It’s pretty easy to teach this class.
It’s mid-term grade time and for the Kansas City Royals, it’s a team of scholars. The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati was littered with Royals Tuesday night during the American League's 6-3 victory over the National League, with KC's Ned Yost piloting the winning team.
I have to admit I didn't see this coming. I thought the Royals were a flash in the pan, that they caught lightning in a bottle last year and overachieved.
But through 86 games they're not only as good as last year, but better. They are 18 games over .500 and have the best record in the American League and second-best in baseball, surpassed only by the flagging St. Louis Cardinals in the National League.
Unlike last year when the Royals won even though some of their stars didn't have career years, this season a number of them are as proficient as they've ever been. It's no wonder there are a lot of members on the high honor roll.
• First Base, Eric Hosmer — Hosmer, like most of the Royals, got off to a red-hot start, especially in the power department. He plays a position that generally demands 20-30 homers and 90-100 RBIs. He’s not going to approach those totals, but when you take in account his fielding, it's a boost to his grade. Grade — B.
• Second base, Omar Infante — The offensive numbers and lack of strike zone knowledge have been painful to watch, but his smattering of hits usually are clutch. He’s been relatively solid defensively, but lacks range. He seemingly has aged about five years in the past two. Grade — C -
• Shortstop, Alcides Escobar — The starting All-Star shortstop for the American League, he’s still too free of a swinger, but he also doesn’t strike out much. Makes plays defensively that few others can. Grade — A -
• Third base, Mike Moustakas – Considering where he’s come from, Moustakas has been a revelation. He’s fallen off drastically the last three weeks, but he’s playing with a heavy heart because of an ailing mother. He’s gotten away from what got him successful and that’s going to left field as he’s become pull-conscious again. Defensively he’s adequate enough. Grade — A.
• Infield, Christian Colon — He's back in Omaha now as the Royals never seem to give him a chance. I really thought when Infante looked to be on his last legs, they might give him a shot, but I don't think they really trust that he can play every day. He just doesn't have much pop, but is solid in the field. I look for him to be back soon. Grade — C.
• Infield, Dusty Coleman — He's best known for getting caught in a rundown in his first game. Hasn't done much else in his short time. Grade — Incomplete.
• Left field, Alex Gordon — His groin injury that will sideline him the next 7 weeks couldn’t have come at a worst time because he was getting on one of his patented hot streaks where he can carry the club. Defensively, the best in the game at his position. Grade — B.
• Center field, Lorenzo Cain — The best player on the team this year. He’s become far better of a hitter than I ever imagined and he’s the best defensive outfielder in baseball, Gordon included. Grade — A.
• Right field, Alex Rios — You just wonder what could have been for Rios. He homered on Opening Day and had eight RBIs in his first seven games while hitting .321. He came back from his broken hand and it was like he had forgotten how to hit. Showed encouraging signs on the final homestand, but all in all he hasn’t been what the Royals had hoped, though there’s time to turn it around. Grade — C -
• Outfield, Jarrod Dyson — He was a non-factor until Gordon got hurt, but still supplies energy and enthusiasm. Finally starting to run the bases like last year, as Yost hasn’t used him as much as a pinch runner. He makes some great plays in the outfield, but you never know when his mind is going to wander to produce a gaffe. Grade — C+
• Outfield, Paulo Orlando — A good spare part and has had some big hits. He became known after his spate of triples in April, but then cooled off. Has good speed and plays a good outfield. Grade — B-.
• Catcher, Salvador Perez — He’s actually the team’s heartbeat, a real spiritual leader. His power numbers are good and his defense impeccable. He has only one weakness and it’s his lack of plate discipline. If he ever gets that figured out, the “Hall” could be calling. Grade — A-.
• Catcher, Drew Butera — When you play behind Salvy, there's not many chances. Not much of a hitter, but a decent receiver. Grade — C.
• DH, Kendrys Morales – Where would the Royals be without him? A supposed gamble, he has been in the lineup every day driving in run after run — 61 in all. Give GM Dayton Moore props for this signing. Grade — A.
• Pitcher, Yordano Ventura – A huge disappointment. He’s been an emotional mess and had some quirky injuries. This is not what was envisioned when Yost made him ace of the staff. Grade — C-
Pitcher, Danny Duffy — He was supposed to join Ventura as the new leaders of the staff. What I said about Ventura is about the same for him. Grade — C -
Pitcher, Edinson Volquez — He's been the Royals' workhorse and provided some backbone for a shaky rotation. Tends to have some bad innings where he can't stop the bleeding, but in the grand scheme of things a real good pickup. Grade — B+.
Pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie — He has seven wins, but you never know when he's going to get shelled, which has been often as batters have feasted (115 hits in 95 innings). But he's durable and gives it his all. He's been regarded in his career as a .500 pitcher and that's about what he'll be this year. Grade — C.
Pitcher, Chris Young — Another shrewd pickup by Moore. He has struggled at home, but been dynamite on the road. At times he can dominate hitters with less than overwhelming stuff. Grade — A-.
Pitcher, Jason Vargas — He was off to a good start and hopefully he'll be back soon. His inability to stay healthy hurts his grade. Grade — B-.
Pitcher, Joe Blanton — Blanton gave the Royals two quality starts when they needed it when the staff was thinned by injuries, but I think he's squeezed out about all he can. Grade — C-.
Pitcher, Kelvin Herrera — He made the All-Star team, but honestly he hasn't been as good this year. Lost a couple of games and tends to make things interesting. Grade — B.
Pitcher, Wade Davis — Only two earned runs allowed in 39 innings with 44 whiffs. He can set up or close. Enough said. Grade — A.
Pitcher, Greg Holland — He has converted 19 of 21 saves as he's been one of baseball's best closers the last three years. He's lost some zip on his fastball, but has other pitches in his arsenal. He has had some control problems, but still stacks up with anybody in the game. Grade — A-
Pitcher, Ryan Madson — A real nice find. Another power arm that a lot of teams gave up on, but Moore saw something in him. He survived the last cut out of spring training and the Royals are glad he did. Grade — B+.
Pitcher, Franklin Morales — Morales has stepped in as the lefty specialist with Tim Collins having been lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. He's actually an upgrade. Gets a little wild at times, but seems to work out of jams. Grade — B-.
Pitcher, Brandon Finnegan – The rookie has ridden the roller coaster from Omaha. Still a work in progress, but he's a keeper. Grade — B.
Pitcher, Luke Hochevar — He's been the forgotten man with just 19 appearances. If the Royals make a move at the trade deadline, he might be a bargaining chip. He hasn't come back from Tommy John surgery and pitched like he did in 2013. It's starting to look like that will be his high-water mark. Grade — C.
Manager, Ned Yost — Ned is an acquired taste. I thought he was aloof and always seemed to leave his starters in too long last year in order to get them the win. But last year changed him and he keeps an even keel. His players love him and you never hear any grumblings. Grade — A.
General Manager, Dayton Moore — He jettisoned the popular Billy Butler and brought in Kendrys Morales. He added Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, though the latter move hasn't yet paid off, but still could. The pickups of Chris Young and Ryan Madson have been strokes of genius and the best might still be to come as I have a feeling Kris Medlen is going to contribute when he comes back from Tommy John. I believe he needs to add an outfielder — even a rental — before the trade deadline as this is the year the Royals have to go for broke. But you can't argue with success. Grade — A.