Bob Lutz

Royals' changes provide intrigue

It's fascinating to watch the Kansas City Royals transform into... something.

What the Royals are and where they're headed can be debated, but the youth movement started in earnest last week when first baseman Eric Hosmer was promoted from Triple-A, where he was causing pitchers to question their existence.

So far, so good for the 21-year-old Hosmer, who hit a couple of home runs in Yankee Stadium during a series in which the Royals took two of three.

Kansas City, at 20-19, is keeping its head above water though there are signs they could submerge at any time without some adept steering.

The Royals aren't getting enough out of their starting pitchers. The guys in the bullpen, who had already thrown 121 innings (35 percent of the innings the Royals have played) going into Saturday's game in Detroit, are being stretched thin.

Offense has carried Kansas City; the Royals lead the American League in runs and are second in total bases and hits, third in average (.261) and fourth in OPS (.750).

Hosmer is going to be in there every day at first base, as he should. Next to arrive from Triple-A Omaha likely will be third baseman Mike Moustakas, who will bring with him the best power bat in the Royals' organization. He's batting only .256 for the Storm Chasers, but does have six homers and 26 RBIs.

The tricky part for KC general manager Dayton Moore is to get the next wave of prospects to Kauffman Stadium without rushing them.

Pitching is sorely needed and a couple of left-handed arms, Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy, are doing well at Omaha. Montgomery is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA; Duffy is 3-1 and has a 3.00 ERA.

Both, however, are 22 and need all the Triple-A experience they can get, even as Kansas City starters Kyle Davies and Jeff Francis continue to be abysmal.

The Royals don't really have a reliable starter. Veteran left-hander Bruce Chen was getting the job done with a 4-1 record and 3.59 ERA, but he recently went on the disabled list.

There must be a temptation for Moore to pull the trigger and bring up Montgomery, Duffy or both. When Moore saw there was a hole to plug at first base he quickly promoted Hosmer, despite his limited Triple-A experience.

Pitchers are a different animal, though. It's best to let them marinate as long as possible in the minor leagues before bringing them to the big leagues.

Moore's dilemma is that the Royals have had a decent start and, though in third place in the American League Central when play started Saturday, are only 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians.

Montgomery and Duffy are big-time prospects and, if everything goes according to plan, could be the Royals' 1-2 starters in the not-too-distant future. It's just a shame Kansas City doesn't have legitimate front-of-the-rotation starters now to help acclimate those guys to the majors when they arrive.

That might be one of the concerns Moore has about promoting Montgomery and Duffy. Pitchers, especially, benefit from being around older and successful role models. I'm sure one of the reasons Francis was brought aboard, beside the success he had in Colorado before suffering an arm injury, was to be a mentor to the younger lefties.

Hard to mentor, though, when you're 0-5 with a 4.83 ERA.

Chen, too, gives a veteran presence to the Royals' pitching staff and, like Montgomery and Duffy, is a left-hander.

Kansas City is in a decent spot for the moment. The Royals certainly haven't fallen out of the AL Central race, but probably can't wait too long to try to bolster the pitching staff if they're to have a chance to stay in the race.

The interesting thing about the American League so far is that no team has been dominant. Only two teams — Cleveland and Tampa Bay — are more than four games above .500. The Indians have been a great story, but how much longer can they play at a .649 winning percentage pace?

By promoting Hosmer, Moore showed that he's not just thinking about the future. He brought in enough veterans during the offseason, including Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, to prove he's just as much about today.

If so, I wouldn't expect it to be too long before one or both of the young left-handers in Omaha is brought up and thrown into the fire.

It's early, but Hosmer has showed he belongs. And Royals fans are excited to see the new wave of players as the crowds at Kauffman Stadium for Hosmer's first few games there proved.

Montgomery and Duffy are on the clock, just waiting for Moore to punch their cards.