Monthly Archives: August 2010

Beware of the Kila Monster

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.

A man of many nicknames, The Kila Monster is the Tower of Hitting Power

A man of many nicknames, The Kila Monster is the Tower of Hitting Power

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.

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A Salute to the King

He wanted to. He really, truly wanted to. LeBron James wanted to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Deep down, LeBron wanted to be a Cav. He never wanted to leave his home state, and he never wanted to become the single most hated man in the state of Ohio. But he couldn’t come back, and it’s not his fault. The Cavaliers management just couldn’t give him a winner.

Sure, LeBron has never had a true sidekick. Antawn Jamison? Shaq? Mo Williams? Come one now. Sure, LeBron has never really come through in the clutch (yes, I saw that fist pump, Skip Bayless). Yes, he made it to the finals, but he was swept. Yes, he hit a buzzer beater in the Eastern Conference Finals, but if he didn’t make that prayer-of-a-shot, the Magic would have swept the Cavs.

You may not have liked The Decision, but all of the procedes went to the Boys and Girls Club of America

You may not have liked The Decision, but all of the procedes went to the Boys and Girls Club of America

But everyone has flaws. LBJ is a narcissistic egomaniac. Did he really need a 1-hour ESPN special to rip the heart out of his hometown? No, but what NBA player doesn’t have big fat Sean May-sized ego? LeBron meant well when he set up the press conference with all proceeds going not to the LeBron James Bank Account Fund, but to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

LeBron wasn’t just in a lose-lose situation last Thursday night; he was in a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose situation. If James chose the Knicks, Nyets, or the Clippers, he would have been looked at as a money grabber who is more about money, fame, and publicity then winning. If he chose Chicago, he would always be looked at as a lesser Michael Jordan, always hidden in the shadow of the Greatest of all Time. If he went back to Cleveland, he’d be taking the most money and succumb to staying on a franchise doomed to mediocrity.

Miami was the logical choice. Without any teammate close to the caliber of Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, LeBron managed to drag his team along to 61 wins. Mo Williams was his best sidekick. That’s enough said. Cleveland had plenty of chances to keep LeBron by pairing him up with another star. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison just won’t cut it. The fact that GM Danny Ferry refused to trade Wally Szczerbiak’s $13 million expiring contract for a true star was inexcusable, instead opting to stay with the same old group of depressing players like Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, and Joe Smith.

Bosh and Wade had next to no help on their respective teams, yet won a combined 87 games. None of these three superstar players have played alongside someone near the caliber of their new teammates. The only time one of them ever teamed up to a high quality player, Shaq was joining forces with D-Wade and Miami won the NBA Championship.

Joining Miami, not Chicago, represented LeBron’s best chance to win. Derrick Rose will one day be a superstar, but he, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer don’t have anything on D-Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron tried to build a championship team in Cleveland when he asked Bosh to join forces. Toronto even told the Cavs’ brass that they would send their superstar big man to Cleveland, but Bosh just didn’t want to go. But in the end, LeBron chose to join up to create the most talented team in decades, instead of just being on another contender in Chicago or Cleveland.

As much as fans and media want to rail on LeBron, he did a noble thing. He put winning before money. We are always witness to players going to the biggest paycheck and avoid high-pressure situations, but LeBron took less money to play for a winner. Isn’t that what we always ask of athletes? The King just wanted to run the basketball world with two of his best friend.

(As a side note, how many best friends does LeBron have? I though Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were his best friends. What about all his high school buds, Jay-Z, World Wide Wes, and Maverick Carter?)

There is no doubt that Miami will succeed; they have three of the top players in the game along with several key role players. James, Wade, and Bosh averaged 80.3 points, 17.5 assists, and 22.9 points per game, but they have plenty of help on hand. Mike Miller shot an unreal 50.1% from the field including 48% from beyond the arch? Do you think he’ll get some open looks? With Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, and Juwan Howard down low, rebounding shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

LeBron James is 25. He’s a grown man. LeBron can make his own decisions. He doesn’t owe anything to Cleveland, a city that ultimately can’t couldn’t give him what he really wanted: a championship and to become a global icon. Miami is an international city with better weather and a better winning opportunity. He gave his home state 7 years of high quality basketball and entertainment. But in the end, Miami provided more opportunities to LeBron.

So, now, I give a salute to King James. Thank you for making the right choice to join up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Sure, he’ll never be Michael Jordan at this rate, but that’s really never who he’s been. LeBron can now take on the role of Magic Johnson, a role he could never play in Cleveland since he had no great scoring sidekick. With Wade, Bosh, and Company alongside, LBJ can be a fantastic distributor and a triple-double threat every time he steps on the court. Even if he’ll always have one less ring then D-Wade, he can still be the most transcendent player in a generation of basketball, or more.

In addition to bringing a brand new contender to the NBA, LeBron also brings remarkable hype to the entire sport. When Heat training camp opens, all eyes will be on how this team gels and distributes the ball. When pre-season rolls around, Miami will draw unprecedented ratings and attention to the sport. SportsCenter will open every day with the Heat, and when they lose, NBA insiders will have to scramble for answers as to how this dream team lost.

Colin Cowherd, an ESPN Radio personality is one of the bigger NBA proponents at the Four-Letter Network, yet he never talks about the season until the All-Star Break approaches. With NBA superpowers in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Orlando, the NBA will be more popular then baseball in the summer of ’98 and it will highlight nearly every sports talk radio station. The Heat will sell out every arena they play at, and every team they play will give them their best punch — giving us the best basketball there is to see.

Not only has LeBron started a new trend in viewership and interest in the NBA, but he also started a trend among athletes. After seeing what the King could do, Chris Paul offered the idea of starting his own Big Three in New York of himself, Carmelo Anthony, and Amare Stoudemire. Chris Paul has done wonders for the city of New Orleans, but ultimately, it would help the game of basketball if he were teamed up with another superstar (or two) in a big market. The same is true for why Bosh had to leave Toronto and LeBron had to leave Cleveland.

Over the last month, LeBron James has manned up. He left money on the table to play for the team with the best winning opportunity. When his former boss ripped him for his “cowardly behavior”, LeBron was the bigger man, saying, “I think it’s unfortunate that he did that … But Dan and whoever his partners are have to look themselves in the mirror and understand what he may have done may have cost them in the long run.”

LeBron grew up over the past month; he left the city of his childhood for a better opportunity. In the same way that each of us jump for the best job opportunity or situation, LBJ is moving on up. So, no matter how many over-enthusiastic fans call you out or media members want to rip you, I salute you, King James.

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