This is the final installment in our ‘If Everything Goes Right’ series, focusing on what is perceived to be Kansas City’s organizational strength: starting pitching.
At the major league level in 2010, the starting rotation is likely to look pretty familiar. As we are in ‘everything goes right’ mode, let’s assume that Gil Meche and Brian Bannister are both healthy. That locks down the top three spots as a guy named Greinke, Meche and Bannister. The four and five starters will likely come from the top two spring performances out of Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and Robinson Tejeda. Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna might figure in, too, but odds are that he will work out of the bullpen this season.
It is possible that Dayton Moore will move, unnecessarily in my opinion, to acquire a veteran arm to put in the rotation (Erik Bedard & Jarrod Washburn have been rumored), but we will not factor that in today.
If Gil Meche returns to his 2007 and 2008 form and Brian Bannister simply performs at the level he did last year (good for 3 or 4 starts, then bad for 3 or 4), then the Royals will send an effective starter to the mound in a minimum of fifty percent of their games. If they can get any sort of improvement out of Luke Hochevar or if Robinson Tejeda really is the guy that pitched so well in August and September last year, then they will enjoy the benefits of a solid rotation.
Solid, maybe even actually good, but not ‘elite’. That part of the equation will still be in the minors in 2010, headed by Aaron Crow.
Crow is likely to start the year in AA and the Royals certainly have to hope that he pitches well enough to warrant a September look in the majors. Will he be ready to take a full-time spot in the rotation to start 2011? Odds are that is pushing it a bit, but it is not without precedence (Jared Weaver anyone?) to see Crow up and in the major league rotation by June of 2011.
If the Royals don’t trade Gil Meche at the deadline in 2010, the readiness of Crow in mid-2011 makes that decision a no-brainer. If, by some stroke of good fortune, Kansas City finds itself in the race in June of 2011, then the addition to Crow in behind Greinke and Meche would certainly be welcome ammunition for a pennant run. I think what Crow does in the first few months of 2010 might even have an impact on the club’s willingness to trade or not trade Meche, but that’s a topic for another day.
Of course, behind Crow (in arrival to the majors, but maybe not in ability once there) are lefties Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy. At 20 years old, Duffy has already completed a full season in High A ball and possesses a minor league resume that inclues 290 strikeouts in 246 innings with a career WHIP of 1.10. Now, many an intriguing arm has gone from dominating the Carolina League to being dominated in the Texas League, but Duffy sure looks like the real deal to me.
While Duffy is almost certain to start the year in Northwest Arkansas, he may or may not be joined by Montgomery. My take, as an impatient Royals fan, is get Montgomery into AA in April, not June, but it would be hard to fault the organization for giving their number one prospect a couple more months of High A seasoning (he split 2009 between the two levels of A ball) before sending him up to AA. No matter where he starts, Montgomery (should everything go right) will end the year dominating AA and be poised to start 2011 in Omaha, where Duffy will surely be as well.
So, now you enter the 2011 season with a rotation of Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and Osuna/Tejeda/Lerew/Davies, with Aaron Crow virtually ready to take a spot and Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery heading up the best rotation the Omaha Royals have seen since….ever, maybe. It doesn’t take a ‘baseball man’ to see where that ends up.
How does a late season 2011 starting rotation of Greinke, Crow, Duffy, Montgomery and Meche/Bannister/Hochevar sound? I anticipate that between now and late August of 2011 that two of those last three names will have been traded, but seriously how nice would it be to trade Meche for prospects and have the luxury of Bannister and Hochevar fighting it out for your FIFTH rotation spot instead of your third?
What gets exciting at this point is that the Royals still have Noel Arguelles and Timothy Melville in AAA by 2012, with John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Kelvin Herrera, Tyler Sample and Keaton Hayenga all in AA. By the way, in 2012, all but Dwyer will be23 years of age or younger and Chris will be just 24.
Of course, we all know that developing young pitching into major league quality is a crap-shoot and the Royals have a history of botching the process. Yet, I have listed a bunch of names and the truth is that by 2013, the Royals will have had to have two completely separate lists of guys all not reach their potential to not have a truly outstanding rotation.
Truthfully, Kansas City needs two out of Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and Luke Hochevar to be take two spots in the rotation (legitimately TAKE, not just win by default, ala Kyle Davies) and two more out of Edgar Osuna, Arguelles, Melville and the rest listed above to take the next two. Those are not bad odds, even for an organization like the Royals.
Certainly, as Royals’ fans, we have reasons for skepticism, but I am asking for four out of twelve guys to become legitimate major league starting pitchers and totally disregarding the presence of Gil Meche and Brian Bannister or what might be gained from trading one or both at some point in the next two seasons.
Give me the dice, I’ll roll with those odds.