Spring Postcard: Royals are aging, but not necessarily well

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This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.

1. Getting older

The average age of the Royals opening day lineup in 2009 was 27.8 years. The projected average age of the Royals 2010 opening day lineup: 29.4 years old. That would be their oldest opening day lineup since the 1994 strike. By adding 30-somethings Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall and Rick Ankiel to the lineup, the Royals seem to be taking a different approach in the rebuilding process.

2. The Callaspo Conundrum

The Royals have a real issue with Alberto Callaspo. On the one hand, he was probably the Royals second-best hitter in 2009. He hit .300, banged 41 doubles, was fifth in the league with eight triples and he walked more than he struck out. For a team that has not finished better than 11th in runs scored since 2003, Callaspo's bat seems absolutely essential.

But Callaspo is so bad defensively at second base that the Royals came to the conclusion they cannot play him there -- they traded for Chicago's Chris Getz to play the position. There has been some thought that Callaspo might be able to play third, but the Royals already are counting on Alex Gordon to fulfill his potential there (though Gordon is out for a month with a broken thumb). He has looked entirely uncomfortable in the outfield and he does not project to have the power to play DH. Plus, they are paying Jose Guillen $12 million to do something.

So...what to do? One thing to consider: Royals designated hitters hit .209/.281/.374 in 2009. So maybe playing Callaspo at DH isn't a bad option.

3. Better defense

While Seattle has made the boldest and most noticeable move to improve defense, the Royals have in their own small ways worked to improve team defense. The last two years, the Royals have had the worst defense in the league according to John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved. Last year, they were below average at every position except pitcher and left field.

So, they went out and got a veteran catcher in Kendall, a strong-armed center fielder in Ankiel, a fast left fielder in Podsednik and a smoother second baseman in Getz. None of those players comes in with a reputation as a defensive wizard, but all of them should be better than what they had a year ago. The Royals intend to move David DeJesus to right, where he should be better than the tragically immobile Jose Guillen. And the hope is that shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, coming off his worst season offensively and defensively, can rebound at least somewhat. He came into camp in noticeably better shape.

They're not going to be the Earl Weaver Orioles by any stretch, but they do expect marked improvement defensively. And they hope that will help the pitching staff.

Zack Greinke

Most people will expect a fall-off for the American League Cy Young award winner -- and sure, it's hard to imagine that Greinke will once again post a 2.16 ERA and lead the league in WHIP, homers per nine innings and post a 242-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But don't kid yourself: Greinke is only 26, he has a dominant mid-90s fastball that he can throw to both sides of the plate along with one of the league's best sliders, a dazzling slow curveball and an ever-improving change-up. There was nothing fluky about last season...he's one of the best in the game.

Rick Ankiel

Ankiel seemed to live about 20 lives as member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the phenom pitcher, he was the guy who couldn't throw the ball over the plate, he was the great comeback story as a hitter. He was the hitter with the giant hole in his swing. Now, he's in Kansas City on a one-year deal. The Royals are hoping to get solid defense and a few home runs. Ankiel is trying to get his ever-shifting career back on track.


And that's the big story. For the second straight year, the Royals enter a season with no expectation of having an impact rookie. That is not exactly the way a team like the Royals can hope to get better. The closest thing is pitcher Aaron Crow, the Royals' top pick in the 2009 draft who has turned heads with his stuff in camp. But, unless he just proves too good to ignore, the plan is probably to start him in High Class A.

Brian Bannister

Bannister -- my favorite player in baseball -- had a 3.59 ERA through his first 20 starts last year before shoulder fatigue got him. Bannister doesn't throw that hard, but his cutter can be effective, and he can be a solid third of fourth starter. He has worked hard on his conditioning to avoid the late fades that have haunted him -- he is 3-5 with a 7.18 ERA in September through his career.

You probably know that the Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992 -- it's the longest consecutive streak of losing seasons in baseball history. You may not have known that over that same time period, the Royals have just two more victories than the Pirates.