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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged John Lamb

The Royals possess the worst record in the American League, but they at least seem better than some of Kansas City teams of the near past.   This group fields better, runs better and pretty much hits better than probably any Royals’ team of the past eight or ten years.   Despite being dinged for two losses over the weekend and a less than perfect Joakim Soria, the team’s bullpen is viewed as a strength right now and likely to become even better.   Alas, as we all are well aware, there exists a big, gaping, borderline hideous void on this team called the starting rotation. 

Nine different pitchers have started games for the Royals and they have combined for an American League worst 5.13 ERA, more than a half run worse than the next worst starting rotation (Toronto, by the way).   They have struck out just 214 batters, 52 less than the next lowest total compiled by Baltimore and opposing hitters have hit .290 against KC starters, 14 points higher than against any other team.

As bad as the rotation has been, Royals’ fans have been able to comfort themselves with the thought that help was on its way.  After all, Kansas City began the season in possession of baseball’s best farm system:  an analysis whose foundation was largely based on the talent and number of good, young arms in the system.

Nearing the halfway point of the season, things have not exactly gone as planned when it comes to many of the young starters and left many of us wondering if help is truly on the way.  

Here to Help Now – Danny Duffy

There is an ever growing possibility that Duffy might be sent back to Omaha to make room for the apparently inevitable return of Kyle Davies to his birthright:  a spot in the Royals’ rotation.   While more Davies is hardly a good thing, sending Duffy back to AAA is not the end of the world, either.

Having thrown just 62 regular season innings in 2010, Duffy is likely to run into a major inning’s crunch as the season progresses.   Between Omaha and KC thus far he has already thrown 70 innings and one would think the Royals really cannot feel comfortable pushing the 22 year lefty much beyond 120 innings total in 2011.

No matter where Duffy gets his work, he has gotten a taste of major league action.   While you might wonder if, given what we have seen out of Danny thus far, actually qualifies as ‘help’, you might be interested to see what a few other pitchers did in their first seven major league starts:

  IP HITS RUNS BB SO ERA
DUFFY 34 39 19 22 29 5.03
SABATHIA 37.1 34 16 15 21 3.86
LATOS 37.1 34 20 16 29 4.82
HAMELS 37.2 37 23 20 35 5.50
HAREN 38 42 17 13 27 4.03
KERSHAW 33 33 16 22 29 4.36

At minimum, Duffy has gotten 34 innings closer to hopefully translating his minor league numbers into major league success.   The stuff is undeniable – it seems like Duffy gets two strikes on virtually everyone (one in five hitters have fallen behind him 0-2) – but has yet to translate that into consistent success.  

I think he will, probably sooner rather than later, and will likely take a spot firmly in the middle of the starting rotation, maybe even as a number two starter, for good to start the 2012 season.   Given the experience gained already and surely to be gained in some measure with additional major league starts this year (be it now or August), Duffy should be ready to pitch contending baseball.

With a Little Hope in Late 2011 – Mike Montgomery

Prior to the start of this season, the debate was not whether Mike Montgomery was going to make it, but whether he would be an ace or the team’s number two starter behind John Lamb.   Fast forward a few months and Lamb is having Tommy John surgery while Montgomery has allowed 51 runs in 78 innings, uncorked 10 wild pitches, hit 4 batters and walked 46 more.   In his last 51 innings, Mike has been tagged for 43 runs and 8 homers.

Certainly those numbers are discouraging, particularly since they seem to be getting worse not better.   However, after being completely lit on fire two nights ago, Greg Schaum tweeted that Montgomery was ‘working on some things’ and would be back to form in a couple of starts.   That is not an exact quote as I’m simply too lazy to scroll back and look, but it captures the essence of Schaum’s tweet and I have no reason to doubt that it has a factual foundation.   Truth is, I am going to put a  lot of stock in Schaum’s 140 characters simply because I don’t want to think about a 2012 rotation that doesn’t include Montgomery very early on.

Not lost in the Montgomery equation is the fact that the new ballpark in Omaha would seem to be shaping up as a hitter’s park and the league itself is a hitter’s league.   Time will tell when it comes to Werner Park, but simply by where it sits (I live 50 miles from Omaha) any Nebraskan will tell you the ball is going to jump out of there most nights of the summer.

All that said, even if Montgomery rights the ship, he will also run into an innings crunch having pitched just 93 frames in 2010.   Already at 78.2 for this season, one would logically assume that Mike probably does not have much more than another 70 or 80 innings left before it becomes less than prudent to have him log any more time on the mound.    That is just enough time to get things going in AAA and get Montgomery’s own seven or eight ‘first’ major league starts out of the way and make him a member of the 2012 rotation from day one.

Not shown on the Duffy chart above are guys like Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke who all hit the major leagues and were effective and often dominant from start number one.   The Royals could use something like that out of Mike Montgomery.   Frankly, the Royals have endured enough bad karma to have exactly that happen.

The Void That Is 2012

Okay, we have been optimistic with Duffy and Montgomery by projecting both to be legitimate major league starters by the end of 2011; here comes a dose of pessimism.

2012 was supposed to be the year that John Lamb would burst on the scene and challenge to be the ace of the Royals’ rotation.   Down with Tommy John surgery, that will not happen next year and likely we won’t be looking for Lamb until sometime in 2013.    He may still become the ace of the staff, it just won’t be next year or the year after that.

With Lamb down, the Northwest Arkansas rotation is led by Chris Dwyer (5.76 ERA), Will Smith (4.71 ERA, 94 hits in 71 innings) and Edgar Osuna (6.88 ERA).  Welcome to the world of pitching prospects, where a Top 100 prospect like Dwyer puts up Kyle Daveish numbers.

The upside on Dwyer is that he still is allowing less than one hit per inning and is still striking out close to a batter per frame as well.   His walk rate is up, like seemingly every other prospect in the organization, and Chris has buried 9 wild pitches in 66 innings of work.    Over his last two starts (11.1 innings), Dwyer has struck out 12 and allowed just one run.

Will Smith’s strikeout rate has dropped as he moves to higher levels in the minors while his hit rate has increased.   That doesn’t bode well for anyone.  Osuna, last year’s Rule 5 pick, had a nice 2010 campaign in AA and an atrocious time in AAA.   This year, Edgar has recreated his dismal AAA performance, only at the AA level.

If one is realistically looking for minor league help in 2012, your best bet is Dwyer, but more likely later in the season than early on.    Even that, that is taking an incredibly optimistic and likely unrealistic approach that three of the Royals’ top four pitching prospects actually come through

 

Projecting the Unprojectable

The Wilmington rotation has some exciting names, led by Jake Odorizzi and followed by Noel Arguelles, Tim Melville, Tyler Sample, Elisaul Pimentel, Justin Marks and Michael Mariot.   That said, when was the last time that Wilmington didn’t have a good rotation (remember Rowdy Hardy, Dan Cortes, Julio Pimental and Blake Johnson?) and how often have we seen great High-A seasons fade against poor AA and AAA careers?   As said by many before, counting on prospects is a gamble:  counting on pitching prospects is heartbreaking.

Odorizzi, part of the Greinke haul, is the guy who could jump to Northwest Arkansas this summer and get himself into a mid-2012 major league conversation.   He has struck on 93 batter ins 65 innings this year, after fanning 135 in 120 innings the year before.   Despite a BABIP against of a .363, Odorizzi has held opponets to an overall .233 batting average on his way to a 2.17 ERA and 1.161 WHIP.   This is the guy who looks and feels like the next big thing.

Of course, we said that about Lamb and Montgomery and Duffy and others.    So, take those seven pitchers I named at the top of this section and, realistically, project one to be good and another to be serviceable.    Maybe that’s more pessimistic than realistic, I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the Royals would consider themselves blessed to have Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi occupying three of the top four spots in their rotation by early 2013.

If Melville, who many in the organization believe is close to ‘putting it all together’ after a season and one-half of less than resplendent outcomes, does just that and is poised to join the party at some point in 2013 (or Arguelles, who we still don’t know much about or Jason Adam, currently in Kane County, or Yordano Ventura or Yambati or someone else – you get the point here), then Kansas Citians should be ecstatic.

Of Course, THAT’S 2013 and Beyond

Given that most young pitchers have a period of adjustments and struggles at the beginning of their major league careers, what the above tells us is that a homegrown rotation can a ‘contending rotation’ no sooner than early 2013 and more likely late 2013.   Do you wait that long?

Even the most optimistic and aggressive projections for Duffy and Montgomery probably does not have them being true numbers one or two type starters in 2012.    Sure, there are worse things than a rotation of Hochevar, Francis or Chen, Duffy, Montgomery and someone else (Mazarro, O’Sullivan..don’t you dare say Kyle Davies!) next April, but it certainly would not be a strength of the team at that point.

Should Dayton Moore make a big move between now and next season to get an established arm into his rotation?   Do the Royals package prospects to acquire a legitimate number two or three starter who they think could become a number one?   Or do you wait, endure an up and down 2012, and hope that by 2013 the top of the rotation is Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi with John Lamb soon to come back and Jason Adam or Tim Melville in the wings?

That is a tough decision and a gamble no matter which way Dayton Moore decides to go.   Of all the decisions Dayton Moore has made and will make, this one will likely define his tenure as Royals GM.

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I spent yesterday in Royals Minor League camp and here are my notes:

Jason Adam – As I reached the field, Jason Adam was pitching against some of his fellow Royals teammates. The scouts were all clustered up and keeping a close eye on him. His name has been circulating amongst the scout circle, so there were plenty who wanted to get a firsthand look. I’m no scout, but what I saw was very impressive. He was fastball was in the 94-96 mph range and he was locating his curve ball for strikes.  He seemed to be using the curve as an out pitch and it was working. It had nice break, but he was leaving it up in the zone. Had he been facing a higher level of competition it probably would have been crushed. He’s only 19, so it’s not a concern at all. He seems very advanced for his age and should rocket up Royals prospect lists this year.

Sal Perez – I’ve heard good things about Sal, but I’ve never seen him in person. He’s bigger than I expected. He’s not only tall, but has thick legs. He isn’t fast in the first place, so if he gets much bigger he could really lose speed and possibly mobility. He’s only 20, so it’s highly likely that he will get bigger which is a concern.

At the plate, he was crushing the ball. He hit an absolute no-doubter to left on a Kevin Pucetas hanging curve and later he crushed a line drive opposite field that hit about a foot below the top of the fence. His power seems absolutely legit and I expect him to mash at AA Northwest Arkansas this year. If his defense is as good as some say, he is a good bet to be a good to possibly great Major League catcher. The building hype seems to be legit for the young catcher.

John Lamb – Lamb was throwing his fastball 88-91 mph with a really nice 68-72 mph curve and a 77-78 mph changeup. His fastball velocity wasn’t as high as it’s been in the past, but I heard he might have a muscle strain that had him going a little easy, it’s not a concern though. His control, which is his hallmark was on display. He was extremely efficient and wasted very few pitches. His fastball had really good movement. He could run it in on the hands of a right handed batter, and it seemed that he could also run it in the other direction when he wanted

Wil Myers – Myers was rotating through all three outfield positions. I would imagine it’s so he can get a good look at reading balls from all three fields. Though he’s certainly going to be a corner outfielder, balls in general are easiest to read from CF because there is usually a lot less bend in them. So it’s a good place for him to work on his defensive instincts, and does need work in that area.  He’s still clearly trying to get the hang of the position after shifting from catcher this off-season. He’s pretty athletic, but not athletic enough to make up for poor reads in the outfield.

His defense though, isn’t what he’s known for, that would be his bat which was on display. Watching him next to other minor leaguers you c an see what makes him different. His wrist strength is phenomenal and that’s a skill that nearly every Major League hitter has. He can put his bat on the ball and react at the last possible moment and still hit the ball hard. And hit the ball hard is exactly what he did when I saw him. He smashed three balls right up the middle, including one that hit pitcher Kevin Pucetas in the leg and had all on-lookers saying “oouuuch”. Myers though, didn’t react. He was running full tilt to first base throughout. It’s not a knock on him, in fact it’s to his credit. His mindset was to go all out down the baseline regardless of what was happening on the field. I was impressed. He also took a walk on around six pitches which in these Minor League intra-squad games are very rare, I think it’s a credit to his plate discipline.

Kevin Pucetas – He was acquired in the trade with the Giants for Jose Guillen, so really he doesn’t have to be good at all to make that trade a win for the Royals. Fortunately, he is a decent pitcher. He didn’t have that special stuff that other pitchers have, but his stuff did seem to be able to play in the Majors right now. He could be a contributor to the Royals bullpen today and might get a look at some point in the season. He’s not Lamb or Duffy, but few are.

I’m going to see the Royals again today so look for more notes tomorrow. If there’s anyone you’d like me to try and get a look at post it in the comments. I’ll also be tweeting things as they happen tonight at about 8:30 Central time. You can follow at http://www.twitter.com/brokenbatsingle

Jason Adam – As I reached the field, Jason Adam was pitching against some of his fellow Royals teammates. The scouts were all clustered up and keeping a close eye on him. His name has been circulating amongst the scout circle, so there were plenty who wanted to get a firsthand look. I’m no scout, but what I saw was very impressive. He was fastball was in the 94-96 mph range and he was locating his curve ball for strikes. He seemed to be using the curve as an out pitch and it was working. It had nice break, but he was leaving it up in the zone. Had he been facing a higher level of competition it probably would have been crushed. He’s only 19, so it’s not a concern at all. He seems very advanced for his age and should rocket up Royals prospect lists this year.

Sal Perez – I’ve heard good things about Sal, but I’ve never seen him in person. He’s bigger than I expected. He’s not only tall, but has thick legs. He isn’t fast in the first place, so if he gets much bigger he could really lose speed and possibly mobility. He’s only 20, so it’s highly likely that he will get bigger which is a concern.

At the plate, he was crushing the ball. He hit an absolute no-doubter to left on a Kevin Pucetas hanging curve and later he crushed a line drive opposite field that hit about a foot below the top of the fence. His power seems absolutely legit and I expect him to mash at AA Northwest Arkansas this year. If his defense is as good as some say, he is a good bet to be a good to possibly great Major League catcher. The building hype seems to be legit for the young catcher.

John Lamb – Lamb was throwing his fastball 88-91 mph with a really nice 68-72 mph curve and a 77-78 mph changeup. His fastball velocity wasn’t as high as it’s been in the past, but I heard he might have a muscle strain that had him going a little easy, it’s not a concern though. His control, which is his hallmark was on display. He was extremely efficient and wasted very few pitches. His fastball had really good movement. He could run it in on the hands of a right handed batter, and it seemed that he could also run it in the other direction when he wanted

Wil Myers – Myers was rotating through all three outfield positions. I would imagine it’s so he can get a good look at reading balls from all three fields. Though he’s certainly going to be a corner outfielder, balls in general are easiest to read from CF because there is usually a lot less bend in them. So it’s a good place for him to work on his defensive instincts, and does need work in that area. He’s still clearly trying to get the hang of the position after shifting from catcher this off-season. He’s pretty athletic, but not athletic enough to make up for poor reads in the outfield.

His defense though, isn’t what he’s known for, that would be his bat which was on display. Watching him next to other minor leaguers you c an see what makes him different. His wrist strength is phenomenal and that’s a skill that nearly every Major League hitter has. He can put his bat on the ball and react at the last possible moment and still hit the ball hard. And hit the ball hard is exactly what he did when I saw him. He smashed three balls right up the middle, including one that hit pitcher Kevin Pucetas in the leg and had all on-lookers saying “oouuuch”. Myers though, didn’t react. He was running full tilt to first base throughout. It’s not a knock on him, in fact it’s to his credit. His mindset was to go all out down the baseline regardless of what was happening on the field. I was impressed. He also took a walk on around six pitches which in these Minor League intra-squad games are very rare, I think it’s a credit to his plate discipline.

Kevin Pucetas – He was acquired in the trade with the Giants for Jose Guillen, so really he doesn’t have to be good at all to make that trade a win for the Royals. Fortunately, he is a decent pitcher. He didn’t have that special stuff that other pitchers have, but his stuff did seem to be able to play in the Majors right now. He could be a contributor to the Royals bullpen today and might get a look at some point in the season. He’s not Lamb or Duffy, but few are.

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.

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