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2011 is finally the year the Royals are going to start winning! Wait…what’s that? That’s still a couple years away? Oh.

Experts and non-experts alike all agree that the Royals minor league system is the best in baseball this year. Here’s the problem though…the major league team is among the worst. As Royals fans we can, however, see the light at the end of the tunnel. The new wave of talent is on the horizon, with some players such as 3B Mike Moustakas expected to join the big league club by midseason, if not sooner. The bad news is the Royals are going to be dependent almost entirely on this influx of young talent. As the Indians’ exec in Major League said, “I haven’t heard of half these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their prime.” Say hello to your 2011 Kansas City Royals.

The Good

The kids are almost here. The #1 minor league system in baseball is about to pay dividends. You can read the lists all over, but here the players most widely expected to be in the majors sooner than later: 3B Mike Moustakas, RHP Aaron Crow, LHP Tim Collins, LHP Everett Teaford, LHP John Lamb, LHP Mike Montgomery, LHP Danny Duffy.

Moustakas will get every opportunity to win the 3B job in spring training. Lamb, the Royals’ 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, along with Teaford, Montgomery, Duffy and Crow could win a spot in the bullpen or even a place in the rotation with a strong spring. Collins is widely regarded as a possible left-handed setup guy. Top prospects 1B Eric Hosmer and C turned OF Wil Myers are still a few years away.

All-Star closer Joakim “the Mexicutioner” Soria still anchors the bullpen. He looks to continue where he left off after collecting 43 saves and posting a 1.78 ERA in 2010.

The Bad

The major free agent addition is the once-promising Jeff Francoeur. The second biggest addition is the once-major-league-average Melky Cabrera. They join the hopefully-still-has-promise-even-though-he-isn’t-the-next-George-Brett-anymore Alex Gordon in forming the Royals’ new outfield.

The Ugly

Former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke is gone, traded to the Brewers over the winter for a haul of prospects. At least he took Yuniesky Betancourt with him.  Also gone this year are Jose Guillen (like it or not, he was our only real power threat) and my personal favorite David DeJesus. (Have I told you about the time I sat next to Dave on the couch and watched the MTV Movie Awards? Maybe another time.)

Gil Meche decided to retire rather than pitch out of the bullpen. The Royals will miss his veteran leadership with all the youngsters making their way to Kansas City soon.

Starting lineup options

With veteran Jason Kendall still out after shoulder surgery, Brayan Pena and Lucas May should handle the pitching staff, at least until Iron Man Kendall returns. None of the 3 are Mike Piazza. Actually they might all be similar to Piazza if he walked onto the field today. Only still probably not as good.

This may be the Royals’ only real glimmer of hope with Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue alternating between 1B and DH. Butler is one of the game’s young stars while Ka’aihue looks to continue his minor league success in the big leagues.

The second base job belongs to Chris Getz for the moment, but he won’t get much leeway. The 3B situation could push Getz to the bench.

Alcides Escobar, acquired from the Brewers in the Greinke deal, is expected to be the starting shortstop. He provides a ton of defense up the middle, and with Getz could be a potent double play combo, but his bat remains suspect.

This is where things could get fun. As of now the frontrunner looks to be Mike Aviles. If Getz struggles at 2B, Aviles could move there leaving minor league free agent Pedro Feliz at third. A strong camp could bring the much-heralded Mike Moustakas to Kansas City earlier than anticipated leaving Feliz or Getz the odd man out in the infield.

As mentioned above, the starting outfield is shaping up with Francoeur in right, Cabrera in center, and Gordon in left. Mitch Maier is the favorite to return as the 4th outfielder. Lorenzo Cain, also acquired in the Greinke deal, could push his way into the mix with a strong spring or a poor start by Cabrera.

Starting rotation
I’m really not sure where to even start. With Greinke gone and Meche going from the rotation to the bullpen to the retirement home, the starting five is full of uncertainty, and that’s looking on the bright side. Luke Hochevar is the most likely to replace Greinke as the number one starter. He should be followed in some order by Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen, and the recently signed Jeff Francis. In line to be the #5 starter are Vin Mazzaro (acquired from Oakland), Sean O’Sullivan, or any of the kids mentioned above.

Other than Soria as the closer and Robinson Tejeda as a setup man, the bullpen spots are more or less up for grabs. They could be filled by the young guns who don’t make the rotation, or by holdovers from last year including Blake Wood or Kanekoa Texeira. Also in the mix are Jeremy Jeffress (yet another player from the Greinke haul) or my personal long-shot favorite, Rule 5 selection Nate Adcock. (I don’t know a thing about him, but I love his name. For both reasons.)

What does this all mean?

It’s going to be a long dreary summer in KC this year. The kids should start arriving as the season goes on, and they’ll provide plenty of excitement and lots of anticipation, but unfortunately probably not many wins.

I’m thinking 63-99 looks like a possibility because I’m feeling optimistic today, and I can’t imagine a team as bad the 100 loss teams I had to endure not too long ago. But please don’t hold me to that. At least we have the Hot Dog Race to look forward to.

Mustard got lucky that day. Ketchup got hosed.

Check out all of our 2011 MLB Predictions and grab your Royals tickets for the 2011 season today!