Baseball is a game of hope; long seasons allow for plenty of changes atop the division while those stuck at the wrong end of the division can look forward to their young players developing into stars.
Being a Royals fan has very few bright spots. You go into the year hoping to escape the basement and end the year inevitably 30 games out of playoff contention. So, instead of looking forward to the next day’s game, you have to look forward to next season’s stars. We’ve all heard the hype surrounding big-time prospects Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Bryce Harper, but one older prospect is just sneaking under the media’s radar: Kila Ka’aihue.
Yes, it is finally time for the Royals to unleash the Kila Monster! Kila Ka’aihue (pronounced KEY-luh Kuh-eye-HOO-a) is the tower of batting power, and now that he finally has an every day major league job, expect big time production from this Hawaiian slugger. Even though he is 26 years old, Kila Ka’aihue is one of the biggest pure hitting prospects to come out of the Royals’ system in years.
If you take a look at Kila’s numbers, you’ll notice two outstanding features: big power and great discipline. Over the last three seasons, he mashed 78 homers while drawing 294 walks to only 221 strikeouts. Those numbers were clearly deserving of a call to the majors, but despite that production, his road to the show has been a long one.
Drafted out of Iolani High School in the 15th round (438th overall), Kila was an unknown quantity. With his 6’3” muscular frame, he was sure to put up good power numbers, but his contact was far less predictable. That showed in his first three seasons where he only compiled 29 homers with a .244 batting average. While those numbers were well below his expectations, if you dig deeper, a great pattern was starting to emerge: his on-base percentage during the same period was .359!
Coming into his fourth season, Kila still hadn’t amounted to much; he was a poor-fielding first baseman with nice power potential, but below-average contact. The Royals didn’t want him to spend a third consecutive season in Low-A ball, so they promoted him to High-A Burlington, which seemed to do the trick. Kila finally broke through, hitting .304 with 20 homers and 90 runs driven in, amounting to a whopping .428 on-base percentage. In addition to the hitting boost, Kila also walked as many times as he struck out, after compiling 63 more whiffs than free passes in his pro career.
With his confidence higher then ever, Kila received a promotion to AA Wichita, hoping to build upon a career season. However, he couldn’t flip the switch, and had the worst year ever. Kila couldn’t catch up to advanced pitching and stumbled along to a paltry .199 with just 21 extra base hits. But still, he was able to reach base at an extraordinary rate — .304 to be exact.
It was clear that Kila wasn’t able to hit well in AA, so the Royals sent him back to High-A. The Royals lit a fire under Kila , and he nearly returned to his top form from two years back. After 60 games, Kansas City had seen enough – a .251 batting average, but 9 homers and a .360 OBP – and he earned a ticket back to Wichita.
Kila’s second stint in AA was much more successful; he doubled his home run output, raising his batting average and on-base percentage around 50 points in fewer than 100 at-bats. He finished the season with a career high in homers, but he was 23 years old, stuck at AA, and his best days were potentially behind him.
We all know the cliché, “third time’s a charm,” and this was certainly the case for Kila. During his third stint in AA, Kila erupted for 26 homers, a .314 average, and .463 OBP, while drawing nearly double as many walks as Ks (80 to 41) in just 376 at-bats. Kansas City elevated him to AAA, and the power surge continued.
With just over a month left to go in the minor league season, Kila launched 11 more homers while maintaining a .316 average and a .439 on-base percentage. Kila was so good that he earned a September call-up, where he hit one homer in 24 plate appearances, hitting .286 with a .375 OBP. More importantly, he ended the season with a sensational 1.085 OPS, something only Albert Pujols could duplicate that season.
Even after having a monstrous offensive season – the best season of his short career – the Royals opted to use Mike Jacobs and Mitch Maier instead of the Kila Monster. Still stuck in AAA, Kila continued to put up gaudy power numbers, but this time his batting average shrunk back to his 2002-04 form: .252. But despite his problems creating consistent contact, Kila managed to maintain a .392 on-base percentage and drew 17 more walks the strikeouts (102-85). Even though he was having trouble consistently getting hits, he was reaching base regularly and showing great plate discipline.
Now it is 2010, and Kila is in his third AAA stint. Kila is 25 years old, and his major league prospects are shrinking. Whether it is job insecurity, or his aclimation to AAA pitching, Kila got his stuff together. He launched 24 home runs in 94 games, posting a .314 batting average, .463 OBP, and again breaking the 1.000 OPS barrier. Kila also drew 88 walks to only 69 strikeouts, earning him a May callup to the big leagues.
Unfortunately for Kila, his stint with the Royals was a short-lived one. After 12 games, he only got one start and finished with just an RBI single in 4 at-bats. Kila spent the next two and a half months in AAA Omaha before he earned another call-up at the start of August.
On August 13, the Royals traded hot-headed designated hitter Jose Guillen to the Giants, clearing the way for Kila to own an every-day job. Over the next three games, Kila responded by getting 5 hits, scoring 2 runs, and knocking one more in.
The big lefty slugger represents a better future for the Royals. Playing alongside promising youngsters Billy Butler, Mike Aviles, Alex Gordon, and Mitch Maier, Kansas City looks to take back the AL Central with a youth movement.
Even though the Kila Monster has yet to catch on in the majors, he has taken his time to find success at nearly every level of the minor leagues. It took him three years to hit well at AA, and it took him three years to succeed in AAA. Next season will be his third in the majors, so beware of the Kila Monster.