Monday, March 5, 2007

Royals' October hero likely to start on Opening Day

We would never wish -- even secretly -- for an injury to any Kansas City Royal, but given that injuries are inevitable, when one happens, it's always infinitely more fruitful looking for silver linings than dwelling on the incident (something Cubs fans have yet to learn). That's why Mark Grudzielanek's impending knee surgery, which will cause him to miss the rest of spring training and at least the first couple of weeks in April, should only be construed as a roster move that frees up one of the Royals' best hitters from last season -- Esteban German -- to play regularly at second base.

Your last on-field impression of Esteban -- unless you're one of the lucky ones who's following the team in Surprise, Arizona -- probably comes from last October, when he was singling off soon-to-be postseason hero Kenny Rogers in the top of the 12th to break an 8-8 tie. The Royals would add another run before winning pitcher Jimmy Gobble shut the door in the bottom half of the inning to complete a season-ending three-game sweep (!) of the eventual pennant-winning Tigers. Well, prepare to see much more of this young utility man -- a prudent man's Chone Figgins, if you will -- who Dayton Moore said was the "logical choice" to fill in for The Grud.

Duh. Granted, German doesn't have Grudzielanek's sure hands (then again, who among AL second basemen do?), but where he'll contribute -- nay, be an upgrade -- is at the plate, where he batted an outstanding .326/.422/.458 with 40 walks (to only 49 K's), 18 doubles, 44 runs and 34 RBIs in just 279 at-bats last year, his first full season in the Majors.

Compare that batting line with Grudzielanek's .279/.331/.409 or 136-million-dollar-man Alfonso Soriano's .277/.351/.560, and you get a sense of Esteban's potential in an already potent Royals lineup (more on this later). In fact, if he slaps base hits at last year's pace, one could make a case for him batting leadoff and, a little further down the road, like in September, challenging Ichiro or Jose Reyes for the title of "best leadoff hitter in baseball" (or at least joining the discussion).

Of course, once Mark's knee gets better and he returns, it'll be like the Royals added a Gold Glove second baseman through a trade four months before the deadline. That should energize them through any late-spring doldrums.

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