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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Kelvin Herrera

Turning 2 for the next 6 years. (Flickr/Minda Haas)

Count me among those on board with the Alcides Escobar extension. The Royals are making some smart fiscal moves with their young roster. Here are two reasons this works for the Royals:

First, they are going to have a ton of key guys hit arbitration at the same time. They aren’t going to sign all of their roster to these kind of deals, but by locking in some of the soon to be arbitration eligible players, they can focus on those future budgets. A huge deal for a team with resources like the Royals. Map out the future with low risk, high reward contracts and then shift the focus to the ultra key guys. If they sign, great. If not, the team still has the payroll flexibility to absorb the arbitration raises.

Second, they are targeting the easier guys to sign. Again, smart move. Escobar, like Sal Perez before him, were international free agents who signed for small bonuses. They lack the fiscal stability a guy like Eric Hosmer has, who banked $6 million before the ink was dry on his contract. The long term deals protect those players for the future. They have the motivation to sign. It makes all kinds of sense: Get the players under contract who benefit the most from inking long term deals, project a sense of commitment to the future and then bring on board everyone else.

Back to The Shortstop Jesus: We know that Escobar has some work to do offensively. In his two seasons as a regular, he has yet to post a wOBA greater than last summer’s .282. Yikes. Remember back to his player profile where I illustrated that Escobar’s approach at the plate changed on an almost weekly basis. If he’s going to improve with the bat, he’s going to need to figure out what works best for him and stick with it. He has to understand there are going to be streaks in his offensive game. Stay on track and the length of those streaks should shorten and we will see a more consistent hitter. We’re not asking for magic. If he could somehow post a .310 OBP and .300 wOBA, I’d be thrilled. Thrilled.

Yet, for all the issues with the bat, it’s the glove that got Escobar this contract. Last year, he had a 2.2 fWAR, built entirely on the strength of his defense. It’s his exceptional defense which is played at an exceptionally important position. And remember, anything above a 2.0 fWAR can be considered a solid everyday player. On the open market, Fangraphs values that kind of shortstop at around $10 million. Here’s how the Royals are breaking down his contract:

2012 – $1 million
2013 – $3 million
2014 – $3 million
2015 – $3 million

Escobar would have been eligible for arbitration beginning in 2013, so they’re committing $9 million to his arbitration years. By comparison, they’re paying Perez $7.5 million for his arbitration years. The team holds the options for 2016 and 2017, which are the first two years of his free agency time. If exercised, he’ll earn $5.25 million in ’16 and $6.5 million in ’17.

The SS Jesus can save runs. That’s what the Royals are paying for over the next several years. If his bat can come around, the rest is just gravy. Hopefully, Perez’s knee injury isn’t severe and he can make a complete recovery. With Perez and Escobar anchoring the defense up the middle for the next four to six years, the Royals have a solid foundation of glove work. That’s how winning teams are built.

Other notes from Surprise:

– With all the bad karma hovering over Surprise this week, I thought it would be prudent to point out a positive: Jonathan Broxton’s outing on Wednesday. In his first game action of the spring, Broxton was scintillating, throwing nine pitches, eight of them for strikes. And the ball he threw was in the dirt on an 0-2 pitch – clearly fishing for the punchout.

Even better than the control, was the fastball. Broxton was living around 94 mph with his fastball and on his strikeout pitch of Casper Wells, he tickled 96 mph on the stadium gun. Impressive velocity for a guy with his injury history. And even better than the velocity (yeah, it gets even better) was the fact that 96 mph pitch was a rising fastball that freaking exploded. Maybe my judgement is clouded (it was my first live baseball action of the spring) but that pitch just looked filthy. Wells had no chance.

From the Brooks Baseball player cards, this is a look at Broxton’s declining velocity the last couple of years. After his surgery, if he can throw like he did on Wednesday, that could be the bullpen bargain of the year.

The only question we’ll have is how will Broxton recover. It was only nine pitches, but he’ll need to be able to bounce back and hit the mound again. Since it’s spring, the Royals obviously have the luxury of taking it slow, but at some point they’ll need to test his power of recovery.

– Kelvin Herrera is having a solid spring with another strong outing on Thursday. He struck out four Dodgers in two innings and now has nine whiffs in six innings of work. Late arrival Jose Mijares had a typical inning of work… Three batters faced and three flyball outs. The good news with Mijares is he has yet to walk a batter in just under five innings of work. Last year, if you remember, his SO/BB ratio was an even 1.

– According to Bob Dutton, the Royals are looking at adding some catching depth. While it’s possible the Royals jump soon, I’d be surprised if they acted this weekend. They need to wait until Perez has his surgery on Friday and maybe even get a post-op report or two. If you bring in a guy like Ivan Rodriguez, you sign him for the full year. There’s no need to commit those kinds of resources to a veteran if Perez can make it back before June. Besides, this team isn’t built for 2012… The focus is on 2013. If the Royals didn’t go out and deal for another starting pitcher this winter, there’s no reason to think they’ll jump the gun for a temporary backstop.

Still, the Brayan Pena/Max Ramirez tandem does not exactly inspire confidence. I’m not sure either one of those guys actually owns a catcher’s mitt.

The bullpen was one of the strengths of the 2011 Kansas City Royals and is perceived to be one again heading into 2012.  In fact, with the anticipation that the team’s five man starting rotation is likely to be average at best, the Royals have made moves to bolster their already strong relief corps in an effort to forge a ‘super bullpen’.

I am not going to get into the validity of whether a great bullpen can counterbalance a poor rotation.  I know a bad bullpen can wreck a good rotation, but whether it works the other way around is yet to be seen.   Suffice it to say, the Royals expect to have a top tier bullpen in 2012, which is logical given the fine level of performances they received from so many reliever last year.

Of course, relievers are among the most volatile creatures on the planet.   One day you are Brad Lidge, premier closer in baseball, and the next day your, ugh, Brad Lidge.  Any Royals fan that was around and aware in 1990 is keenly familiar with the spectacular disintegration of Mark Davis.   The list of lock down relievers who imploded is long and ugly and every team in baseball has a long one.   Add the factor of youth and the possibility for disappointing results from highly thought of bullpen arms becomes even more likely.

Kansas City, however, has a valuable commodity when it comes to overcoming the potential devastating volatility of a young bullpen:  a lot of arms.

Right now, the favorites to break camp in the pen are Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Jose Mijares, Aaron Crow and Luis Mendoza.   Based on what we have heard out of camp, I don’t know that you can make an argument on the first six (you can make an argument about the logic that leads to the first six and whether it is right or wrong, but you pretty much have to admit that those six names are at the top of a whiteboard in Dayton Moore’s office).  With Mendoza pitching well in camp to date (it is admittedly early), one gets the feeling that the Royals will want to keep him around, even if Paulino and Duffy win the final two rotation spots – which I think they will.

If that is the seven man pen, then the Royals will have these familiar names starting the year in Omaha:  Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Blake Wood, Everett Teaford, Jeremy Jeffress and Nathan Adcock.  

In Herrera, you have the organization’s closer of the future (or at least back of the bullpen fixture of the future, anyway).   Possessing the best fastball in camp, the 21 year old would have been a lock to make virtually any bullpen of the past ten years. 

While Wood is something of a whipping boy amongst Royals fans, he did throw 69.2 pretty decent major league innings in his second season.  He also cut his home run allowed rate in half and upped his strikeouts per nine innings to 8.0 from 5.6 the year before, and did so without elevating his walk rate (which is still too high).    Blake is no star, but he has gone from THE 8th inning guy in 2010 to a pitcher who probably won’t make the club in 2012 while improving his game.

Last spring, Tim Collins was the darling of camp.  He was a strikeout machine in the minors and Tim got off to a quick start in the majors only to be undone by spotty (at best) control.   Still, Collins threw 67 innings last year, struck out 60 and allowed just 52 hits.   Early on this spring, he is showing much better ability to consistently throw strikes and, wait for it, he is lefthanded.  Like Wood and Herrera, he would have been a lock to make this team in most any other year – hell, he WAS a lock just last year.

While it is possible that Everett Teaford, another lefty, will start if sent back to Omaha, his big league future is probably as a reliever.  In 2011, Teaford appeared in 23 games out of the pen, started 3 more and basically did everything you could ask.    That is not enough to make this year’s bullpen.

There are four pitchers with experience (save for Herrera, who has the best arm of the bunch), who the Royals can draw on and barely miss a beat.

Broxton not healthy?  No problem, pull up Herrera or Wood.   Mijares not worth the trouble?  Go to Collins or Teaford. One can create quite a doomsday scenario and still have a hard time getting this bullpen down to average. 

Let’s say Joakim Soria is ineffective and Jonathan Broxton never healthy:  the Royals’ closer would become Greg Holland, with Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera setting him up.   At the same time, let’s say the league figures Louis Coleman out and Jose Mijares is a disaster.   Enter Tim Collins and Blake Wood.   That may make you a little nervous, but remember we are talking about sixth and seventh inning guys at this point.   Simultaneously, Luis Mendoza reverts to pre-2010 form or has to go into the rotation.   The Royals can call upon Everett Teaford (who might be a better options as the long man anyway).

All of the above could happen and the Royals would still have Nathan Adcock in Omaha, who frankly wasn’t bad in 2011 and probably will be better in 2012.   They also have an electric arm down there in Jeremy Jeffress.   Like many, I am not sure Jeffress will ever ‘figure it out’, but if you have to replace half your bullpen before you resort to calling up a guy who can throw 100 mph, that is pretty nice situation to be in.

All that and we have not mentioned any of the non-roster guys like lefties Tommy Hottovy and Francisley Bueno, the highly thought of Brandon Sisk (yes, another lefty) or the ‘other guy’ in the Melky Cabrera trade:  Ryan Verdugo.   Another lefty, Verdugo is a guy who would have gotten a serious look when the Royals were stocking their bullpen with the Jamey Wrights of the world.  Now, he has zero shot at making this team.

There are few real failsafes in the world, much less in baseball and certainly not when it comes to bullpens, but the 2012 Kansas City Royals’ group comes pretty close.   Depending on who is healthy and who is effective, they may not be great, but are almost certain to be good and, at the very worst, likely to be no worse than above average.

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On April 9th last season, 21 year old Kelvin Herrera, who had just 12 games of expierence over three years in Low A and just 23 games total experience pitching in the United States, made his High A debut for the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  The results were typical Herrera:  two innings, one hit, no runs, one walk and four strikeouts.

There has seldom been any doubt about the young Dominican’s ability to get batters out.  In his American debut with the Rookie Burlington team, Kelvin had struck out 45 and walked just 5 in 50 innings of work.   That was enough to earn him a promotion to the Low A Midwest League at the tender age of 18.  In three appearances over 13 innings, Herrera was touched for just 3 runs.   Used mostly as a starter, hopes were high for Herrera.

Elbow trouble, however, limited Herrera to one appearance at Burlington in 2009 and shut him down again my mid-May in 2010.  Simply put, the Royals spent the better part of two seasons seeing far too little of Herrera’s upper 90s fastball, excellent changeup and solid curve.  To many, it seemed that Herrera would join the long list of promising young arms that could not hold together long enough to even get within spitting distance of the majors.

Fast forward (or reverse Jason Kendall) to that Wilmington debut.  It came, not as a starter as he had been in 18 of his career 23 appearances, but in relief.   With his fastball touching 100 working out of the pen, Kelvin made seven more appearances in Wilmington: allowing just one run (a solo homer), while striking out 12 and walking 2. 

That performance earned Herrera a promotion to AA, where he once more excelled.   Kelvin threw 36 innings over 23 appearances and struck out 40 batters.   He walked just six and allowed only 22 hits (4 of them home runs).    That earned Herrera another promotion, this time to AAA Omaha.  There, he struck out 18 in 17 innings, allowing just 12 hits.  The only mark against Herrera was a higher than previous walk rate as he issued 7 free passes in his time in AAA.   Still, outside of a messy three run, three walk performance on September 1st, Herrera was tagged for just one other earned run in the AAA regular season.

Herrera was tagged for two home runs in four innings of playoff work for Omaha, but he still earned his third promotion of the season to the majors in late September.    Tagged for another home run and three earned runs total in his major league debut, Herrera was given just one other major league appearance, throwing a 1-2-3 inning on September 26th.   Basically, we did not come close to seeing enough of Herrera at the major league level to have any idea what the soon to be 22 year old will be able to accomplish.

That said, Kelvin Herrera rocketed through four levels of organized baseball in one season; all while adapting to his new role of not just a relief pitcher, but as a closer.  Not only was Herrera pitching in high leverage situations in almost all of the 69 innings he threw last year, but doing so while being among the younger players at virtually every level. 

Still, as impressive as Herrera’s 2011 was, we are still talking about a player with just 220 innings of professional experience (that includes 43 in the Dominican Summer League) and one who spent the bulk of 2009 and 2010 with a bad elbow.   Will the elbow hold up?  Can Herrera be the dominant late inning reliever in the majors that he was at three levels in 2011? 

While it is not a sure thing, Herrera certainly seems to be more likely to be the next Greg Holland than the next Carlos Rosa.  Even with the addition of Jonathan Broxton, there is a very good chance that Herrera breaks camp with the Royals in early April.

xxx

 

 

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