League. I mentioned that prospect rankings have come and gone but for this post's purposes, it's worth mentioning that the one constant, even one truth it seems, is that the Kansas City Royals boast baseball’s best farm system. Ka’aihue factors into that in one sense, but he’s on the old side for a prospect. It’s hard to say whether or not he will be a part of the next contending Royals club.
While the future is bright, the 2011 Royals are a nightmare. Their starting pitching, with Zack Greinke now a Milwaukee Brewer, may well be the worst rotation we have seen in a long time. But their system is so stacked that enthusiasm is returning bit by bit, at least on the Kansas City Royals blogs. I suspect the more casual fans might take some more time.
The Royals will need to wage a PR battle to bridge their current product to the much better one coming down the pike. And they know this, as evidenced by the exhibition they plan to hold between their AAA and AA affiliates at Kauffman Stadium after their 12:10 game against the Los Angeles Angels on April 2nd. It’s a brilliant move. The fans know the good players are coming, so why not let them have a peek?
One other source for enthusiasm this season should be Ka’aihue. About to play in his 27-year old season, he’s a career .266/.391/.460 Minor League hitter in 4,148 plate appearances. For perspective, that’s more PA’s than Scott Podsednik has notched in his entire Major League career, and more than Nomar Garciaparra had from 2000 through the end of his career. Kila’s been around a while.
In AAA alone over the last three seasons, he’s hit .285/.424/.521 in 1,110 PA’s. In 2010 he broke out, hitting .319/.463/.598 for Omaha before getting the call up to Kansas City. There, he struggled. In 206 PA’s he hit just .217/.307/.394. Nonetheless his body of work over the course of his professional career should excite Royals fans.
PECOTA has had its share of famous misses with young players. Remember when Matt Wieters was going to win the MVP his rookie season? But it’s also been as good a barometer as any in many regards, and the fact that Kila ranks as highly as he does isn’t a sign that he should be penciled into the All Star Game now (although since there’s one player from every team, and this is the Royals…). Instead, it’s just something to look forward to, something in Kansas City to rally around. He’s paid more than his share of dues and finally, he’s set to begin a Big League season with a starting job. While Royals fans wait for talent to fill in around Kila and Billy Butler, they can take a rooting interest in the big Hawaiian as the losses mount.