Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mike Montgomery

The Royals have done their part to stay in the news on the true opening day of the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State, by the way, ended up winning my bracket – because I know that was what you all were waiting for).   Let’s just round up some of the goings on.

SALVADOR PEREZ

Yesterday I said not to panic and even today, we probably should not.  A torn meniscus is the cause for knee surgery for the Royals’ catcher of the present and future.   We have heard no firm timetable, but the absolute best case is four weeks and the worst case seems to be somewhere along the lines of eight weeks.  Add at least a week of rehab appearances, maybe two if Perez ends up taking closer to eight to get healthy and Kansas City is realistically looking at an early May return for Salvador.

Assuming my made up logic is anywhere close, I don’t think the Royals need to jump through any hoops to find a catcher to handle the bulk of the playing time.  Brayan Pena is sub-par behind the plate and Max Ramirez is something worse than that, but both have played in the majors and both can hit a little.   I would advocate laboring through the 23 games in April with those two as the catching tandem and hope Perez returns when the Yankees and Red Sox come to Kansas City in early May.

Now, if a veteran dropped in the Royals’ lap and was willing to play everyday for a month or so and then sit the bench the better part of the year for a million bucks (yeah, that’s right, Ivan Rodriguez is exactly who I am talking about) that would be great.  I think it is unlikely and certainly do not believe Dayton Moore should be trying to trade for such a player, but it does not hurt to keep an ear to the ground.

On a long-term note, this is not a bad knee injury and while anything regarding ‘knees’ and ‘catchers’ gets one nervous, Salvador has youth on his side.  Until something begins to tell us otherwise, I think the Royals can assume Perez will come back ready to assume the heavy workload they had planned for him when he signed the contract extension this spring.

SPEAKING OF CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

By now you have  all heard that shortstop Alcides Escobar has inked a four year contract extension that will pay him a cool million in 2012 and then three million per year each of the next three seasons.   The Royals also hold team options for 2016 ($5.25 million) and 2017 ($6.5 million) with a $500,000 buyout.

Now, if Escobar never hits, but continues to be an elite fielder, this guaranteed four years of this deal probably average out at about market rate.   However, if the shortstop Jesus does hit some or, let’s dream a little, hits decently, then this is a great deal for the Royals.   The downside is that Escobar’s bat gets even worse and his defense goes with it (see Berroa, Angel), but Kansas City has to take some leaps of faith and fix some costs for the future, while also hopefully securing talent with that fixed cost.

That is what the Escobar, Perez and to some extent Billy Butler’s extension of last year does.  Nothing about any of those deals is roster wrecking if they don’t pan out and maybe, in some small part, the combination of these helps grease the wheels of future, more important and more expensive, contracts.

ONE DOWN

One possible, albeit longshot contender for the starting rotation was sent to minor league camp yesterday:  Mike Montgomery.   After his struggles at AAA last year, the demotion of the Royals’ number one pitching prospect was no big surprise and certainly a very rational move.   The lefty pitches in Kansas City this year, it is just a question of when.   I put the over/under at July 5th.

Also going down was Wil Myers, Nathan Adcock and Ryan Verdugo.  I bring up the latter two only because they had very, very, very outside shots at making the bullpen.  Adcock will almost surely start in Omaha, by the way, and might be number one in line to get a call-up if an injury occurs early in the season.   For Myers the only question this spring was where he goes, Omaha or NW Arkansas?   Consensus seems to be the south, but I kind of have a hunch that maybe Omaha might be his destination, especially if Jarrod Dyson makes the big league roster.

SPEAKING OF THE ROTATION

Neither Aaron Crow or Felipe Paulino did a whole lot to help themselves last night, so the door is open today for Danny Duffy – dominant his first time out – to stake a deeper claim on the two open rotation positions.  I am and have been a ‘Duffy guy’ since he started out striking out just about everyone in Low A ball, so count me squarely in his camp when it comes to this battle.

If the Royals are hell bent on not losing Luis Mendoza (remember, he is out of options) than I really believe the proper move is Duffy and Paulino in the rotation, Mendoza and Crow in the bullpen.   Paulino has a nightmarish performance record as a reliever, so I don’t see the point of putting him back in that role.  If he continues to flounder through spring training and carries that into three or four April starts, then you pull Paulino out of the rotation and go to Mendoza, but I don’t think you make that move any sooner than that.

xxx

 

 

A couple of notes to sate your Royals appetite before we return to wrap up our 40 man roster review:

– MLB.com released their list of the Top 100 Prospects. The Royals placed four in the top 100. Actually, that’s not technically correct… They placed four in the top 47.

17 – Bubba Starling
19 – Wil Myers
31 – Mike Montgomery
47 – Jake Odorizzi

I understand we all have a fascination of Top Prospect lists and whatnot, but I have a difficult time seeing Starling as the Royals top prospect. Especially if the system is as deep as we believe it to be. Starling may be a supreme talent, but the young man has yet to swing the bat professionally. I’m not down on him and I understand how the system works, but I’d like to see some professional success before we anoint him the best prospect in the system.

– Baseball America released their top 10 online last week. Here’s the top five:

Mike Montgomery
Bubba Starling
Wil Myers
Jake Odorizzi
Chelsor Cuthbert

BA also tabbed Myers as having the best strike zone discipline and the best prospect to hit for a high average while Starling is the best power prospect and is the best athlete in the system.

There was a lot of hyperbole last year about how the Royals had the best minor league system ever. After graduating no less than nine rookies last year, it’s impressive that there is still so much talent in the minors. They may not have the honor of being the “Best Ever” in 2012, but there’s a ton of depth.

– Speaking of the prospects, Mike Montgomery, Will Smith, Chris Dwyer, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi were invited to major league spring training. Montgomery was in camp last spring and had a decent showing. I suppose he’ll get a long look, but ultimately I expect him to open the season at Triple-A where he’ll need to show improved control over the first couple months of the season before he gets any kind of promotion.

Also invited to the major league camp were pitchers Francisley Bueno, Tommy Hottovy and Zach Miner; catchers Cody Clark, Max Ramirez and Julio Rodriguez; infielders Tony Abreu, Irving Falu and Kevin Kouzmanoff, and outfielders Greg Golson and Paulo Orlando. Kouzmanoff probably has the best shot of this group at making the team. With Betancourt under contract ($2 million still boggles the mind) but with Chris Getz having an option, the battle for backup infielders could be the most compelling of the spring.

While reports have at least 60 players in camp already, pitchers and catchers won’t have their first official workout until February 20.

– The Royals with KCP&L installed an array of solar panels in the outfield experience that will provide part of the energy needed to power the stadium. Basically, it will bring enough power for refrigeration. I guess the more sun, the colder the drinks. No word if they will stop watering down the Bud Light. (Which is 98% water anyway, but I digress.)

– Latest report out of Surprise has our Clark Fosler hitting .400. He’s on Kevin Seitzer’s team, so we expect that average to only climb from here.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

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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In a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the concern over promoting prospects to the majors and having them become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two will go away.   While the Royals have shown a rather remarkable carefree attitude about early arbitration eligibility  when it came to calling up Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, one would imagine that not having to worry about Super Two status will be one less impediment to calling up the next wave of promising young players.

That is not to say, however, that on some magical day in the near future (say June 8th) that we will wake up one morning to hear that Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Cain have all been promoted to Kansas City.   If we truly lived in a Rotisserie world, one could do just that, but in real life there are personality, experience and clubhouse issues to be considered as well as the fact that there are actual humans occupying spots in front of these guys.

One of those ‘humans’ is Wilson Betemit, who just happens to be hitting .315/.379/.465 to follow up on his career best 2010 campaign.   While Wilson has played everywhere but catcher in his career that does not necessarily imply that he actually ‘can’ play anywhere.  That Betemit has played 19 career major league games at second base gets all of us thinking about Moustakas at third, Wilson at second and ’Man! That’s a salty batting order!’     Except for the fact that supposed defensive difference at second base between Chris Getz and Mike Aviles is likely unnoticeable when compared to the gap between either of them and Wilson Betemit should he wander out to that side of the diamond.

So, what do you do with Mike Moustakas?   After a very tough April, Mike has hit .303/.386/.566 in May and has hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching along the way.   He has not played particularly outstanding defense, but by all accounts will be passable for now at third.   Keep in mind, the Betemit/Aviles combo in the majors has not exactly been defensive fine art this year.

Certainly, Betemit would seem to be a player that might provide value on the trade market, even if trading him would weaken, at least in the short term, any hopes the Royals have for a winning season in 2011.   If a decent deal came along, it would make sense to move Betemit, promote Moustakas and have him get his rookie shakedown cruise over with so he is ready to contribute from the start in 2012.

Of course, do you play for 2012?   If the answer is yes, then the Royals absolutely need to get Moustakas to the majors sometime in June.   Both he and Hosmer could get the ups and downs of their rookie seasons over with and hopefully ready them to be middle of the order impact bats immediately next season.   

Is that realistic?  Is contending in 2012 a high probability?   It better be, because the Royals will have Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, virtually everyone in their bullpen and Mike Montgomery all on schedule to become free agents after the 2017 season.

Montgomery is included in the above paragraph, because the Royals cannot enter 2012 with serious contention hopes without both Duffy and Montgomery seasoned and ready to pitch all of that season at or near the top of the team’s starting rotation.   They cannot expect that to happen without getting both a good 100 innings in the majors this year.     

Given that Sean O’Sullivan has 22 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 45 innings this season, he would hardly seem to be a guy who should be blocking a talent like Montgomery.  Sure, Sean has ‘kept the Royals in games’, but contenders are built around pitchers who WIN games, not keep you close.      With 49 innings under his belt in AAA already this season and only 93 total innings pitched last year, Montgomery (like Duffy) has a limited number of innings to pitch in 2011.   One more turn through the rotation ought to eliminate Super Two considerations and should be more than enough to move forward.

Bottom line, the Royals should either promote both Moustakas and Montgomery by mid-June or wait all the way until late April of nextyear to get them on an entirely different free agency path from that of Hosmer and Duffy.  If you go the service time route, then you are really saying that the Royals truly realistic first year to contend (barring flukes or a crappy division – both possibilities) is not 2012, but 2013.   The argument can be made that 2013 is truly the right choice.

Would it depend on the 2011 team’s record when it comes to making this decision?  I am not sure it does, given that Wilson Betemit is likely to be a greater asset to the ‘win now’ theory in July of 2011 than Mike Moustakas would be.   It is also quite possible that Bruce Chen (assuming he makes it back soon) is a better major league pitcher right now than Mike Montgomery will be.

I really think these decisions need to be made based not on what will happen in 2011, but what the Royals perceive will happen in 2012 and/or 2013.  That is where it gets tricky.   It is relatively easy to make a decision that will impact the nine game road trip that begins on June 10th, but it is harder to discern what impact a decision made now will have on the April 2012 Royals.  

Welcome to Dayton Moore’s world.

Side Note:  I was going to talk about the Melky Cabrera/Lorenzo Cain situation as part of the column today as well, but decided I had reached a quasi-plausible ending point.   Truthfully, I am not exactly sure what the proper call is there, but by Thursday, I hope to have an answer for you.

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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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. 

On Monday is was the Moose and Hosmer show as both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer went deep against the Rangers.  Tuesday, is was Moose and Cain taking center stage as Moustakas drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth and Lorenzo Cain ended the game with a play that has been described as “spectacular” and a “circus catch.”

See for yourself from this highlight reel, courtesy of Desertfan…

(Desertfan has been shooting a ton of video in Surprise.  I hope he’s able to keep it up.  Check out more of his stuff on his YouTube page.)

Every year, there is some kind of litmus test for the Royals brain trust regarding the roster coming out of spring training.  Remember how we were all hoping for Calvin Pickering?  Yeah, sometimes even us stat nerds get it wrong.  OK, so the occasional set back isn’t enough to deter me from picking a player who should be – who needs to be – on the 25 man roster when the team heads north.  I’m anointing Cain as this year’s player.  Cain has yet to make a start and as we know, he has options so he’s a candidate to open the year in Triple-A thanks to Dayton Moore and his eagerness to secure the services of fourth-tier talent like Melky Cabrera.  Still, he would give the Royals their best outfield defender and could fill the leadoff role for the Royals.

Of course, events could conspire that would make Cain a no-brainer.  Like if he had the camp of his life.  Or if one of the other outfielders likely to be a regular went down with injury.  It makes sense to have one too many outfielders at this point in the spring.  But the Royals shouldn’t be shy about eating some payroll if justified and opening the year with Cain in center.

Cain will finally get the start this afternoon against the Dodgers and will hit leadoff. Jeff Francis and Sean O’Sullivan will throw for a couple of innings.

Strange as it may sound, the two Royals I’m going to openly root for to make the team will be Cain and Tim Collins.

I don’t get excited by spring training performances.  These games are more about preparation for the grind of the regular season than anything else.  Although as Tim Kniker pointed out, Royals catchers are a combined one for 13 (he was making a point of small sample sizes, but get well soon JK!)  But this kind of start just fuels my enthusiasm for the real games in a few weeks time.

And it gives me a chance to write a pseudo game recap/analysis piece for the first time since September.  I’m all for that.

– Mike Montgomery and Jeremy Jeffress got their first of spring action and both gave the radar gun a workout as they were both regularly hitting the mid-90s with their fastballs.  Montgomery battled his command when he entered, issuing two walks in the fifth.

– The more things change… Padre starter Mat Latos issued four walks in the first and the Royals didn’t score a run thanks to a caught stealing by Mike Aviles.

– Nice to see Clint Robinson do some damage from the DH spot.  Two hits (a double and a triple) and a pair of RBI.

– I’ve caught the last two games on feeds from MLB.com and listened to Steve Stewart call the games.  Not only is Stewart as vanilla as they come, the same old, “Now we leave you with the sounds of spring” line at the end of every inning makes me want to smash my computer.  Would it kill you to change things up from time to time?  May I humbly suggest, “At the end of the inning, things will be quiet on the webcast because I’m reading the latest from Royals Authority.”

I’m begging you…

– Luke Hochevar struggled in the first and was keeping the ball up in the zone.  He allowed three straight singles before he settled down, made the proper adjustments and started finding his sinking action on his pitches.  Of his six outs, five of them were ground outs to go along with one strikeout.  That’s a very good sign.

Other notes…

– The Royals reached deals with Kila Ka’aihue and Vin Mazarro on Tuesday, which means all 40 players are under contract.  And that means I’ll soon have a new – and final – salary table.  I’m still thinking the Royals are under the $35 million mark for Opening Day.

– Sad story out of camp as minor leaguer Anthony Seratelli’s father was killed in a freak accident while driving on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey on Monday.  The Royals actively engage the families of their minor leaguers, so this is a loss that is undoubtedly felt by the entire organization.  Positive thoughts to the Seratelli family.

– Zack Greinke made his spring debut for the Brewers and talked about the trade.

“I kind of had to play the bad guy in order to do it. It would be nice if that didn’t happen, but the way things were in Kansas City, if I just kept on being the sweet person, the fans would have been outraged if I got traded. I kind of had to be the bad guy. It isn’t always your No. 1 choice.”
He realized he was a fan favorite — “I don’t know why,” Greinke said — and by making his trade requests public, he feels he helped avoid “backlash on the organization.”

Good to know Zack can sling the BS as good as the slider.

– Kaegel has a feel good story on Moustakas.  (Seriously, hire a decent headline writer…) Of course, we all feel good about Moose but this comment kind of caught my attention:

“His way is not set in stone. He’s always open to suggestions, anything to get better, and those are the type of guys that get better,” said Hall of Famer George Brett, a camp instructor.

Paging Alex Gordon…

Baseball is a year-round activity.  Throughout the fall and winter, there are the winter leagues, the winter meetings, trades, free agent acquisitions and the Fan Fest.  I know that for many of you, baseball isn’t something that occupies your thoughts over the winter, so I’m going to try and put together some quick n0tes and links concerning the Royals, baseball and even some things unrelated to baseball.  This way you can keep checking in over here and keep up to date with anything you’ve missed and to get that quick much-needed baseball fix.

  • In his latest blog post (ESPN Insider required), Buster Olney says that the Royals “intend to listen to any and all offers” for Zack Greinke.  This really isn’t anything new.  I’d imagine any general manager in baseball would listen to any offer for any player, it’s what a GM does.  What may be different is the fact that this information probably came from high up in the Royals organization, to get the word out to other general managers around baseball.  Until Greinke is either re-signed or traded, this kind of talk will just keep bubbling up.
  • Speaking of the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament, here is a great article about Ned Yost heading down to check out the young Royals prospects in Puerto Rico.  I really liked this gesture by the Royals manager.  I’ve always maintained that at least 60% of a managers job is off the field.  Earning the respect of your players before they even come to the Majors seems like a really good idea to me.
  • The Royals announced that they acquired pitcher Kevin Pucetas from the San Francisco Gians to complete the Jose Guillen trade.  Here is an article with some quotes from Pucetas on the trade.  Pucetas is a 25 year old right-handed pitcher with a 3.73 ERA in 120 Minor League innings.
  • Conor Glassey at Baseball America has a scouting report on 5th round pick Jason Adam from Blue Valley.  The velocity on his fastball (91-94 touching 97) is something to be very excited about.  He still needs work on his off-speed stuff, but so do most 18 year olds.
  • Billy Butler got a new agent, and is now with Greg Genske Legacy Sports.  It’s a pretty big name in the business, and Butler will be going through arbitration for the first time this winter.
  • The guys over at I-70 Baseball are going to be taking a look back at the 1985 World Series in honor of the anniversary.  I’m pretty excited to check it out.

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.