Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Prospects

Episode #033 – It’s the final game of the season for the Royals, but it isn’t the final podcast.  Nick quickly recaps the season and brings in special guest Greg Schaum to talk about the Royals farm system.  Nick and Greg discuss which of Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas they’d rather have, who is a potential 2011 breakout candidate, the future of Clint Robinson and Aaron Crow, a bunch of other prospects and Nick tries to sell Greg on the knuckleball academy.

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Music used in this podcast:

Curtis Mayfield – Beutiful Brother of Mine

Arcade Fire – Ready To Start

John Zorn – Mow Mow

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Prior to the 2010 season, many of us thought that the starting rotation might one of the Kansas City Royals’ strengths.   With the reigning Cy Young Award winner heading the staff and a healthy Gil Meche returning, it seemed that the Royals would have a one-two punch on par with anyone in the division.

Behind Greinke and Meche, there was a very reasonable chance that Luke Hochevar would take the next step and become a reliable number three starter while Brian Bannister was likely to remain a serviceable number four starter.   Plus, maybe this was the year that it all came together for Kyle Davies.   Even if Davies continued as he had been, he was still just the number five starter, anyway.

Well so much for that…

At our annual Royals Authority winter meetings in Bora Bora, we discussed that Zack Greinke’s ERA could go up an entire run and he still could be the best pitcher in the American League.   At the same time, we doubted that Zack would regress that much.   As it turned out, Zack’s ERA has gone up by just under two runs this year and while he is still a force to be reckoned with, Greinke is not dominating as he did in 2009.

That said, Zack is hardly the major issue with the Royals’ rotation.  Gil Meche started all of nine games and now, if he ever pitches again as a Royal, will do so out of the bullpen.   Luke Hochevar, who had shown signs of progress, was sat down for ‘a start or two’  on June 12th and has not been seen since.   Brian Bannister is currently sporting an ERA of barely under six and Kyle Davies remains Kyle Davies.

How bad has it been for the rotation this year?   Well, Bruce Chen, who found no takers for his services over the winter is arguably…not even arguably..IS the team’s number two starter and recently acquired Sean O’Sullivan, who has been tagged for 11 runs in 16 innings of work seems like an improvement over Bannister and Davies.

Of course, as I have often written, the end result of 2010 is not so important as building this team for the future.   In that respect, the Royals have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the rotation.   The AA level of the system boasts Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – all potential Top 100 prospects by the time those rankings come out this winter.   Behind them is disappointing, but still talented, Aaron Crow, who is joined by another slew of good young arms in Tim Melville,  Tyler Sample, Brian Paukovits and Will Smith.   The system is positively bubbling with potential major league starters.

Here’s the bad news:  if you throw out Crow’s 119 innings of work at Northwest Arkansas and Will Smith’s bizarre trip through three levels of the Angels’ system this season, the rest of the guys we just named COMBINED, have 60 innings of experience above A ball.      That’s no one’s fault, just a result of some minor injuries, a two month ‘retirement’ and the simple fact that these pitchers are all very young.

Sixty innings of combined AA experience makes it highly unlikely that we see any of these hurlers in Kansas City before September of 2011.    That bodes well for the rotation in 2012 and beyond, but it doesn’t do much for next year’s starting five.

Here is what we know about the 2011 rotation:  Zack Greinke will be the number one starter and Gil Meche won’t be in it.

Long pause….

Chances are, and given the Royals’ recent performance/luck at getting major league starting pitchers healthy, it is just a chance, Luke Hochevar will be in the rotation, too.      Before he went down in June, Luke had shaved over a run and one-half off his 2009 ERA (and yes, I think ERA is still a decent if somewhat crude measurement of the effectiveness of  a starting pitcher) and gone six or more innings in nine of his thirteen starts.   Should Hochevar make it back for even just a handful of starts yet this season, we could once more make a reasonable assumption that he might be able to take that ‘next step’ and settle in as a legitimate number three or number four starter.

After that, the Royals’ options to fill out the rotation are Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Sean O’Sullivan and, sigh, Kyle Davies.  

Chen’s a guy that will be interesting to watch the rest of the year.   After moving into the rotation, Bruce allowed 16 earned runs in his first 39 innings, but has been tagged for 20 runs in his last 25 innings.   That is a bad trend, which if not reversed means Chen is not a realistic option in 2011.

Bannister’s performance has degraded to the point that the Royals are skipping his next turn in the rotation.   Getting skipped in a rotation that includes Chen, O’Sullivan and Davies is not exactly a good trend, either.   I don’t know what you do with Bannister, I really don’t.   He is pretty much posting the worst numbers of his career across the board and getting worse as the season goes on.  

Kyle Davies now has 641 innings on his major league resume and they pretty much all look the same.  He is not horrible – well, not in comparison to Bannister or that guy who was wearing Gil Meche’s jersey earlier this year – but he is not anywhere near good, either.   Frankly, I think you could put Kyle’s game logs for the last couple of seasons next to those of Odalis Perez during his Royals’ career and not be able to tell them apart.  I don’t really view that as a ringing endorsement.

That brings us to Sean O’Sullivan, whose best asset at the moment is that he is just 22 years old.   What we have seen out of Sean to date is in line with what the scouting reports indicated:  a competitor, decent stuff and control, lacks a true out pitch and loses effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order.  As many have pointed out, O’Sullivan is not the picture of physical conditioning, so it may be a case of simply maturing and getting in better shape.     Frankly, I like O’Sullivan and could see him developing into a real number four starter (i.e. better than Bannister or Davies), but that might just be the ‘we always like the new guy syndrome’ at work there.

The options in AAA right now are pretty much Philip Humber, Gaby Hernandez and Edgar Osuna.  Of the three, Osuna is intriguing, having pitched extremely well in AA with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.   He was pounced on pretty good in his first AAA start, but is worth watching in August.   If Chen or Bannister continue to crumble or Ned Yost just gets as bored with Kyle Davies as I am, it might be worth three or four starts in September to get a feel for what Osuna has to offer.

So, what do you do in 2011 if you are running the Royals?   Do you hold the line, trust the process (no sarcasm intended…for once) and wait for your truly impact arms to reach the bigs in 2012?   Probably that is the smart course of action.

If Greinke rebounds from simply good back to dominant, Hochevar comes back healthy and effective (yikes, that probably jinxed him right there!), O’Sullivan matures and improves and you find two guys who are this side of awful out of Osuna, Chen, Bannister and Davies, then you have an ‘okay’ rotation.   I don’t think the Royals can contend with that rotation, but those thoughts might not be realistic for next season, anyway.

Now, if you cannot tolerate a season of that rotation or you believe contending is a real possibility in 2011, then one has to look to free agency.   The list of free agents this off-season can be found here, and there are a number of interesting names on the list.   That said, how many that are upgrades can the Royals reasonably afford?  

As you can see, projecting the 2012 starting rotation will be a lot more fun than doing so for 2011.   What would you do?

Episode #028 – Nick discusses all of the deadline trades, Ned Yost through 2012, Meche’s decision to not have surgery, whats going on in the minors and should the Royals focus on a window of winning.

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On Tuesday, I had yet another choice to make.  The Royals were playing the Indians at 6:00 and the Royals minor leaguers would be playing at 6:30.  I figured that I would be able to see the big club play 162 times starting in about a week, so I would primarily focus on seeing the prospects.

I started at the main stadium to catch some batting practice at the cages, which are a very cool feature, because they are right inside the stadium and the guys are about 3 feet away taking BP.  I wanted to get a look at Ankiels ankle to see if he would be ready to go.  I am certainly no doctor, however he looked like he was fine to me.  He was taking full swings and not easing up at all.  I watched his ankle closely and when he turns to rotate his body, he rolls up on the outside of his foot.  I don’t know if that is how he injured his ankle, but it looks like It would certainly cause some stress.

The Major League Game

I grabbed my seat for the start of the game so I could watch at least the first inning or so before heading off to the back fields.  I guess the Royals were intent on helping me out, since they scored 5 runs in the first and let me see everything I wanted to see.

The first thing I noticed was that I was seeing the battle of 5th starters.  Talbot for the Indians and Davies for the Royals.  Every single team is “concerned” about their 5th starter, but I was reminded that it could be worse.   Davies had his fastball hitting 93 consistently and an off sped pitch at 82.  Talbot was sitting at 89 and 83 respectively.  Both guys didn’t command the ball particularly well, but Talbot was all over the place walking 3 Royals, which in itself is quite a feat.  The bottom line is that Davies looked better than Talbot and is a perfectly fine 5th starter regardless of some of the chatter you hear.

I also wanted to get a look at Aviles and Kila.  Aviles absolutely crushed a ball to the wall with Dejesus on second and Podsednik at first.   Dejesus scored and Podsednik was hustling right behind Dejesus, he was looking to get a sign from the third base coach and wasn’t getting one.  He was clearly motioning to the coach asking whether he should score or not and finally stopped at third.  It would have been a close play for Podsednik at home, and stopping him in Spring Training is probably the right call, but it was just odd that the coach was not decisive in the situation and made Podsednik ask for the sign.  I wanted to see Kila hit, but it was kind of perfect to watch him walk.  Kila also saved a double play by picking a throw from Yuniesky out of the dirt.  Brayan Pena’s home run was a bomb and afer him came Yuniesky Betancourt, time to hit the minor league camp.

Minor League Camp

The Royals and Rangers minor leaguers were playing a rare night game and had four simultaneous games going on.  The games weren’t posted, so big thanks to Adam Foster at Project Prospect for giving me the details about the games.  The first thing I saw was a huge crowd at one of the fields.  I moved over and realized Neftali Feliz was pitching for the Rangers.  He had pitched the previous day in the Rangers v Rockies games, so I was pretty shocked to see him.  I got to see Ernesto Mejia face off against Neftali which was extremely entertaining.  Mejia is a big dude and really held his own versus one of the best pitching prospects in the MLB.  He ended up striking out, but he fouled off some of Feliz’s sick curve balls and probably saw 10 pitches in the AB.

I moved over to the field that the  A ball team was on and saw Tim Mehlville pitching.  I moved in behind Adam Foster and jotted down the radar gun readings for Mehlville.  His fastball was 89 or 91 mph pretty consistently and he occasionally hit 93 and 94.  However, his command was less than spectacular.  I don’t recall seeing a single ground ball hit off of him, while there were plenty of fly balls due to leaving the fastball up.  His curveball on the other hand was extremely good and he commanded it better than his fastball.  He seemed to change speeds with the curve quite a bit as well going anywhere from 72 to 79 mph.  Mehlville is still young and can certainly improve.  I was impressed with what I saw, but he will need to work on his fastball command to become an elite pitcher.*

*Special thanks to Adam Foster for pointing some of these things out to me and letting me use his radar gun.  www.projectprospect.com is a great site.  Check it out.

Earlier in the day I had a chance to see Cheslor Cuthbert take fielding practice with Buck Coats, Kurt Mertins and Malcom Culver.  Cuthbert seemed to be the best fielder in that group.  He didn’t miss a single ball, while all the other guys did.  He exhibited very good range and good instincts.  It was only one practice, but I was impressed with his fielding.

Hosmer didn’t get on the field at all in the games I saw and there was some talk that he is maybe coming off of a slight injury.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or confirm this.  He was the bat boy in the A ball game and seemed to be moving around fine, so if he is injured it doesn’t seem serious.

There was one other player who impressed me: Patrick Norris.  He played CF for the A ball team and showed great speed on the bases, threw a guy out at home and played with some good range in the outfield.  He is a switch hitter who pulled the ball with a quick bat from the left side and poked one the opposite way from the right side.  It is of course  a small sample size but I liked him a lot.  He doesn’t get much love around the prospect rankings, and that is probably for a good reason.  But I will be keeping my eye on him this year.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

I arrived in Phoenix and had a choice to make.  I had to either go and see the Royals big club play a game in Tempe against the Angels or head to Surprise and try to find my way around the Royals camp and hopefully get a glimpse of some minor leaguers.  Since I will soon be able to see the Royals in action in Kansas City, I decided to head to Surprise.  When I arrived in Surprise, there were lots of cars piling into the parking lot and so I figured the Rangers were playing.  What I really wanted to do was see the Royals minor leaguers which people had told me was easy to do, but I was a little confused.  I bought a ticket for the game because I figured that I would need it to get into the spring training facilities.

The ballpark in Surprise is reminiscent of many AA ballparks.  The facility is extremely nice with a large grass outfield for lounging.  I bought myself an adult beverage and set out in search of minor league camp.  I made my way completely around the stadium and the closest I came to my goal were a couple of batting cages .  The Rangers vs Rockies game was about to start so I hit the outfield grass to watch my first game of the year.

After a few innings of the game I decided to ask one of the many friendly ushers how I could get to the back fields.  He told me to walk outside the gate and down a ways I would find a gate in the fence, which would be the entrance.  I got my hand stamped for re-entry and was on my way.

I found the barely marked gate and began walking into the Royals spring complex.  I was hoping that there was still some baseball being played on the back fields.    I heard some gloves popping and knew that there was at least something to see.   I saw some activity on a couple of fields and as I got closer I could see there were two games against Padres minor leaguers going on.

When I arrived at the games, I felt like I had stepped into a private party.  Frank White was the first face I recognized.   He was talking with some Royals front office folks and not far from him stood John Wathan.  The stands at the fields are literally smaller than the ones at the stadium where I play softball.   They may have room to hold 50 people or so.  However, you can stand right up against the fence and get extremely close to the action.  The group of people watching was an odd mixture of Royals employees, attractive young women and baseball nerds.

I am not a particularly good scout of players, but here are some quick notes on what I saw:

Ernesto Mejia and Clint Robinson are huge.  Johnny Giavotella and Kurt Mertins are not.  However, the four of them look like they would make a pretty good basketball team with Giavotella and Mertins manning the back court with Mejia and Robinson in the front court.

I noticed that recently signed Nicaraguan prospect Cheslor Cuthbert was playing on one of the fields.  I had never seen him and wanted to get a close look for myself.  He was playing third and I only saw one ball hit to him.  He didn’t field it cleanly, but he knocked it down and threw the runner out at first.  His arm seemed average, but I only got to see him make that one throw.  He was about average height, and he wore his jersey a little baggy so I could not really tell what kind of build the kid had.  At the plate he looked lost.  He flailed pretty wildly at pitches out of the zone and seemed like he had major problems hitting off-speed pitches.  I contacted Greg Schaum at www.royalsprospects.com to check my report against what he knew.  He agreed with the scouting report, however he said that Cuthbert hasn’t seen much quality pitching and is very much a diamond in the rough.  It is worth remembering that Cuthbert is only 17 years old or so and will take some time to develop.  He will likely have some struggles in the next year or two adjusting to a higher level of competition and American Culture.

The experience for me was second to none.  If you are at all into watching prospects, then spring training is a slice of heaven.  I got to chat briefly with Omaha Royals Manager Mike Jirschele, Special Advisor Ned Yost and former Kansas City Athletic and current pitching coordinator Bill Fischer.  Fischer was hilarious and seemed to have something to say about every player on the field.  He and Ned Yost traded stories of being inducted into the Wisconsin Hall Of Fame.

With the small amount of people who are at the camp hanging around, it is pretty easy to snag a foul ball.  One literally bounced right in my hands, so I grabbed it with the intention to bring it home to my son.   When I was standing next to Bill Fischer, he asked me if I wanted him to sign the ball.  I said “go for it.”  He took it and signed it:

“Bill Fischer, Wisconsin Hall of Fame.”

It kind of summed up the casual nature of the whole experience.  Players are just wandering around and if you are an autograph kind of person, they are very easy to approach.  Coaches, managers and former players are just milling about.  It was kind of like being able to step into their world for a brief moment, being allowed into the back halls of the exclusive professional baseball society.  I know not everyone gets a chance to spend some time at Spring Training, but if you ever can you absolutely should.  It is truly an experience like no other.

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Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)