Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Most people who compete in fantasy baseball think that if you're team isn't chock full of New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, you're doing it wrong.
And if your best players are members of the Kansas City Royals, they'll say you're certified crazy. Like Bill Murray in "What About Bob?" crazy.
But is it really that insane?
Yes, the Royals' only All-Star from a season ago was Aaron Crow, a decent if unremarkable middle reliever. It's also true that two of the team's best players from a year ago Melky Cabrera (.369, 4 HRs, 25 RBIs) and Mike Aviles (.260, 8 HRs, 29 RBIs) are having terrific seasons ... for other teams.
But still, I had high hopes for this year's team. In fact, with Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer slugging in the middle of the order and Jonathan Sanchez pitching at the top of the rotation, Kansas City was my American League dark horse heading into this season.
Expectations and reality are two different things however and so far reality hasn't been kind to the Royals in 2012. Right now they're in fourth place in one of baseball's weakest divisions and Kansas City hasn't been over .500 since starting the year 3-2.
It's hard to tell if Kansas City has been underachieving this year or if they simply overachieved in 2011, when the Royals finished fourth in the big leagues with a .275 team batting average and had five hitters with at least 18 homers (Butler, Cabrera, Francoeur, Gordon and Hosmer).
Part of the slow start can be attributed to Gordon, a former first-round pick who has regressed in a big way this season. Gordon had a miserable April (.232) before showing some faint signs of life in the early portion of May but now he looks lost again (he's just five for his last 37 with no homers and one RBI).
Hosmer has taken a step back as well. After walloping an impressive 19 HRs last year in his first season in the big leagues, Hosmer is homerless in the month of May and his batting average has wallowed below .200 for much of the season (he just recently brought it back up to .201).
The newly acquired Sanchez might be the biggest disappointment of all for the Royals. He's 1-2 with an ERA of close to seven and was recently put on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.
But it hasn't been all bad for the Royals, who, despite a poor 19-27 record through 48 games, are well within striking distance (6.5 games behind) of the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.
This past weekend, Kansas City took two of three from the surging Baltimore Orioles on the strength of two Jeff Francoeur home runs.
The pair of round-trippers were Francoeur's fourth and fifth homers of the season. Over Francoeur's last seven games, he's been scorching hot (15-for-29), blasting four homers and raising his average from .235 to .281.
Francouer has been carrying KC's offense this past week but for the majority of the season it's been Billy Butler who has been this team's anchor. He's currently second on the team in average (.303) and first in home runs (11) and RBIs (34).
Those impressive totals put the 26-year-old DH in position to hit over 35 homers with close to 120 RBIs, a feat that eluded even Royals great George Brett during his career (his career highs are 30 HRs and 118 RBIs).
Another bright spot for the Royals has been closer Jonathan Broxton, who has reinvented himself in his first season in the American League.
Kansas City fans panicked when perennial shutdown closer Joakim Soria was forced to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery. But since winning the closer's job by process of elimination, Broxton has been even better than Soria was last season (4.03 ERA, 28-for-35 in save chances). His 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame is still generating plenty of power and so far, AL hitters have not been able to catch up with Broxton's ruthless 98 mph heater. The former Los Angeles Dodger is 10-for-12 in save opportunities and leads the team with a 1.93 ERA.
And if you're looking for a budding under the radar star, Kansas City has you covered there too.
Felipe Paulino anyone? When you spend most of your career in the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies organizations, you tend to gain some anonymity and I guess that's the case here with Paulino. After getting knocked around in "Hitter Heaven" out in Denver (0-4, 7.36 ERA in 18 relief appearances for the Rockies in 2011), Paulino was able to salvage the rest of his season by posting a 4-6 record and a respectable 4.11 ERA in 20 starts for the Royals.
Since returning from a forearm injury at the start of the month, Paulino has been brilliant against lefties (they're hitting just .188 against him) and he has beaten the Yankees twice without giving up a single run. For the year, the Kansas City lefthander is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA.
It's been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act to start the season but the pieces are in place for Kansas City to be a very successful ball club in the near future.
I wouldn't give up on Gordon and Hosmer yet either.
Gordon corked 23 homers last season while swiping 17 bases. He's a five-tool player and those kind of guys don't just fall off a cliff, especially when they're only 28-years-old.
Every young ball player goes through growing pains, so I'm not concerned about Hosmer's tough start either. Maybe 2012 will be a throw-away year for the 22- year-old but he's still a huge asset in keeper leagues.
Plus, he's nine for his last 23 (.391) including a pair of three-hit games against the Yankees and Orioles last week. So maybe Hosmer can still help you this season. Remember, it's only May.
Maybe "intriguing" is a better word to use than "reliable" when talking about the Royals' fantasy prospects but hey if you can afford to take a chance on one of them, why not? You could be rewarded.
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