- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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PITTSBURGH -- The Kansas City Royals are feeling spry for a team with a .356 winning percentage, and it's not only because Mark Redman will be lugging his 5.27 ERA to Pittsburgh and tipping his cap at the All-Star Game.
Just as new general manager Dayton Moore moves in with designs on building an organization in the Atlanta mold, the Royals are actually playing decent ball. Despite an 11-3 loss to Toronto on Sunday, they're 14-8 since mid-June. Third baseman Mark Teahen and center fielder David DeJesus are giving the team some energy, the young arms are showing promise, and Moore has enough veteran parts on the roster to be a player at the trade deadline.
That's the state of affairs for the present. The long-term future of the organization spent the weekend in Pittsburgh, sharing a batting cage and a dream.
Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, fellow Wichita Wranglers and the prizes of a thin Kansas City farm system, made a major impression at Sunday's All-Star Futures Game. Butler hit a two-run homer to center field and won the Larry Doby Most Valuable Player award, and Gordon drove in two runs with a single and a double to help the U.S. squad beat the World team 8-5.
Both Gordon and Butler know their day is coming, and it's strictly a question of when. Maybe Moore will summon them in August or September, or decide they could spend a little time with Triple-A Omaha before jumping to the big leagues. Moore has declined to give a timetable for the kids, but he recently visited Wichita to take a look and introduce himself.
"I just hope I can keep putting up the numbers, then they'll decide," Gordon said. "That's why they get the big bucks upstairs."
While the two future Royals took batting practice Sunday at PNC Park, some big-league general managers (Pat Gillick and Terry Ryan, to name two) and a slew of scouts checked out the proceedings from the stands. The consensus is that Gordon, a lefty-hitting third baseman, has future All-Star written all over him -- even if the obligatory George Brett comparisons are a reach.
The numbers from Gordon's first professional season are promising. Along with 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts, Gordon is batting .301 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .507 slugging percentage in the Double-A Texas League. He can work a count, pull the ball with authority and hit it out to left-center field if that's where the ball is pitched. And he's allayed fears that he can't hack it defensively at third base.
Gordon also carries himself with the self-assurance one would expect from the second overall pick in the 2005 draft.
Ryan Zimmerman, selected two spots behind Gordon, has driven in 60 runs for the Washington Nationals this season and established himself as a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third base. A scout in Pittsburgh observed that if the Royals called up Gordon today, he would be the best player on the Kansas City roster. At one point there was talk of Gordon moving off third base and playing the outfield; now Teahen is the one who'll probably have to move.
"If I were Mark Teahen, I would explore other alternatives," the scout said. "He might want to work on his versatility."
The take on Butler isn't quite so giddy. Baseball people love his bat and his raw power, but Butler is still working to shake some of the doubts that followed him as the 14th pick in the 2004 draft. He gets knocked for a lack of athleticism, and his stocky physique (6-foot-1, 238 pounds) and lack of natural defensive instincts conjure images of a young Greg Luzinski.
"He's probably a DH for me," a scout said. "He's a one-dimensional guy, but it's a dimension you can't find."
Butler, no doubt conscious of the criticism, is working hard to dispel it. He spent the offseason working out at the High Intensity Training Center in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. Other professional athletes at the facility included Phillies pitcher Brett Myers and several members of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, who gave Butler a few lessons in the art of flexing.
"They're some big men," Butler said. "Those guys are animals."
Butler doesn't embrace the notion that he's a designated hitter waiting to happen. He has spent hours chasing down fly balls and working on his conditioning, and it wasn't with the intention of sitting in the clubhouse watching video clips between at-bats.
"I'm head and shoulders over where I was," Butler said. "I take pride in my defense now."
Gordon, a native of Lincoln, Neb., has a touch of the football player in him. He showed enough talent as a high school defensive back to receive feelers from the University of Nebraska football program before deciding to play baseball for the Cornhuskers. But he admits to missing the contact now and then.
"We're hoping we can come up together and help turn things around and get Kansas City baseball back to where it was."
-- Alex Gordon
"I liked to get in there and lay some people out," Gordon said.
This year, Gordon has had a knack for making news in offbeat ways. When the Topps Company mistakenly released about 100 Alex Gordon baseball cards in May, the card fetched about $7,500 on eBay. Gordon wandered into a Wal-Mart in Wichita in hopes of picking up a few, but he wasn't that fortunate.
"If you want to, tell Topps not to be afraid to send me some," he joked.
In May, Gordon suffered a three-stitch cut on the bottom of his foot when he stepped on some glass while taking his trash to the curb. The incident drummed home a lesson: Make sure to wear sandals while doing household chores.
In Wichita, Gordon bats No. 3 in the order while Butler handles the cleanup duties. They've developed a nice, friendly competition while spending lots of time together off the field. And they've talked wistfully about arriving in the big leagues and helping to change expectations in Kansas City.
"We're hoping we can come up together and help turn things around and get Kansas City baseball back to where it was," Gordon said.
After three 100-loss seasons in four years, it'll take awhile to accomplish that. But two bats this promising make for a pretty good start.
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