Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Aaron Crow

Episode #47 – In this last episode before Opening Day Nick runs through the flurry of Royals moves, talks about Aaron Crow in the bullpen and what he saw in Surprise. Adam Comstock stops by to make some preseason predictions. Nick also previews the Minnesota Twins 2011 season.

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Talking Heads – The Big Country

Animal Collective – My Girls

James Brown – Sportin’ Life

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I have spent the last forty-eight hours basically in bed and out of touch.   Not that I expect anyone to care that I was sick, but only to explain that my mind is something of a blur this morning as I try to catch up on the rumor mill and, what was that other thing?  Oh yeah, actual work that pays actual money.

At any rate, I had a dream/hallucination that the Royals signed Seth Smith yesterday.   How tortured are we as Royals’ fans that a ‘dream’ is to sign a serviceable but hardly earth shattering part-time outfielder?   See, I really was sick!

Anyway, the Royals did designate Philip Humber for assignment to make room for the new slim downed Jeff Franceour.   Nothing too earth shattering there.   Humber had some moments late last season, but I can see the organizational logic in letting go of him over some of the other marginal, yet younger, relievers on the current 40 man roster.  

Another roster move is pending to make room for Melky Cabrera.   Although some out there are guessing that it might be Joaquin Arias, my speculation is that it will be another of the rather obvious group of pitchers who Humber was once a part of.   On the other hand, it could be Zack Grienke…

As Craig wrote yesterday, he predicted Greinke would be gone a week after the end of the Winter Meetings.   I have maintained that he will be gone by Christmas.    While the rumors have cooled off the last couple of days, that is sometimes the sign that actual work is being done between teams.   Either that, or the Royals’ asking price has simply been deemed too much for the rest of major league baseball.

Some of the ‘supposed’ interest in Felix Hernandez, Carlos Zambrano and Fausto Carmona might be generated, at least in part, to see how firm the Royals’ stance may be on their expected return for Greinke.  

Truthfully, the Mariners are not about to trade Hernandez.   They have Ichiro and a lot of money invested in Chone Figgins and at least the hope that their ‘process’ has them in contention this year or next.

Carlos Zambrano?   Hey, if the Yankees are concerned about Greinke pitching in New York and not concerned about Zambrano in their dugout, then go right ahead and pursue that avenue at your own risk.

All that said, it may be 2011 before the Royals move Greinke.   As Craig also indicated yesterday, if rumors are not your cup of tea, don’t click on any baseball sites for the next thirty days.

While we are sitting here talking a lot and going nowhere, the one non-rumor, truly intriguing quote of the off-season by Dayton Moore has been that Everett Teaford, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow will all get a look this spring at possibly breaking camp in the big league rotation.   I think it is a longshot that any of the three lock down the number five spot, but that they are getting a shot at all is something of a positive sign.

I say that because it means that the organization’s long standing ‘we won’t rush anyone, they all need to spend plenty of time at each level’ development plan is not a hard and fast rule.   Sure, you can rush a guy and really hurt him (see Gordon, Alex or even Franceour, Jeff), but you can also push a guy and get great results (see Saberhagen, Bret and Gubicza, Mark or even Greinke, Zack – at least in terms of onfield performance).   I like the idea that not every player is the same and I also like the idea that in adhering to ‘The Process’, Dayton Moore also realizes that good teams are made up of players of different levels of experience.

Having Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow a year or even half a year ahead of Mike Montgomery and John Lamb makes perfect sense.    Just as having Mike Moustakas up four months before Eric Hosmer, who will likely be up four or five months before Wil Myers, does.   It helps from an experience factor and when it comes to future contract considerations.    

Having Moustakas and Duffy arbitration and free agent eligible even just a year apart from Hosmer and Montgomery can make a world of difference in how many of those guys the Royals can keep around.   If The Process is in it for the long term and not just one or two years of glory (i.e. the Marlins’ model), then spacing these prospects out both via experience and financially is smart.

So, in a roundabout way, who would you like to see as the Royals fifth starter in April of 2011? 

  • Everett Teaford – an under the radar guy who might not ever be great, but who has been solid at every level.
  • Danny Duffy – talented, but who quit the game just a year ago.    A guy who has simply dominated at every level, but is shy on overall innings.
  • Aaron Crow – simply had a horrific minor league campaign statistically as he worked on some things, but who may (as doublestix speculated) be ready to take a big leap forward.
  • Player X – probably a veteran innings eater who is on the backside of an average career.   If you can’t name at least five of these guys signed by the Royals over the last six years you’re not trying.

All of those above options are assuming that Zack Greinke gets traded.  If Greinke is the Royals’ Opening Day guy, then I think your rotation, for better or worse, is Greinke, Hochevar, Mazarro, Davies and O’Sullivan.  

Don’t worry, 2012 is just a season away.

Episode #033 – It’s the final game of the season for the Royals, but it isn’t the final podcast.  Nick quickly recaps the season and brings in special guest Greg Schaum to talk about the Royals farm system.  Nick and Greg discuss which of Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas they’d rather have, who is a potential 2011 breakout candidate, the future of Clint Robinson and Aaron Crow, a bunch of other prospects and Nick tries to sell Greg on the knuckleball academy.

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Follow Greg Schaum on Twitter @greg_schaum and visit his site at http://www.royalsprospects.com

Music used in this podcast:

Curtis Mayfield – Beutiful Brother of Mine

Arcade Fire – Ready To Start

John Zorn – Mow Mow

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Prior to the 2010 season, many of us thought that the starting rotation might one of the Kansas City Royals’ strengths.   With the reigning Cy Young Award winner heading the staff and a healthy Gil Meche returning, it seemed that the Royals would have a one-two punch on par with anyone in the division.

Behind Greinke and Meche, there was a very reasonable chance that Luke Hochevar would take the next step and become a reliable number three starter while Brian Bannister was likely to remain a serviceable number four starter.   Plus, maybe this was the year that it all came together for Kyle Davies.   Even if Davies continued as he had been, he was still just the number five starter, anyway.

Well so much for that…

At our annual Royals Authority winter meetings in Bora Bora, we discussed that Zack Greinke’s ERA could go up an entire run and he still could be the best pitcher in the American League.   At the same time, we doubted that Zack would regress that much.   As it turned out, Zack’s ERA has gone up by just under two runs this year and while he is still a force to be reckoned with, Greinke is not dominating as he did in 2009.

That said, Zack is hardly the major issue with the Royals’ rotation.  Gil Meche started all of nine games and now, if he ever pitches again as a Royal, will do so out of the bullpen.   Luke Hochevar, who had shown signs of progress, was sat down for ‘a start or two’  on June 12th and has not been seen since.   Brian Bannister is currently sporting an ERA of barely under six and Kyle Davies remains Kyle Davies.

How bad has it been for the rotation this year?   Well, Bruce Chen, who found no takers for his services over the winter is arguably…not even arguably..IS the team’s number two starter and recently acquired Sean O’Sullivan, who has been tagged for 11 runs in 16 innings of work seems like an improvement over Bannister and Davies.

Of course, as I have often written, the end result of 2010 is not so important as building this team for the future.   In that respect, the Royals have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the rotation.   The AA level of the system boasts Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – all potential Top 100 prospects by the time those rankings come out this winter.   Behind them is disappointing, but still talented, Aaron Crow, who is joined by another slew of good young arms in Tim Melville,  Tyler Sample, Brian Paukovits and Will Smith.   The system is positively bubbling with potential major league starters.

Here’s the bad news:  if you throw out Crow’s 119 innings of work at Northwest Arkansas and Will Smith’s bizarre trip through three levels of the Angels’ system this season, the rest of the guys we just named COMBINED, have 60 innings of experience above A ball.      That’s no one’s fault, just a result of some minor injuries, a two month ‘retirement’ and the simple fact that these pitchers are all very young.

Sixty innings of combined AA experience makes it highly unlikely that we see any of these hurlers in Kansas City before September of 2011.    That bodes well for the rotation in 2012 and beyond, but it doesn’t do much for next year’s starting five.

Here is what we know about the 2011 rotation:  Zack Greinke will be the number one starter and Gil Meche won’t be in it.

Long pause….

Chances are, and given the Royals’ recent performance/luck at getting major league starting pitchers healthy, it is just a chance, Luke Hochevar will be in the rotation, too.      Before he went down in June, Luke had shaved over a run and one-half off his 2009 ERA (and yes, I think ERA is still a decent if somewhat crude measurement of the effectiveness of  a starting pitcher) and gone six or more innings in nine of his thirteen starts.   Should Hochevar make it back for even just a handful of starts yet this season, we could once more make a reasonable assumption that he might be able to take that ‘next step’ and settle in as a legitimate number three or number four starter.

After that, the Royals’ options to fill out the rotation are Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Sean O’Sullivan and, sigh, Kyle Davies.  

Chen’s a guy that will be interesting to watch the rest of the year.   After moving into the rotation, Bruce allowed 16 earned runs in his first 39 innings, but has been tagged for 20 runs in his last 25 innings.   That is a bad trend, which if not reversed means Chen is not a realistic option in 2011.

Bannister’s performance has degraded to the point that the Royals are skipping his next turn in the rotation.   Getting skipped in a rotation that includes Chen, O’Sullivan and Davies is not exactly a good trend, either.   I don’t know what you do with Bannister, I really don’t.   He is pretty much posting the worst numbers of his career across the board and getting worse as the season goes on.  

Kyle Davies now has 641 innings on his major league resume and they pretty much all look the same.  He is not horrible – well, not in comparison to Bannister or that guy who was wearing Gil Meche’s jersey earlier this year – but he is not anywhere near good, either.   Frankly, I think you could put Kyle’s game logs for the last couple of seasons next to those of Odalis Perez during his Royals’ career and not be able to tell them apart.  I don’t really view that as a ringing endorsement.

That brings us to Sean O’Sullivan, whose best asset at the moment is that he is just 22 years old.   What we have seen out of Sean to date is in line with what the scouting reports indicated:  a competitor, decent stuff and control, lacks a true out pitch and loses effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order.  As many have pointed out, O’Sullivan is not the picture of physical conditioning, so it may be a case of simply maturing and getting in better shape.     Frankly, I like O’Sullivan and could see him developing into a real number four starter (i.e. better than Bannister or Davies), but that might just be the ‘we always like the new guy syndrome’ at work there.

The options in AAA right now are pretty much Philip Humber, Gaby Hernandez and Edgar Osuna.  Of the three, Osuna is intriguing, having pitched extremely well in AA with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.   He was pounced on pretty good in his first AAA start, but is worth watching in August.   If Chen or Bannister continue to crumble or Ned Yost just gets as bored with Kyle Davies as I am, it might be worth three or four starts in September to get a feel for what Osuna has to offer.

So, what do you do in 2011 if you are running the Royals?   Do you hold the line, trust the process (no sarcasm intended…for once) and wait for your truly impact arms to reach the bigs in 2012?   Probably that is the smart course of action.

If Greinke rebounds from simply good back to dominant, Hochevar comes back healthy and effective (yikes, that probably jinxed him right there!), O’Sullivan matures and improves and you find two guys who are this side of awful out of Osuna, Chen, Bannister and Davies, then you have an ‘okay’ rotation.   I don’t think the Royals can contend with that rotation, but those thoughts might not be realistic for next season, anyway.

Now, if you cannot tolerate a season of that rotation or you believe contending is a real possibility in 2011, then one has to look to free agency.   The list of free agents this off-season can be found here, and there are a number of interesting names on the list.   That said, how many that are upgrades can the Royals reasonably afford?  

As you can see, projecting the 2012 starting rotation will be a lot more fun than doing so for 2011.   What would you do?

A week ago today, I wrote a column speculation on how many players the Royals would need to add right now to become a contender.   The number I came up with was eight.   Some commenters suggested nine (the ninth being a catcher) was the more reasonable number and that may well be true.

Be it eight players or nine players, I summarized that column by pointing out that it is possible that maybe all but one of those positions could be filled by the ever improving farm system.   There are two big problems with that sentence however:

  1. Not all prospects reach their potential.
  2. While prospects develop the major league roster changes.   You might fill one spot, only to have another open up due to contract issues, age, etc.   Basically, it is all fine and good that Mike Montgomery might well be an ace-type pitcher in 2013, but that won’t make the Royals any better if Zack Greinke left via free agency after the 2012 season.

In my mind, Greinke is the crux of the issue.   Unlike Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon, it is not a lock that Zack will leave the Royals once his current contract expires.   If Kansas City is beginning to look like a winning organization during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and IF management is judicious in allocating salary, the possibility of resigning Greinke is relatively high in my opinion.      

Should the Royals still be floundering along at 70-92 and Greinke is still getting less run support than a college softball pitcher, what would be his incentive to stay?   Sure, he may not want to pitch in New York, but they score lots of runs in Anaheim, Texas, Tampa and Chicago.     

If you want to keep Greinke, then The Process has to be showing real signs of coming to fruition no later than the start of the 2012 season.   In fact, the Royals probably need to be at least looking like contender if not actually contending next season.   

The message:  don’t abandon The Process, but let’s get focused and hurry up.

Now, back to last week’s column.   The eight players that I thought the Royals needed were:

  1. Number two starting pitcher
  2. Number three/four starting pitcher
  3. Middle reliever
  4. A second middle reliever
  5. Impact, corner infield bat
  6. Good defensive middle infielder with an average-plus bat
  7. Good defensive centerfielder with an average-plus bat (or better)
  8. Impact, corner outfield bat

Where can the Royals afford to build from within and where do they need to be aggressive and go find someone to fill those spots from outside the organization?

If the Royals were a better offensive team and Gil Meche was healthy, they probably have a good enough starting five as it is.  That said, better than ‘good enough’ is preferable.  With the return of Danny Duffy (even if 2010 is pretty much a lost year), you have to like the idea of having him, Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow all within hailing distance of the majors.   I am content to wait for one of those three to emerge as that number two starter by the end of 2011.

The key to making that happen, however, is getting Gil Meche healthy and here’s why.   Meche has zero trade value right now.   The Royals would be wise to take months making sure Gil is really at full strength before running him out to the mound.     There would be nothing wrong with a healthy Gil Meche being your number two starter for the first three months of 2011.    When healthy and right, as he was in 2007 and 2008, Meche truly is a number two starter.   He would buy time for Montgomery and company.   Can he get healthy and right?  Hard to say, but you might as well keep Meche around to find out as opposed to dumping him for little or no value this year.   So, the plan for the number two starter is keep Gil Meche, while you wait for Montogmery, Duffy or Crow to take his spot.   Keep in mind, if this scenario plays out, Meche will have real allure as a trade chip next July.

As for the number four type starter, I again am content to wait for the three guys above to come to the majors.   Behind them comes the John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville, Kelvin Herrera, etc. group of arms, who will also come into consideration as Hochevar, Bannister and Davies begin to become contract issues (or get worse, instead of better).

Truthfully, I like the Royals rotation of the future.   A 2011 crew of Greinke, Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Montgomery/Davies would morph into a 2012 rotation of Greinke, Montgomery, Hochevar, Crow/Duffy, Bannister/Davies and frankly, if you resign Greinke, get better from there.   That statement allows for one of the Crow-Duffy-Montgomery trio to wash out and really counts on just one of the next group of young arms to truly develop into a major league starter.

Anyway, when it comes to the two starting pitchers the Royals need, I will ‘Trust The Process’ and do so without any hint of sarcasm.

When it comes to the two bullpen arms I believe this team needs, Robinson Tejeda might have already filled one of those spots, but let’s be greedy and add two more arms anyway.   Again, I like what the system has to offer in Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy among others.   Heck, considering I am talking about your fourth and fifth best bullpen arms, I might be willing to see if Dusty Hughes can continue to develop.  

Although Dayton Moore has done a lot the last two years to test my faith that ‘you can always find a competent middle reliever’, I am still going to stick with the organization to fill these roles or a low-cost veteran arm when the time comes.

Whether it is in July or October, the Royals are going to lose Jose Guillen and gain $12 million dollars.   When they do, someone should pin Dayton Moore down and tattoo ‘Kila Kaaihue is my designated hitter for 2011′ on his hand.   It is very possible that Kila might be only a modest (if that) improvement over Guillen, but Kansas City has to finally find out.    Spending time and money to fill this spot is simply a waste, given that one of your number one picks (Eric Hosmer)will be playing first base in AA come 2011.    While Kila is not really fill one of ‘the eight’, he fills a spot so that the organization can actually focus on ‘the eight’.

Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, IS one of ‘the eight’.   Is there anyone out there that is not hoping for a mid-season promotion to AAA, followed by an early season call-up to be the everyday third baseman sometime in 2011?   In the interim, Alberto Callaspo still hits and seems to annoy me a lot less in the field at third than he did at second.   The Royals can take their time with Moustakas, but they don’t have to be deliberate about it either.  I am content to rely on Moustakas to be my impact, corner infielder.

Since we are talking about impact bats, let’s move to the outfield corner.   Do we believe in Alex Gordon here or not?  Do we have a choice?   At some point this year, the Royals will bring Gordon up to play either right or left field.   When they do so, they had better be ready to give him 2011, too.     Kansas City pretty much has to give Alex one more chance to become that impact bat because there is no other outfielder anywhere close in the system that can fill this role.  

The downside to this year and one half commitment is pretty limited in my opinion.   Not only does Guillen salary come off the books this year, Meche’s will be gone after 2011.   Sure, other players (Greinke notably) will be getting paid more, but the Royals could still have some serious spare change in the cushions to go get an established free agent outfield bat after the 2011 season if Gordon washes out.

Okay, so now I am running the risk of being a Dayton Moore apologist, as I have filled six of my eight spots with homegrown talent.   I have done so, however, without counting on every pitcher to develop or speculating on a dramatic rise through the system by Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers.   I may be optimistic, but not euphoric…I don’t think, anyway.

Let’s stay in the outfield for a moment.   As I write this, it becomes clear to me that the Royals should keep David DeJesus and pick up his option for 2011.   We know what we will get from DeJesus and it is, frankly, pretty good baseball.   Having him around in 2011 gives Mitch Maier, David Lough and Jordan Parraz a little extra time to become, well, the next David DeJesus.   Hey, there is nothing wrong with one DeJesus in an outfield – two, however, is one too many.  That takes us to player number seven in our ascension to contention, who happens to be a centerfielder.

I am intriuged by Derrick Robinson, who spent four seasons proving to us that he could not hit, only to revert to his high school batting stance and suddenly pop the ball to the tune of .302/.394/.390 so far this year in AA.  Robinson brings tremendous speed and defense to the table, but two months in a hitters’ league does not a surefire prospect make.

That said, the free agent market the next two years is not exactly ripe with possibilities.   Next year, in fact, is pretty much without any real solution.   After the 2011 season, how do you feel about a 35 year old Carlos Beltran?   What about Nate McLouth or Grady Sizemore, assuming their options don’t get picked up?  I don’t know, man, I just don’t know.

This is a position that I think you go out and try to trade for a prospect or younger player that is, basically, a better prospect than Derrick Robinson.   That takes us back to getting Gil Meche healthy and a viable tradeable commodity at the deadline in 2011.   Perhaps you could package a Brian Bannister and Alberto Callaspo to fill this spot or do you same them for….

….player number eight:  the middle infielder.  

Again, I don’t see a ready solution in the system.  Somewhere between Mike Aviles, Chris Getz (yes, I said CHRIS GETZ), Jeff Bianchi and Johnny Giavotella, you have one solid middle infielder, but I’m not sure you want to base your playoff run on having two of them up the middle.   Maybe, but maybe not.

Truthfully, there is enough potential there that the Royals don’t have to panic (you know, go out and trade for Yuniesky Betancourt or something), but they ought to be looking around.   A guy like Yunel Escobar comes to mind, although his current mental state is pushing him closer to a Betancourt-type player than a real solution-type player.

In a stream of consciousness type of writing style, I find myself wondering what type of young player a team could net if the trade package was Meche (healthy and effective, mind you), Bannister AND Callaspo?   If the Royals made that trade in mid-2011 and the return was a potential star player in centerfield then maybe they can contend with a middle infield of Aviles and Bianchi in 2012.   Or, in the alternative, maybe they could live with Robinson or Lough in center if they had a star shortstop in the making.

Is it possible the Royals are six internal players, one star acquisition and a year and one-half away from contending for a period of years?   If so, is a healthy Gil Meche the single most critical piece of the entire puzzle?  

Honestly, all six of the prospects I am counting on to fill these positions won’t come through.  I think five is more likely, which puts this team one big, good trade and one rather expensive free agent away and all that without dealing with the catching situtation.   That said, I can actually see the future and, rose colored glasses or not, it looks promising. 

I am interested to hear what some of you think about the above scenario or feel free to propose one of your own.   Also, check back for the Royals Authority Annual Mock Draft coming this weekend.

 Luke Hochevar had a second strong start yesterday for the Royals as they finally found a way to beat the Rangers.   After his first start of the year, I wrote this post and now we find ourselves wondering if Luke can string not two starts together, but three.   That’s progress, but not the topic of today’s column.

Instead, with the Royals winning eight of their last thirteen games, it raises a question that periodically gets discussed throughout the media, amongst fans and, of course, the blogosphere:  how many players away are the Royals? 

By ‘away’, I refer to being in contention for the playoffs, playing meaningful games in September and generally being in the conversation as one of the better teams in the league.   By definition, ‘away from what?’  means the 25 guys on the roster right now.  Forget about the farm system, contracts and tradability for now, and even ignore specific players.  Instead look at the current roster and think about how many and what type of players would you need to put on the roster to reach contention.  

Currently, the Royals rank first in the American League (and all of baseball actually) with a .280 team batting average, yet they are just 8th in runs scored.  Kansas City is tied for fifth in the AL in on-base percentage and also fifth in slugging.   That all adds up to be ranked 6th in OPS, although the Royals do sport the lowest walk percentage in the league.

Kansas City’s starting pitching ranks twelfth in the American League in earned run average, eleventh in WHIP, thirteenth in strikeout to walk ratio and tenth in innings pitched.   The relief corp currently ranks thirteenth in ERA, thirteenth in WHIP, twelfth in strikeout to walk ratio and a respectable (and surprising) seventh in left on base percentage.

In the field, the Royals have committed more errors than all but three teams in the American League.   They rank fifth in Revised Zone Rating, are tied for last in outs made outside of zone and eleventh in UZR/150.

So, there’s your team right now.  What does it need to become a contender?

STARTING PITCHING

Zack Greinke may not win the Cy Young this year, but he still is a legitimate number one starting pitcher, which is a pretty good place to start.  If Gil Meche was pitching like he did in 2007 and 2008, I would be tempted to make an argument that the Royals could contend with the starting five they have right now.   Sadly, Meche is not that guy anymore and I just glanced at the paragraph above that showed the Royals’ rotation near the bottom of every category.

Given that, without question the Royals need another starting pitcher – a solid number two starter type.  That’s ONE.

Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies are an okay back three of a rotation,but if the intent is to stand toe to toe with the league’s big boys, they probably need someone better than either Bannister or Davies.   While the addition of a legitimate number two starter makes this rotation competitive, to truly make a solid playoff bid, a starter to slot in towards the back of the rotation is necessary.   That’s TWO.

BULLPEN

Like the rotation, having Joakim Soria at the back of your pen to close out games is a heck of a place to start.   In front of Soria, you have to like the looks of rookie Blake Wood, but other than that I can’t say I’m in love with anyone else.   That said, how many really solid late inning relievers does a contending team need?  

Frankly, in a seven man pen, the Royals can probably fill out three more spots with guys they already have.   Of course, the spots I am filling with existing personnel are the last three spots in the pen.  That means the Royals need to add two quality relievers to team with Wood to bridge gap between the starters and Soria.   That is player numbers THREE and FOUR.

INFIELD AND DESIGNATED HITTER

I am lumping DH in with the infield because two of the Royals’ best hitters, Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler, currently play the infield and neither ever makes me feel comfortable with a glove on one hand and a ball headed towards them.   That said, both of those guys can hit and, in the case of Butler, really, really hit.   Speaking of hitting, Mike Aviles is rapidly proving that 2009 was the fluky season, not 2008 and that gives the Royals three good bats on their infield right now.

With four infield positions and designated hitter to fill, the Royals pretty obviously need two more bats.   One of those hitters needs to be a power, impact type hitter.    Butler is going to hit for average, contend for the league lead in doubles and pound out 15-20 home runs per year, but Kansas City needs someone behind him that will routinely blast 30 balls over the fence and still be a respectable on-base guy, too.   That’s player number FIVE.

The second player probably needs to be a middle infielder who is a good defender and a solid hitter.   The Royals don’t need an All-Star here, but a guy who can, say, hit like a David DeJesus but be a plus defender at one of the two premium defensive positions.    Adding that player is number SIX.

Now, you might be tempted to say the Royals need one more here and I would entertain that argument (Callaspo is the guy who does not quite fit despite his ability to hit), but adding two better players would be enough to make this team a contender.

OUTFIELD

I have to admit that I do like all three guys the Royals have in the outfield right now.   Scott Podsednik is not great, but he isn’t bad and plays hard (I’m willing to ignore the horrific pick-off yesterday).  Mitch Maier is solid and David DeJesus, who I discussed on Monday, is better than most Royals’ fans want to admit.   That said, that trio is not good enough.

There are a lot of contract issues coming up in the outfield, not to mention the return of Rick Ankiel at some point, but we are taking that out of the equation.   For right now, one of any of those guys is okay and two might be alright if they were sandwiched around a true star.  You know, Podsednik and DeJesus on either side of a healthy Carlos Beltran is probably a ‘contending team’ outfield, but Beltran is not healthy, not a Royal and guys like that just don’t come around everyday.

If we are being realistic, the Royals need a true corner outfielder with pop  and an excellent defensive centerfielder who can hold his own at the plate.   Welcome in player numbers SEVEN and EIGHT.

CATCHER

Okay, I saved catcher for last because I really didn’t know what to do here.  Hard as it is to believe, IF the Royals added the EIGHT players above, Jason Kendall probably is good enough.  Heck, I know he’s good enough to bat ninth on a team with the above additions.   

The biggest problem with this position is that outside of Joe Mauer and maybe a handful of others, every team’s catcher has warts.   Some can really field, but not hit.   Some can hit, but not field.   Some of the great blockers of wild pitches can’t throw worth a lick and some great throwers cannot call a decent game.   Even though this is something of a journey through fantasy, I can’t ignore that there are not any real solutions to great improvement across the board at the catching position.

Give me my eight players specified above and I will live with Jason Kendall and his contract.

THE SUM TOTAL

Eight players away from contention seems about right to me:  not overly pessimistic and not overly optimistic, either.  

Of those eight players, we are really looking for three pretty big time talents:  the number two starter, a corner outfielder with pop and an infielder (corner probably) with an impact bat, as well.   Those are the tough ones, obviously.

The number four starter (three would be better, but a fourth will do) is doable and, despite the Royals’ recent failings, finding two competent and steady middle relievers is not like finding the New World.    In fact, filling these three spots is probably much easier than finding the two plus defenders we need to man one middle infield position and centerfield.

TRUST THE PROCESS?

I have not said ‘trust the process’ without sarcasm in over a year, but I am doing so today.  Should we/do we?  Well, my guess is that you have already been thinking about names as you read through the above.  

Number 2 starter – Mike Montgomery

Number 4 starter – Aaron Crow

Middle reliever – Blaine Hardy (recently promoted to AAA)

Middle reliever – Louis Coleman, Greg Holland or any of a number of promising arms  in the minors

Impact bat infielder – Mike Moustakas

Power outfield bat – Alex Gordon

Centerfielder – Derrick Robinson

Middle infielder – Ahh, here’s a snag.   Is it Getz, Johnny Giavotella or an injured Jeff Bianchi?   Do you forego defense and install Kila Ka’aihue at DH or first, Moutakas at third and live with Callaspo at second?   Tough one, here.

All that said, if you trust the process or even kind of half believe, the Royals might actually be able to fill seven of those eight slots internally and do so not in eight to ten years, but in two.   We have done all that without mentioning Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers or Tim Melville, which is probably optimistic, but impressive nonetheless.

While that sounds fairly positive, we all know that the world is not going to sit still while the Royals wait for ‘their eight guys’ to develop.   Contracts will come up and injuries will happen and, let’s face it, great prospects don’t all become great players and good prospects often don’t make it at all.

On one hand, eight players away does not seem like all that many.  On the other, eight players might well seem like an eternity from contention – especially when two years from now, Zack Greinke’s contract expires.

I struggled with a topic today or, to be more exact, with picking a topic for today.

We could have discussed Dayton Moore’s announcement that he was hired ‘to rebuild the farm system’.   Sure, that is true, but my guess is David Glass was probably delighted to find out the extra $25 million per year in payroll he has paid the past two years was simply to mark time in the majors.  Basically, Moore’s words sound a lot like a struggling college coach who brings up his team’s excellent graduation rate as his team flounders along at 3-11.

We could have reviewed last night’s loss.  You know, the one where the Royals went one for ten with runners in scoring position and where we saw Yuniesky Betancourt bat with two on in the eighth with Kila Kaaihue on the bench.

I even thought of going back two years to the trades of Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez and the nasty domino effect that has resulted from those.  How different would this team look right now had those trades not taken place?   That’s actually kind of a fun exercise, but we’ll save it for another time.

No, today, let’s look forward.   While it may not be comforting to diehard fans, at least it gives us something different to think about.

We are currently less than a month away from the amateur draft, where the Royals sit with the 4th overall pick.   Bryce Harper is THE name in this draft and likely will not fall past the Nationals at number one.   Just as well in my opinion.   If Harper happened to slip to the Royals, they would basically have to break the bank to sign him.   While the investment might well pay off, I would much prefer to have Harper gone and see the Royals make a good pick at number four (with the usual $5-$6 million signing bonus) and then have money to overpay in the second, third and fourth rounds on premium talents that slip due to signability issues.

That said, what are the likely options for the Royals at number four?   In no particular order, let’s throw out some names:

  • Yasmani Grandal – This 6’2″, 210 pound switch-hitting catcher is in his third year at the University of Miami.   The Royals inquired on him when he came out of high school, but decided his bonus demand was a tad high, so the organization certainly is familiar with Grandal.   He hits with power and is an above average defender with a big arm.  If the Royals want to get Wil Myers’ bat to the majors quickly, they could draft Grandal to catch and move Myers to the outfield.
  • Manny Machado – Royals’ fans may not be in love with drafting another high school bat, but this shortstop out of Miami might be good enough to change their minds.    Manny is 6’2″ and 180 pounds and hits with natural power:  despite having done little to no weight training.  A smooth defender who can almost certainly stick at shortstop, you don’t have to be overly optimistic to project Machado into a Hanley Ramirez/Miguel Tejeda type shortstop down the road.
  • Jameson Tallion – A big righthander (6’7″ 230 lbs) out of The Woodlands High School in Texas, Tallion recently struck out 19 of 21 batters on his way to a seven inning no-hitter.   It is problematical that Tallion will even be available at number four, but he is the best high school arm in this draft.
  • Drew Pomeranz – A lefty out of Ole Miss, Pomeranz combines a mid-90′s fastball with a knuckle curve and occasional change to pile up strikeouts.   He might not be as polished as you might want from a college pitcher and hence could take a little longer to get to the majors than an Aaron Crow type player.
  • A.J. Cole – Another good high school arm with the classic ‘projectable frame’, Cole features a changeup already and a live fastball is the low to mid 90′s.    Although A.J. is 6’5″ tall, he weighs in at just 190 pounds and hence has scouts believing there is room to grow.
  • Dylan Covey - Yes, another right handed high school pitcher.   This one features a 95 mph fastball and good slider, plus a curve and change.   At 6’2″, 200 pounds, Dylan does not sport the ’projectable frame’.  However, he exhibits good, clean mechanics and might well be the pick at number four.

There are some others that could sneak up here, too, and we may detail those if things change as we get nearer to draft day, but I wanted to move onto a couple of names to watch for in the second round.   Both of these players did not sign last year and are eligible to be drafted again in 2010.   There is a very good possibility that both will be gone by the time the Royals second pick comes around, but if not, I would be all for nabbing either one.

  • LeVon Washington - The speedy outfielder was picked number 30 overall by the Rays last year, but did not sign.  He is currently playing at Chipola Junior College and has run down several fly balls in the gap that his JC coach has simply never seen anyone get to before.   Basically, anyone Tampa Bay liked enough at 30th is good enough for the Royals this year.
  • James Paxton - The lefty pitched for Kentucky in 2009 and was the Blue Jays supplemental first round pick last year.  After not signing, he was set to go back to Kentucky, but there were eligibility concerns and Paxton is going to throw with the Grand Prairie Air Hogs until the draft this year.    The Air Hogs are in the same league as the Fort Worth Cats – the past home of Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow.   If the Royals go with a position player in round one, Paxton might be a nice complement with their second pick.

What direction the Royals take with the 2010 Draft remains to be seen and there is a lot of amateur baseball to be played between now and June, so things will change.     I am torn between Grandal and Machado myself, with a hope that Washington or Paxton is still around in round two (faint hope as it is).   If the Royals believe that Grandal can move quickly through the minors, he might make the most sense as it would allow the organization to slide Wil Myers to a different position and vault upwards towards the majors.

While the above capsules are not overly detailed, they give you a rough idea of some possibilities….and something different to think about than the present situation of the Kansas City Royals.

With yesterday’s off day it feels like we’re at the midway point of the Spring Training schedule. I have no idea if this is factually correct, but I don’t really want to spend the time counting exhibition games.

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to see where some of the guys are as far as their performance. I don’t place any value in spring performances… small sample sizes and pitchers and hitters working on their approach and all that. Still, there have been some interesting developments this spring.

Let’s recap:

Stock Up: Alberto Callaspo

I’ve said it all along, any Royals lineup that doesn’t include Callaspo is a bad lineup. The Alex Gordon injury has simplified SABR Trey’s job in a manner of speaking in that it opened a position for Callaspo. A slash line of .448/.469/.586 in 29 at bats is sparkling – even if it is spring training.

Stock Way Down: Kyle Davies

There’s not a ton of competition for the back end of the rotation, but Davies is doing his level best to pitch himself out of a job. He can’t get anyone out – in his last appearance ten of the 18 batters he faced reach. That was seven hits (including four doubles) and three walks. This has become a dysfunctional relationship where It’s best that both parties go their separate ways before someone has to call the cops. Let him abuse another fan base.

Stock Up: Mitch Maier

He’s just reminding Dayton Moore that he’s younger and less expensive than the free agent retreads the Royals signed this winter. Like the Gordon injury opening the door for regular Callaspo time, the Rick Ankiel injury has presented Maier with an opportunity he wasn’t otherwise likely to have this spring. He’s responded by hitting .455/.478/.818 in 22 at bats.

I figured with the off season outfield shopping spree, Maier would be the odd man out. Now, I’m thinking Ankiel is a new version of Jose Guillen (i.e. On the downward side of a career where the injuries are going to pile up.) and will miss plenty of time this year, giving Maier some at bats.

I’m glad, because I root for Maier.

Stock Down: Josh Fields

I had hope that he could recapture his power stroke from a couple years ago, but now I’m not so sure. When you’re swinging a slow bat in spring training, that’s just not a good sign. Plus, he’s just leaving a ton of runners on base. A ton. And striking out. And not hitting for the power he was supposed to possess. He has potential to be Mike Jacobs, Version 2.0. That’s not a compliment.

Stock Up: Mike Aviles

He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but he does have seven hits in his 14 at bats. Encouraging progress for someone who wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Royals could still keep him in extended spring training to open the year, but he’s close. That’s good news because we’re going to be calling for him by mid-April after watching a couple weeks of Betancourt.

Stock Up: Aaron Crow

It’s official: I’m excited to see this kid in Kansas City.

That said, I hope the Royals do the prudent thing and keep him in the minors all year. No need to rush him, and after setting out all of last year, he needs to get some low pressure innings on his arm. Double-A is absolutely the best place for him to open the year. If he tears it up in the first half, promote him to Omaha. If he tears it up in the second half, give him a courtesy call in September.

Let’s focus on him for 2011. It will be worth the wait.

Stock Down: Rick Ankiel

I know we have a new training staff, but didn’t you have a little deja vu when he was pulled from a game on Friday, said he felt better on Saturday and was shut down for a week on Sunday? Speaking of which…

Today’s Hillmanism is on Ankiel:

He just needs to have some consistency offensively. Occasionally, you’re going to see him swing out of the zone. Hopefully, he gets his discipline tamed a little bit before we get into the season.

This gets nominated for understatement of the spring. Last year, Ankiel offered at pitches out of the strike zone over 34% of the time. Of the 252 players who accumulated over 350 plate appearances, he had the 17th worst discipline. For his career, he’s swung at 33% of all pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet against Ankiel discovering the magic of discipline.

Well, this was not exactly the best weekend in the history of the Royals, was it?

We will start with the good news from the weekend, which you can basically boil down to more good pitching. After Greinke’s outstanding start on Friday, Gil Meche pitched a healthy and effective two innings on Saturday (albeit taking 41 pitches to get through two innings). He was followed by a two inning-three strikeout performance from last year’s first round pick, Aaron Crow.

Saturday’s game also saw shutout appearances from Blake Wood, Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna and non-roster invitee Josh Rupe. We will ignore the almost total lack of offense, for now, as we have plenty of other ‘not all that positive’ news to discuss. The old baseball adage is that pitchers start out ahead of hitters, so we will just rely on that for another few games in hopes of seeing some sort of production with the bats.

Of course, it was injury news that caught all the headlines this weekend; especially since the Sunday game was rained out, taking with it a ‘B’ game that was going to be Joakim Soria’s spring debut as well as that of Willie Bloomquist (we were all waiting for that, I’m sure) and Mike Aviles.

Injury number one did not make a lot of news. To make room for newly acquired Gaby Hernandez, the Royals placed reliever Henry Barrera on the 60 day disabled list. Barrera’s 2009 was washed out with Tommy John surgery and he is still in “rehab” mode. Barrera can post seriously ridiculous strikeout numbers when he’s on and is eligible to come off the list in early June. All this really accomplished was to get Hernandez on the 40 man roster without having to drop anyone.

This weekend, we learned that prized left-handed prospect Danny Duffy is being shut down for the time being due to elbow stiffness. The Royals claim he is ‘medically sound’ and they are just being cautious. Other than being jaded by past history, I have no reason toquestion the team statement. Still, how many times have we heard a player ‘just needs a little rest’ and nextthing you know he’s under theknife?For now, we will simply have to hold our breath and hope we see Duffy ready to goin Northwest Arkansas this April.

While the seriousness of Duffy’s injury is in question, there is no doubting the injury to 2005 second round pick,Jeff Bianchi. After struggling with a back problem in his first two professional seasons andfighting some wrist issues in 2008, Bianchi finally broke out in 2009. He made the40 man roster and there was talk of him opening the season in AAA.Scratch all that: Bianchi is done for the season with reconstructive elbow surgery.

The silver lining here is that Bianchiwill likely be moved tothe 60 man disabled list any time, which opens up a40 man roster spot. While that does not help the Royals with the many players on the bubble who are out of options, it doesgive them the ability to add a non-roster player whoimpresses enough to make the 25 man roster or evensnag one last free agent at a bargain price without having to worry about dropping acurrent member of the roster. I know, I’m reaching here for something positive, but it is ‘something’.

The big news of the weekend was the broken thumb of Alex Gordon. Instead of talking about Alex getting a Saturday start at first base, we instead have this to discuss.

Gordon broke the thumb slidingheadfirst into second base (what are going to hear more on the Royals’ broadcasts this year? Broken bats or headfirst slides discussions?)and will be out three to four weeks. During that time, Alex will not be able to swing a bat or throw, so while he may be healthy in four weeks, he will not be baseball ready.

Here’s the silver lining.

I wrote just last week that Gordon may need a good spring training more than anyone else on this team in hopes of rebuilding his confidence. While missing all of spring training goes against that statement, having a couple of weeks of extended spring training and a few more on a rehab assignment in Omaha might be just the ticket. That assumes, and it is a big assumption, that the Royals don’t rush Gordon back to the majors. They have the luxury of time here and should use as much of April as possible getting Alex healthy and confident before bringing him back to the majors.

In addition, this injury gives Alberto Callaspo a regular playing spot to start the season. I fully believe that Dayton Moore made the Teahen for Getz/Fields trade fully intent on flipping Callaspo in the off-season. The offers, if there truly were any, did not meet expectations and hence the Royals have a crowded roster (not all bad, mind you).

With Callaspo playing third, presumably, to open the season, that allows the Royals do showcase him and Jose Guillen in the month of April. While it may be a longshot, it certainly cannot hurt one’s ability to move either player by having both playing everyday to start the season.

Worst case, the Royals reach the end of April with Gordon back on the roster with Callaspo and Guillen fighting for at-bats: basically right where they started off this spring. Best case, Guillen hits a little and Callaspo looks good at third base, increasing their marketability, however slightly.

Gordon going down is certainly not the best case scenario, but there are some minor benefits, too. Overall, for a non-contending team like Kansas City, this is not the worst thing that could happen. It buys them some time and flexibility in trying to improve the team.

We’re in that annual lull before pitchers and catchers report. That’s something like 13 days away. Not that we’re counting.

To pass the time, here are some random questions. Feel free to let loose in the comments. Maybe we can get some solid debate going.

– Are there any remaining free agents you would like the Royals to sign? You have to imagine anyone left at this point wouldn’t bust the budget, although some (Johnny Damon) still harbor illusions of a multi-year, many multi-million dollar deal. Other interesting names include Carlos Delgado (coming off an injury) and Jarrod Washburn (coming off a spectacular flameout for the Tigers.) Of course, the three I mentioned would still stretch the Royals budget, so maybe we have to look a little harder for some less expensive talent.

Is there anyone out there who catches your eye?

– What current Royal prospect excites you the most? I d have to go with Wil Myers but I’m extremely intrigued by Aaron Crow Hopefully, we’ll get to see him face some major league hitters early in camp.

– Will Trey Hillman make it through the season? This was one of Kaegel’s 10 questions last month and it was the only one of the 10 that was relevant.

Can you see any scenario where he get s the axe next summer? Will it be a double digit losing streak or a slow start or a 90 loss season that will doom the Royals skipper? Or is he safe and certain to return in 2011?

– What pre-season type books will you purchase? I m thinking of books like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America Prospect Handbook and of course, the Royals Authority Annual (details forthcoming!) Can’t forget magazines, too. I used to buy Bill Mazeroski s annual every spring and read it during spring break. I think I still have a bunch at my parent’s house in a box somewhere.

– With the announcement of Apple’s iPad last week, MLB.com was present to tout their MLB.tv deal and how sweet it will look on the new device. Now, when you visit the official Royals site or the MLB.com front page, you’re greeted with an invitation to buy MLB.tv for the 2010 season. I bought MLB.tv last year for the first time and was incredibly disappointed. The high def feeds dropped way too often and the condensed games were too slow in appearing once the game was over and the DVR feature was non-existent. By May, I was wishing I had paid for the Extra Innings package on Time Warner. That s how much I hated MLB.tv I was thinking I should have given more cash to Time Freaking Warner.

So now my question is, should I give MLB.tv a second chance? And if you’re going to buy a package for the full season, are you going to go with Extra Innings on cable or MLB.tv on your computer?

Time to hit the comments. Answer all, answer one or answer none. Or ask your own question.

A couple of links to pass your time:

Fan Exchange is aggregating various projections into a kind of super-projection. As an added bonus, you can make your own projections for the 2010 season and then store your numbers on the site and revisit them during the season. You can also create a group and compete with other prognosticators to see who has the clearest crystal ball.

Here are the current Royals projections for hitters. At first glance these look pretty solid.

Diamond Futures is a site dedicated to prospects that recently ranked the Royals as the 12th best system in baseball. Like other prospect sites, they rank the top prospects. However, they give hitters scores weighted by league and other factors for power, discipline and speed while pitchers are scored on dominance, stamina and control. They take all that and plug it into a system to project future success. It s an interesting system that – for you prospect hounds out there – is well worth your time.

The end result is a letter grade assigned to players. Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow received A grades, placing them in the top 1% of all minor leaguers.

– Rany has a riff on the quote from a Royals official who said everybody thought we had the greatest offseason in the history of whatever. He then proceeds to post several links of negative reaction about the Jacobs trade and the Farnsworth signing among others as proof that not everyone felt that way. However, I fear the joke is on Rany because the Royals don t have the internet.

Still, that quote is alarming on many levels.