Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Danny Duffy

Another start, another rough night for Danny Duffy.

Let’s start with the positive… Duffy is doing an exceptional job of changing speeds. On Wednesday, his four-seam fastball was averaging about 94 mph, his change was about 82 mph and his curve was clocked at 78 mph. From Brooks Baseball, here’s his velocity chart for the entire four innings he was in the game:

Unfortunately, from that chart, we can easily pick out a negative. While Duffy is able to keep his fastball in the mid 90s range, one thing he hasn’t been able to do is pace himself so he can maintain the velocity throughout his start. The dip in fastball speed becomes noticeable about 20 pitches into the game. Or in this case, at the end of the first inning. The big dip coincides with the start of the fourth inning. Basically, Duffy was gassed after three innings, which was just 58 pitches. And we know how the fourth inning unfolded… Single, four pitch walk and home run.

The Blue Jays are a good offensive team. They have two things that match-up well against all Royals pitchers: patience and power. One thing that jumps out about last night is that of the 96 pitches Duffy threw, only three times was he able to get a swing and a miss. That’s way, way too low for someone like Duffy, who is supposed to be a strikeout pitcher.

Of course, this leads into his struggle with command. Seriously, it’s not supposed to be this way. Through his first five starts, Duffy has a 1.06 SO/BB ratio. He’s struck out 18 batters and walked 17 (including four last night) in just 24 innings. That works out to a 6.7 SO/9 and a 6.3 BB/9. I don’t think anyone expected this. It’s truly disturbing. In Triple-A this year prior to his recall, Duffy had a 2.5 BB/9 and 10.8 SO/9. Obviously, you would expect those numbers to change just a bit as you progress and land in the majors, but the Duffy that has been struggling with command at the major league level has never… never had this kind of problem.

The question is, why? Why is he suddenly struggling with his command? Or nibbling as he puts it. Is he intimidated by big league hitters? Or has Bob McClure done something with his mechanics that has led him to lose his location? Somebody needs to figure this out.

Another issue with Duffy has been his delivery from the stretch. And since he’s walking a ton of hitters, he’s pitching from the stretch quite often. It started in his debut against the Rangers when he allowed 10 batters to reach first and four of them stole second. Including Mike Napoli. Overall, nine batters have attempted to steal against Duffy and eight of them have been successful. That’s not good. However, to Duffy’s credit, he’s improved his managing the running game. Sort of. Last night, he able to pick off two base runners and he also picked off a runner in his previous start. While those may be positives, runners are still taking advantage of his super slow delivery to home out of the stretch. Last night while I was watching the game, I found myself wondering why the Royals didn’t work with Duffy on a slide step in the low minors… You know, when there was time for him to get comfortable with it before he started facing major league batters.

Add it all together with the poor command and the trouble holding runners on base and it’s not difficult to understand why Duffy has been so underwhelming in his five starts.

We discussed the super-two possibilities when he was recalled and how easy it would be for the Royals to send him back to the minors if he struggled. With his numbers and performance, it would be easy for them to ship Duffy to Omaha for a couple of starts, which would then essentially buy the Royals an extra year of cost control. As simple as that sounds, we have to remember Vin Mazarro and Sean O’Sullivan are getting starts. So is Felipe Paulino and Nate Adcock. This is a paper thin pitching rotation.

Duffy will have to stick around a little bit longer. Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies both made rehab starts last night for Northwest Arkansas, so they are a week or so from rejoining the team. The right move when they are ready to be activated would be to replace Duffy. Yes, I’m advocating putting Davies in the rotation ahead of Duffy. That’s simply because one pitcher represents the future while the other represents… A void. The Royals need to make sure Duffy finds his command and finds his confidence. I’m not giving up on Duffy… Not in the least. But the best place for him to work on his issues is Omaha. And with the potential super-two issue, moving him to the farm is a win-win situation.

Episode #054 – In which I discuss the potential fallout from the Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer call ups and when we may potentially see Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery in Royal blue. I also discuss my failed trip to Northwest Arkansas to see the Naturals and ruminate on what if any value there is in having a blogger in the press box. All of that, plus a review of the series with the St. Louis Cardinals and a preview of the series with the Baltimore Orioles.

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Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?

2011 was supposed to be a relatively easy year for Ned Yost and Dayton Moore.  The minor league system was loaded with talent and the major league team opened the year with exactly zero expectation for success.   All they had to do this summer was ride out the losing, the national satire that might occasionally pop up, and let their prospects gradually feed into the majors.   Next year the Royals would be better and in 2013, they would contend.

Then something rather unsettling happened:   the 2011 Royals started winning.

Sure, 18-16 is not exactly ‘stop the presses’ type winning, but in a division where the White Sox are imploding, the Twins are hobbled, the Tigers look very average and the Cleveland Indians, of all teams, have led all season, that record is enough to get fans and front office alike interested in this year.

In some respects, Moore went into 2011 with some inkling that this team might be better than people thought.   How else do you explain moving one of the organization’s top pitching prospects and former first round pick Aaron Crow from minor league starter to major league reliever?   If one did not believe your team had a chance, why carry a pinch runner extraordinaire in Jarrod Dyson on the major league roster?  Those are roster moves that contending teams make to put them over the top, not developmental moves to make your 2013 team better.

Now, with Lorenzo Cain playing centerfield in Omaha and Derrick Robinson doing the same in Northwest Arkansas, you can make the argument that the major league roster was as good a place to stash Jarrod Dyson (who most people generally believe will never hit major league pitching with any reasonable success) as any.   You can also make the argument that putting Crow into the major league bullpen, while not a particularly conventional way of developing young pitchers anymore, is simply a different way to move him along.  

I think, however, that Dayton Moore had a thought that IF the starting rotation could be just good enough and IF the rookies in the bullpen could be very good and IF Alex Gordon came around and IF and IF and IF….   Well, then, maybe this year’s Royals could be, if not contenders, decent.   A team seldom goes from bad to good without being decent in between.   If Crow and Dyson could help Kansas City get to ‘decent’ sooner, then so be it.

Of course, then the American League Central happened all over itself.   No one, including the Indians themselves, believe that Cleveland is going to run away and hide and the teams that were supposed to be good have us all wondering why we thought they were going to be good in the first place.   Truly, any team that thinks it can get to 85 or 86 wins has to believe that will put them in the thick of a September pennant race.

Is it realistic that the Kansas City Royals could get ten games over .500?   I don’t know, but I cannot fault the effort to try THIS year.

Damn Super Two, boys, full speed ahead!

As Craig pointed out last week, the Royals could have avoided a year of arbitration with Eric Hosmer had they waited three weeks to call him up.  The consequences of starting the arbitration clock (different from the free agent clock, by the way) could well end up costing the Royals a total of $10 million between end of the 2013 season through 2017.    Not chump change by any means, but not the type of money that should force Kansas City into organizational paralysis either.

You can take the organization’s line that ‘Hosmer was just ready to move up’ however you want, but no one believes that if Kila Ka’aihue was hitting .300 and/or the Royals were ten games under .500 that this move would have been made last Thursday night.    The call for Hosmer was made, quite simply, because the Royals are in contention right now and might not be there three weeks from now.

Even with the addition of Hosmer, the Royals will have a difficult time navigating their way through the May schedule.   Should they falter and find themselves 10 games out and buried below the .500 mark on May 31st, then this early call-up will quite certainly be a costly misstep.

What if Eric Hosmer ‘is who we thought he was’?  What if the Royals hit May 31st and are still three, four or even five games over .500?   Surely the Indians will not continue to play .667 ball through the month and hopefully the Tigers don’t catch fire.   More ‘ifs’ I know, but what if?   At that point, calling up Hosmer might well be money well spent.

It is a gamble to be sure – a $10 million gamble actually – but I give Moore credit for not being afraid to make the call.  At our Royals Authority gathering this spring at The Well, I wondered if Moore might be hesitant to call up his prize prospects for fear of failure (see Escobar, Alcides circa 2010) and this tells me that he is not.   It also tells me that Dayton Moore, like all of us, is tired of ’waiting for next year’.

The logicial question, of course, is what’s next?   Wait – that’s what.

One player becoming a ‘Super Two’ is livable, two or three is a problem.   For that reason alone, the Royals likely will not make a move to bolster the starting rotation until month’s end.   Yes, Kansas City starters gave up six runs in 22 plus innings this weekend, but Oakland is a bad, bad offensive team.   While the performances of O’Sullivan, Hochevar and Francis were encouraging, they need to be tempered with the A’s ineptitude in mind.

Everyone, including my 3 year old son, knows that Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery are next in line to get the big league call.  Duffy who has 41 strikeouts and 7 walks over his first 32 innings is likely number one on the list, with Montgomery close behind once he masters enough control of his secondary pitches not to walk 19 batters in 33 innings.   Right now, either one is likely better than Kyle Davies.

If the Royals reach the 1st of June within in hailing distance of first place, you can pretty much count on Duffy getting the call.    Unless innings become a major concern (and they might well be), Montgomery probably won’t be far behind his Omaha teammate.

That is kind of the rub of this whole ‘contention equation’:  teams in contention generally don’t get younger to compete, but that is exactly what the Royals would likely do.    With Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, Mike Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella all in Omaha as well, one could make the case that a 51-45 Royals team could replace veterans with rookies (or near rookies in the case of Cain) in the heat of a pennant race and actually become more potent.

There is something to be said for bringing up young players to play in games that matter as opposed to have them slipping into the lineup late in the year on a team that is 52-70.  Even if the acceleration of The Process ends up with Kansas City falling out of contention as August turns to September, the experience gained by Hosmer, Duffy and a couple of others will be invaluable.

Now, this could all blow up in the Royals’ face.    Hosmer could struggle mightily, Duffy could replace Davies and look a lot like Kyle Davies, Montgomery might never get his walks under control and Ned Yost might continue to bat Chris Getz lead-off 70% of the time.   By mid-June you might well send me a ‘you were an idiot back in May’ comment and I might not have much of a defense.

If the question is do you try to contend in 2011 or 2012, then my answer is you contend when you have a chance.   Maybe it is just May 9th and maybe this team is just two games over .500 one-fifth of the way through the regular season, but that is closer to contention than the 2012 team might be at the same point in time.

Eric Hosmer was ready for the show and, it turns out, for better or worse, Dayton Moore was ready to make run now, not next year. 

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

Saturday night, Bob Dutton provided us with some tremendous insight into the Royals’ bullpen competition.  What makes Dutton solid, in my opinion, is his ability to dance along the company line while also providing true glimpses of what the organization is actually thinking.  In this case, for those of us love the art of roster construction, this article gives us a number of interesting observations.

First off, for those of you out there that agonize over having a lefty or two, you will be delighted to once more hear confirmation that Ned Yost prefers to have two lefthanders in his bullpen.   I have always opted for a good righthander over an average lefthander (although a great lefty is always preferable), but in this case the Royals appear to have the luxury of at least one southpaw who is also likely to be an effective member of the pen:  Tim Collins.

After Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda (both locks according to The Star’s article, by the way), Collins was the next name on most everyone’s bullpen projections over the winter.   Nothing has happened this spring to change any of that and, despite not currently in ownership of a 40 man roster spot, Tim Collins is now closest thing to a lock in this competition.

Although some commenters here have speculated at various times that Danny Duffy or Blaine Hardy might make the team out of spring training, I have always thought the field was too contested and both too inexperienced to actually get a spot.   That, however, was before the zest for a second lefthander became so prevalent. 

If Dutton’s comments are true insights into the soul of the Royals’ organization then this tidbit is rather telling: “The other lefty spot, assuming there is one, shapes up as a battle between Danny Duffy and Blaine Hardy unless the Royals choose to push one of their highly regarding starting prospects into the mix. 

Given that I always counted Duffy as one of those ‘highly regarding starting prospects’, I found that statement rather interesting.   Is that a sign that the Royals view Duffy as less of a prospect than Montgomery, Lamb and Dwyer?   Did his sabbatical from baseball last spring change the team’s perspective of him?   Or, is it truly just a way to get Duffy on a different experience level from the other three?

That last question is what Dutton suggests and is also something I have been advocating since last fall (and it wasn’t exactly rocket science then!).    While the modern philosophy of baseball has moved away from having young starters begin their major league careers as relievers, it seems a good way to get Duffy experience ahead of some of the other prospects and also not expose him to a ton of innings.   Remember, Duffy only saw action in 62 regular season innings last year:   having him get 80 or 90 big league innings in 2011 might be preferable to 140 in the minors.

In the end, it is not cut and dried that the Royals will actually break camp with two lefty relievers and it is very possible that Blaine Hardy will be the second as opposed to Duffy.   If we go with Yost for now, however, then that leaves room for three righthanders behind Soria and Tejeda.   By all accounts, Jeremy Jeffress has a solid hold on the first of those spots, which is fine by most anyone who cares about the final few spots in the bullpen of a team that will not contend in 2011.

Right now, the top three contenders for the final two spots are apparently Greg Holland, Kanekoa Texiera and Louis Coleman.   The interesting thing about that list is who is not on it:  Blake Wood.   

After appearing in 51 games for Kansas City last season and finishing strong (18 strikeouts in his last 18 innings), I figured Wood to be a lock to open 2011 in the big league pen.    As it turns out, Wood’s inability to control the running game is so poor that it could actually keep him off the big league roster.   After some major rework at the big league level last year, Wood allowed just three steals in four attempts in August and September – down from six in seven attempts in the month of July.     If you put stock in the organization’s opinion, that improvement may well have been statistical only.   This is one we will definitely have to defer to the ‘baseball men’.   I think we will see a lot of Wood in 2011, but probably not in April.

The idea that both Holland and Coleman might break camp with the Royals delights me.   Both were college draftees picked with the idea that both would be relievers and both would move quickly through the system.   There is nothing better than when a plan, or a process, works out.  

Holland didn’t really impress anyone in a brief trial late last season, but he has a history of initial struggles at each level followed by a long stretch of effectiveness.    The guy has 243 strikeouts in 229 minor league innings and could be a valuable middle to late inning reliever if he can harness his control.   If anything, it appears Holland might have been throwing ‘too hard’ last year and has been much more accurate this spring.

Coleman has simply gotten people out at every level in his quite brief professional career and has continued to do so this spring.   Getting back to my ‘spread the experience out’ theory, I am all for breaking camp with a handful of rookies in the pen so that when the young starters begin to surface they have a quasi-veteran pen behind them.

The Royals like Texiera more than anyone else in baseball.   To be fair, Kanekoa pitched a fair part of last season hurt, but as a minor league nerd and a Process believer the likes of him, Jesse Chavez and Luis Mendoza getting mentioned as possible relievers seems a little too much like buying retread tires.   Given that both Texiera and Mendoza have been very good this spring, they might well make the team.   Perhaps, as Ned Yost observed, Mendoza will be this year’s ‘Chen’, but I will be surprised to see either make it through June.

As one who has published a monthly update on the projected 25 man roster since last November, Dutton’s article scrambled my thoughts on the bullpen considerably.   As an unabashed, borderline over the edge Royals’ follower, the idea of breaking camp with a bullpen that includes Collins, Duffy, Holland, Jeffress and Coleman is actually quite exciting.   It will be interesting to see if the Royals are as excited about that idea as I am.

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.

With the football season in full swing and the baseball playoffs being Royals-free for the 25th consecutive season, it can be easy to stop paying attention to things involving the team.  However, there is still baseball being played by players in the Royals Minor League system.  There are at least 9 players I know of playing for various teams in the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament, including 6 for Team USA and tonight is the season opening games in the Arizona Fall League.  With the AFL opening I thought I’d discuss each of the prospects the Royals have sent.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Arizona Fall League here is a primer.  The AFL consists of 6 teams with 30 players on their rosters.  Each MLB team sends 6 players to an individual team, and can send along so called “taxi-squad” members who only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The league is mostly for advanced and high-quality prospects to work on their skills against other high quality prospects.  A team can send up to two players from below Double-A ball.  The games are usually sparsely attended, but those in attendance are primarily scouts and executives who get a chance to see a bunch of top prospects at one time.  The games are played at various stadiums used for Spring Training, including the Royals spring home in Surprise.  The Royals will all be playing for the Surprise Rafters.

Royals Playing In The Arizona Fall League

Danny Duffy (LHP)

Just before the beginning of this season, Danny Duffy told the Royals he was leaving baseball.   The Royals were understanding of his situation, let him take his leave and told him he had a place if he decided to come back.  Luckily for the organization he did come come back and put up some eye-popping numbers.

Team Level ERA GS IP H BB SO H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
Idaho Falls Rookie 1.50 2 6 4 0 6 6 0 9
Burlington Rookie 3.38 2 2.2 2 1 4 6.8 3.4 13.5 4
Wilmington A+ 2.57 3 14 8 7 18 5.1 4.5 11.6 2.57
NW Ark AA 2.95 7 39.2 38 9 41 8.6 2 9.3 4.56
Total 2.74 14 62.1 52 17 69 7.5 2.5 10 4.06

He didn’t take very long to become re-accustomed to pitching.  He moved quickly through levels and ended up at Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he was a key member of the Texas League Champions.  He currently is part of Team USA playing in the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament where he started one game, went five innings, gave up four hits, struck out one and allowed one earned run.

Patrick Keating (RHP)

Keating was taken in the 20th round of the 2009 draft.  He has been a reliever for the two seasons he has been with the Royals and has 24 saves over those seasons.  He was an under the radar signing, but was a highly though of High School prospect before having a slightly disappointing college career. I’ll be interested to see if Keating can continue is phenomenal strikeout rate against the AFL competition.

Team Level ERA GF IP H BB SO H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
Wilmington A+ 1.19 6 30.1 18 10 41 5.3 3 12.2 4.1
NW Ark AA 3.10 20 40.2 33 19 60 7.3 4.2 13.3 3.16
Total 2.28 26 71 51 29 101 6.5 3.7 12.8 3.48

Mike Montgomery (LHP)

Montgomery had some injury issues which limited his games to only 20 this season, however that didn’t stop Baseball America from ranking him as the #3 prospect in the Texas League, below only Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.  One of the nice things about the AFL is it allows pitchers who didn’t get enough work during the regular season, whether due to signing late or injury, a chance to get some work in.

Team Level ERA GS IP H BB SO H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
AZ Royals Rookie 1.04 3 8.2 6 1 7 0 1 7.3 7
Wilmington A+ 1.09 4 24.2 14 4 33 0 1.5 12 8.25
NW Ark AA 3.47 13 59.2 56 26 48 0.6 3.9 7.2 1.85
Total 2.61 20 93 76 31 88 0.4 3 8.5 2.84

Brandon Sisk (LHP)

I got to see Brandon Sisk pitch for Northwest Arkansas this season.  I was extremely impressed.  He was throwing mid 90′s with low 80′s off-speed stuff.  He seems to go on a run of dominating hitters, then gives up a few runs.  The Royals seem to have been drafting and developing bullpen arms more than they have in the past and Sisk is one of those guys.  I’ll be looking for consistency during the AFL season out of Sisk.

Team Level ERA GF IP H BB SO H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
NW Ark AA 4.46 25 68.2 73 28 63 9.6 3.7 8.3 2.25

Salvador Perez (C)

If you listened to my podcast with Greg Schaum, he predicted Salvador Perez to be a breakout player in 2011.  He is a young catcher with a lot of promise.  How he plays in the AFL will be one of the things I’ll be watching very closely.  He is still quite young, and has a lot of time to develop into a top prospect for the organization.

Team Level G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG
Wilmington A+ 99 396 106 21 1 7 1 .290 .322 .411

Johnny Giavotella (2B)

Giavotella intrigues me more than any other player in the system. I think he will absolutely get a shot in the Big Leagues at some point, but will he be a cup of coffee guy, a steady backup, an everyday player or something better?  Opinions vary on his true ceiling, but everyone gives him high marks on his makeup.  He hit pretty well this season, but I hear his defense still needs work.  The fact he is on the AFL roster, gives some indication that the Royals think pretty highly of him.

Team Level G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG
NW Ark AA 134 597 168 35 5 9 13 .322 .395 .460

Eric Hosmer (1B)

This is probably a name you’ve heard of before.  He’s one of the top prospects in the Royals system, is a part of Team USA, was in the futures game and is my personal top position prospect.  He had a breakout year and will be taking his talents to Surprise to help bring the Rafters a championship.  I am still a little shocked he isn’t able to play a corner outfield spot, so I’ll be watching his defense at first base pretty close.

Team Level G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG
Wilmington A+ 87 375 115 29 6 7 11 .354 .429 .545
NW Ark AA 50 211 61 14 3 13 3 .313 .365 .615
Totals 137 586 176 43 9 20 14 .338 .406 .571

Derrick Robinson (CF)

Speed, speed and more speed.  That’s the report on Derrick Robinson, however after a change in his stance, his bat has become a much better tool than in the past.  He hit a respectable .286 in the Texas League against quality pitching.  His high OBP of .345 shows his patience, and 50 stolen bases shows his speed.  I’ll be watching to see if he can continue to progress as a hitter in the AFL.

Team Level G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG
NW Ark AA 127 570 146 26 8 2 50 .286 .345 .380

If you would like to get an email most days with the boxscores for the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament, the Arizona Fall League and the entire Royals Organization in the 2011 season, just drop me an email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.  I’m also attempting to make a trip to the AFL to see some of these prospects in person, if you’ve been, I’d love to hear your tips and recommendations.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook.

Congratulations to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on winning the Texas League Championship.   The Naturals won with a roster full of intriguing prospects, not the least of which were a trio of young arms with upsides through the roof.

Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and John Lamb might be the best the trio of prospects to come through the Royals system at roughly the same time since Saberhagen, Gubicza and Jackson vaulted to the majors and helped the Royals win their one and only World Series.  

The excitement and anticipation surrounding those three arms (among others – Will Smith for example) certainly has to be tempered by the knowledge that developing major league starting pitchers out of minor league prospects is one of the most problematic equations in all of sports.   The Royals have had enough of  their share of mismanagement, injuries and just plain bad luck in the past to make many long time fans (including this writer) utter a phrase like this:  “Well, if just one of them develops into a reliable front-line starting pitcher I will be happy.”

While that skepticism is well founded, for any organization, but especially for Kansas City, sometimes all your prospects do develop.   Case in point, the Oakland A’s of ten years past.

Oakland got competitive in no small part because of its trio of dominant arms:  Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.   They were drafted in three successive years and before any of them had reached age twenty-five, those three pitchers formed probably the best front three starters of any rotation in the league.

Hudson was drafted in the summer of 1997 in the sixth round.   He debuted in the majors two summers later, starting 21 games in 1999 and posting a 3.23 earned run average at age twenty-three.   Hudson won 20 games the next season and has never looked back.

Mulder was drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft and two years later started 27 games in the majors.   While the 22 year old Mulder managed just a 5.44 ERA in that 2000 campaign, he won 21 games the very next season.   While Mark’s career was derailed by injuries six seasons later, he was a force for the A’s.

Zito was drafted in 1999 (Round 1) and at age 22 was already in the majors to start 14 games in 2000 (2.72 ERA).   He went 17-8 with a 3.49 ERA in 2001 as he went on to start 208 games for Oakland.   Say what you want about his huge contract and move to San Francisco, but Zito had a tremendous run with the A’s.

Fast forward to the Royals’ hopeful big three.   The big difference is that Montgomery, Duffy and Lamb were all drafted out of high school, which obviously extends the time they will spend in the minors versus Oakland’s trio.   In addition, Lamb lost his first summer after being drafted due to injuries suffered in a high school car accident, while Montgomery battled some injuries this past summer.   Of course, we are all aware of Duffy’s sabbatical from baseball at the start of this season.  In the case of Montgomery and Duffy, that basically set their timetable to making the majors back one full season.  

My guess is the Royals, prior to the season, were thinking they might see Duffy, their 3rd round pick in 2007, in Kansas City this September.   However, after taking time away from the game, Danny pitched only 62 regular season innings in 2010.    He will likely start next year back in AA with a mid-season promotion to Omaha in mind.    Given his low inning count, it is probably unreasonable/unwise to pile more innings on Duffy next September.

Innings issues aside, Duffy has been pretty dominant at each and every level in the minors and I do not think it is a stretch to see him continuing the trend.   Danny could delay his major league debut until April 2012 and would still be just 23 years old that entire season.

Mike Montgomery, a sandwich pick in 2008, was on a rocket pace through the minors and was the organization’s number one prospect prior to losing chunks of his 2010 summer to minor injuries.   Like Duffy, he has an innings issue in 2011 as he threw just 93 this summer and that may put Mike on the exact same timeline as Duffy.

While some might debate that Duffy ‘has been dominant’ in the minors, I don’t think anyone can debate that statement when it comes to Montgomery and he is still very young.   Should Montgomery make the major league roster in 2012, he will do so as a 22 year old.

The Royals 5th round pick in 2008 was John Lamb.   As mentioned above, John did not pitch that summer as he recovered from a car wreck.    In just his second professional season, Lamb pitched at both A levels and then finished up in AA this summer.   Both the Midwest League and the Carolina League were no match for Lamb, who struck out 133 batters in 114 innings in those two levels combined.

John’s first four starts in AA were a little rocky – keep in mind he had just turned 20 in July of this year – but over his last three regular season starts for the Naturals, Lamb threw 16 innings, allowed just 8 hits, 5 runs, walked only 2 and struck out 17.

Here is the funny thing about prospect development:  with 147 innings logged in 2010, Lamb might the first of these three to make it to Kansas City.    He might well do so late next season, where he would be pitching as a 21 year old.

Could Montgomery-Lamb-Duffy be the next Hudson-Mulder-Zito?   History has taught us that the odds are probably against all three getting to the majors and being great once they get there.   Still, history has also taught us that it can happen and it appears that the current Royals’ trio has a decent chance of getting it done.

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?