My complete preview for the MLB season is here, today I will continue my team by team analysis of the player that is the most important to watch in the upcoming season. This isn't necessarily the best player, rather someone who's season is important for the team, or their growth as a player.
Kansas City Royals: Mike Jirschele
I'm guessing most people don't have a clue who this guy is, if you do, props to you. He is the manager of the Omaha Storm Chasers, the AAA affiliate of the Royals. So maybe he isn't a player, and he isn't technically on the Royals, but that doesn't mean he isn't the most important person in their organization right now.
The Royals are bad, and looking through their major league roster, I don't see a whole lot of upside. The best player on their team is Billy Butler, who appears to be nothing more than a solid average, medium power guy. From a DH/1B, that is not anything special, it's towards the bottom of the league at the position.
Jirchele is important because the Royals farm system is loaded with some of the best prospects in baseball. Using Baseball Americas recent top 100, the Royals have nine in the top hundred, including five of the top 20 and three in the top 10. No other team seems to match up with the prospect power the Royals have.
Their top 5 include 1b Eric Hosner, 3b Mike Moustakas, OF/C Will Myers, LHP John Lamb, and LHP Mike Montgomery. Having prospects that are highly touted is great, but most prospects seem to be more hype than actual production.
There hasn't been much to talk about with the Royals the last few years. They have had some decent prospects before, but they never make much noise. Maybe the lower systems are to blame, or maybe it is their Major League office messing things up.
Jirchele has been around for quite some time as the AAA manager, so maybe he is not doing a very good job. It is difficult to tell whether they have had prospects who just weren't ever going to be good, or if they never had a chance to develop. This year it looks as if they have legitimate prospects, so it will be a good season to judge if the Royals should continue to rely on Jirchele.
This is why the minor league system is so important for the Royals. If they can help in the growth of their prospects, they could be competing in the next 3-5 seasons. They have been bad for a long time, but this could be their chance to make a push to be relevant again. Look at what the Tampa Bay Rays have done the last few years, they built their team from the inside and became a contender, and almost won a World Series.
The Royals need to try to do the same, but they must remain patient and smart. If they get greedy and bring guys up before they're ready it could be kill their maturation process. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the Royals contending won't happen in a day either.
Others considered: The Royals scouting director, their player management guys, their GM: These guys all have an impact on what is done with their young talent, but I think the AAA manager, and the AA manager will be most important...Billy Butler: He is the only guy on the team I see with a real bright future, he has had some success, but may turn out to be nothing more than an average hitter with average power.
Florida Marlins: Michael Stanton
As an 18 year old, Stanton hit 39 home runs in 125 A ball games, the following season he split between AA and high A, settling for just 28 home runs in 129 games. Then last season he started the year off in AA, where he hit 21 home runs in just 53 games, which led all of professional baseball at the time.
The Marlins decided enough was enough, and they called the 20 year old up to the majors. He proceeded to hit 22 home runs in just 100 games. If he kept that pace for 162 games, he would have finished the year with 35 home runs. For a 20 year old to have numbers like that is insane, but it was not a fluke.
He is a physical freak, at 6-5, 233 pounds, Stanton's power is legit and could only get better. He struggled to with contact in his first year, hitting just .259 with 123 strike outs (199.3 per 162 games). That is to be expected though for someone as young as Stanton.
This season he will be starting in right field for the Marlins and will likely end up hitting 3rd or 4th. That could be a lot of pressure for the young kid, but he hasn't struggled at any point in his career, so why would this year be any different?
With Hanley Ramirez in the lineup, Stanton will see good pitches, also he will have guys on base very frequently. The Marlins have several young contact hitters that will be atop their lineup which will be very good for Stanton. Gaby Sanchez is another guy who could help Stanton; he is older than Stanton, but has very few games played at the Major League level. He should hit for some power, which would let Stanton see more pitches.
While he is still young, this year is important for Stanton because it will be his first full year in the majors. Pitchers will have a better idea how to pitch to him this time around. He hasn't seen very many pitchers more than once in his career, so that could catch up with him. If he is able to make adjustments and keep his power numbers up, he could quickly turn into one of the better power bats in the league.
Also his average is a question mark that he needs to answer. He could go two ways, either into an Adam Dunn clone, hitting 40 hrs with a .250 avg, or a legit power hitter like Barry Bonds.
Others considered: The Marlins entire rotation has some proving to do. They are a relatively young bunch, but all have seen some sort of success. Most notably is Josh Johnson who started the 2010 season on fire, but cooled off to end the year. Also Ricky Nolasco was the opposite, he started awful, but closed the season on a high note. Their lineup is also young with upside, it will be interesting to see how they develop as a team, I wouldn't be surprised to see them contend as soon as this season.
Previous keys to their teams: Diamondbacks and Orioles. Red Sox and Braves Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers