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Long Live The Process

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I personally have spent much of the last couple of months writing about the Royals’ young position players and, to a lesser extent, about their rookie laden bullpen.   The reason is quite simple:  after years of projecting and theorizing about ifs and buts and whats and whens, we can actually look at the lineup that takes the field every night and know that ‘next year’ applies most if not all of them.

Seriously, when was the last time you watched a Royals’ team play in August and September and knew that basically the same team was going to take the field again in 2012….and be generally happy about it?

Ditto for the bullpen.   Sure, there might be/will be some changes in the pen, but the core group will be back.   Again, not only will they be back, but the thought of Coleman-Holland-Soria to finish out games in 2012 makes me happy.

So, long story to nowhere, but that is why I have spent a lot of time discussing the above.   It is a real life, real time topic as opposed to the years of prospect watching and trade scenario (fun as it may be) fantasizing that was all we had as Royals’ fans to keep us marginally sane.

The starting rotation, however, throws us back into more theory than fact.   We think Felipe Paulino is a true hidden gem:  a strikeout pitcher with good control, who finally blossomed.   We think Danny Duffy showed enough promise, enough stuff, as a rookie to progress into at least a middle of the rotation starter.   While no one believes Luke Hochevar will ever justify his overall number one pick status, we think that his post All-Star break performance might indicate that he is ready to be a solid number three/four type starter as well.

Do three ‘thinks’ and a ‘might’ equal league average 2-3-4 starters?  Or is it more like 3-4-5 starters?

At minimum, the Royals do not have a number one starter, much less an actual ace.   Not long ago, we thought that Mike Montgomery might be that guy as early as 2012, but he is finishing off a AAA campaign that featured 69 walks in 150 innings with a decent, but modest, 129 strikeouts.   John Lamb has spent all of 2011 on the shelf with Tommy John surgery.   Chris Dwyer, who was never projected as a number one type guy, posted a AA earned run average solidly north of five.   Jake Odorizzi had a very nice season, but spent just half of it above A ball.   Will Smith also did a nice job this year, but his 108 strikeouts in 161 AA innings points more towards back of the rotation duty.

It would be foolish to give up on Montgomery or dismiss Lamb as wrecked, but none of the young arms the Royals so highly value is going to lead the rotation in 2012.   That’s okay, all in all, unless you want to contend in 2012 and my gut feeling is that Royals’ GM Dayton Moore thinks his team can do just that.

Let’s go along with Moore for a moment and assume that Kansas City can at least consider contending in 2012.   A lot has to go right, obviously, not the least of which is the three ‘thinks’ and a ‘might’ referenced above have to come true.  If so, then you can rely on some combination of a resigned Bruce Chen, Everett Teaford or Aaron Crow to fill the fifth spot in the rotation and assuming THAT works out, you still have a big gaping hole in the number one spot of the Royals’ rotation.

How do you fill it?  Free agency? 

Unlikely.   C.J. Wilson is not coming to Kansas City and neither is C.C. Sabathia, should he opt to opt-out.   The rest of the market is thin and likely to be extremely overpriced.   We are not talking about giving Gil Meche one more contract year than anyone else, we are talking about the Royals paying for an extra year and paying too much for all the years in front of that.


Now, it gets interesting.   In the prospect hungry world of major league baseball, number one pitchers are just three or four prospect away from wearing your uniform.   It is a steep price, but doable.   Keep in mind, the hopeless, money starved Astros were apparently asking for a package that starts with something comparable to Montgomery or Wil Myers for Wandy Rodriguez, who is not an ace to begin with.  Doable, but steep….really steep.

To make it even a little more risky, the Royals might well find themselve trading, not for an ace or even a ‘number one’, but for a player who they think might become a number one.   Think James Shields of the Rays as an example.   There is talk he is available, but it could be just talk.   Frankly, was it clear at this time last year that Zack Greinke would not be a Royal in 2011?  Names could come up this off-season that you might never expect.   Would the Angels consider trading Dan Haren to bolster an offense that is getting outstripped by the Rangers?   Would the Phillies move Cole Hamels?  What about the Dodgers and their off-field mess?

The names are all speculation, the price is actually a little easier to define.   The Indians basically gave up the equivalent of Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, Tim Melville and Paulo Orlando to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez.   You know what Milwaukee gave the Royals and what the Nationals offered.  The packages are all different, but they are also similar in the overall talent given away.  If the Royals do it, it is going to hurt.

Should Dayton Moore make that kind of plunge in an effort to contend in 2012 or would it be wiser to make a smaller deal for an established mid-rotation guy and hope the Kansas City offense and bullpen are good enough to carry the team? 

I will be honest, there is part of me that believes prospects are overrated (that may shock some of you) and that same part is impatient to contend.   If Montgomery and Crow put James Shields (or insert your name of choice here if Shields bugs you) on the mound for the Royals on April 6, 2012, I would be hardpressed to say no.  If throwing four prospects – four really good prospects (Wil Myers AND Montgomery to start, boys and girls) – gets Clayton Kershaw in a Royals’ uniform, I have to tell you that I am probably all in.

All that said, the prudent move is probably to bring in one mid-rotation veteran for a moderate trade price (Cain or Cabrera and something) and see what happens in 2012.   The Royals might catch lightning in a bottle next season, but they are more likely to progress in fits and spasms:  winning 12 of 14 and then dropping seven of eight.   It might be wise to hope 2012 AAA is kinder to Mike Montgomery than this summer was and to hope that Aaron Crow’s bullpen stint turns him into a legitimate number two or three starter by 2013.

It is possible that a 2013 rotation of Montgomery, Duffy, Paulino/Hochevar, Crow and Odorizzi, with John Lamb rebounding nicely in AAA, may be a contending level group.  The Royals could have all that and still have all their coveted prospects as well.   Maybe.

The 2011 amateur draft process finally came to an end with Monday night’s signing deadline and the Royals ended up assembling a really promising group.   Remember the names:

  • Bubba Starling
  • Cam Gallagher
  • Bryan Brickhouse
  • Kyle Smith
  • Patrick Leonard
  • Jack Lopez
  • Jake Junis

All guys who the Royals signed for more than Bud Selig’s archaic and irrelevant slot values.  In the case of Lopez and Junis, the bonuses were dramatically over slot value as Dayton Moore and crew took flyers in the later rounds on players thought to be unsignable.   For all his faults at the major league level, you simply cannot criticize Moore’s ability to find and sign talent for the minor league system.

We all have heard plenty about Starling, but in Gallagher and Lopez the Royals signed a catcher and shortstop with outstanding potential and who, by most accounts, will stick at those valuable defensive positions.  Leonard brings power potential, while Brickhouse, Smith and Junis can all be projected as middle to top of the rotation starting pitchers.  (Pine Tar Press has a nice scouting report on the latter three, by the way)

Add to the above group two big bonus Latin American signees in outfielder Elier Hernandez and shortstop Aldeberto Mondesi and the summer of 2011 looks like an outstanding contribution to an already fine farm system:   part of the ‘next wave’ of prospects.   Remember the nine players mentioned above.

Okay, now forget about them.

This group is not ‘the next wave’, they are actually part of the wave after the wave after the next wave.   Remember that Bubba Starling could spend a full season at every minor league level and still be just 24 when he hits the big leagues.   Elier Hernandez could take seven years to work his way up to the majors and break in as a 23 year old rookie.

Even under the most optimistic of projections, Alex Gordon will be 31 years old when the first of this class makes his major league debut.   Eris Hosmer will be in his fifth season (hopefully costing the Royals a small fortune because he just won the MVP) and, quite frankly, it is unlikely that Ned Yost or any of the current crop of coaches will ever have a chance to write the name ‘Starling’ or ‘Hernandez’ on a lineup card.  That last sentence is not a prediction of doom and gloom, just a reflection of the career path of virtually every major league manager and coach, by the way.

Depending on how you want to classify ‘waves’ of prospects, you can make this group part of just about any wave you want.  The truth is that a year like this, when the Royals have ten rookies playing key roles on their major league roster, really should not happen again.   Successful organizations don’t just throw an entire AAA team onto their major league roster every couple of years.  Instead, they ease them in over a period of time.

In Kansas City’s case, this year was a perfect year to push a bunch of players through their rookie years at once.   There was little to lose and, honestly, not a whole lot standing in their way at the major league level.  By getting Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez acclimated all in one year, the Royals quite possibly accelerated the entire organization’s  timetable by nearly a full season.

Come 2012, the Royals can add the likes of a Lorenzo Cain (who really is not a rookie), David Lough, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Sisk and Kelvin Herrera to their core group of players as needed.     That group would then be followed by a procession of Wil Myers, Christian Colon (trying to be optimistic), Chris Dwyer, Will Smith and Kevin Chapman.     Not long after, we could start looking for the likes of John Lamb, Noel Arguelles, Jason Adam, Cheslor Cuthbert, Brett Eibner and Michael Antonio and then, THEN, we get to the nine guys that started off that column.

Of course, we know that not all of these players will make it and, in fact, most of them won’t.   We also know that some names that I have not mentioned will make it.   The good news is that they don’t all have to make it.

In virtually any other season between 2004 and 2010, Lorenzo Cain and probably even David Lough would have been playing major league baseball for a good two months by now.   That they are still in Omaha is not an indication of Dayton Moore’s stubbornness, but it simply a by-product of the fact that Kansas City currently fields a legitimate major league outfield trio.   Right there is a real sign of progress for this organization.

Now, this all sounds just perfect until Mike Moustakas hits .214 next season, Johnny Giavotella actually proves to be awful on defense and Alcides Escobar goes back to hitting .220/.230/.220 in 2012.   It all sounds just peachy until Mike Montgomery is sporting a plus five AAA earned run average next June and Danny Duffy is still struggling to make it to the fifth inning of most of his starts.

The Kansas City Royals are still remarkably fragile.   If the current major league lineup does not come through, the vaunted young bullpen regresses and Aaron Crow, Montgomery and Duffy flame out as starters, the team could well find itself playing 10 more rookies in 2013 and wondering who they can get with yet another top three draft pick.  

The Process is not a sure thing and there is a ton of work yet to do, but on this sunny day in August, it looks pretty good right now.   Let’s hope that this promising group of 2011 signees, when their time comes, are not being looked upon to finally lead the Royals into contention, but instead are being groomed to replace key players on a contending team without missing a beat.


Johnny G

Gia is running to KC. (Minda Haas/flickr)

I asked on Wednesday and it took less than 48 hours for the Royals to respond. According to Bob Dutton on Twitter, the Royals are calling up 2B Johnny Giavotella from Triple-A.

It’s the best kind of call-up because it’s one that’s absolutely deserved. Gia is hitting .339/.391/.481 in just under 450 at bats for the Storm Chasers.

The Royals had a spot open on the 40-man roster, so they don’t have to expose anyone to waivers, but they will obviously have to shed someone from the 25-man. And the Royals, as usual, are playing coy in announcing who gets shipped north on I-29. In my mind, there are three candidates.

First, would be Everett Teaford. He was called up to replace Kyle Davies, but the Royals dumped the six-man rotation and are now carrying 13 pitchers – eight in the pen. I know the starters are abysmal (collectively speaking) but to carry an eight man bullpen is still a heavy dose of crazy. (Unless you’re in St. Louis with the mastermind Tony LaRussa at the helm. He knows how to run a bullpen. Plus, he needs all those arms when he goes headhunting.) Many of us thought that Johnny G would get the call ahead of Teaford earlier in the week. After watching Teaford struggle on Tuesday, maybe the Royals have decided to make a change.

Second, would be Chris Getz. When you bring up Gia, he has to play every day. Has to. You don’t call up a youngster who was torching Triple-A pitchers just to ride the pine in the bigs. (If the Royals do something like this… I don’t even want to think about it.) So if Gia is playing second everyday, Getz immediately becomes surplus. The Royals picked up a younger, versatile player with more upside in Yamacio Navarro, so he’s the guy who you keep. Navarro can play three infield positions (plus the outfield, although that’s a stretch.) Getz is a second baseman (one with limited range) who can’t possibly back up short or third. He only has one position. It’s taken just two games for Navarro to show he’s hugely better at the plate than Getz. I haven’t a clue how Navarro would do at 2B, but since it looks like Getz often is wearing Alberto Callaspo’s cement shoes, I have to think he can’t possibly be worse. Getz has an option and can be sent down without being exposed to waivers.

Third, would be Mike Moustakas. We all know Moose has been miserable at the plate the last month or so. If he got sent back to Triple-A to build confidence, it would be difficult to argue against that move. However, the Royals stated that Moose was taking a couple of days off to work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and would assume his role at third. Just a working vacation to clear his head and smooth out his approach at the plate. I like this approach and hope the Royals hold the course here. Moose has nothing left to prove in Omaha and has been a slow starter at every level. Keep him in KC where he can work with the hitting savant Seitzer and give him time to get right. Honestly, it seems to go against the direction of this organization to send Moose down. The new M.O. is to call up the prospects and keep them up, struggles be damned.

As I write this early Friday morning, I think Teaford gets the axe. But I hope it’s Getz.

The good news is Giavotalla is here. Finally. Think about this… A Hosmer-Gio-Escobar-Moose infield.

The future really is now.

EDIT: Bob Dutton is reporting that it looks like Navarro is being shipped out. Robert Ford from the Royals radio post game thinks it’s to give him regular time as the Royals think he can be an everyday second baseman.

Gut reaction: This makes no sense. But it is the Royals.

Sunday’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went without Dayton Moore and the Royals making any additional moves as the organization instead played spectator to a rather frenzied trade market.   I don’t know if Moore deserves criticism, praise or neither for this.  

Moore did ship the forgotten Wilson Betemit to Detroit earlier in the month for two young non-prospects (but also two guys who you can kind of envision making it to the majors as well) and also spun the unwanted and unhappy Mike Aviles to Boston for a younger, happier version of himself (Yamaico Navarro) who can also play the outfield as well.    Given the status of both Betemit and Aviles at the time each trade was made, I applaud Moore’s return on both.

As Craig wrote after the Aviles trade one would have thought more activity was sure to follow.   After all, if Moore could spin a 30 year old player who had spent much of the year in Omaha to a division leader for a player who was actually on their major league roster, then surely there would be a market for veterans Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francouer, Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen.

As it turned out, apparently not.

It may well be that Moore’s initial asking price of a number three type starter for either Cabrera or Francouer was so outrageous that rival GM’s simply didn’t bother wasting anymore of their time thinking about it.    The sheer number of better players that were traded, however, may simply have overwhelmed the market and left the Royals’ in the starting gate.

After all, when Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran and Colby Rasmus (Michael Bourn as well) all are out in the market, it is easy to lose interest in the likes of Cabrera and Francouer.   With Ubaldo Jimenez, Erik Bedard and Doug Fister on the move, teams that might have resorted to a Francis or a Chen simply had better, sexier options.

Given that Ryan Ludwick was traded to Pittsburgh for a player to be named later or cash (pretty much the ultimate ‘here, just take him’ trade) might give some indication of what the offers might have been for Jeff Francouer – a better player than Ludwick right now, but not that much better.

As you probably know, I am as big a prospect guy as there is and trading a veteran for a couple of lottery tickets so that Lorenzo Cain (.318/.391/.525 in Omaha, .306/.348/.415 in 158 major league plate appearances in 2010) could play in Kansas City has always been my hope.   However, if the compensation for a Francouer was a used lottery ticket and some spare change, then even I agree with Moore’s lack of action.

Several years back, I was genuinely livid when Moore, using the ‘we’re not going to trade for anything less than value’ mantra, refused to move Ron Mahay at the trade deadline, but this year I have no great angst over waking up in August with Melky, the Panamanian named Bruce, Francis and the Frenchman still on the roster.  

So, what now?

There was a little bit of a Twitter snippet that if Kyle Davies was placed on the disabled list, that Johnny Giavotella would be called up to Kansas City.  That would certainly get everyone’s attention and I am all for it.    Let’s see what Johnny’s AAA line of .341/.394/.485 translates into at the big league level and let’s find out if the kid can actually field or not.   Chris Getz, who went a rather remarkable seven weeks without an extra base hit before doubling on Saturday, really should not be an impediment to seeing what a red hot young player can do in a season that is not going to end in a playoff berth.

We will see what transpires with Davies and what the subsequent result might be.   Ned Yost was already rumbling about returning to a five man rotation before the injury, so something is likely to change.  I foresee a Davies move to the disabled list, accompanied by Kyle’s inevitable return from it about the time Danny Duffy runs out of innings towards the end of August.  If Davies’ biggest contribution of his Royals’ career is eating some meaningless innings to save the arm of a pitcher who is part of the team’s future, then so be it.

Whether a DL stint for Davies means Giavotella gets the call or not remains to be seen.   Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have never done much to make me think they are particularly creative, so adding an 8th bullpen arm (hello Everett Teaford once more) is just as likely a roster move.  That said, what Giavotella is doing at the plate in AAA  is bordering on the ridiculous:  he will be here sooner rather than later.

Side note:  If Moore’s logic is to keep the bulk of the Omaha team together for a AAA playoff run.   So they can ‘learn to win together’, I am going to have some sort of coniption…maybe even a hissy fit.    I will buy that logic when someone, without looking it up, tells me the last three PCL champions and shows me how that benefitted their big league club.

So, what happens to Lorenzo Cain?   Given that he already has major league at-bats under his belt, Cain may the most major league ready of anyone who spent time in Omaha this year.   Unlike Giavotella, Lorenzo also brings plus defense to the outfield, but it is hard to figure where he fits in right now.   I don’t like the idea of bringing Cain up to play a couple of times per week and we all know that neither Cabrera or Francouer is going to sit as long as they are on the roster.

Perhaps the fact that Cain has already had a taste of major league pitching in a weird way makes the need to get him back to the majors less pressing.  Theoretically, Cain could hit the ground running as the regular centerfielder on Opening Day 2012 without getting more than a courtesy look this September.   The idea being that Cain has already gone through that first 100 at-bat ‘adjustment period’ that bedevils many a good prospect upon their debut in the majors.

In my heart, I think Dayton Moore missed a chance to be really creative at the deadline and possibly move The Process ahead at least a good half-season.   Should the Royals have shouldered the monetary load that is Wandy Rodriguez?   Should they dipped their toe into the Ubaldo Jiminez pool?  If key trade componets were Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow, would you have made the leap?   Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush?    Truthfully, how did the Charlie Furbush for Doug Fister trade get made without Nathan Adcock being included?

Okay, back to reality.

Since Ned Yost’s closed door meeting, the Royals have played good baseball, winning baseball actually.   Enough so, that they remain interesting.   Add Johnny Giavotella to the lineup tomorrow night and this Royals’ fan will remain interested and also remain convinced that the Royals are moving forward despite the lack of activity on Sunday.

Well, here we are at the exact halfway point of 2011 and our Kansas City Royals have just been swept by the San Diego Padres.   That is the same San Diego team that, despite three wins in a row, still sports a record in the lowest quarter of major league baseball.   The sweep leaves Kansas City with the worst record in the American League and the second worst record in all of baseball behind the Houston Astros.

We are entering prime trade rumor time (I’m not sure exactly how many times I logged onto MLBTradeRumors yesterday, but it was more than enough) and you can bet that more columns will follow speculating on possible trades and potential moves.   For today, however, this Royals squad has worn me out.    I don’t want to discuss Melky Cabrera or Chris Getz or, heaven forbid, Kyle Davies.    Aaron Crow to the rotation?  Joakim Soria on the block?  Not today.

Instead, let’s take a look past 2011 and, for the most part, past 2012.   While it may not necessarily be an ‘everything’s coming up roses’ sort of list, it is at least something other than the 2011 Kansas City Royals.

July 2nd is the start of the international signing period and the Royals appear to be in the lead on landing outfielder Elier Hernandez.   A five tool 16 year old (if such a person can actually exist in the real world), Hernandez could be the best signee in the history of the Royals.    He will almost certainly get the most money. 

The Royals are also in on infielder Adelberto Mondesi, Raul’s son.   He won’t turn 16 until July 27th and will have to wait for that day before signing.   Dawel Lugo is another infielder who the Royals have interest in, but are not the leaders to sign.   According to Baseball America, Lugo is a better prospect than Mondesi, but less likely to stick at shortstop.   Thanks to PineTarPress for the likely signeed, by the way.

You didn’t really expect to hear any Bubba Starling news yet, did you?  Having drafted near the top of the order for basically a decade, Royals’ fans now the drill:  nobody talks much until about August 14th when it comes to getting top level picks signed.  It doesn’t make much sense for Starling to turn down millions now to play college football with the hope that you might make millions later (not to mention that Starling is not a prototypical NFL QB type), so I think a deal will get made roughly 8 minutes before the signing deadline.

At that point, you wonder where or even if, the Royals will try to get Starling into game action in 2011.   They might well opt to wait until fall instructional games and it could be that we will have to wait until the rookie leagues start up in June 2012 before we actually see Bubba play real professional baseball.     It is possible that Starling is such an athletic freak that he could move quickly through the system, but I would hold off on buying Starling jerseys until at least March of 2014.

There is a lot of talk about Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain and even David Lough when it comes to the future of centerfield in Kansas City.   As mentioned above, Starling enters into the conversation at some point down the road, but let’s not forget about 2010 draftee Brett Eibner.   After injuring his hand two games into his professional debut this April, Eiber is back in action with Kane County.   While the slash line of .206/.265/.460 may not scream future major leaguer, he does have FIVE home runs in 17 games.   Already 22 years old, Eibner could move quickly once he shakes off the rust.

Cheslor Cuthbert is probably the most recognized international signee currently in the system and he has done nothing to disappoint.  As an 18 year old in A ball, the third baseman is hitting .309/.369/.473 with 4 home runs, 11 walks and just 17 strikeouts.    While Kane County is years removed from Kansas City, Cuthbert could spend a full season at each succeeding minor league level and still make his debut in the majors at just age 22.   It is very possible that Cuthbert could move quicker than that and arrive in Kansas City just in time to push Mike Moustakas to designated hitter as Billy Butler’s contract expires.

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:

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.


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.

[audio:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs054.mp3|titles=BBS Royals Podcast #054]

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Black Sabbath – The Wizard

Broken Social Scene – Pacific Theme

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It took me a few days to get the rest of my notes from Spring Training written up, but things have been busy around Royals Authority headquarters lately. Here are some things that I saw on 3-26:

Edgar Osuna – His fastball was sitting 86-87, it tails somewhat into the hands of a right handed batter. He threw a very nice curveball that was 70-71 and had a changeup in the 76-77 range. He didn’t miss very many bats and the hitters were squaring him up pretty good.

Eric Hosmer – What an absolutely impressive player. Even the least experienced baseball watcher can look at him compared to his peers and see that he’s different. His body type screams power but with athleticism, and that’s pretty much what you get. I asked a few scouts what they felt about his ability to play the outfield. Some say he could do it and it’d be worth a shot for the Royals, while others don’t see it at all. Personally, I’d like to see him try and play there and prove he can’t do it. He certainly has the arm to play out there, but while he’s athletic, he can be heavy-footed and not that fast.

Regardless of where he plays defense, his bat is special. He hit a monster homerun over right-center field that bounced off of the parking lot or sidewalk outside the stadium. My brother caught video of it and I put it up on youtube. Greg Schaum of Pine Tar Press got slow motion video of the same swing. His balance and transfer of power is just picture perfect. He’s without question the guy I’d rank as the best Royals prospect in the system. People tend to lump him together with Moustakas and Myers, but at this point I think he’s got them both beat solidly.

Mike Moustakas – It’s funny to see Moustakas and Hosmer together because they have very different builds. While Hosmer looks the part of a power hitting baseball player, Moustakas is shorter and a little thicker than Hosmer. He seems to have trimmed up a bit since last year, but he’s still got the same body type.

What he lacks in athletic build, he makes up for with bat speed. The word I heard the most often when discussing his bat speed, it’s “freaky”.  He uses that bat speed to put good wood on the ball in any number of locations and speeds. He’s an amazingly talented hitter. What I’m not so sure about is his ability to stick at third base.  It may not be an issue for the first few years of his career, but if he bulks up or gains wait, his already average range could get worse. It’s not a concern today, and I think he could play a passable if not average third for the Royals on Opening Day, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Christian Colon – I hadn’t got a chance to see Christian Colon in person, so he was high on my list of targets in Spring Training. My first thoughts on seeing his build is that it’s “college shortstop” not Major League shortstop or prospect shortstop. Basically he’s kind of think for a shortstop. If you’ve seen Alcides Escobar yet, you can see what an ideal defensive shortstop would look like. He’s athletic, but thinner and looks like he can run like a gazelle. Colon doesn’t look like that. Watching him run the bases and timing some of his runs both agreed with the eye test that he isn’t a very fast runner either. So his body type doesn’t seem to be masking some athleticism. All of that to me, adds up to second baseman. People have been suggesting it, but I was uncertain until first hand experience. I’m on the second base boat now with Colon. I think it’s a good idea to keep him at SS until he absolutely has to move, but that day is coming.

Fortunately, Colon can hit the ball well. He roped a good number of the times he was at the plate while I was watching. I think his bat can play in the Majors and can do so in relatively short order. He was playing with the AAA team the entire time I was in camp, but I doubt he starts the season there. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up there. He’s not a bust as a pick, he was probably still the right call at the time.

Will Smith – He’s much bigger than I had thought and can be an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball was sitting 88-90 and he featured a sweeping curveball at 75 and a changeup in the 78-80 range. He gets guys out by pounding the strikezone and not issuing many walks.

Mario Lisson – He has a really solid build that in sort of Hosmer like but not as strong. He’s clearly out-grown shortstop and has been put on third. I didn’t see him make a whole lot of use of his body at the plate. He’s now 26 and hasn’t been able to prove he can hit well enough to move up the prospect rankings. He seems to be a case where the physical tools don’t coincide with the skills required to be a Major League baseball player.

Patrick Keating – He was throwing his fastball in the 90-92 range, which shocked Greg Schaum when I showed him the readings. He said that Keating was 96 in the past. Maybe he was working through something or just taking it easy, but that’s a significant drop in velocity that he hopefully fixes once he gets back into the season. He had a good breaking ball that he threw in around 76. He showed some frustration on the mound when one of his outfielders bobbled a ball. There’s a thin-line between being a fiery competitor and over-reacting. Getting upset during a Sprint Training exhibition game seems to be a little over the top. However, it was only one moment in one game. I don’t know the back story and I can’t make any judgments based on that. We’ve all had bad days and been frustrated, he could have just been having one of those days.

Wil Myers – One thing needs to be cleared up in regards to Wil Myers, he is absolutely 6’3″ or so.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these prospect notes. These are my first hand observations combined with direct discussions with scouts. I’m going to try and make it to some Minor League games this year to bring even more detailed information throughout the season.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Yesterday was a night game for the Minor Leaguers as they took on the Texas Rangers prospects. These games are fun, but can be difficult because there are four games going on simultaneously. I was trying to catch as many interesting prospects as I could, but I kept getting pulled to another field. Then I kept missing out on guys that I wanted to see.

Jonathan Keck (LHP) – He’s a tall lefty who was pretty impressive in the high A game. He was throwing his fastball 90-92 and touched 93. It had good movement and he also flashed a really good curveball. In another organization he might get a lot more love, particularly since he’s a lefty. In the Royals organization he’s one of the many talented lefties. Someone to keep an eye on in 2011.

Tyler Graham (RHP) – Taken in the 22nd round of last year’s draft, Graham pitched in Idaho Falls last season. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He’s a “max effort” pitcher. When he throws the ball it looks like he’s trying to choke the life out of it—it’s a violent delivery. With that kind of delivery, he’s not going to be moved out of the bullpen and he might have some injury issues. It also hurts his ability to throw a secondary pitch, because getting a feel for it and also hiding it from the hitters can be difficult.

Shin Jin-Ho ( C) – He’s been kind of a mystery man since he was signed in 2009 as a 17 year old from South Korea. Behind the plate, he looked comfortable. He’s a “flat-footed” catcher, meaning when he crouches his heels are on the ground. It’s a technique that much better scouts than myself say they prefer. He seemed to pick balls out of the dirt pretty well, but I never saw him catch with runners on so it’s difficult to see how he would do when he has to block the ball.

At the plate, he seemed a little over-matched in the Low A game as he got blown away with a high fastball. It was only one plate appearance, so I wouldn’t take much away from it. He’s still very young and very raw. He might never be worth what the Royals paid for him, but he bears watching. He spent all of last year in the Arizona League (Rookie) and might graduate to Burlington (Rookie) this year.

Johnny Giavotella (2B) – Giavotella is an interesting prospect.  Pretty much everyone who gets a chance to watch him likes what they see, but there is plenty of debate on what his ceiling is. Some say average Major Leaguer, some say below average some say possibly above average. What makes him difficult to guage is that he does lots of things well and no one-thing great. He’s kind of like David Dejesus in that way. I’ve gotten to see him as much as any prospect in the system and I’m a believer in his ability. There are some questions about his defense and whether it’s Major League or not.

Scouting position players can be difficult without watching them every single day. What I see and continue to see in Spring Training this year is a player who can and will get a shot to be a Major League player.  He has a decent bat with some occasional power and he has a decent glove that he works hard on.

Wil Myers (OF) – Myers continued to impress, but by not swinging the bat. I watched him walk three times in a Minor League Spring Training game. His pitch recognition and plate discipline are that good. It’s disappointing not to see him swing the bat when he can do it so well, but a guy who has the ability to take walks like that in that kind of game is advanced.

Brett Eibner (OF) – One of the guys I was really anxious to see, but kept missing when I went to his field. People that did get to see him said he looked really good and put some charge into the balls he got a hold of.

Christian Colon (SS) – His bat will play in the Major Leagues, questions linger over his glove and ability to stick at shortstop. I haven’t had a chance to see him field much so I can’t comment,  but I do like his bat. I think he has a really good season this year.

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