Bad luck won't ultimately slow stocked Royals
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even the team of the future is not immune from the occasional bad break, bump in the road, or bout of plain old bad luck.
In this case, the Kansas City Royals, whose organization is widely believed to have the best collection of young talent in baseball, have been hit with injuries to two crucial performers: their well-established closer, Joakim Soria, and catcher Salvador Perez, a remarkable young talent.
These injuries are obviously damaging, but they won't derail the organizational game plan. There is too much young talent, in quality and quantity, for that to happen.
"They're two key guys, but in terms of the game plan, Dayton [Moore, general manager] has planned for this," Royals manager Ned Yost said Thursday. "He has provided us with enough depth to survive this. Most clubs have only one closer. We have three, maybe four, if you count [Aaron] Crow."
True enough. Soria is pondering his medical options after tests showed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Soria had been among baseball's elite closers, but this injury could require the second Tommy John surgery of his career.
To fill in for Soria, the Royals have Jonathan Broxton, who closed previously for the Dodgers; Greg Holland, who pitched superbly for the Royals out of the bullpen last season, finishing with a 1.80 ERA in 46 appearances; and Crow, who also pitched very well for Kansas City in relief last season.
"So we're going to be able to weather this storm," Yost said. "It's a little tougher with losing Sal [Perez], but Dayton went out and made a great deal, got us a veteran catcher in Humberto Quintero, and we're in good shape."
Perez had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. He is expected to return to the Royals in midseason. Even in an organization stocked with young talent, Perez stands out. He is an accomplished defensive catcher, a student of the game, and he hit .331 in 39 games with the Royals last season.
"I've never seen anyone like him," Yost, a former Major League catcher, said. "He's a 21-year-old kid who is the total package behind the plate. He can catch, he can throw, he's got great leadership, he's got great energy, he understands the dynamics of calling the game, understands the pitchers' capabilities and their stuff. And he can swing the bat. Yeah, he's a pretty special kid. But you know we'll weather that, too. We've got good backups who can handle it until he gets back."
The Royals traded with Houston for Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois in return for a pair of Minor Leaguers. Quintero, 32, is a career backup known for his defensive ability and a particularly strong arm. He will likely split time with the current Royals backup catcher, Brayan Pena.
"I'm happy that they're going to give me this opportunity, but I feel sad for Perez," Quintero said Thursday. "He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to do my best, every time I catch, helping the pitchers and doing my best for the team."
Bourgeois, 30, is an outfielder with fine speed. He stole 31 bases in 37 attempts for the Astros last year. His value with the Royals may be enhanced by the fact that he came up as a second baseman and can also play third.
Arriving in Royals camp Thursday, Bourgeois had already formed a distinctly positive impression of the club's operation. "A lot of young guys that can play," he said. "It's a classy organization, from the moment I stepped off the plane, from the phone calls, to the reception I got in the clubhouse this morning. It's just a class act all the way around."
It is also a growth situation. The way the Royals view it, their 71-91 record in 2011 was a developmental year. Considerable young talent was filtered in, and if a few players struggled initially, the collection of talent was indisputably impressive.
Now, 2012 is supposed to be the next logical step, a season of improvement.
"We're going to improve," Yost said. "We're going to be better than we've been in the recent past. We've got a lot of young kids that are really, really talented, but they're still young. They've got ups and downs that they've got to go through.
"Their focus this spring is on being consistent in everyday game play. They've done a really, really good job with it. They play with a lot of energy, they play the game very fundamentally sound. And it's a great group, a great group to be around. So I look for them to continue to get better from this point on, for the next two, three, even four years.
"They're at a stage where they want to improve. There's a time for development, but then there's a time to start winning. I think these kids are at that level where they need to be pushed a little bit to get into that next level of winning. They've won everywhere they've been. They expect it, they want it and they're ready for it.
While the short-term future just became more difficult for the Royals with the injuries to two truly important players, the longer outlook remains positive.
The bright future for this franchise is still a question of when, not if.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.