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Deconstructing The Process

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On Thursday, with the Royals off, those of us with Metro Sports in Kansas City were fortunate to get a viewing of the Omaha Storm Chasers. It was a Triple-A marquee matchup as Jake Odorizzi squared off against Roy Oswalt.

Plenty of subplots, too… Sal Perez joined the team for his first rehab start as a designated hitter. And Chris Getz. (Yeah, I know.) Then there was the continuing saga of the Wil Myers Electric Power Show.

It was an opportunity for Kansas City based Royals fans to get a glimpse of the future. And it looks promising. Still.

So, when will the Royals call up Myers and Odorizzi? I know, I know… We’ve all been pondering that very question.

Let’s address Myers first.

Adding a grand slam to his prodigious power totals he now has 39 extra base hits (16 doubles, 2 triples and 21 home runs) in 212 at bats. Roughly an extra base hit every five at bats. Which could work out to roughly one a game. Awesome.

(Please… Don’t be extra impressed that the kid hit his slam off Oswalt. He’s not even close to being in “game” shape. Just be impressed that he hit another bomb. Good enough.)

In 35 games in Double-A, Myers hit .343/.414/.731. In his first 20 games since moving to Triple-A, he’s posted a line of .324/.375/.703. He hasn’t missed a beat in making the climb up the organizational ladder.

I think the “Super Two” status is a non-starter. It has been an issue because the new collective bargaining agreement expands the pool of super two eligibles from 17 percent to 22 percent. That pushes the date later in the season. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the cutoff for super two status in 2012 is going to be 134 days. Last year, it was 146 days. By my calculations, today is the 64th day of the 2012 season. A full season generally lasts 183 days. That means if a player makes his debut on Friday and stays in the majors the rest of the season, he will accrue 119 days of service time. (As a measuring stick, the Braves Tommy Hanson made his debut on June 7, 2009 and accrued 120 days of service time.) It looks like we’re past the cutoff. Although that cutoff wouldn’t apply to players called up this season. For a new callup, it comes into play in two and a half year’s time.

The Super Two date changes from season to season. Is two weeks a big enough pad? Who knows. I do know that waiting another couple of weeks to be safely past the cutoff would be smart business.

(I’m not fully at ease with the latest collective bargaining agreement. It’s important, though. If I got the previous graphs wrong, let me know in the comments and I’ll correct.)

I got into a discussion about this with David Lesky of Pine Tar Press and Michael Engel of Kings of Kauffman last night on Twitter. They both think the cut off for Super Two is early to mid July. If that’s the case, it’s nuts to call up Myers within a month of the cutoff date. I’ve never been about gaming a player’s service time, but for a small market team close to the deadline, it’s about fiscal prudence. You need to save money where you can. If that means a prospect is called up a month later, so be it.

Again, this whole Super Two thing in the new CBA is very confusing.

If Myers were to be called up, the Royals would have to place him on the 40-man roster. It’s currently full, so the Royals would have to designate someone for assignment to remove him from the roster.

Some interesting trivia… With Clint Robinson activated for Friday’s game, the Royals have had 38 players on their major league roster this year. (Ryan Verdugo didn’t make an appearance before getting farmed out.) That’s astounding. The only players on the 40-man roster who haven’t been in KC this year are Noel Arguelles, David Lough and Derrick Robinson.

Fortunately (or probably not) the Royals could make a move with Danny Duffy. He’s on the 15 day DL, so they could slide him to the 60 day DL and remove him from the 40-man roster. But then you face a roster issue when Sal Perez is ready to be activated as he’s currently on the 60 day DL. That problem is solved by sending Humberto Quintero back to Houston as his own PTBNL. Or just cutting him.

Myers has been playing center, so that solves an outfield puzzle. Sort of. Really, he projects more as a corner man. We know Alex Gordon isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Jeff Francoeur. I suppose he could slide to center – his audition is this weekend – but really… You don’t move a below average right fielder to center. That’s defensive malpractice. Reports are Myers is passable in center. Not a butcher, but he’s not going to cover a bunch of ground. Passable. The Royals did play Melky Cabrera out there last summer. Myers can’t be much worse. He can stay there for a couple of seasons until Francoeur is inevitably named player-manager for the 2014 season.

Myers looks to be ready. This season has been easy for him. Almost too easy. I’d bet the blog that the Royals are waiting to see if he hits any kind of a slump. Just to see how he will handle it. Because when he gets to the majors, it’s not going to be this simple.

Yes, we look at the standings and see the Royals six or seven games out. But be realistic… This team isn’t contending this year. Calling up Myers isn’t going to help the Royals sneak into a pennant race. Unless he can pitch two or three times a week.

Myers needs to be up, but the Royals have the luxury of waiting. Today, there’s no need to force the issue. But as long as he doesn’t go in the tank, he should be up by the All-Star Break. For The Process to roll along, I think a key component is to bring the rookies up in mid season (like they did with Hosmer and Moose) let them get a feel for the league, and then turn them loose for a full season the next year. Of course, it doesn’t always work. Hosmer has struggled. Moose has raked. That’s baseball. But I’d sure feel better about 2013 if Myers had 250 plate appearances this summer.

Now on to Odorizzi…

He made his fifth appearance in Triple-A on Thursday, striking out 10 and walking 1 in 6.2 innings. In 27 innings for Omaha, he’s struck out 27 and walked 9. A 3:1 SO:BB ratio and a 9.0 SO/9? I like.

But Odorizzi has been in Triple-A for less than a month. Yes, he pitched great for Northwest Arkansas with a 3.32 ERA and a 11.1 SO/9 and 2.4 BB/9, but he struggled in his first turn through the Texas League in 2011. In 12 starts last year, he finished with a 4.72 ERA, a 7.1 SO/9 and 2.9 BB/9. It’s great that he made adjustments, and yes, he’s pitching really well in the PCL, but the majors are a different animal.

The control is something to get excited about. In his start on Thursday, I saw an explosive fastball that had late movement. To me, it looked like he was locating extremely well. That will play in the bigs.

I’m excited about Odorizzi as a future Royal, but I think he needs more seasoning in Triple-A. Like Myers, lets see him struggle and make the necessary adjustments. But like Myers, we need to see him in Kansas City sometime in August so he can get a taste of the bigs.

There’s also the roster crunch in play here. Who do you remove from the 40-man? Lough? Derrick Robinson? Since the Royals have used every pitcher on their 40-man not named Arguelles, I doubt they’d remove an arm. I just don’t think the Royals have the roster flexibility to bring up Odorizzi. Sure they can cut The Yunigma or ship Getz to Omaha, but let’s be realistic… That’s not going to happen. It will probably take a trade to free up a roster spot. And that will likely happen at the end of July.

What would you do if you decide both are ready? You’d have to promote Odorizzi, right? We’re desperate for starting pitching, so he’d fit the bill. I suppose it’s possible he arrives in KC ahead of Myers.

Either way, I expect both to make their debuts this season. Yet I’m content to be patient. For now. But I expect some movement in about a month. Keep the revolving door of youth moving along. And maybe next year will be Our Time.

Nate Adcock had a hell of a start last night, making just one mistake in five innings of work.   Unfortunately, Adcock’s ‘start’ began in the 11th inning and his one mistake, a rotund slider to Adam Jones, ended up costing the Royals the game.   While Adcock gets the loss, it is hard to put much blame on him.   The Royals had this game thanks to seven shutout innings from Felipe Paulino (18.2 innings over 3 starts now, with just 5 runs allowed) and two timely hits only to see Jonathan Broxton blow the save by giving up two runs in the ninth.

Having entered the game with a 14-0 record when leading after 8 innings, so the odds were that something bad was due to happen.    What the team does in the aftermath will determine if Wednesday night’s loss was ‘just baseball’ or a punch in the gut that sends this team into a funk.

Back to Adcock, however.   Despite or actually, because of his excellent five innings of work last night, Nate may well find himself heading back up I-29 to Omaha this afternoon.   A roster move is likely and Adcock’s the guy that is out of commission for at least the next three days.  He can wave at Everett Teaford as they pass…probably not the last time that is going to happen this year.

When it comes to roster moves, however, that one is not the eye catcher.   Before yesterday’s game, the Royals announced that Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi had both been promoted from Northwest Arkansas to Omaha.   Those moves, very simply, mean that both could make their major league debuts by the All-Star Break and almost certainly puts them in position (with good performances, of course) to break camp with the big club for Opening Day 2013.

Myers was hitting .343/.414/.731 in 152 plate appearances this year in AA, after struggling through a .254/.353/.393 2011 campaign at the same level (416 plate appearances).     By comparison, Eric Hosmer had a career total of just 211 AA plate appearances, where he hit .313/.365/.615.  The other big bat in the organization, Mike Moustakas, spent 259 plate appearances in AA (absolutely destroying that league).   If you want to erase the better part of Myers’ 2011 season, writing most of  it off to nagging injuries, you could make the leap that Wil has spent about as much healthy time in AA as both Hosmer and Moustakas did.

Hosmer was promoted to Omaha over the off-season and enjoyed just 118 plate appearances there at the beginning of last season (.439/.525/.582) before heading to Kansas City.   Moustakas, on the other hand, was promoted in the middle of 2010 and hit .293/.315/.564 over 236 plate appearances to finish out that year.  He returned to the Storm Chasers to start 2011, hit .287/.347/.498 and was promoted to KC after another 250 plate appearances.

Now, both Hosmer and Moustakas played positions for which the Royals had openings at the big league level.  Wilson Betemit was playing third in Kansas City and Kila Ka’aihue was playing first.  Neither was hitting very well and neither was one of the organization’s darlings.   Both were easy moves to make.

Myers, on the other hand, would be pushing out an outfielder.   They just signed Alex Gordon to a long term deal, Jeff Francoeur has a two year deal that makes him hard to trade (and he’s FRENCHY for gods-sake!) and the team has Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain in center.   Not to mention, that I don’t know that Myers could really handle center on an everyday basis in the majors.

Bottom line, I don’t know where Myers fits in this lineup without a drastic move or a big leap of faith (i.e. playing him in center).  Despite that, the Royals did not promote him just for fun.  Myers will likely amass 250 AAA plate appearances by the end of July, twice as many as Hosmer had and as many as Moose had in 2011.   If he stays in Omaha all year, he will come pretty close to getting as many PA’s as Moustakas did in total.

Where he fits, I don’t know, but if Myers hits AAA pitching, we may well find out before the kids head back to school.

The obvious comp for Odorizzi is Danny Duffy.    Danny threw 40 innings at AA in 2010, 42 in Omaha to start 2011 and was in Kansas City.  By contrast Odorizzi threw 69 uneven innings in AA last year and then fired out 38 more this year at the same level.  Jake struck out 47 batters in those 38 innings, walked just 10 and allowed only 27 hits.   He was certainly ready to move up.

The Royals, of course, were more than ready for him to move up as well.   With Danny Duffy down with Tommy John surgery and Mike Montgomery still struggling to find consistency, finding room for Odorizzi is not the problem.   You can certainly make the case that Duffy might have been rushed, but Odorizzi (assuming he is effective) will have as many AAA innings as Duffy had by early July and should have 10 or 11 AAA starts under his belt by the end of that month.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jake Odorizzi, if effective in Omaha (and that is not an ‘if’ to be ignored), will be in Kansas City no later than August.   There is no reason for him not to be.

From a service time perspective, when either Myers or Odorizzi comes up this year will have no effect on when they become eligible for arbitration or free agency.  The only gaming of service time that the Royals would consider would be to keep them both in the minors until late May of next year.   That is not something to be discounted, but also something that does not need to be decided right now, either.

If the team is hanging around in July, both of these guys might be the added boost to make the second half of 2012 really exciting.  If the Royals have sunk into the ‘we might NOT lose 90 this year’ range, then maybe you keep them down and not start their clock until sometime in early 2013.   Certainly, Jeff Francoeur will be more tradable in 2013 than he is right now due to his contract.

Those are all considerations, but Dayton Moore really did not move prospects last year with those sorts of timing issues in mind (rightly or wrongly).  When the big names were ready, no matter how little time they had at AAA, Moore brought them up.  I think the odds are very good that both Myers and Odorizzi are in Kansas City before September of this year.

xxx

 

As you should have heard by now, the Royals and Alex Gordon finalized their 2012 contract, avoiding arbitration. The total value is thought to be $4.775 million. I had postulated earlier that if the two compromised on a number less than $5 million, that was a sign that negotiations for a long-term deal were progressing in a positive fashion. Well, that was accomplished as the dollar amount is $25,000 below the half-way point on the numbers both sides exchanged in preparation for a potential arbitration hearing.

Although there does seem to be a bonus clause worth exactly $25,000 if Gordon has 700 plate appearances. He had 688 PAs last summer.

For those of you keeping score at home, Dayton Moore has never gone to arbitration with any of his players while with the Royals.

The next step is the oft discussed extension. A good sign from the conference call on Thursday was the fact there is no self imposed deadline by either side. I take that as both sides thinking that something will be done before the season opens in two months. Although in his conference call with reporters, Gordon characterized the extension talks as “slow.”

Gordon turns 28 today, by the way.

Other matters…

ESPN’s Keith Law hates the Royals, but that didn’t stop him from putting out a prospect smorgasboard that includes a Top 100 list and a list of the top 10 prospects from each organization. (All links require a subscription to read Law’s take on individual prospects.) For those interested here’s how different top 10’s have looked this winter.

(By the way, I’m kidding about Keith Law hating the Royals. He hates EVERY team.)

What’s interesting (to me, at least) is how the players seem to fit in ranges. Myers and Starling are clearly the cream of the crop in the minors for the Royals. Montgomery, Odorizzi and Cuthbert represent the next tier. While Lamb, Adam, Ventura, Dwyer and Herrera populate the bottom half of this list.

Also interesting to note that Dwyer just missed being on all four lists. (Kevin Goldstein has him at number 11 at Baseball Prospectus.) Also interesting is the absence of 2009 top pick Christian Colon from every list but Jonathan Mayo’s at MLB.com.

And we’re about 10 days to the official reporting date of pitchers and catchers…

The Royals love atheletes and Derrick Robinson is a prime example. In 2006, the Royals offered him above the recommended slot bonus to convince him to play baseball instead of football for the Florida Gators. At the time he was a raw athlete who the Royals had hoped could learn to hit.

In 2010, it seemed that the Royals gamble might be close to paying off. At AA, Robinson hit .286/.345/.380 which combined with his extreme speed and solid defense made him a viable option at center field in the not-so-distant future. He got a spot on the 40 man roster and went into 2011 hoping to replicate.

As 2011 rolled around, Robinson again found himself in Northwest Arkansas. He walked a bit more often and struck out a bit more often, but he just didn’t hit the ball very often or very hard. In 483 plate appearances, he hit only 9 extra base hits, compared to 36 in 570 plate appearances in 2010.

Although his hitting plummeted, it wasn’t the only reason that Robinson was never promoted to AAA. In the off-season, the Royals acquired Lorenzo Cain who is the less athletic but better baseball version of Derrick Robinson. Almost over-night, Robinson became organizational filler and a backup plan.

At this point, Robinson is holding onto a spot on the 40 man roster by the thinnest of threads. Honestly, I’m surprised that he has lasted this long. I think it says something about the improving Royals that Derrick Robinson is possibly the 40th best guy on the roster. He has two solid tools, but is lacking the one that teams need most: a bat.

The aesthetic value that speed brings to the table is something I’ll always appreciate. I do hope that Robinson can find the bat from 2010 that put him on the radar. The fact he’s still hanging around is indicative of Dayton Moore’s love-affair with athletes and speed. Robinson may be still on the roster as a potential 4th outfielder who brings some speed on the bases or he may be the next casualty when the Royals sign or promote someone better.

We all remember January of 2010…

Tiger Woods takes a “break” from golf. A blizzard cripples the East Coast. An earthquake rocks Haiti.

And the Royals announce they reached an agreement with Cuban defector Noel Arguelles.

The Arguelles signing represented perhaps the most aggressive foray into the international market by the Royals. General Manager Dayton Moore reached deep into the Royal coffers and came up with a five year major league contract worth a base salary of $6.9 million with the possibility to add up to $2 million in performance issues. It’s the kind of ballsy move the Royals were making to build the best farm system in the history of the game. And it’s the kind of move that the Royals (and other small market teams) won’t be able to make anymore with the new collective bargaining agreement. As such, Arguelles will forever remain the Royals largest dip into the international market.

The fact the 19 year old Arguelles defected from Cuba and the fact the Royals threw a wheel barrow full of cash in his direction, expectations were sky high from the beginning. The Royals preached caution, given he had thrown for 17 consecutive months prior to leaving his homeland. They were going to start him slowly in spring training with an eye to beginning his professional career in the low minors.

The Royals and GMDM were predictably thrilled with the signing. Moore characterized Arguelles as a top of the rotation starter. Various scouts said if Arguelles were coming out of high school in the draft, he would be a first round talent.

Arguelles threw on a back field in early March, but was soon shut down with shoulder pain. He never made his pro debut in 2010 and instead went under the knife in August to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

He made it through his rehab and finally made his professional debut for Wilmington in 2011. Arguelles got off to a great start, posting a 1.02 ERA with 15 strikeouts and just 1 walk in his first four starts. He stumbled a bit at times, but finished with a 3.20 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 24 walks in 104 innings of work. The Royals shut him down in early August in order to limit his innings. Makes sense, given he was just a year removed from his shoulder surgery.

Arguelles had a plus fastball before his injury, but the shoulder surgery seems to have robbed him of some of his velocity. He now features an average fastball but backs that with solid command. The command is evident in his 2.1 BB/9. Once upon a time, he may have been able to miss bats, but that ability is gone as well. His 5.5 SO/9 in A-ball doesn’t inspire much confidence going forward if he’s going to fulfill GMDM’s proclamation that he could be a “front end of the rotation” starter. As for his other pitches, he features a change that could be considered a plus pitch but his lack of fastball velocity diminishes it’s value. He also has a decent curve ball.

The injury and the results of a full season of A-ball have removed some of the shine off his prospect star. While Arguelles still ranks as a prospect, but the thought of him as a number one or number two has passed. If he makes the majors, it could be as a back of the rotation guy, but it will probably be as a reliever. Maybe one of those LOOGYs that Ned Yost lusts after. Still, he remains one of the more intriguing pitchers in the system and one to watch in 2011. He will likely start the year in Double-A, where we will keep an eye on his velocity. If he somehow regains his shoulder strength, he could force his way back into the Royals prospect discussion.

Virtually every off-season discussion surrounding the Kansas City Royals has centered (rightfully so) on starting pitching.    The acquisition of Jonathan Sanchez was just step one in what most Royals’ fans assume will be at least a two, maybe even three, step process.  With the bullpen well stocked and eight of nine positions locked in, Dayton Moore certainly should be spending the bulk of his time focused on improving a starting rotation that was second worst in the American League last season.

That said, what about the ninth position?   I refer to second base, of course.

While most people believe and I tend to agree that Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack at being the team’s regular second baseman in 2012, he is hardly a sure thing.    While Johnny possesses a minor league resume that is probably better than those carried by Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez, he lacks the one thing all three of those players possess:  a plus defensive skill.

Save for a magical stretch in mid-summer, Escobar hit sporadically at best for most of the year, but because he played a premium defensive position and played it very well, Alcides came home with a fWAR of 2.2.   Salvador Perez hit well for the Royals in his limited time, but more importantly displayed the type of defensive abilities behind the plate that will keep him in the lineup and allow him to be a positive impact even if he does not hit.   The jury is out on what type of defender Cain will be in the majors, but all indications are that he will be a plus defender if not more.   At one point there was some talk about Cain’s routes to the ball, but those were mostly due to his relatively late start in baseball and I heard little about that being a problem this past season in Omaha.

Bottom line, all three have at least one ‘plus’ skill and all three have athletic upside.   Giavotella, who made some spectacular defensive plays in 2011, is never likely to become more than an average second baseman, if that.   His body type does not lead one to envision the ever elusive ‘projection’ that we prospect hounds crave and Johnny is not  tremendously athletic.   All of those things lead us to a player that will have to hit and hit early or the organization will begin looking elsewhere.    Alex Gordon could hit .195 as a rookie and you could still look at him and say ‘that guy should get better’.   If Giavotella hits .195 in his first 300 at-bats this year, people are rightly going to start thinking ‘well, this is who is’.

Now, I am 100% willing to give Giavotella a bunch of at-bats to either prove he it the .305/.375/.437 hitter his career minor league line reflects.   He just might be the player who in four full minor league seasons (all at A ball and above) never posted an on-base percentage below .351.   While Johnny’s numbers have benefitted from playing the last two years in hitter-friendly parks, he managed a respectable .258/.351/.380 in the hitter’s graveyard that is Wilmington.   Frankly, if Giavotella could hit .260/.350/.400 and not terribly screw-up in the field, that might be good enough playing between a Gold Glove shortstop and hopefully MVP level first baseman.

The current alternative to Giavotella is Chris Getz.     When the Royals acquired Getz for Mark Teahen, I defended him (yes, I actually was on the GETZ TRAIN) by pointing out that his minor league numbers (.286/.363/.380) and partial first major league season were remarkably similar to those of Brian Roberts.   Heck, Robinson Freaking Cano had similar minor league numbers!   Truthfully, it was worth a shot and the Royals have won that trade simply because Teahen cost real money while giving the White Sox not much more, if any more,  than Getz has given the Royals.

Getz, for his part, hit .237/.302/.277 in 2010 and followed that up with a .255/.313/.287 line in 2011.   He did post his best fielding numbers (by any metric) of his career in 2011.   If you believe that three years of fielding data is equal to one year of batting data, then Getz is slightly above average in UZR and decidedly below in Defensive Runs Saved.  There cases to be made for both metrics, but let’s blend them and say he is an average defensive second baseman.   Watching him, that would be my uneducated analysis.   

While Getz appears to be a guy who will work the count and get on base, he simply has not done it over the long haul.  I am not sure there is a place in modern baseball for a player who cannot slug over .300 (in fact, I am almost certain there is not), but I KNOW there is no room for a player with zero power who gets on base at a .315 clip (career mark) and plays just average or a tick above average defense.

I can make a case that Getz, because he can run and handle the bat (yes, every once in a while I can see the need for a sacrifice bunt – I really can!), could be a nice utility player.  Except, Getz has little experience playing shortstop or third base and is widely considered to have neither the arm nor the range to handle the left side of the infield.   Unlike some, I don’t have a problem bringing Getz to spring training, but he has done his best to prove he cannot be a regular major league second baseman and simply has not shown he can be more than an emergency fill in at any other position.

After the above two players, one of who will almost certainly be in the opening day lineup at second, the Royals offer Irving Falu, who has spent nine seasons in the organization, played everywhere and only kind of hit (.275/.342/.350).   You have to like his versatility and on a young team where the lineup is going to be basically the same every day, I could see Falu being on the Royals’ bench in early 2012.  This is not a player whose development you are concerned with stunting and you could buy yourself another roster spot simply because Falu could not only be your utility infielder, but also serve as your fifth outfielder.

Of more promise at the AAA level is Yamaico Navarro, acquired for Mike Aviles late in the summer.   Now, Yamaico is a shortstop with some pop (.430 minor league slugging), who has some time at third, short and even a little in the outfield.  He has the look of someone with potential.   The downside is that Navarro has played 312 minor league games at short and just 23 at second.   If I had to guess, Navarro starts 2012 in Omaha and plays shortstop more than second as insurance against an Escobar injury or, and this is actually possible, the chance that Alcides hits .201/.240/.260.

I say the above, because I believe that the organization still has high hopes for Christian Colon (keep in mind, this organization has a pretty broad stubborn streak) despite hitting an unimpressive .257/.325/.342 in Northwest Arkansas.    Drafted as a shortstop, Colon moved over to play 15 games at second last season and I have to imagine he will spend most of his time there in 2012.  Truthfully, he has yet to show anyone much of anything to make one believe Colon is going to be a major league regular.

Down the line one more tick is Rey Navarro.  It is quite possible he is the best defender (at second or short) of anyone we have talked about today.  In 2011, Navarro hit an outstanding .285/.337/.484 in Wilmington and a pretty mundane .271/.332/.330 in Northwest Arkansas.    Prior to this past season, Navarro really had not hit anywhere and so I doubt there is a risk of losing him in the Rule 5 draft (as has been postulated in various spots).    I have not seen enough to get on the Navarro bandwagon yet and I think it is more likely that he becomes Irving Falu than anything resembling a major league regular.   Certainly we have not seen enough to consign him to the minor league journeyman scrap heap, but there is plenty that remains for him to show before we start our ‘Free Rey’ campaign.

This discussion, again, leads us back to the ‘can the Royals contend in 2012 or not’ debate.   If not, then you see what happens with what you have.  If you believe 2012 is a contending year, however, then you almost have to address second base.   With a young team, plugging in a Rafael Furcal or someone similar as a veteran presence at second might make some real sense.    I probably will take the chicken way out here and say the Royals should give Giavotella a shot and, should he be struggling but the team contending in July, THEN make your move for a veteran second baseman.

Without question, Kansas City is going to have a number of in-house options at second base over the next two to three years, I am just not convinced any of them will turn out to be good options.

xxx

 

My trips to Surprise for Spring Training are one of the highlights of my baseball season. The Surprise baseball complex is fantastic and seeing young talented Minor Leaguers playing in such an intimate and casual atmosphere is amazing. The Arizona Fall League would be a great way to bookend the season, however I haven’t been able to make that trip, yet. So instead, let’s take the trip together via the magic of the intertrons and see what’s going on with the Royals prospects out west.

Nate Adcock – Pitcher

This is familiar face. The Rule V pickup spend the entire season at the Major League level with the Royals and was a pretty solid contributor considering his experience. He has started one game where he pitched 3 innings and struck out 7. He was named pitcher of the week last week as well. Not too shabby.

Jeremy Jeffress – Pitcher

Jeffress was a bit of a disappointment last season. He arrived in the Zack Greinke trade and could light up the radar gun, but couldn’t find the strike zone. He was eventually sent back to the Minors and couldn’t really make it back because of the depth the Royals had in relief. Sending him to Arizona says that the Royals still believe in him and that they think he needs to work on a few things. So far he’s pitched in 3 games and has allowed 10 hits and 3 walks in 3.2 innings while striking out only 2. It might be getting to the point where it will be best to let him just take a breather and come back fresh in 2012.

Brendan Lafferty – Pitcher

Lafferty was taken in the 18th round of the 2009 draft out of UCLA. He hit a speed bump this year in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas as his ERA jumped from the low 3′s to the mid 4′s. He breezed through his first two games in Surprise, but in the last two he’s given up 5 runs in 4 innings.

Bryan Paukovits – Pitcher

Paukovits had been a starter from the time he was drafted in 2006 until he moved to the bullpen this season. The move dropped his ERA a full point and his ground ball rate increased markedly. He has 3 innings under his belt in Surprise and has struck out 3, walked 2 and given up 6 hits. Things don’t seem to be going well for Royals relievers in the AFL.

Christian Colon – Shortstop

In his second pro season Christian Colon kept his OBP at a respectable but notthing-to-write-home-about .325 while dropping his batting average from .278 to .257 and his SLG from .380 to .342. That’s the wrong direction when he moved into the more hitter-friendly park in Northwest Arkansas. He still seems like a player who will have a role in the Majors, but unless he can improve his bat he won’t be much  more than a Willie Bloomquist type guy. In the AFL he’s 4-for-24 at the moment with a double. Not quite what the Royals were hoping for, but it’s still early.

Anthony Serratelli – SS

Serratelli is one of those guys that you really root for to get a shot at the Majors, if even for a moment. He went to Seton Hall, then to the Independent leagues then to the Royals where he has slowly climbed the ladder to Double-A last season. He out-hit Christian Colon with a .282/.392/.398 line, but since he’s older and not a 1st round draft pick, he will always be put behind Colon. It’s not fair, but that’s just the way it goes in baseball. He has to prove himself over and over to get a shot. The fact that he’s in the AFL is a good sign that he just may get that shot at some point.  So far he’s making the most of his opportunity by going 7 for 22 with a home run and a double in Surprise.

Wil Myers – OF

The big-time prospect had a bit of a let-down season as he struggled with injuries, a new position and a step up to Double-A. He still kept his patience as he posted a .353 OBP, but that’s a far cry from the .429 he posted in 2010. He’s still young so there’s nothing at all to worry about, which is one of the messages I’m sure the Royals are trying to send by putting him on the roster. So far, he seems to have gotten the message loud and clear as he’s 9-for-28 so far with 2 home runs. 2 triples and a double. He’s also the same Wil Myers as he’s walked 10 times to 7 strikeouts.

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

In doing some research (some being the operative term) of the Detroit Tigers’ leap from 72 wins one year to the World Series the next, I remembered that one of the key players in that leap was a centerfielder who did not get a shot at regular playing time until he was twenty-five years old.  

Curtis Granderson had methodically worked his way up the minor league ladder after being drafted by the Tigers in 2002.   A short season in A ball, followed by 127 games in High A, then 123 in AA and another 111 in AAA as a 24 year old.   He got into 47 big league games in 2005, hitting .272/.314/.494 with 43 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances.   The strikeouts were no surprise, as Granderson had fanned 129 times in his 111 AAA games and over 90 times in both his High A and AA seasons.    By the way, Granderson had also raked in the minors, posted a career line of .300/.382/.494 in 413 minor league contests.   

Although he was not quite a rookie in 2006, Curtis was basically a first year player when he played 159 games in 2006.   Sure, he led the league in strikeouts (174), but Granderson also hit 19 home runs, 31 doubles and 9 triples.  His OPS+ was bascially a league average 98 and, as we all know, he would explode in 2007:  hitting 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 home runs  and stealing 26 bases (in 27 attempts).

Okay, Lorenzo Cain is not going to be Curtis Granderson.

That said, they do have some historical similarities.   Cain will turn 26 next April and, like Granderson, will not be considered ‘young’ should he get his first shot at regular playing time.   Like Granderson, the Royals’ centerfielder in waiting has received a moderate amount of major league seasoning, hitting .302/.343/.402 in 181 major league plate appearances, with 32 strikeouts.     Like Granderson, Lorenzo has raked in the minors:  .295/.368/.430 in 712 minor league games and struck out a lot (575 times in 3,107 plate appearances).   Without question, Lorenzo Cain is not going to exhibit the type of power that Granderson does.  In essence, Cain’s upside may be as a ‘poor man’s Curtis Granderson’, which is not a bad thing at all.  

This little snippet is not really to advocate ditching Melky Cabrera in favor of Cain or to persuade anyone that Cain is going to be an All-Star like Granderson.  It simply points out that not every player has to come up at age 22 to have potential and not every high strikeout centerfielder is destined for major league failure.   More than anything, I just thought the similarities in age and track record were worth noting.

xxx

That was a fun wild card race, wasn’t it?   Someday, maybe next year, maybe the year after, us lowly Royals fans might have more than a passing interest in these late season games.   THAT will really be fun.

I plan to continue my series on teams making the leap from bad to good seemingly overnight (we broke down the 2000-2001 Twins on Monday) next week.  It’s a relevant topic given that this off-season is really going to be one big discussion over whether the Royals can really contend in 2012 and what they should do about it if they are.   We will wait until Monday for that, however.    Today, we’ll hit some quick, somewhat lighthearted topics as the most enjoyable 71-91 season has come to an end.   And yes, that sentence was written without sarcasm.

  • Eleven Kansas City Royals played enough to burn their rookie eligibility.   ELEVEN!  On top of that, ten of the non-rookies who played significant roles for this team were 27 years old or younger.  You all knew the Royals were young, but seeing those numbers in print (or whatever we call this forum) really points that out.    Interestingly, I think it is entirely possible that only two players will play enough to use up their rookie eligibility status next year (Kelvin Herrera and Mike Montgomery).
  • As excited as we might be about how this season played out and what next year might hold, it is probably wise to remember just how injury free the Royals were this year.   Bruce Chen spent time on the disabled list, but no other major contributor missed a major chunk of time (okay, Matt Treanor, too, I guess).   You can credit better conditioning, better medical and training staffs all you want, but that is also a major portion of luck.   Five position players played in 150 or more games (Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur, Escobar & Butler), while Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella and Perez didn’t miss a day once they were called up.    The Royals probably cannot count on that kind of luck next season.
  • As Royals’ fans, we are all thirsty for the next great player, but honestly, have you ever been so sure about a young player becoming a star than you are about Eric Hosmer?   Billy Butler was good, Zack Greinke was great, but Eric Hosmer is one of those ‘man, I wish he played for us’ kind of guys.  
  • Is it September numbers fooling us or the usual ‘Moustakas adjustment period’ that kicked in and propelled Mike to a solid .263/.309/.367 rookie line?  (Solid, based upon how absolutely awful it once was).   Who hits more home runs next year?  Moose or Hosmer?   I guess by asking that question, you can guess what my answer is to the original question.
  • I don’t want to get into too much depth on this subject, as it will be the most talked about topic all off-season, but the equation is really pretty simple.   If you believe the Royals can contend in 2012, then you have to acquire at least one front-line starter this off-season.   If you believe this team will not be ready until 2013, then you do not.
  • We can be almost certain that Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy will be in the 2012 starting rotation.  Of those three, who will have the best season?   A lot of what happens for the Royals the next couple of seasons might well be determined by whether that trio combine to be solid numbers 2, 3 and 4 types.   Should they be a shaky 3-4-5 combination, which frankly they were this year, then The Process might have a bit of a bump or two in the short-term future.
  • What about Joakim Soria?   He was not awful (we have seen awful and thy name is Burgos), but Soria certainly fell from elite closer status this year.   We have seen him gradually lose control and, hence, confidence is his curve ball over the past two seasons and I think that might have led him to experiment with different pitches this season.  You know what I would like to see more than anything else on Opening Day 2012?  Soria freezing a batter in the bottom of the ninth with that big curve.
  • Of the likely starting nine next year (Perez, Hosmer, Giavotella, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cabrera, Frenchy, Butler), who is your pick to regress and disappoint?   Which one or ones will not be in the lineup by June 15th?  
  • Is it all about being in shape?   We joke about guys showing up for spring training ‘in the best shape of their lives’, but Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur really did and had, if not great, certainly good years.   It can’t really be that simple, can it?   Was it Kevin Seitzer or a fresh start in a new place or was it ‘you are playing your way out of the league desperation’?   If it was the last one, will they both show the dedication and focus in 2012, now that they have reestablished themselves?
  • Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi are almost certainly the top three prospects in the organization and have been rumored to be untouchable in any off-season trades.   If you had to trade one, which would it be?

Even though the regular season has ended, Craig, Nick and myself will still be hear churning out content (whether you want it or not) all through the off-season.  This is shaping up to be the most exciting and, quite possibly, the most important winter in many seasons for the Kansas City Royals.

I personally have spent much of the last couple of months writing about the Royals’ young position players and, to a lesser extent, about their rookie laden bullpen.   The reason is quite simple:  after years of projecting and theorizing about ifs and buts and whats and whens, we can actually look at the lineup that takes the field every night and know that ‘next year’ applies most if not all of them.

Seriously, when was the last time you watched a Royals’ team play in August and September and knew that basically the same team was going to take the field again in 2012….and be generally happy about it?

Ditto for the bullpen.   Sure, there might be/will be some changes in the pen, but the core group will be back.   Again, not only will they be back, but the thought of Coleman-Holland-Soria to finish out games in 2012 makes me happy.

So, long story to nowhere, but that is why I have spent a lot of time discussing the above.   It is a real life, real time topic as opposed to the years of prospect watching and trade scenario (fun as it may be) fantasizing that was all we had as Royals’ fans to keep us marginally sane.

The starting rotation, however, throws us back into more theory than fact.   We think Felipe Paulino is a true hidden gem:  a strikeout pitcher with good control, who finally blossomed.   We think Danny Duffy showed enough promise, enough stuff, as a rookie to progress into at least a middle of the rotation starter.   While no one believes Luke Hochevar will ever justify his overall number one pick status, we think that his post All-Star break performance might indicate that he is ready to be a solid number three/four type starter as well.

Do three ‘thinks’ and a ‘might’ equal league average 2-3-4 starters?  Or is it more like 3-4-5 starters?

At minimum, the Royals do not have a number one starter, much less an actual ace.   Not long ago, we thought that Mike Montgomery might be that guy as early as 2012, but he is finishing off a AAA campaign that featured 69 walks in 150 innings with a decent, but modest, 129 strikeouts.   John Lamb has spent all of 2011 on the shelf with Tommy John surgery.   Chris Dwyer, who was never projected as a number one type guy, posted a AA earned run average solidly north of five.   Jake Odorizzi had a very nice season, but spent just half of it above A ball.   Will Smith also did a nice job this year, but his 108 strikeouts in 161 AA innings points more towards back of the rotation duty.

It would be foolish to give up on Montgomery or dismiss Lamb as wrecked, but none of the young arms the Royals so highly value is going to lead the rotation in 2012.   That’s okay, all in all, unless you want to contend in 2012 and my gut feeling is that Royals’ GM Dayton Moore thinks his team can do just that.

Let’s go along with Moore for a moment and assume that Kansas City can at least consider contending in 2012.   A lot has to go right, obviously, not the least of which is the three ‘thinks’ and a ‘might’ referenced above have to come true.  If so, then you can rely on some combination of a resigned Bruce Chen, Everett Teaford or Aaron Crow to fill the fifth spot in the rotation and assuming THAT works out, you still have a big gaping hole in the number one spot of the Royals’ rotation.

How do you fill it?  Free agency? 

Unlikely.   C.J. Wilson is not coming to Kansas City and neither is C.C. Sabathia, should he opt to opt-out.   The rest of the market is thin and likely to be extremely overpriced.   We are not talking about giving Gil Meche one more contract year than anyone else, we are talking about the Royals paying for an extra year and paying too much for all the years in front of that.

Trade?

Now, it gets interesting.   In the prospect hungry world of major league baseball, number one pitchers are just three or four prospect away from wearing your uniform.   It is a steep price, but doable.   Keep in mind, the hopeless, money starved Astros were apparently asking for a package that starts with something comparable to Montgomery or Wil Myers for Wandy Rodriguez, who is not an ace to begin with.  Doable, but steep….really steep.

To make it even a little more risky, the Royals might well find themselve trading, not for an ace or even a ‘number one’, but for a player who they think might become a number one.   Think James Shields of the Rays as an example.   There is talk he is available, but it could be just talk.   Frankly, was it clear at this time last year that Zack Greinke would not be a Royal in 2011?  Names could come up this off-season that you might never expect.   Would the Angels consider trading Dan Haren to bolster an offense that is getting outstripped by the Rangers?   Would the Phillies move Cole Hamels?  What about the Dodgers and their off-field mess?

The names are all speculation, the price is actually a little easier to define.   The Indians basically gave up the equivalent of Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, Tim Melville and Paulo Orlando to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez.   You know what Milwaukee gave the Royals and what the Nationals offered.  The packages are all different, but they are also similar in the overall talent given away.  If the Royals do it, it is going to hurt.

Should Dayton Moore make that kind of plunge in an effort to contend in 2012 or would it be wiser to make a smaller deal for an established mid-rotation guy and hope the Kansas City offense and bullpen are good enough to carry the team? 

I will be honest, there is part of me that believes prospects are overrated (that may shock some of you) and that same part is impatient to contend.   If Montgomery and Crow put James Shields (or insert your name of choice here if Shields bugs you) on the mound for the Royals on April 6, 2012, I would be hardpressed to say no.  If throwing four prospects – four really good prospects (Wil Myers AND Montgomery to start, boys and girls) – gets Clayton Kershaw in a Royals’ uniform, I have to tell you that I am probably all in.

All that said, the prudent move is probably to bring in one mid-rotation veteran for a moderate trade price (Cain or Cabrera and something) and see what happens in 2012.   The Royals might catch lightning in a bottle next season, but they are more likely to progress in fits and spasms:  winning 12 of 14 and then dropping seven of eight.   It might be wise to hope 2012 AAA is kinder to Mike Montgomery than this summer was and to hope that Aaron Crow’s bullpen stint turns him into a legitimate number two or three starter by 2013.

It is possible that a 2013 rotation of Montgomery, Duffy, Paulino/Hochevar, Crow and Odorizzi, with John Lamb rebounding nicely in AAA, may be a contending level group.  The Royals could have all that and still have all their coveted prospects as well.   Maybe.

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