Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Christian Colon

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

 

It took me a few days to get the rest of my notes from Spring Training written up, but things have been busy around Royals Authority headquarters lately. Here are some things that I saw on 3-26:

Edgar Osuna – His fastball was sitting 86-87, it tails somewhat into the hands of a right handed batter. He threw a very nice curveball that was 70-71 and had a changeup in the 76-77 range. He didn’t miss very many bats and the hitters were squaring him up pretty good.

Eric Hosmer – What an absolutely impressive player. Even the least experienced baseball watcher can look at him compared to his peers and see that he’s different. His body type screams power but with athleticism, and that’s pretty much what you get. I asked a few scouts what they felt about his ability to play the outfield. Some say he could do it and it’d be worth a shot for the Royals, while others don’t see it at all. Personally, I’d like to see him try and play there and prove he can’t do it. He certainly has the arm to play out there, but while he’s athletic, he can be heavy-footed and not that fast.

Regardless of where he plays defense, his bat is special. He hit a monster homerun over right-center field that bounced off of the parking lot or sidewalk outside the stadium. My brother caught video of it and I put it up on youtube. Greg Schaum of Pine Tar Press got slow motion video of the same swing. His balance and transfer of power is just picture perfect. He’s without question the guy I’d rank as the best Royals prospect in the system. People tend to lump him together with Moustakas and Myers, but at this point I think he’s got them both beat solidly.

Mike Moustakas – It’s funny to see Moustakas and Hosmer together because they have very different builds. While Hosmer looks the part of a power hitting baseball player, Moustakas is shorter and a little thicker than Hosmer. He seems to have trimmed up a bit since last year, but he’s still got the same body type.

What he lacks in athletic build, he makes up for with bat speed. The word I heard the most often when discussing his bat speed, it’s “freaky”.  He uses that bat speed to put good wood on the ball in any number of locations and speeds. He’s an amazingly talented hitter. What I’m not so sure about is his ability to stick at third base.  It may not be an issue for the first few years of his career, but if he bulks up or gains wait, his already average range could get worse. It’s not a concern today, and I think he could play a passable if not average third for the Royals on Opening Day, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Christian Colon – I hadn’t got a chance to see Christian Colon in person, so he was high on my list of targets in Spring Training. My first thoughts on seeing his build is that it’s “college shortstop” not Major League shortstop or prospect shortstop. Basically he’s kind of think for a shortstop. If you’ve seen Alcides Escobar yet, you can see what an ideal defensive shortstop would look like. He’s athletic, but thinner and looks like he can run like a gazelle. Colon doesn’t look like that. Watching him run the bases and timing some of his runs both agreed with the eye test that he isn’t a very fast runner either. So his body type doesn’t seem to be masking some athleticism. All of that to me, adds up to second baseman. People have been suggesting it, but I was uncertain until first hand experience. I’m on the second base boat now with Colon. I think it’s a good idea to keep him at SS until he absolutely has to move, but that day is coming.

Fortunately, Colon can hit the ball well. He roped a good number of the times he was at the plate while I was watching. I think his bat can play in the Majors and can do so in relatively short order. He was playing with the AAA team the entire time I was in camp, but I doubt he starts the season there. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up there. He’s not a bust as a pick, he was probably still the right call at the time.

Will Smith – He’s much bigger than I had thought and can be an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball was sitting 88-90 and he featured a sweeping curveball at 75 and a changeup in the 78-80 range. He gets guys out by pounding the strikezone and not issuing many walks.

Mario Lisson – He has a really solid build that in sort of Hosmer like but not as strong. He’s clearly out-grown shortstop and has been put on third. I didn’t see him make a whole lot of use of his body at the plate. He’s now 26 and hasn’t been able to prove he can hit well enough to move up the prospect rankings. He seems to be a case where the physical tools don’t coincide with the skills required to be a Major League baseball player.

Patrick Keating – He was throwing his fastball in the 90-92 range, which shocked Greg Schaum when I showed him the readings. He said that Keating was 96 in the past. Maybe he was working through something or just taking it easy, but that’s a significant drop in velocity that he hopefully fixes once he gets back into the season. He had a good breaking ball that he threw in around 76. He showed some frustration on the mound when one of his outfielders bobbled a ball. There’s a thin-line between being a fiery competitor and over-reacting. Getting upset during a Sprint Training exhibition game seems to be a little over the top. However, it was only one moment in one game. I don’t know the back story and I can’t make any judgments based on that. We’ve all had bad days and been frustrated, he could have just been having one of those days.

Wil Myers – One thing needs to be cleared up in regards to Wil Myers, he is absolutely 6’3″ or so.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these prospect notes. These are my first hand observations combined with direct discussions with scouts. I’m going to try and make it to some Minor League games this year to bring even more detailed information throughout the season.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Yesterday was a night game for the Minor Leaguers as they took on the Texas Rangers prospects. These games are fun, but can be difficult because there are four games going on simultaneously. I was trying to catch as many interesting prospects as I could, but I kept getting pulled to another field. Then I kept missing out on guys that I wanted to see.

Jonathan Keck (LHP) – He’s a tall lefty who was pretty impressive in the high A game. He was throwing his fastball 90-92 and touched 93. It had good movement and he also flashed a really good curveball. In another organization he might get a lot more love, particularly since he’s a lefty. In the Royals organization he’s one of the many talented lefties. Someone to keep an eye on in 2011.

Tyler Graham (RHP) – Taken in the 22nd round of last year’s draft, Graham pitched in Idaho Falls last season. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He’s a “max effort” pitcher. When he throws the ball it looks like he’s trying to choke the life out of it—it’s a violent delivery. With that kind of delivery, he’s not going to be moved out of the bullpen and he might have some injury issues. It also hurts his ability to throw a secondary pitch, because getting a feel for it and also hiding it from the hitters can be difficult.

Shin Jin-Ho ( C) – He’s been kind of a mystery man since he was signed in 2009 as a 17 year old from South Korea. Behind the plate, he looked comfortable. He’s a “flat-footed” catcher, meaning when he crouches his heels are on the ground. It’s a technique that much better scouts than myself say they prefer. He seemed to pick balls out of the dirt pretty well, but I never saw him catch with runners on so it’s difficult to see how he would do when he has to block the ball.

At the plate, he seemed a little over-matched in the Low A game as he got blown away with a high fastball. It was only one plate appearance, so I wouldn’t take much away from it. He’s still very young and very raw. He might never be worth what the Royals paid for him, but he bears watching. He spent all of last year in the Arizona League (Rookie) and might graduate to Burlington (Rookie) this year.

Johnny Giavotella (2B) – Giavotella is an interesting prospect.  Pretty much everyone who gets a chance to watch him likes what they see, but there is plenty of debate on what his ceiling is. Some say average Major Leaguer, some say below average some say possibly above average. What makes him difficult to guage is that he does lots of things well and no one-thing great. He’s kind of like David Dejesus in that way. I’ve gotten to see him as much as any prospect in the system and I’m a believer in his ability. There are some questions about his defense and whether it’s Major League or not.

Scouting position players can be difficult without watching them every single day. What I see and continue to see in Spring Training this year is a player who can and will get a shot to be a Major League player.  He has a decent bat with some occasional power and he has a decent glove that he works hard on.

Wil Myers (OF) – Myers continued to impress, but by not swinging the bat. I watched him walk three times in a Minor League Spring Training game. His pitch recognition and plate discipline are that good. It’s disappointing not to see him swing the bat when he can do it so well, but a guy who has the ability to take walks like that in that kind of game is advanced.

Brett Eibner (OF) – One of the guys I was really anxious to see, but kept missing when I went to his field. People that did get to see him said he looked really good and put some charge into the balls he got a hold of.

Christian Colon (SS) - His bat will play in the Major Leagues, questions linger over his glove and ability to stick at shortstop. I haven’t had a chance to see him field much so I can’t comment,  but I do like his bat. I think he has a really good season this year.

Episode #040 – I discuss being selected for the Royals Digital Digest and covering the FanFest next weekend.  I also discuss the age of the upcoming roster and the starting rotation.  Adam Foster of Project Prospect talks Royals prospects with me including Tim Mehlville, Wil Myers, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi and Johnny Giavotella.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Adam on Twitter @adamwfoster and check out Project Prospect

Music used in this podcast:

Steddy P. – Honesty

Steddy P. – Rap Lessons

Ween – A Tear for Eddie

How to Get the Podcast:

Click here to be taken to the site to download directly.

Subscribe via iTunes

Subscribe via Zune

Subscribe via any other feedreader.

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base and third base.

First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played shortstop and how they hit while they played the position.

Willie Bloomquist got one game at short and Mike Aviles got thirteen, but the real story of the position is Yuniesky Betancourt.  Betancourt played the position day after day and he was never put in any other spot.  The numbers that we’ll see below come almost exclusively from Yuniesky, so he’s the one guys stats above.  The case of Betancourt is extremely interesting.  His existence on the team is representative of so many different things depending on who you ask.  Some people will tell you that he represents the absolute failure of Dayton Moore at the Major League level.  Others believe he is representative of the absolute trainwreck that the shortstop position has been for the Royals.  Still others will tell you he’s one of the best players on the team and and they’ll be countered with arguments that are nearly the polar opposite.  Those discussions will rage on as long as he’s on the team, and they’ve been analyzed at this site as well.  So, let’s just try and look at the numbers without the bias of our feelings towards the Yunigma.

One thing you can say is that Betancourt was durable.  He played 151 games at a position which gets a lot of work during a season.  Sometimes I forget about the durability issue with players, and I think that as a whole we underrate it.  The ability to stay healthy, whether it’s luck, conditioning or some combination could be in my mind the 6th tool for a baseball player.  Beyond durability, Yuniesky showed decent homerun totals for a shortstop by mashing 16 bombs.  He still doesn’t get on base at a rate which is respectable, and the combination of a burst of power and his lack of getting on base translated into an average offensive shortstop.    Lets see how the Royals shorstops compared to the rest of the league.

Clearly, with 151 of 162 games Yuniesky’s numbers mirror those of the entire Royals shortstop corps.  The numbers rank right about in the middle, not spectacular but not terrible.    What’s odd are that the very stark differences in the Royals numbers with those surrounding them.  Yuniesky is an extreme hitter, which makes the extreme as well.    The Royals shortstops had the lowest strikeout rate in the AL (shocked me), and the second lowest walk rate (didn’t shock me).  That clearly translated into a low OBP (11th) and an ok batting average (8th), but the one skill which propelled the Royals to the middle of the pack was the SLG (4th).

I’d imagine even the most die-hard Yuni supporter will admit that the power he showed in 2010 was likely an aberration, and therefore unsustainable.  The Royals are on the hook for $1.62m to Yuniesky in 2011, so it’s an almost certainty that barring injury he gets nearly the same number of games in 2011 that he got in 2010.  Mike Aviles’ arm has likely fully healed from his Tommy John surgery and could pick up some more time at SS as the Royals attempt to work out the third base and second base situations.  Christian Colon was drafted in the first round in 2010 and had a solid debut in his first professional season.  He’s unlikely to be ready to play in 2011, but he could be in the mix for 2012.

I admit, there is something nice about a regular contributor at shortstop who can hit for some power and who can play every day.  I don’t believe that Yuniesky is anything more than a stop-gap and what happens in the post-Yunigma era will be a very important decision for Dayton Moore.

Comparing players is an inexact science and can all too easily lead one down the wrong path.   Both Rany and myself, among others (and I was before Rany, but who’s keeping track?) have circulated the similarities in both age and performance between Kila Ka’aihue and Travis Hafner.   

Frankly, if you want to prove a player might be good in the future, a few minutes on Baseball Reference will get you a comparable early history that will allow you to make a case that your prospect is on his way to the Hall of Fame.   Of course, the same few minutes will allow someone else to find an equally applicable comparable that will make the case that your highly regarded prospect is on his way to playing in the Can-Am League.

Last spring, I offered the Chris Getz-Brian Roberts comparison as their minor league numbers, ages and early major league careers were eerily similar.   Maybe that will still work out, but that analysis remains a damning indictment of my admittedly biased research.

Undaunted, however, I continue down the same path this morning. 

Probably no position in the Royals’ organization is as desperate for a prospect to come through than shortstop.   Ignoring the Yuni is good-Yuni is awful argument that frankly has just worn me out, the truth is that Betancourt’s track record should not be giving anyone reason to consider him being the Royals’ shortstop past next season.

With Mike Aviles apparently destined to play second or third and Jeff Bianchi beginning his comeback from arm surgery, which would seem to indicate at least a temporary move to second for part of 2011, the Royals’ future at shortstop rests squarely on the shoulders of last summer’s first round pick Christian Colon.

And that brings us back (at last) to our title.  

The similarities between Colon and Troy Tulowitzki:

  • They both played shortstop at highly regarded college programs in California.
  • They were both drafted in high in the first round (Colon 4th & Tulo 7th).
  • At the time, both were considered the ‘most major league ready’ of their draft class.
  • Both started their professional careers in High A ball.

At age 20 back in 2005, Tulowitzki played in 22 games for the Rockies’ affiliate in Modesto.   He hit .266/.343/.457/.800 with 6 doubles and 4 home runs in 105 plate appearances.    Troy struck out 18 times, walked nine and committed 5 errors.

By contrast, at age 21, Colon hit .278/.326/.380/.708 in 60 games for Wilmington last season.   He hit 12 doubles, 2 triples and 3 home runs.   Christian struck out 33 times, walked 13 and committed 17 errors.

While the strikeouts, walks and error rates are really pretty similar between the two, Tulowitzki posted better all around offensive numbers than Colon in their first professional seasons.   At least when you look at the raw numbers.

That 2005 Modesto team hit .281/.355/.445/.800 as a team and the California League as a whole hit .286/.357/.452/.809 that season.   Basically, Tulowitzki posted offensive numbers right in line with what his team and the league did.

The 2010 Wilmington team hit .262/.319/.387/.707 and the Carolina League as a whole hit .260/.330/.388/.718 last season.   Basically, Colon posted offensive numbers right in line with what his team and the league did.

Following his rookie campaign, Tulowitzki moved up to AA Tulsa and hit .291/.370/.473/.843 in 104 games, slugging 34 doubles and 13 home runs.   It is also noteworthy that Troy committed TWENTY-FIVE errors that year.   

Tulowitzki also got into 25 games in the majors that season, not really showing much at the plate.   Still, he opened 2007 as the Rockies’ starting shortstop and played in 155 games.   He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .291/.359/.479/.838 line.    Tulowitzki suffered through an injury plagued 2008, but has been basically great in the two years since.

Can we expect Christian Colon to have a similar career path?   That’s asking a lot and, as I started column with, my guess is many of you can find a player with Colon’s first year stats that was never heard from again.  

Still, while a lot of us viewed Colon’s rookie season as something of a disappointment, it was really no worse – relative to his league – than that of Tulowitzki.     Like Troy, Christian will move to the Texas League for his second pro season and maybe, just maybe, he too will blossom offensively.

The Royals will never admit it, but deep down they drafted Christian Colon with the idea he would be the club’s 2012 shortstop.   Can he make it in the majors?   Can he make to the majors that quickly?  Can he stick at shortstop? 

All relevant questions that the Royals may need to have answered ‘yes’ more than any other set of questions within the organization.