Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Yesterday, Clark wrote an article about the next Big Three Royals pitching prospects in Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Mike Montgomery.  The potential to have a trio of top of the rotation starters is something that could put a team in contention, however adding three stud everyday players is how you win pennants.  The Royals potentially do have that trio of everyday bats in the minors and they are: Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.  The combination of these six players would make nearly every other team in the MLB drool with jealousy.  With the minor league seasons now completed, lets take a look at what this trio did this year and look back breifly on their professional careers.

Mike Moustakas

Moustakas was drafted in the 2007 June Amateur draft out of high school in California and was projected to be a hitter.  He played shortstop in high school, but was immediately moved to third base upon beginning his professional baseball career.  In 2007 he was sent to the short-season Pioneer League to play for the Idaho Falls Chukars.  He played in 11 games and hit .293/.383/.439.

Coming into 2008 he was named the 18th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.  He was sent to the Singl A Midwest League to play for the Burlington Bees.  Moustakas showed the power potential the Royals expected to see out of him when he blasted 22 homeruns.  He hit .272/.337/.468 over 126 games.  His batting average and on base percentage were not what people had hoped, however he was still only 19 years old and had some time to develop his patience at the plate.

Prior to the 2009 season, Moustakas was named the 13th best prospect by BA.  He was promoted to the High-A Carolina League where he played for the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  Wilmington plays in Frawley stadium, which is notorious for being a pitchers park.  Hitting a ball out of the stadium is an extremely difficult task and not surprisingly Moustakas’ homerun total dipped to 16.  Beyond that, he hit .250/.297/.421.  He didn’t improve in any area statistically, which shouldn’t have come as a huge shocker as the 20 year old was getting his first taste of the elevated competition.  However, it did generate a little bit of worry amongst Royals prospect watchers.

Moustakas’ rough 2009 hurt his BA prospect ranking prior to the 2010 season.  He dropped all the way to #80 on the list.  Fear started running amok in the Royals fan base about the potential for another first round bust.  It surprised quite a few people, including myself, when it was announced that Moustakas would be playing at Double A Northwest Arkansas for the Naturals.  The prevailing thought was that if he had trouble with High A ball, then Double A might destroy him and his confidence.  Regardless, it was an extremely important year for Mike and all eyes would be on him, hoping to see a turnaround.  Moustakas delivered in spades by hitting .347/.413/.687 with 21 homeruns in only 66 games for the Naturals before being promoted to AAA.  Just as the Blue Rocks stadium is pitcher friendly, it seems that the Naturals stadium is hitter friendly and although Moustakas dominated on offense, there were whispers it was because of the stadium.

After proving he could not only hit AA pitching, but dominate it, the Royals promoted him to AAA Omaha.  He got off to a slow start, but eventually hit .293/.314/.564 and hit 15 homeruns for the O-Royals in 52 games nearly propelling the team to a playoff spot in the Pacific Coast League.  He was recognized as the Sporting News Hitter of the Year, and earned a spot on Team USA for the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament.

Moustakas has shown he can hit for power and average at high levels of the minors, but hitting AA and AAA pitching is nothing compared to hitting MLB pitchers.  One of the chinks in his armor is his number of strikouts.  In AA Moustakas had 26 walks to 42 strikeouts and in AAA had 8/25.  You can get away with that in the minors, but doing it in the Major League is another story.  Pitchers will find his weak spots and work them mercilessly.  I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions and his defense at third is pretty good from what I hear.  He probably needs to work on that facet of his game as well to become an everyday player at the Majors.  I’d expect to see him in a Royals uniform sometime mid season in 2011.

Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer was drafted in the first round of the 2008 June Amateur Draft out of high school in Florida.   He was an extremely late sign and played just 3 games that year for Idaho Falls.

Prior to 2009 he was ranked the 24th best prospect by Baseball America and was sent to play for the  Burlington Bees.  He hit .241/.334/.361with 5 homeruns in 106 games for the low-A Bees.  The Royals decided that they would promote him to Wilmington, possibly to boost his confidence or for a change of scenery.  He played even worse for the Blue Rocks, hitting .206/.280/.299 with 1 homerun in 27 games.  These numbers combined with the rough season that Moustakas had in 2009 were enough to really shake the confidence of the fan base.  The team at the MLB level was flailing and the much heralded prospects were failing in epic fashion.  We’d seen this before, and it wasn’t surprising.What most fans didn’t know though, was that Hosmer had a hand injury and needed eyesight correction.  Both of those complications certainly could have caused the rough season that he had.

In the off season, Hosmer got his hand healthy and he got eye surgery.  He also got completely dropped off of the BA prospect list and came into 2010 with expectations lowered just a tad.  He was re-assigned to High-A Wilmington and the power sapping nature of Frawley Stadium.  However, like he was reborn, Hosmer tore the roof of of the place.  He hit .354/.429/.545 with 7 homeruns and 6 triples in 87 games for the Blue Rocks.  He earned a trip to the Futures Game in Anaheim for the All-Star break, and subsequently earned a promotion to Northwest Arkansas.  There, he continued his torrid hitting pace and hit .313/.365/.615 with 13 homeruns in 50 games.  He helped replace the bat of Moustakas, who had been promoted to AAA, and helped lead the Naturals to the Texas League Championship.

Hosmer is a tall athletic young kid who is still only 20 years old.  He has been playing first base since his arrival in the Royals organization.  Personally, when I’ve seen him he almost looks too athletic to play first, but he is a very big guy.  I was higher on Moustakas until I got a look at Hosmer at the futures game.  His body type and plate discipline are what really impressed me.  I believe he can grow into even more power and should be able to be a very good defensive first baseman.  If you forced me to pick, I’d take Hosmer over Moustakas for my team.  He will be joining Moustakas in the Pan Am Games this fall and he will be in the Arizona Fall League,  I expect him to play a full season in AAA in 2011 with a call to the majors in mid 2012.

Wil Myers

To catch or not to catch, that is the question.  Wil Myers is the third of our trio of players and he is also the youngest.  Continuing the theme, he was drafted out of High School in the 3rd round of the 2009 June Amateur Draft.  The Royals offered the young catcher money well above the recommended slot bonus for a third round pick and Myers chose the professional route in lieu of a scholarship to North Carolina.

Myers got to work early in 2009 and played 22 games for Idaho Falls and hit .369/.427/.679 with 5 homeruns in 22 games.  He was quickly promoted to the Burlington Royals of the Rookie level Appalachian League.  He only played in 4 games and accumulated 2 hits in the brief stint.

The question going into 2010 for Wil Myers, was his spot on the field.  He’d been a catcher in high school, but there was plenty of talk that his bat was too good to be behind the plate, and his defense there was not spectacular.  He was sent to Burlington, Iowa to play for the Bees and was still behind the plate.  He hit .289/.408/.500 with 10 homeruns in 68 games before being promoted to the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  There, he hit.346/.453/.512 with 4 homeruns in 58 games.  More importantly, he continued to catch and DH.

Opinions on his defense vary, but I haven’t heard anyone call him a great catcher just yet.  Rumors of him moving positions will probably follow him all the way to the Major Leagues if he stays behind the plate.  That isn’t uncommon for a great hitter, which Wil Myers certainly is.  I don’t have a huge issue moving him, and I don’t have a huge issue with keeping him at catcher.  What I would have an issue with is moving him to a defensive position once he gets to the MLB.  The Royals continually try and put players in a new defensive position at the Major League level and it confounds me.  They need to identify NOW whether they think Wil Myers is a catcher or not.  If he isn’t get him used to an outfield spot today.

These three players, Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers make are the core of the Royals future position players.  Combining them with Duffy, Lamb and Montgomery you have six players with elite potential.  How they perform the next two to three years will tell you everything you need to know about the Royals chances to compete in the near future.  Fans like to compare this crop of guys to past failures like Roscoe Crosby, Dan Reichert and Dee Brown.  Sure, they have a chance to fail just like those guys, however this crop is significantly more talented than anything the Royals have seen in decades.  The odds are good that not all six of them will become elite talents, but the good news is, when you have 6 players this good, not all of them HAVE to be, that is the difference.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook .  If you would like to receive his daily Royals system boxscores via email, just drop an email and request it.  He will be sending out boxscores for both the Pan Am Games and the Arizona Fall League.

Congratulations to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on winning the Texas League Championship.   The Naturals won with a roster full of intriguing prospects, not the least of which were a trio of young arms with upsides through the roof.

Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and John Lamb might be the best the trio of prospects to come through the Royals system at roughly the same time since Saberhagen, Gubicza and Jackson vaulted to the majors and helped the Royals win their one and only World Series.  

The excitement and anticipation surrounding those three arms (among others – Will Smith for example) certainly has to be tempered by the knowledge that developing major league starting pitchers out of minor league prospects is one of the most problematic equations in all of sports.   The Royals have had enough of  their share of mismanagement, injuries and just plain bad luck in the past to make many long time fans (including this writer) utter a phrase like this:  “Well, if just one of them develops into a reliable front-line starting pitcher I will be happy.”

While that skepticism is well founded, for any organization, but especially for Kansas City, sometimes all your prospects do develop.   Case in point, the Oakland A’s of ten years past.

Oakland got competitive in no small part because of its trio of dominant arms:  Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.   They were drafted in three successive years and before any of them had reached age twenty-five, those three pitchers formed probably the best front three starters of any rotation in the league.

Hudson was drafted in the summer of 1997 in the sixth round.   He debuted in the majors two summers later, starting 21 games in 1999 and posting a 3.23 earned run average at age twenty-three.   Hudson won 20 games the next season and has never looked back.

Mulder was drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft and two years later started 27 games in the majors.   While the 22 year old Mulder managed just a 5.44 ERA in that 2000 campaign, he won 21 games the very next season.   While Mark’s career was derailed by injuries six seasons later, he was a force for the A’s.

Zito was drafted in 1999 (Round 1) and at age 22 was already in the majors to start 14 games in 2000 (2.72 ERA).   He went 17-8 with a 3.49 ERA in 2001 as he went on to start 208 games for Oakland.   Say what you want about his huge contract and move to San Francisco, but Zito had a tremendous run with the A’s.

Fast forward to the Royals’ hopeful big three.   The big difference is that Montgomery, Duffy and Lamb were all drafted out of high school, which obviously extends the time they will spend in the minors versus Oakland’s trio.   In addition, Lamb lost his first summer after being drafted due to injuries suffered in a high school car accident, while Montgomery battled some injuries this past summer.   Of course, we are all aware of Duffy’s sabbatical from baseball at the start of this season.  In the case of Montgomery and Duffy, that basically set their timetable to making the majors back one full season.  

My guess is the Royals, prior to the season, were thinking they might see Duffy, their 3rd round pick in 2007, in Kansas City this September.   However, after taking time away from the game, Danny pitched only 62 regular season innings in 2010.    He will likely start next year back in AA with a mid-season promotion to Omaha in mind.    Given his low inning count, it is probably unreasonable/unwise to pile more innings on Duffy next September.

Innings issues aside, Duffy has been pretty dominant at each and every level in the minors and I do not think it is a stretch to see him continuing the trend.   Danny could delay his major league debut until April 2012 and would still be just 23 years old that entire season.

Mike Montgomery, a sandwich pick in 2008, was on a rocket pace through the minors and was the organization’s number one prospect prior to losing chunks of his 2010 summer to minor injuries.   Like Duffy, he has an innings issue in 2011 as he threw just 93 this summer and that may put Mike on the exact same timeline as Duffy.

While some might debate that Duffy ‘has been dominant’ in the minors, I don’t think anyone can debate that statement when it comes to Montgomery and he is still very young.   Should Montgomery make the major league roster in 2012, he will do so as a 22 year old.

The Royals 5th round pick in 2008 was John Lamb.   As mentioned above, John did not pitch that summer as he recovered from a car wreck.    In just his second professional season, Lamb pitched at both A levels and then finished up in AA this summer.   Both the Midwest League and the Carolina League were no match for Lamb, who struck out 133 batters in 114 innings in those two levels combined.

John’s first four starts in AA were a little rocky – keep in mind he had just turned 20 in July of this year – but over his last three regular season starts for the Naturals, Lamb threw 16 innings, allowed just 8 hits, 5 runs, walked only 2 and struck out 17.

Here is the funny thing about prospect development:  with 147 innings logged in 2010, Lamb might the first of these three to make it to Kansas City.    He might well do so late next season, where he would be pitching as a 21 year old.

Could Montgomery-Lamb-Duffy be the next Hudson-Mulder-Zito?   History has taught us that the odds are probably against all three getting to the majors and being great once they get there.   Still, history has also taught us that it can happen and it appears that the current Royals’ trio has a decent chance of getting it done.

Thursday was the Royals final off day in 2010.  It’s really difficult to believe this season is almost complete.

For the final two plus weeks of the year, I’d really love to see Ned Yost play guys like Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon everyday.  Wilson Betemit, too.  Of course Billy Butler.  Why not just lock those four into the third through six spots in the order and see what happens?  So far, the Royals have used 92 batting orders in 144 games.  That’s actually pretty stable.  They’ve used two different lineups on 10 occasions.  Unfortunately, both those lineups had Scott Podsednik at the top of the order.  Since the August purge, there hasn’t been a ton of lineup stability.

I’d like to see some over the final handful of games.  Just for fun.

It’s never too early to think about next year.  Especially since we’re Royals fans.

— Have you noticed Yuniesky Betancourt has the exact same OPS+ as the recently departed Wee Willie Bloomquist?  Where have all my favorite Royal PR tweeters?

— Two of the top three Royals in WAR have had fewer than 375 plate appearances.  And three of the top five aren’t even on the active roster.  That’s kind of depressing.

— As long as we’re talking about Royals no longer on the active roster, let’s check in with some of our departed favorites:

Kyle Farnsworth
Kerosene Kyle has a 5.40 ERA, but that’s deceptive.  He’s still throwing gas, striking out 19 in 15 innings.  However, the Braves quickly learned you don’t trust the guy in high leverage situations.  He hasn’t pitched in a pressure situation since allowing a pair of inherited runners to score on August 25.

Rick Ankiel
Ankiel has been predictably awful, hitting .207/.311/.304 in 106 plate appearances.  His 36 strikeouts for the Braves is pretty much on pace for what he did with the Royals.  The Braves are battling for their postseason life, so they’ve wisely pulled back on his playing time the last couple of weeks.

The Braves had a 3.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East when they made the trade.  They’re now three games behind the Phillies, although they have a half game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card.  We will fondly remember this pair when Little Timmy Collins is throwing gas at the K.

Jose Guillen
Speaking of the Giants, Guillen has posted a line of .280/.318/.366 since joining San Francisco.  He has just five extra base hits in 88 plate appearances and three walks against 21 strikeouts.  New zip code, same old approach.  Except the Giants have to play him in the field where his defense has been exactly as bad as you would imagine.

Alberto Callaspo
My old favorite contact hitter is batting .273/.314/.341 since being the first domino to fall.    He’s making more contact (94% of all swings meet the bat) but his power is down since joining the Angels.

Scott Podsednik
We knew it couldn’t possibly last.  We knew it.  It didn’t.  Pods hit just .262/.313/.336 for the Dodgers with just five steals in eight attempts.  He somehow grounded into five double plays in 20 opportunities.  He’s out for the rest of the season with plantar fasciitis.

The Dodgers were in third place six games out when Podsednik arrived.  They’re now 10.5 games back and in fourth.

— MLB released their 2011 master schedule this week.  The Royals open at home on March 31 (a Thursday) against the Angels.  That’s a good Opening Day opponent.  To wrap the season, 23 of their final 30 games will be against AL Central opponents.  That’s not really a big deal for 2011.  Someday… It will matter.

For the interleague, the Royals will travel to St. Louis, Colorado and San Diego. I thought the idea behind interleague play was to give teams some variety of opponents.  I understand the “natural” rivalry with the Cardinals, but this is the second year in a row we’re facing off against the Rockies.

The Yankees and Red Sox make their only trip to Kansas City in the same week in the middle of August.  Good, get that out of the way in one homestand.  In all seriousness though, I’m happy to see the way the schedule worked out on this one.  We know the Yankees and Red Sox with their midwestern based bandwagon fans fill the K when they come to town.  It seems like the last several seasons, the Royals have had opening day against either one of those teams basically combining two big attendance days in one.  And since the number of seats are limited… You don’t have to be an economist to figure this one out.

Because of their interleague trip to San Diego, the Royals will be making three West Coast swings instead of two like they had this year.  Keep those frequent flyer accounts updated.

Of course the huge news is the Cubs are coming.  Again, this is good for attendance figures and the bottom line, but bad for my psyche.  Why?  Because I don’t like the Cubs, that’s why.  And I don’t like the people who will invade the K that have never been to Chicago, yet claim to be Cub fans.  We get that enough when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town.

Oh well… If I want it to be different, the Royals will need to start winning again.

We saw the bullpen both present and future in action last night, securing the win after Bruce Chen labored through five innings.   They did so using Gil Meche, Blake Wood, Robinson Tejeda and, of course, Joakim Soria each for an inning.   Combined, the four allowed two hits and no runs over four innings, striking out five along the way.

The above is not meant to bag on Bruce Chen.   He is what he is and as long as the Royals can figure out a way to make Bruce their number five starter next year instead of their number two, he can allow three runs over five innings 32 times next season without complaint from me.

Last night’s performance was simply outstanding and likely a preview of what we can expect to see out of the pen in 2011.  

Soria and Tejeda were locks to be on the roster, but the reincarnation of Gil Meche as a reliever and the rebound of Blake Wood pretty much solidify the core of the Royals bullpen for 2011.  

In Wood, the Royals have a 24 year old hard thrower who spent the first month of his major league career basically being lucky (allowing no runs, but striking out no one), then pretty much got the crap hit out of him most of the summer.  

Somewhat curiously, the Royals were tweaking Wood’s delivery at the major league level, but the results seem to have paid off.  After taking a ten day break near the end of August, Wood has come back to strike out 8 batters in his last six appearances spanning just 5.1 innings.   Now, that is a very small sample, but considering Wood struck out just 16 hitters in his first 38 innings, it is still a big enough jump to get me interested.

If the choice is banking on a 24 year old Wood in the sixth and seventh inning next season or spending the precious few resources the Royals have this off-season on a ‘veteran’ middle reliever, the choice is obvious to me.

In the case of Gil Meche, you can view him however you want, but the truth is he is going to make $12 million next year no matter what.   He could have gone the route of surgery and never pitched for the Royals again and still cost the Royals exactly the same amount of money.   Let’s all get over the ‘$12 million set-up guy quips’ and focus on what is salvageable on the back half of this contract.

In five relief appearances, Meche has allowed five hits over six innings.   Along the way, he has been tagged for just one run, allowed just one walk and struck out five batters.  

Certainly, Meche will have to handled gingerly throughout 2011.   Probably the Royals will not use him on back to back days, nor rush him to warm-up to enter in the middle of an inning.   Assuming that Wood can continue to strike hitters out as he has over the past couple of weeks, it really should not be a problem to accommodate Meche’s ‘fragile’ status.

While this column is making two rather large assumptions (Meche staying healthy and Wood maintaining his new strikeout rate), it certainly looks like the Royals might have the makings of a pretty good bullpen for 2011.     Of course, you would be wise to point out that a good bullpen on what is likely to be sub-.500 team is a luxury item.  

However, the beauty of that foursome is that Joakim Soria is almost silly affordable through 2014.      Blake Wood is under team control all the way through 2015, while Robinson Tejeda won’t be a free agent until 2013.   Plus, after his contract expires next season, Gil Meche is not going to cost $12 million.    Even if Meche is dominant out of the pen and healthy all season, he likely will not command anything more than three or four million per year on the open market.

Again, a couple of big ‘ifs’ in this equation, but the Royals could conceivably have an effective and stable foursome in the back of their bullpen not just next season, but for the next two years after that (if not more).    Perhaps it is building a team backwards to have a good bullpen before the rest of the squad is ready to compete, but when one falls in one’s lap, you might as well capitalize on it.

In my mind, the only mistake Dayton Moore could make this off-season with regard to his relief corps would be to spend one ounce of energy or one penny on adding anyone from outside the organization to this unit.

(Flickr/BTats)

Another September and another strong finishing kick from Kyle Davies.  Although he’s made just two starts this month, he did have a fine outing (8.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 SO) on the final day of August, this isn’t the first time Davies has made a mad dash for the finish.

September, 2008
31.2 IP, 22 H, 8 ER, 7 BB, 24 SO
2.27 ERA, 6.8 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9

Three of Davies best starts of the 2008 season were his final three starts of the season.   This is where an urban legand was born, as it’s always easy to see how a player finishes and hope (and project) similar results for next season.  It’s “he’s turned the corner” disease.  It happens.

A close look at the numbers (Danger: This is where sabermetrics meets a small sample size.  If I make a false move, that will explain the mushroom cloud over Midtown.) reveals Davies had a touch of luck on his side the final month of 2008.  He posted a .244 BABIP (against a .308 BABIP for the full season) and a 3.70 xFIP (against a 4.82 xFIP for the entire year) in September.  The fact those September numbers are so far off his full season numbers (even with the small sample size) can point to a certain amount of good fortune being involved.

Of course, we can’t always look at divergences in numbers and claim “luck!” was involved.  Sometimes it’s something else a little more subtle… A change in mechanics, weaker opposition, unjamming his eyelids… Whatever.  I’m simply pointing out how Davies’ last few September’s have been far from the norm.  Whether it’s luck or something he’s doing on purpose, the results aren’t exactly carrying over to the following season.

The next season, Davies made only three September starts before the Royals shut him down with soreness in his shoulder.  In 2009, two of his best three starts came in the final month. (His best start of the season was his first, a three hit, seven inning lockdown of the White Sox.)  Here are his numbers:

September, 2009
17 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 14 BB, 10 SO
1.06 ERA, 5.3 SO/9, 7.4 BB/9

Although there was a ton of ink spilled about how Davies was finishing strong, how can you be walking seven batters a game and be considered good?  How about when you’re limiting base hits thanks to a .178 BABIP?  Again, it’s a small sample.  There’s no way Davies is walking batters at that rate for a full year – although he did have a 4.8 BB/9 in 2009.  Just like there’s no way he’s going to have such a low batting average on balls in play.  So if we’re going to discount his walk rate and BABIP, we have to do the same with his ERA.  Yes, he didn’t allow any runs and that’s certainly the goal here, but his 5.92 xFIP gives us a sense of a chance for correction, as it were.

And now this season…

September, 2010 (so far)
12 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 9 SO
1.50 ERA, 6.8 SO/9, 3.8 BB/9

The smallest of sample sizes, but again, you can’t ignore some of the same trends we’ve seen in the past.  Namely, a crazy low .200 BABIP and an elevated 4.89 xFIP.  Of course, those two September starts rank among his top four for the entire season.

As long as Davies doesn’t implode over his final three starts of the season, he could finish with a sub-5.00 xFIP for only the second time in his career.  That’s good – for Davies, at least.  Although his current ERA+ of 83 says this year is his worst full season as a Royal.  Baseball Ref’s WAR says it’s a toss-up between this year and last.

I feel certain that this year we’ve seen the true talent level of Davies.  A guy who will post an ERA around 5, will walk about four batters per nine innings and will strikeout about six per game.  It’s not that this is horrible… It’s just you can pull guys like this off the scrap heap for minimal cost.  (I’m looking at you, Bruce Chen.)

It’s funny how this works… Davies is OK because even though he stinks, he’s been a Royal for most of his major league career.  We traded for him.  That means he was worth something.  It wasn’t like he was a minor league free agent or some waiver claim.  We thought differently of Chen when the Royals signed him.  “Bruce Chen?  That bum?  Really?”  This was because he wasn’t our guy.  He was a castoff from more than one organization.  It turns out, they’re both roughly the same pitcher.  This year, at least.

Davies is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter and I’m sure the Royals will tender him a contract and will eventually bring him back for around $2 million to fill out the back of the rotation.  That’s the safe move.  It’s also a move with zero long term implications.  It’s fairly obvious when the pipeline to the minors open and this influx of young talent begins arriving in the next couple of years, Davies won’t be good enough to shine their shoes.  He’ll be long gone.  A faded memory.

Nick thinks we may be focusing on the negative with Davies.  Perhaps.  But if the Royals want to do something bold, they’ll avoid resigning Davies and go fishing for a cheap arm this off season to drop in the back of the rotation.  Heck, they could try Bryan Bullington or Phillip Humber or any of the other journeymen that will undoubtedly cross their radar this winter.  Maybe they’ll strike gold.  It’s unlikely, but it could be worth the effort, simply because you may not know what you will discover.

Unlike with Davies.  We know exactly what he brings to the rotation.  Since we know about his true talent and we know it’s not good enough, why continue?  Hopefully the Royals will be bold and will go for some new blood in the back of the rotation in 2011.  It really couldn’t hurt.

Yesterday was an epic day in Kansas City sports.   Both the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs had home games, creating a twelve plus hour marathon of sports and partying.  Before the Royals could even begin their 2:10 start, the day got even bigger as it was announced that Willie Bloomquist had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds for cash or a player to be named later.

I was shocked when I heard about the deal.  Whether the Royals get cash or the often traded player to be named later, they benefit from the deal.  It is the understatement of the year to say that the Royals are no longer playing meaningful games, so getting rid of a guy who is going to be a free agent in the offseason and was taking playing time from younger developing players is an obvious move.

What isn’t so obvious is why the Reds wanted to acquire him.  Since he was acquired at such a late point in the season, Bloomquist is unable to play in the postseason.  On top of that, Cincinnati has a commanding 7 game lead in the NL Central.  If the Reds blow that lead, it wouldn’t be due to a lack of Willie Bloomquist in the lineup.  The only reasoning that makes sense to me is that Bloomquist can spell some of the Reds regulars at any number of positions to keep them fresh for a postseason run.

Like many things in sports, the opinions on Willie Bloomquist varied wildly during his tenure with the Royals.  Both the devotion to the gritty utility guy and the derision of a mediocre player who got too many plate appearances are right and wrong.  The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle.

Assuming that Bloomquist doesn’t resign with the Royals this offseason, his final numbers as a Royal are 197 games played over two seasons, while hitting .265/.305/.364 with 7 homeruns.  In other words, he was just a guy, the typical replacement player.  However,  he was a guy who could play lots of positions and was willing to do whatever was needed of him off the bench.  I think that fans probably tend to underrate a player like that and managers tend to over-rate them.  The bottom line is that most, if not all teams have a player like Willie Bloomquist, especially good teams. For example,  Tampa Bay has Reid Brignac, who has played second base, shortstop and right field while hitting .263/.310/.393 for the American East Leading Rays.

The fact that teams all have a Bloomquist-type guy is not only a testament to his value, but how easily he is to replace.  The Royals will likely go out and try and replace Bloomquist either internally with a guy like Mike Aviles, Chris Getz or Irving Falu or out in the open market with a more expensive but more proven player.  The next incarnation might be younger, but less valuable in the field or even at the plate.  There will be many Bloomquists to draw the ire of the fans in the future, but remember, they do provide value.  Partly, I think we might just miss old Willie Boom Boom Bloomquist, will you?

It is September and the Royals are out of it.   The Chiefs have long since taken center stage in Kansas City (if they ever left it) and in other parts of Royaland (notably here in Lincoln), college football is the primary focus.

Even among the Royal faithful, interest in waning.   Following Twitter yesterday, there was much more discussion of Eric Hosmer and Northwest Arkansas’ playoff run than of the Royals versus Sox.   Frankly, who can blame them/us?

At any rate, Ned Yost had an interesting comment over the weekend when addressing the Royals jumping to a six run lead on Sunday only to see Sean O’Sullivan and crew blow it:

“It’s been my experience that it’s real nice when you have a guy like Greinke or Hoch on the mound.”

Really?  Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar in the same sentence?

Like many, I was of the mind that Hochevar was showing real improvement this season before going down with injury.   Was he, however, showing enough to basically be penciled in as the Royals’ number two starter next year?   I cannot interpret Yost’s comment in any other way.

Last season, Hochevar went 7-13 in 25 starts with an earned run average of 6.55.   To be fair, Luke had an xFIP of 4.34 that season, so he pitched better than his basic numbers might show.   Along the way, Hochevar struck out 6.7 batters per nine innings and allowed 2.9 walks every nine.

This season, over 13 starts, Luke posted a 4.96 ERA with an xFIP of 4.27.   He had the exact same strike out rate as in 2009,  was walking 3.2 batters per nine innings, but had cut his home run rate from 1.45 per nine innings in 2009 to 0.78 in 2010.   That is improvement, but only incrementally – not exactly breakout material.

Perhaps, Hochevar was about to ‘take the next step’ only to be derailed by injury, but can the Royals really count on it?   Prior to the June 11th start that sent Luke to the disabled list, he had allowed 11 earned runs over his previous 31 innings – going seven frames or more in those four starts.   THAT’s the guy Ned Yost knows, not the up and down ‘big inning waiting to happen’ pitcher that most of us have endured since 2008.

From the moment Yost took over as manager, he has been a ‘Hochevar guy’.   He left him in games so that Luke could learn to get out of his own jams.   I agree with the strategy and perhaps, if Hochevar is and stays healthy, it will all pay off for Yost and the Royals.

On the other hand, we have seen Hochevar in the past string together good starts only to spend the next month taking the mound with gas can in hand.    Did the injury derail a leap forward in performance or just forestall another bad stretch of ineffectiveness?

I do not know the answer.   Ned Yost thinks he does or otherwise comments like that above would not be coming out of his mouth.

On Thursday, Maury Brown posted the latest average attendance figures at the Biz of Baseball website.  It’s not really difficult to figure who is doing well and who isn’t.  If you win, they will come.  (Unless you’re in Tampa, where apparently they aren’t coming no matter what.)

The Royals, predictably, are down this year by roughly 2,800 people per game.  That represents the sixth largest average decrease from the 2009 season.  The numbers have been available all season, but seeing them online and in a table format got me to thinking…  Last year, the Royals had their best year at the gate since 1993.  A total of 1,797,887 fans hit the turnstiles in 2009, representing a 13.8% increase from the 2008 season.  That was the largest increase (percentage-wise), in all of baseball.  Given that overall attendance at all stadiums was down about 6.8% for the year, that was quite impressive.

Of course, the primary driving force behind the increase in paying customers was the spectacle of the renovated Kauffman Stadium.  In addition to all the shiny accoutrements that came with the renovated K, it also fueled the team’s record Opening Day payroll of $70.2 million.  “(The payroll increase) represents, in part, a good-faith response to the public’s support in funding $225 million in renovations to Kauffman Stadium,” Glass said in an article in the Star just ahead of the home opener.  It’s nice to give something back to the taxpayers who have been so generous.

Perhaps another reason for fans to flock to the stadium was to watch the starting pitching stylings of one Zack Greinke.  The Royals averaged 24,730 fans in Greinke home starts.  That’s a good theory, but I think we’re giving fans too much credit.  Four of the top five attendances in Greinke starts came on Buck Night.  It’s not only possible, it’s probable, that fans love their dollar hot dogs and peanuts more than watching a Cy Young candidate pitch.  He also started on two Hall of Fame Figurine nights that drew around 28k.

(Sorry to bust your bubble on that one.  Once you really dive into the attendance figures, it’s pretty clear that fans did not come to the stadium last summer with the express purpose to watch Greinke pitch.  They came for cheap food and freebies.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But maybe we shouldn’t pretend fans come out to watch great individual performances.)

Back to the topic at hand:  Attendance is down.  Since the Royals figured they would get a bounce from the renovations – and the “wow” factor of a new or renovated stadium quickly wears off (especially if you aren’t winning) I thought it was time to look at how the Royals compared to other teams who opened stadiums since 2000.

A couple of things before I unleash a table.  First, for the most part we are comparing a renovated stadium with a bunch of new stadiums.  Second, I expanded my scope to include the Angels, who opened their renovated stadium in 1998, because they are the only major league team to perform something similar to their home park.  And third, the numbers presented here are largely presented without comment.  It’s just an exercise to see how the Royals compare.  As I said, the comparison may or may not be fair.  Several factors (economic climate, team status, etc.) need to be considered when evaluating anything with attendance numbers.  This is painting with a broad brush.

The table follows.  It lists the team’s average attendance in the first year in their new home and the average attendance for the second year.

* Renovated stadiums.
** Thru games of 9/8.

— The Cardinals and the Yankees are the only teams to post gains the year after opening their new park.  The Cards got a bounce from a World Title (2006) and the Yankees were fairly aggressive in cutting costs of some premium tickets.

—  It’s interesting that the Royals and Angels are pretty close in their second year declines.  When the renovations were unveiled at the Big A, the Angels were a team scuffling for relevance in the AL West and finished last in the division in their second seasons in their refurbished home.  Sound familiar?

OK… For fun, let’s look at how the attendances stacked up for the Royals by adding the prior two seasons into the mix:
2007 – 19,961
2008 – 19,986
2009 – 22,473
2010 – 19,987

Apart from that bump in ’09, that’s a pretty steady fan base.  Uhh… The Royals are averaging exactly one more paying customer this year than in 2008?  That’s crazy.

So the honeymoon with the renovated K is history.  $225 million in taxpayer funds bought a merry go round, a party deck and a one year bump of about 2,500 more fans per game.  And nobody gives a damn about the deck and the carnival in the outfield anymore.

This is a once proud franchise that drew over 2 million fans for five consecutive years back in the glory days.  They haven’t really come close to that since the dark days arrived.  Hopefully, the Royals will see a bump in attendance soon.  Because they’re winning.

There are many factors that make up a contending team and lots of different ways to build that team as well.   Last week, I reviewed how the Texas Rangers built one of the more formidable lineups in the American League.    In doing so, I was reminded that Ian Kinsler was a 17th round draft pick.

Certainly, Kinsler in the 17th round certainly qualifies as a hidden gem as did Mike Piazza, drafted as a favor to Tommy Lasorda and, of course,  the biggest jewel of them all, Albert Pujols.    Being the inexact science that the amateur baseball draft is, the game is full of middle to late round players who made it big.   It is really not all that uncommon.

What is uncommon, however, is for a contending team to not have at least one ‘hidden gem’ in it’s lineup.   Take at look at the American League contenders:

  • New York – Jorge Posada, 24th round
  • Tampa Bay – John Jaso, 12th round (116 OPS+)
  • Boston – Kevin Youkilis, 8th round
  • Minnesota – Jason Kubel, 12th round
  • Texas – Ian Kinsler, 17th round

The White Sox are the only team that does not have a player in its everyday lineup that doesn’t qualify for this admittedly vague category.   Given that Oakland is a game under .500, I didn’t feel they truly could be called a contender, by the way.

So, among the many things the Royals likely need on their way to contention, it appears that having that ‘hidden gem’ (i.e. lucky pick) is one of them.   If you are willing to call the 2003 Royals contenders and not just a fluke, they had that guy in Mike Sweeney, a 10th round pick in the 1991 draft.   That however, seems like a long time ago.

Back in 2008, it appeared the Royals had found their guy in Mike Aviles.   A 7th round pick in 2003 (which the way the Royals were spending back then was probably the equivalent to about a 20th rounder for most teams), Aviles threatened rookie of the year honors and had appeared to solve one of the organization’s biggest holes.   Now, after arm surgery, Aviles is back as .289  hitting second baseman with very little power.  

The other immediate candidate, of course, is former 15th round pick Kila Ka’aihue.   Currently plodding along at .190/.267/.305, Kila has some work to do before he becomes the team’s hidden gem.

Keeping in mind that a ‘hidden gem’, at least for today, is a player drafted lower than the 5th round, not acquired via trade nor signed via free agency (which eliminates Paulo Orlando, Salvador Perez and the like) and is not a pitcher, who do the Royals have in the system that might become an everyday player at least as good as Jason Kubel or John Jaso and maybe even better than that?

  • David Lough.    Drafted in the 11th round of the 2007 draft, many of us thought we might see Lough in the big leagues this summer after he vaulted into the organization’s Top 10 prospect list last winter.    David got off to a tough start in AAA, walking only 10 times from April through June, but rebounded to hit .380/.453/.522 in August and walk 30 times in July and August.   Lough sports modest power (15 doubles, 12 triples, 11 homers this year) and the ability to play all three outfield spots.  
  • Jarrod Dyson.  If Dyson makes it in the majors, there is an archaeologist somewhere that deserves the credit for digging him up.   Buried deep in 2006 draft’s final round, Dyson has made it to the majors on blazing speed and defense.  His minor league career line is .278/.344/.343 with 131 steals in 305 games and that pretty much sums up who Jarrod Dyson is.   It is conceivable that Dyson may cover so much ground in centerfield that he could be an everyday above average player if he can duplicate those minor league numbers in the majors.   Somebody has to be the next Otis Nixon and Otis was a good player on some good teams.
  • Nick Francis.  After losing 50 games this year for violating the drug policy, the former 15th round pick came back to hit 24 doubles and 16 home runs in just 84 games in Wilmington (no small feat considering the park).   A whole bunch of swings and misses are part of Francis’ game and at 24, he was plenty old for A ball, but he is a guy that one can easily see putting up big numbers next year in Northwest Arkansas.
  • Alex Llanos.  I joined a bunch of others on the Hilton Richardson bandwagon a couple of years ago and have been driving the Paulo Orlando bus forever (but he does not qualify for this column), but I am now back on the Alex Llanos train.   He posted pedestrian numbers for the rookie Burlington club this summer (.259/.308/.362 with 17 steals), which probably do not excite anyone given that 2010 was Alex’s third season in rookie ball.      However, Llanos was drafted as a 17 year old in the 6th round and will play the entire 2011 season as a twenty year old.   He is all tools and all projection right now.
  • Whit Merrifield.  The College World Series hero and 9th round pick just this past June, Merrifield was tossed immediately into Low A ball and responded with a solid .253/.317/.409 line after starting out just 8 for 46.  
  • Clint Robinson.  How long have you been yelling his name at this column?  You can believe me or not, but I actually included Robinson in a column of ‘lower round guys to watch’ after the 2007 draft.   Picked in the 25th round out of Troy, Clint has proceeded to hit 74 home runs in four minor league seasons – marching up the chain one level per year.   This season, he won the Texas League Triple Crown with a line of .335/.410/.625 with 29 home runs and 41 doubles.    We have all heard how Northwest Arkansas plays in a hitter friendly park, but Robinson was good on the road, too (.285/.348/.532, 14 HR, 19 2B).   There was a one game dalliance in the outfield late in the season, but at 6’4″, 225 lbs, you wonder if Robinson can make that transition.

There are just a handful of possible gems from the Royals’ system.  You might have five or six other names, or none at all if you woke up in a pessimistic mood.   Having just one of these guys (and that includes Aviles and Ka’aihue), turn into an impact everyday player would be a huge boost towards moving the team to contention.

As Royals fans, we can look at Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers with great anticipation and remain hopeful about Butler and Gordon (not to mention the young arms), but slide the next Kevin Youkilis into the mix as well and the Royals suddenly get some unexpected and much needed help.   

That statement sounds a little crazy, but it happens more often than one might think.   The Royals certainly need it to.

Piggyback

6 comments

Did Tuesday night’s game have a spring training vibe?  The only reason I ask is because of the Royals announcing their first two pitchers ahead of the game.  Both Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar were slotted for four innings (or 60 pitches) as they continue to work their way back from injury.

Not a bad idea.  I’m always up for some outside the box thinking and this is something that works, given the circumstances.  The minor league seasons are over and the Royals want to continue to move their pitchers forward in their recovery process.  To go to a six man rotation to accommodate both Bannister and Hochevar would unnecessarily compromise an already shaky bullpen.  So why not go to the “piggyback” option we often see in March?

Of course, the Bannister start ended a bit… Prematurely.

Don’t look so surprised.  At the rate he’s gone this season, he’s been lucky to get through the fifth.  (Over his previous 12 starts before landing on the DL, Bannister averaged 5.1 innings per start.) On a pitch count (or innings limit) and coming off an injury, you had to figure there was almost zero chance he’d make it all the way.

I don’t think it was any coincidence that Bannister started getting ripped by the Twins on his second turn through the lineup.  That, and the fact he left a couple of pitches about belt high and in the middle of the plate.  It doesn’t help matters when his right fielder can’t make that catch on Matt Tolbert’s deep fly ball.  Wall shy.

I remain convinced that one of the questions facing Dayton Moore this winter will be Bannister or Kyle Davies… I just don’t see the Royals keeping both.  And since the calendar flipped to September, this is when Davies makes his case for next year.  (September tease… That’s what he is.)  Expectations were extremely low for Bannister tonight… and he still fell short.  This game was kind of a metaphor for his whole season.

“We look at this, hopefully, as a two-start deal,”

That was Ned Yost on June 15, when the Royals announced Hochevar would be placed on the DL with a grade one elbow sprain.  Uhhh… two starts turned into three months.  They missed that by about 13 starts or so.

Anyway, Hochevar was better than Bannister on Tuesday although that’s not saying much.  Hochevar racked up a ton of pitches in three innings and gave up a handful of hits – including the requisite Jim Thome moon shot – but at least struck out three.  Hochevar was in trouble in his first two innings, but was able to work out of jams.  The Delmon Young double was the exception.

Here’s the real key to the evening:  Hochevar had a couple of hitters off balance, something Bannister failed to do in his time on the mound.  By comparison, Bannister had one swinging strike all night.  Hochevar had seven – including three against Jason Kubel in one overmatched at bat.

I bet we do this piggyback thing for at least one more start.

— The way Butler hurt his hand was bizarre.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before.

— I continue to be impressed by Alex Gordon in the field.  It’s always pleasant when one of the Royals positional moves doesn’t end in disaster.  Or misadventure.

— Good for Josh Fields and his home run.  I guess.  It’s not his fault, but I fail to see how he exactly fits on this team moving forward.

Final thought…

I read in the Star that the “evaluation process” would be on hold this week as the Royals play the Twins and the Tigers.  The Yost Machine’s thoughts are since these teams are contenders, the Royals owe it to put their best players on the field.

So I take it we won’t see Jesse Chavez over the next six games?

Here we go again… Every single time the Royals appear to make a commitment to their young players, they panic after a few losses (or individual struggles) and revert back to form.  The same form that got them in the same pickle to start.

Although, I have to admit, I’m not entirely certain what this means… The “best players.”  Less Josh Fields?  Ummm… I’m kind of sure Wilson Betemit at third gives the Royals a better chance right now.  (And probably in the future, too.)  Initially, when I read Yost’s comments, I thought that meant Kila wouldn’t be playing.  Yet, he basically trotted out the same starting nine as last week’s matchup against the Tigers.  Kila wasn’t in the lineup on Tuesday, but the Twins were starting left hander Francisco Liriano, who has absolutely handcuffed left-handed bats.

And it’s not like Jason Kendall is walking through that door.

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