As you might expect: There is a lot of back and forth going on in Kansas City over the Zack Greinke trade. And I think there will be a lot of back and forth about it for a long time yet. There is some anger — some of it pointed at the Royals, some of it pointed at Greinke — and there is a pretty wild range of opinion about whether the Royals got enough in return.
There is reason for Kansas City fans to have some optimism about this deal, I think. I don’t want that lost just because I happen to think the Royals should have gotten at least one superstar prospect. The optimism begins with shortstop Alcides Escobar. He was a Baseball America Top 15 prospect a year ago, and scouts seem pretty well in agreement that Escobar has superb defensive skills, above average speed and the ability to make contact at the plate. Whether those things will turn him into a good every day shortstop — there isn’t much agreement on that part.
The Top Rated Baseball America shortstop prospects:
2009: Alcides Escobar
2008: Brandon Wood
2007: Brandon Wood
2006: Justin Upton (followed by Brandon Wood)
2005: Joel Guzman
2004: B.J. Upton (followed by Kaz Matsui)
2003: Jose Reyes
2002: Wilson Betemit
2001: Antonio Perez
2000: Rafael Furcal
You can see, that’s a pretty mixed bag. It isn’t easy developing an everyday shortstop. The Royals certainly have had no luck doing it. The Royals and others like to compare Escobar to Texas’ Elvis Andrus, but I don’t quite see that. Andrus was much younger and showed offensive skills much earlier. I think a better comparison — and one the Royals should not be unhappy with — is the best of Cesar Izturis. When Izturis hit for a decent average — like he did in 2004 — he was a more than useful player. He posted a 3.7 WAR that year, he won a Gold Glove, the next year he was an All-Star. Of course Izturis has not hit in any other year, and that’s the challenge with Escobar. But there are definitely scouts out there who think Escobar will hit, and if he does hit even half-decently he should be a very good player.
There is also reason for optimism about Jake Odorizzi, the Class A pitcher that I’ve seen more than one person call the key to this deal. Odorizzi isn’t yet 21 and he was very good in the Midwest League last year. He struck out 135 in 120 innings, allowed only seven home runs, showed the sort of command that had some scouts apparently comparing him to Zack Greinke. The reports I got on Odorizzi from friends were not quite so cheerful, to be honest, but the Royals obviously like him a lot, and he could be the emerging guy from the deal, the one who in two years will be ready to star in the big leagues and everyone will say “Where did they get HIM? Oh yeah, they got him in the Greinke deal.”
Odorizzi was Baseball America’s eighth-ranked prospect in the Midwest League, by the way. Will Carroll asked the very logical question: What the heck does that mean?
Baseball America’s No. 8 prospects in the Midwest League:
2002: Shin Soo Choo
2003: Felix Pie
2004: Ian Kinsler
2005: Anthony Swarzak
2006: Wade Davis
Again, kind of a mixed bag, but there’s hope.
The point of this post, however, was not to go over the deal again but — as the headline might suggest — to point out one scary turn of events for Royals fans. My favorite player in the deal is centerfielder Lorenzo Cain. A couple of people have been kind enough to show me their scouting report on him … and it’s extremely promising. Cain is going to turn 25 years old at the start of the season, so he’s not exactly a kid. He has also had a bumpy minor league career — he hit just .218 in an injury-ruined 2009 minor league season — and has shown almost no power despite his sturdy 6-foot-2, 200 pound frame. So, yes, there are real questions about him.
But there are also many good signs. He is a terrific athlete with very good speed (in 2010, coming off knee injury, he stole 33 of 37 bases). He is, apparently, a good defensive centerfielder with the skills to be as good as anybody in the American League. He is, apparently, a player with great makeup; he has overcome many disappointments to get to the brink of the big leagues. He’s the kind of player you root for happily. The scouting reports on him range from fourth outfielder to Torii Hunter comp, so that’s a pretty wide range of outcomes. But of all the players in this deal, he seems to me the one who has the best chance in the short term to emerge. If I’m a Royals fan, much of my hope for this deal is placed in the future of Lorenzo Cain as the Royals center fielder.
So, this morning, I read Bob Dutton’s wrap-up of the deal, which, as all of Bob’s work is, was thorough and interesting and filled with in-between-the-lines hints. I think it was Bob’s story on Zack Greinke last year, the one where Zack first indicated his distaste for the Royals youth movement, that set the wheels in motion for this deal.
I read Bob’s story … and a quote jumped out of it and slapped me in the face and made me start this post with the “Uh Oh” headline. The quote is from Royals manager Ned Yost, who was, of course, manager of the Brewers and was undoubtedly a key factor in Kansas City making this deal. He was talking about how the first time he ever saw Escobar he saw a future All-Star (not inconceivable). He was talking about how he thinks Luke Hochevar is ready to step up and be this team’s No. 1 starter (pretty inconceivable).
Then he started talking about Cain, talked about his athleticism, how he and Escobar can help the Royals offense “just with their legs alone.” Then it all took a terrible turn.
“He’s a center fielder,” Yost told Bob about Cain. “But we’ll see where it fits in. I’m not projecting anything right now. We’ve signed Melky Cabrera (to play center field), and Lorenzo Cain only has (147) big-league at-bats.”
Uh oh. Bob asked Ned Yost about Cain … and the words “Melky” and “Cabrera” were in the answer? Melky Cabrera of the 83 OPS+ and .317 on-base percentage last year? Melky Cabrera of the minus-21 on the Dewan Plus/Minus for outfield defense last year (minus-9 in center fielder where he only played 385 innings)? Melky Cabrera of the minus-1.2 WAR last year — which made him by Fangraphs ratings the worst everyday player in baseball? That Melky Cabrera?
Are the Royals really going to block one of the young and promising players they just got for Greinke with Melky F. Cabrera? And this in a year when EVERYONE knows they are going to be absolutely terrible?
Maybe they won’t do it. Maybe that’s just what a manager has to say since the Royals did sign Cabrera and probably made him a few promises. But, I’m still thinking … Uh Oh.