Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I am going to take a break from my normal routine here and pause the positional season in review posts I’ve been putting up.  To be honest, the main reason is because I’ve been very sick and my brain is only at about a quarter capacity.  Instead for my regular Tuesday installment, I am going to just do some bullets and notes from around the Royals and baseball.  When you’re sick, it’s always best to let other people do most of the heavy lifting.  So let’s just get right into it.

  • First, let’s start with some tone setting music, John Zorn’s Electric Masada – Kairaim Part 1 and Part 2.
  • It’s not Royals related, but in a way it’s Kansas City related.  John Klima at Baseball Beginnings writes The Last .400 Hitter, about Artie Wilson who hit .402 in the Negro American League.  Also, if you are not, you should consider becoming a member of the Negro League Museum.
  • The Royals named Lonnie Goldberg the new Director of Scouting.  The title of the article was “Goldberg named new KC director of scouting” and I’m not gonna lie, I was like “wow, Joel Goldberg is getting out of the TV game?”  Lonnie Goldberg has been with the Royals since 2007 and was the director of baseball operations.
  • I found this to be hilarious.  I know that the likely audience of people who would enjoy pitch f/x comedy is small, but I am in that small group.
  • Jeff Zimmerman at Royals Review asks David Glass to vote for Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame.  I agree 100%.
  • The Omaha Royals have been re-named the Omaha Storm Chasers.  Yes, seriously.  I expected to read Minda Haas ripping it apart, but she’s not.  I’ll defer to her on this and accept it.
  • Todd Gold of Perfect Game has a scouting report from the AFL Rising Stars game at Royals Prospects.  I came away from the game thinking that Mike Montgomery had electric stuff, but needed to be more consistent.  However it was only two innings.
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  • Phil Wood of MASN writes “I was told by someone privy to the situation that there indeed have been preliminary discussions between the Nationals and the Royals regarding righthander Zack Greinke.” He goes on to say “As the story goes, K.C. GM Dayton Moore…believes that any Nationals’ package would have to begin with either pitcher Jordan Zimmerman or shortstop Ian Desmond.” To be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about either of these guys.  What do you think?
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  • Baseball America has posted their Top 10 Royals prospects.  They agree with me and have Eric Hosmer at the top.  Brett Eibner the 2010 draft pick out of the University of Arkansas is number 10, he’ll be someone to keep an eye on in 2011 along with Salvador Perez.
  • Clark and I discussed the David Dejesus trade in detail on the podcast last week, but I never got to write down my thoughts.  The questions come down to these:

1. Is this good return for Dejesus? It’s hard to tell, and we won’t know until time has passed. But the Royals are giving up only one season of a corner outfielder without power who is coming off of a season ending hand injury. The needed return for that isn’t extremely high.
2. Why did it happen so early? I figure Dayton Moore has been trying to deal Dejesus for a year now and has a pretty good idea of what his value on the market is. While it’s early in the off-season, its not early in the Dejesus talks.

  • Former Royal Ed Kirkpatrick died on Monday. He was 66.  He was a member of the original 1969 Royals and was on the team until he was traded in 1973 with Winston Cole and Kurt Bevacqua to the Pirates for Nelson Briles and Fernando Gonzalez.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Player development is anything but an exact science.   Individual players, just like individuals in general, all have subtle and not so subtle differences in their histories and personalities that effect what and how they go through life.

In baseball, it begins with simply how much you played the game as an amateur, at what level and against what sort of competition.   By the very quirks of a given region, a good right handed hitter coming out of high school might be able to count the number of left handed pitchers they had faced on one hand.    A college junior might have moved seamlessly from rec league to club league to high school to college and never hit less than .350 in his life, only to step in against some seventeen year old punk in the Low A ball that throws harder than anyone he has ever faced.

As a general manager, you likely have an idea as to when your high draft picks might make the majors, but one can never be sure when what seems like a realistic timeline gets blown to bits by a never before encountered one for forty streak that suddenly makes an ultra-confident young player feel very fallible.

In a roundabout way, that brings us to the Royals’ Mike Moustakas.   Greg Holland was the first Dayton Moore draftee to make the big leagues, but Moustakas is the first name prospect that is going to get there.   The question is simply, when?

Given that player development is inexact in nature, I did some pretty inexact research into this area.   Very simply, I reviewed the player development history of the majority of the 2010 third basemen.    Those that were college draftees like Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria were sorted out, as were players who were shortstops coming up (A-Rod, Jhonny Peralta, etc.) and guys that were simply kind of oddities (I’m looking at you Jose Bautista).   That left us with a group of either high school draftees or Latin American free agents signed as teenagers.

Let’s take a look at that list and the time they spent in the minors:

  • Adrian Beltre.   My feeble recollection is that Beltre might have been signed at the age of fifteen, but his American professional career began at age seventeen.   Beltre played 154 games in A ball over two seasons before moving to AA to start 1998.  He appeared in 64 games at that level before debuting with the Dodgers in June and has been a major leaguer ever since.
  • Scott Rolen.   Yes, long ago, Scott Rolen was young.   He appeared in 25 rookie league games after signing out of high school, 204 at A ball and 81 more at AA.   After 45 games in AA, Rolen got the call and, like Beltre, has been in the majors since that time.
  • David Wright.   The Mets had an interesting plan with Wright.   They started slow with David, giving him 36 rookie league games and 168 more in A ball.   In 2004, however, Wright began the season in AA (60 games), played 30 more in AAA and was in the majors by July.   That would be a very close developmental equivalent to Mike Moustakas having made his major league debut last summer.
  • Pablo Sandoval.   The Round Mound of Pound (c’mon, deep down you all like to say that, don’t you?), played 46 rookie league games and then 287 in A ball.  Sandoval then moved to AA for 44 games and then to the majors in August of 2008.
  • Aramis Ramirez.   He went straight to A ball, where Aramis stayed for 204 games.   Skipping AA entirely, Ramirez then played 222 games in AAA before sticking the majors for good.
  • Chipper Jones.   Ah, this is the name you were wondering about wasn’t it?   Jones say action in 44 rookie league games, 136 A ball contests and 67 more in AA.   He got a cup of major league coffee in September of 1993, but played in 139 AAA games the following year before becoming a fixture in the Atlanta lineup.

Now, compare those game totals to that of Mike Moustakas.    After 11 rookie league games late in 2007, Mike played in 255 A ball games over the next two season.  Last year, he dominated AA for 66 games and then moved onto AAA Omaha for 52 more contests.   That is a total of 384 minor league games, two less than Chipper Jones played in.

Of the six players reviewed above, Adrian Beltre was the quickest to the majors (218 games), while Aramis Ramirez took the longest (426 games).   Ramirez and Chipper Jones were the only two to spend more than a couple of months in AAA.   All these players, like Moustakas, spent close to two seasons in A ball and from there, with the exception of Ramirez, vaulted pretty quickly into the majors.

As I indicated above, six players does not a thorough study make, but it does show a bit of a precedent in that six different organizations at different points in time decided that somewhere this side of 400 games was enough seasoning for a highly thought of third base prospect.

With Moustakas, of course, the Royals have some contractual time lines to consider as well.   Delaying his major league debut until June would like save them a year of arbitration with Moustakas and buy another season before Mike would be eligible for free agency.   That kind of talk is annoying to be sure, but a valid consideration for a team that is not going anywhere in 2011.

All the above considered, it might well be that the overriding consideration with Moustakas might well be at what point the Royals believe they can bring him up and not have Mike become a ‘Super-Two’ with regard to salary arbitration after the 2013 season.

Let’s face it, the Royals were not going to be a good baseball team in 2011 – with or without David DeJesus.   That does not mean I won’t miss David DeJesus, nor does it mean that I understand this trade.

Nick and I discussed DeJesus at length on last night’s podcast and pretty much summed up his legacy in Kansas City in one word: ‘unappreciated’.    Sure, it would have been nice if David was a competent base stealer or hit for more power, but in the end he was without question the Royals most consistent player on the roster from the middle of 2004 until his season came to an end last July in New York.

In 876 games with the Royals, David compiled a career line of .289/.360/.427 with an OPS+ of 108.   According to Fangraphs, DeJesus was 18.3 wins above replacement level during that time.   Those numbers were almost rock solid year to year.    You could plug DeJesus in your lineup and know exactly what you were going to get each and every year.

There was a lot of crap spouted from people who should know better that ‘DeJesus was a fourth outfielder on a contending team’ that was just flat out wrong.   I have written at least three articles over time on the subject and I don’t remember finding more than one contending team that had THREE outfielders better than DeJesus.

David DeJesus was a good player, not an All-Star, not Carlos Beltran and it would have been nice if he was a step faster or tad stronger, but in the end he was major league regular with above average skills….on any team in the league, not just the Royals.

That said, trading DeJesus is not a bad plan.    He is going to turn thirty-one next month and was going to cost the Royals $6 million this season.    David was coming off a thumb injury, which can do funny things to a hitter.   One could make the case that DeJesus might struggle for a couple months coming back from the injury and reduce his trade value at the deadline this coming July.  

It was also very possible that DeJesus could come back one hundred percent on Opening Day, build on his successful 2010 and have a great season on a bad team and leave for bigger money and more years.  

So, there were reasons for trading David DeJesus, but you wonder why Dayton Moore was in such a rush to do so.   Several scenarios come to mind:

  • Dayton Moore likes to make an early trade.    We all have ways of doing things that may or may not make sense and during his time as GM, Moore has shown a tendency to want to leap out of the off-season gate.
  • Money, money, money.   This trade saves the Royals roughly $5.5 million in 2011.   That is money that might be earmarked for arbitration eligible players, maybe a move in the free agent market (cringe) or simply sent to the bottom line where it will hopefully be stashed for future contracts.
  • Vin Mazzaro throws from the right side.   The big names in the Royals’ system, the future saviors of the starting rotation, are mainly lefthanders.   Could it be that Mazzaro, who at age twenty-four has under 600 minor league innings and 150 major league innings on his resume, is about to blossom into a middle of the rotation righthander to break up the lefties soon to arrive?
  • There really, really is a plan.   Almost every move Dayton Moore has made has always seemed to be the first of what surely will be several corresponding moves.     In reality, there have been no corresponding moves, but maybe this time there really will be.

Last night, Nick asked me to rate this trade on a scale of 1 to 10 and I called it a ‘five’.   Having DeJesus in the outfield in 2011 was not going to make the Royals contenders.    Having Mazzaro in the rotation and Marks in the minors is not going to make them contenders in 2011, either, but it could help them be one in 2012 or 2013.

You would have liked to received a more established player coming back in exchange for DeJesus or at least given the market some time to truly establish his trade value.     All things being equal, I would have been inclined to wait for losers in the Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth bidding to at least kick the tires on DeJesus.

While it is very possible this move was more financially driven than anything else, you would like to think there is a grander scheme at play here.   That this trade is the first in a series of roster moves designed to make the Royals possible contenders in 2012 instead of 2013 or 2014.    You would like to think that this deal is more than just hopingthat Vin Mazzaro becomes a good major league starter.

Episode #034 – Clark Fosler, one of my co-writers at Royals Authority joins me to talk about the David Dejesus trade.  What does it mean for the Royals, did the Royals get good value in return and did Dayton rush to judgment?  We also talk 2011 and beyond.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs035.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook
Follow Clark on Twitter @cfosroyalsauth

Music used in this podcast:

Tool – Lateralus

Earthless – Cherry Red

The Hipnecks – Sni-A-Bar Stomp

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Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

I have to admit, I felt a great deal of relief when it was announced Billy Butler had been selected as the Royals Player of the Year.  Usually, I could give a damn about these awards. However, this year part of me was frightened there could be a ground swell of support for the Yunigma.  After all the Royals PR department did during the year to promote his RBI and the fact he did tie for the team lead with 16 home runs… Honestly, this is like the Doomsday Scenario.  It would have been Mark Redman, All-Star kind of bad.

Butler won for the second consecutive year, and it was deserving.  He became only the second Royal to ever win the award back to back. (George Brett did it twice, naturally.)  In fact, looking ahead to 2011, I would put money on Butler doing something not even the great Brett could accomplish – threepeat.

Speaking of the future, when Butler was on a conference call with the media, the discussion turned to the potential of him signing a long-term deal to stay in Kansas City.  It’s the perfect time for the topic to come up, since Butler is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter.

In Dutton’s article in the KC Star, Butler acknowledged there had been some talk about his future with the club

“In spring training last year,” he said, “there were some talks, but they kind of slowed down. My only wish was that when the season started, I wanted to be focused on baseball.

“Obviously, if the right deal is there, I’d be more than happy to (sign). This (club) is all I’ve ever known, and I don’t want to change. I’m comfortable, and I want to see this team win in Kansas City. I wouldn’t like to go anywhere else.”
We all know how the last couple of sentences will play in our town.  (He likes us! He really, really likes us!)  Kansas Citians love players who love them back.  We celebrated this last week with Joakim Soria who announced his love for the organization.  And some of us vilified Zack Greinke when he said he didn’t want to stick around for another youth movement.

Given that we know Butler would like to stay, let’s try to separate emotion from reality and put on our general manager caps for a moment.

Does it make sense for the Royals to give Butler a contract extension.

Pros:
— Money.
You can keep Butler in the fold for one or two years past what would be his initial entry into free agency.  (He’s scheduled to be a free agent following the 2013 season.)  Butler has proved he can be a quality player in the major leagues and he could potentially become an All-Star with the bat.  Guys like this don’t come cheap, so you better get him while you can lock him into a discount.

– Youth. Butler turns 25 a couple of weeks after Opening Day.  If the Royals sign him to a long-term deal, they can lock him up at least until he turns 30.

– Professional hitter. Butler is just a pure hitter. In 2010, the guy cut his strikeout rate from 15.3% the previous season to 11.5%.  He bumped his walk rate from 8.6% to 10.2%.  That fueled a 26 point jump in his OBP.

He hits a line drive 18% of the time he puts the ball in play and he’s just a doubles machine.  His 96 doubles from the last two seasons is the most in the majors.  On a team strapped for power, that counts for something.

The Royals offense has been horrible the last several years.  Last season, they scored an average of 4.17 runs per game. I shudder to think how low that number would have been if they had someone like the departed Ross Gload or Mike Jacobs in the lineup instead of Butler.

Cons:
— Absence of power development.
Despite hitting 45 doubles in 2010, Butler lost 23 points off his slugging percentage and 40 points of his isolated power. (ISO)  Ever since I started writing about Butler I’ve been preaching the gospel of the upper cut in the swing.  The guy is simply a solid line drive hitter (which is outstanding – he has a career .325 BABIP because he has an 18% line drive rate) but his margin for error lies not in the fly ball, but in the grounder.  In other words, when he misses by that tiniest fraction of an inch, it’s because he’s over the ball and not under.

The result is a GB/FB ratio that is rock steady.

2007 – 1.43
2008 – 1.41
2009 – 1.37
2010 – 1.40

If I asked you to look at the above ratios and tell me his best power year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that it came in 2009 – the year when his ratio was most skewed toward the fly ball.  And that’s the issue… When I write “most skewed” were talking three hundredths of a point.  He simply has to learn to generate loft.  Unfortunately, in the course of nearly 2,200 major league plate appearances, this has yet to happen.

– Iron glove. The only way Butler will ever win a Gold Glove is if he changes his name to Derek Jeter.

OK… Butler has improved at first base with the glove.  His reflexes are pretty good for a big man.  Still, with two plus years of Ultimate Zone Rating data at our disposal, I think we can safely say Butler is never going to be average defensively.  Don’t get me wrong… It’s awesome he’s worked so hard on his defense and he is certainly getting better.  It’s just he’s moved the needle from “Disaster” to “Solidly Below Average” when it comes to the glove.

— Tortise-like speed.
The man has been clocked with sundials.  He’s not going to get faster.  He’s going to become slower.  If that’s possible.

– The body. Butler is a big man.  And big men can be a crap shoot.  For every Jim Thome there is a Travis Hafner and Brian Giles.  Can the Royals afford to commit a high percentage of their payroll to a player who could potentially break down as he approaches and passes the age of 30?

Last year, I was all for giving Butler the extension.  This year, I’m torn.  The cons are pretty convincing if you ask me.  Plus, there’s this little matter of the Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers troika of bats tearing up the minors.  Hosmer is the future at first base, but is still probably two years away from his debut.  Those are Butler’s first two arbitration seasons.

I think it would serve the Royals and Dayton Moore well to slow play this situation.  See how Hosmer does beginning the season in Double-A with an eye to a potential move to Triple-A midway through the season.  This also gives the Royals another season to evaluate Butler, to see if he will finally develop that power stroke we have all been waiting on.  The danger in waiting is the price will certainly rise.  I’m fine with that.  Better to add a few extra millions a year late and feel good about it than to curse a backloaded contract for a broken down hitter who never developed power.

If Hosmer stays on track and arrives in Kansas City in 2013, the Royals can shift Butler to DH (although he’s been adamant about playing in the field) and then let him move on to the highest bidder.  Sure, it could be a bummer to let a quality bat depart as a free agent, but if The Process works and the Big Three in the minors are the studs we hope they will be, then you let Butler walk and sign a huge contract for some other team.

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catchers (including a series preview),  first basemen and second basemen.

First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played third base and how they hit while they played the position.

Click to Enlarge

I’m a little shocked that only three players played every single inning at third base in 2010. Update: Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist and Alex Gordon all got limited time at third base in 2010.  Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out.  I knew it seemed odd. Alberto Callaspo got the bulk of the early season duties, while Wilson Betemit was the primary third baseman  later in the season.  Josh Fields got some late season work after coming back from an injury and Minor League rehab assignments.    Alberto Callaspo was traded near the deadline, and he’s likely going to fade into my memory as one of those “remember that one guy who was an ok hitter, but not great….oh, whats his name?”  Betemit had an absolute breakout year in 2010 at the age of 28, which is when these things can usually happen.  However, his defense was absolutely horrendous.  Every time the ball was hit in his direction, I held my breath and then usually cursed at the television.

It’s interesting to see the difference in approach between Betemit and Callaspo.  Betemit clearly sees a lot of pitches, he walks at a high rate and also strikes out at a very high rate.  Callaspo is trying to put the ball in play and find a hole, and thus he has an extremely low walk rate and a very low strikeout rate.  Both approaches can be successful, there’s lots of ways to skin that cat.

Let’s take a look at a heat chart of the offensive numbers for each team in the American League at third base.  Red represents the best in the category while green represents the worst.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

Alberto Callaspo was an OK  hitter for second base, but at third he wasn’t going to cut it offensively.  His 76 sOPS+ would be the third worst mark in the American League at third base.  While Betemit’s glove won’t really play at third, his bat certainly will.  His sOPS+ of 132 at the position is the sole reason that the Royals third base unit was above average offensively.  In fact, only two teams got a better on-base percentage from their third basemen than the Royals and those teams were anchored by Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria.

The Royals third basemen were pretty good overall across a variety of categories.  A lot of that is due to the averaging of the two strengths and weaknesses of Betemit and Callaspo.  However, this is one of those times where it’s very interesting to see how the players do as a combined unit.  At least for 2010, the third base position was a strength offensively and was a solid contributor.  Defensively, now that is a whole other ball of wax.  It didn’t take a seasoned scout to come to the conclusion that neither player was a top notch defender at third base.

Third base will be one of the more interesting positions to watch in 2011.  I have little doubt that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut after spending a couple of months at the AAA level.  Until then, the Royals will likely choose from Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Josh Fields to play the position.  They clearly have too many players for too few positions.  Something is going to have to give.  If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Mike Aviles as the starter on opening day with Wilson Betemit at DH or on the bench and Josh Fields on another team or in the Minors.  However, that will just be a fill-in role.  2011 will mark the debut of Mike Moustakas and hopefully a long-term answer at third for the Royals.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

One month ago, I took a first stab at the 2011 Opening Day roster.  As promised (or threatened), we will continue to evaluate this each month as the comings and goings of the off-season transpire.

What we have learned in a month is that Bruce Chen would like a multi-year deal and that Dayton Moore is hellbent on getting the next Willie Bloomquist.   What’s that do to our roster construction?

Well, even last month, I had not included Josh Fields.   Instead, the perception was that Chris Getz would be the second baseman, Yuniesky Betancourt the shortstop and Mike Aviles would get the nod at third.   Behind them, Wilson Betemit would be used as something of a super-sub:  albeit one that you hope the ball never finds.    That all pretty much came out of the Royals’ organization and not my own tortured thoughts.  

Joining Betemit on the bench last month were outfielders Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier.   That now appears to be unlikely, given the recent pickups of Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki.    While neither is a lock to make any roster, the accompanying comments from Dayton Moore about the team ‘needing to find someone to fill the Willie Bloomquist role’ certainly points to keeping one of the two or someone like them as opposed to retaining five outfielders.

Frankly, that does make some sense from a roster construction standpoint and makes the thirteen position players likely to break camp with the big club as follows:

C – Brayan Pena, Lucas May (No, I really don’t think it will be these two, but instead one of them plus a ‘veteran’ pickup.   Until we get some names bandied about, however, we’ll stick with the status quo.)

1B – Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue

2B – Chris Getz

SS – Yuniesky Betancourt

3B – Mike Aviles

LF – Alex Gordon

CF – Jarrod Dyson or Gregor Blanco

RF – David DeJesus

Bench – Wilson Betemit, Gregor Blanco or Mitch Maier, Joaquin Arias or Lance Zawadzki

If Dyson does not win the centerfield job outright, then I think he goes to AAA and Mitch Maier lives to fight another day.     I would throw Irving Falu in the mix for the ‘Bloomquist role’ if I thought the organization was really going to give him a look (which I don’t).

On the pitching side of things, the Bruce Chen situation may all be posturing for a year with an option sort of deal, but there are enough teams that need fourth and fifth starters out there that might give Chen that second year.    While it would be nice to have him back as stop-gap for 2011, the Royals would be, and appear to be, wise to avoid making that leap of faith.

That said, and pending something really substantial on the Greinke rumor front, we have this group of twelve on our staff:

Rotation – Zack Greinke, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and Everett Teaford

Bullpen – Joakim Soria, Gil Meche, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Dusty Hughes, Tim Collins and Kanekoa Texiera.

It may be the blogosphere winning me over more than any organizational feeling, but I sense that the Royals really would like Teaford to pitch well enough in the spring to warrant some early season starts.   With all the hot prospects coming up behind him, it might be wise for the Royals to take a look at Teaford and find out what they’ve got while they have the time.   Maybe that’s a loser mentality, but it is the current state of this team as it enters the 2011 season.

When, by the way, is the last time you saw Dayton Moore give up on one of his prize waiver wire pickups?   He has done so….eventually.   However, eventually is still at least ten appearances away for Kanekoa Texiera.    The same probably applies to Jesse Chavez as well, but something has to give and I think Tim Collins is too good and Dusty Hughes is too left-handed to be left off the roster.

November is full of deadlines when it comes to roster decisions and contract decisions.     My guess is that by this time next month, we might have a fair number of changes to make to the above twenty-five.

Z Before A

3 comments

Another day, another waiver claim by Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals.

Another day, another utility infielder added to the 40-man roster.

This time, the acquisition is in the form of Lance Zawadzki, a 25 year old shortstop in the San Diego Padre organization.  He made his major league debut last summer and appeared in just 20 games.

A year ago at this time, Zawadzki held some promise.  He bashed 15 home runs in 2009, which helped propel him onto more than a few Padre prospect lists.  At Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein ranked him as San Diego’s sixth best minor leaguer, and said in a perfect world, Zawadzki would be a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.

Zawadzski brings a lot of offensive skills to the table for a middle infielder, as he has a good approach, plus bat speed, and surprising power for the position, projecting to hit 12-16 home runs annually in the big leagues. He’ll never win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but he’s solid enough, and his arm is well above average.

Baseball America noted Zawadzski’s ability to throw across the diamond, as he was touted as having the Padres best infield arm.  He fell just outside of the top ten (15), but earned consideration.

He’s not an overly physical player, but he has two outstanding tools — three if you want to count flexibility — that will get him big league looks. Zawadzki has impressive pop from both sides of the plate and an absolute cannon of an arm. The power will play up the middle and the arm keeps him alive on the left side of the infield… He could offer significant value to the Padres by filling in at third, second and short, settling at one position occasionally to fill in for injured players.

In their 2006 draft wrap, Baseball America noted Zawadzki’s arm graded at a 70 on the 20-80 scale and there was some talk of actually moving him behind the plate.

John Sickels rated him as the 11th best prospect in the Padres system and graded him as a C+:

At worst he could be a very good utility guy, but there’s some chance he could develop into a decent regular.

This all sounds just fine.  It looks like we’re discussing a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.  A little power and a cannon for an arm.  Not too bad, all things considered.

Then, 2010 happened.

After a 2009 season where he hit a combined .285/.369/.456 between High-A and Double-A, Zawadzki’s progress stalled in a big way in 2010.  He opened the season in Triple-A, earned himself a brief call to the majors (despite hitting .162/.240/.176 in 75 plate appearances) and then finished the season in Double-A.  Overall, he hit a discouraging .225/.291/.316 in a combined 409 plate appearances.

Zawadzki appears to have decent plate discipline, walking in 10% of his minor league plate appearances.  That’s not great, but on the Royals having a double digit walk rate is cause for celebration.  However, that number dropped to 8% last year as he split time between Double and Triple A.

Then, there was his precipitous drop in power.  Extra base hits represented a full 33% of his hit total in 2009.  Last year, that dropped to 26%.  And that meant he lost a whopping 140 points off his slugging percentage.

With Minor League Splits down, it’s difficult to find a statistical cause behind this drop in production.  Was he overmatched by Triple-A pitching?  Did he get off to a slow start and continue to press?  Did he hit a bunch of line drives right at fielders?

Still, the Padres gave up on him, which is saying something as San Diego isn’t necessarily flush with middle infielders.

(Quick aside: Zawadzki hit a home run against Aaron Crow in Crow’s professional debut last year in the AFL.)

Although after not exactly bashing the Joaquin Arias claim (but being less than thrilled) I’m good with the claim of Zawadzki.  Unlike Arias he has some power and has a plus arm.  Also, Zawadzki walks almost twice as much.  I know the Royals are extremely hung up on getting a replacement for the dearly departed Wee Willie Bloomquist, and acquiring these utility infielders isn’t much fun for us fans.  However, I have to imagine if you were looking at the 40 man roster and assembling a depth chart, you would place Zawadzki ahead of Arias.  Poor Arias… Just one day in the organization and he’s already in a free fall.  Welcome to the Royals.  Hell, I’d probably take Zawadzki ahead of Chris Getz.

Again, at this point in the off season, there’s really no harm in picking up cheap talent in the hope you find a little bit of upside.  Zawadzki did something in 2009 to land on those prospect lists.  For it to completely disappear in 2010 is just more than a little baffling.  So it’s worth a flier to see which season was the real Zawadzki.  (He experienced a similar drop in production between his sophomore and junior seasons at San Diego State.  Lack of consistency at the plate seems to be a continuing theme.) If he can’t hit and the prospect hounds were wrong, he either gets released or spends his summer in Omaha.  But if he does have a bit of a power stroke and a rocket for an arm, he could be a useful part of the Royals 25 man roster.

Again, it don’t cost nuthin’.

The Royals made their opening salvo this off season by acquiring infielder Joaquin Arias off waivers from the New York Mets.

Is this man running the Royals?

I’ll give you a moment to collect yourselves.

Meanwhile, the plucking of Arias off the waiver wire reminded me of one of my all time favorite quotes…

“Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”
Judge Smails to Danny Noonan, Caddyshack.

Let’s amend the classic Judge Smails quote…

“Well, the Royals need worthless middle infielders, too.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…  Arias has speed to burn.  He has stolen 138 bases in his minor league career.  Of course, he’s been caught 51 times – a 73% success rate.  He also is a contact hitter with zero pop.  Arias owns a career .376 slugging percentage in the minors.  And he doesn’t take a walk.  In 3,383 plate appearances covering all levels in the minors, Arias has drawn a grand total of 147 walks.  That works out to a 4.3% walk rate.  Abysmal for someone with his skill set.

Here we go again…

Somehow Dayton Moore figures out a way to acquire the exact same player almost every time he hits the waiver wire.  It’s quite stunning.

What exactly will Joaquin Arias bring to this team?  Other than no power, no ability to get on base and speed?

(Seriously, why is the Royals brain trust so taken with speed?  If you can’t get on base, speed isn’t exactly helpful.  And once you’re on base, if you’re a bad baserunner, again speed isn’t doing too much – except to occasionally bail you out of mistakes.  Still, just once I would like GMDM to find a guy who knows how to get on base.  Once.  Please.)

Defensively, the consensus seems Arias has problems moving to his right.  He’s probably in the middle of the pack with the glove, but his numbers (limited as they are) indicate he’s not that great at the pivot in turning the double play as a second baseman.  It could be a different matter at short, but he’s played there so little at the major league level, I don’t have any data to base any kind of conclusion. Of course, he’s blocked by the Yunigma. I feel sick to my stomach…

Of course, describing this move as boneheaded is relative.  If Arias is cut in a roster purge when the Royals need to make decisions on the upcoming Rule 5 draft, or if he spends his summer in Omaha, then no harm, no foul.  But if this becomes the Bloomquist Situation – then we have a colossal problem.

Perhaps you will recall, at the time of the Bloomquist free agent signing, I expressed similar reservations… If the Royals used him properly, then it was simply a bad signing.  “Properly” meant exposing him to under 200 plate appearances.  Of course, he notched a career high 468 plate appearances in 2009.  Thus, the “Bloomquist Situation.”  Where a manager simply can’t help himself but play a gritty utility man as much as humanly possible.  A bad signing became a major screw-up.

And I can’t help but see a bit of Bloomquist in Arias.  Arias is a shortstop by trade, but has spent most of his time in the majors at second base.  He’s played a bit of third base and (heaven forbid) the Rangers even played him at first base this season.  It’s not a stretch given the track record of the Royals to see Arias filling in in the outfield at some point, should he make the team. Managers like Trey Hillman are suckers for players with versatility with the glove.  Ned Yost seemed less so enthralled, so there’s a bit of hope.  Still, it’s in my nature as a Royals fan to fear the worst.

Arias is a better pickup than Bloomquist because he’s less expensive.  How’s that for digging through a pile of crap and finding a positive?  So this could be a meh waiver claim if Arias hacks his way to 150 outs.   If he gets any more than 200 plate appearances, then we’ve got some problems.

Right now, I’m not all that bothered by the Arias pick up.  A waiver claim on a player without enough service time to be eligible for arbitration… It don’t cost nuthin’.

However, I will reserve my right to change my opinion from “nonplussed” to “outrage.”

Key Man

11 comments

While we all try to come to grips with the new reality that Bruce Chen might not be a Royal next season, let’s do our best to focus on the future.

I have spent a pretty fair amount of column space the past couple of weeks gazing deep into the future, but today, we’ll look at the very near future.    As in 2011.

We can and will continue to talk at length about the great promise that the Royals’ farm system holds:  who comes up when and how good they will be.   The truth, however, is that with the possible exception of one or two relief pitchers, NONE of those high profile names is likely to be playing baseball in Kansas City next April.

Given that, I thought it would be worthwhile to find the one guy, the KEY MAN, on the existing roster who, by taking a big step forward, could positively impact the future of this team.  In other words, who among the current major league roster can accelerate The Process?

We need to start with a good dose of realism (something the Royals’ PR department might be wise to do as well) and know that Yunieksy Betancourt is not going to turn into Miguel Tejeda circa 2000.  Betancourt pretty much is what he is, as is a far superior David DeJesus.  

For that matter, Billy Butler is a pretty known commodity as well.   He may add some power and become even more valuable, but he already is a/the major offensive contributor on the team.   Hence, any improvement is incremental (although appreciated) and not the massive jump in production this squad needs.   That is more a testament to how good Butler already is and not a criticism.

It might well be that Mike Aviles’ September (WARNING:  Projections based on September numbers follows!) production is an indication that he might return to something close to his excellent 2008 form, but with Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella, Jeff Bianchi (maybe) and even Christian Colon coming along shortly, it may not matter long term. 

The same could even be said for Kila Ka’aihue (minus the good September stuff).   He might contribute mightily this season and help the 2011 squad, but Eric Hosmer is going to be just a three hour drive away this season.

On the pitching staff side, the known commodities are Joakim Soria and Zack Greinke without question.   You can make a case that Greinke could be the key man in what the Royals trade him for – if it comes to that, but that’s not really the idea of this column.   Frankly, and a little sadly, we pretty much know what to expect from Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister as well.  

That said, the Key Man for 2011 probably is a two man race between Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar.   You can make the case that they were the Key Men prior to 2010 as well and maybe 2009.   That, right there, might be the very reason why we, as fans, feel like our team is treading water at best.

Hochevar could have a tremendous short-term impact on the team if he emerged as a real number two type starter, but if he does not, there seem to be plenty of possible options on the horizon.    While it is unlikely that all four talented and highly touted lefties that finished up in AA this fall will make it all the way to the majors, it is equally unlikely that at least one won’t.   If Hochevar never ‘emerges’, then the Royals can turn to Mike Montgomery or John Lamb or Danny Duffy or Chris Dwyer and do so as early as this summer.

No, I think the Key Man, is the incumbent:  Alex Gordon.

Even if Wil Myers makes the move to a corner outfield spot AND delivers at the major league level in short order, most teams still play with TWO corner outfielders.   Sure, the Royals could keep and even bring back David DeJesus beyond 2011, but lacking any true hitting force in centerfield, a lineup of DeJesus-any centerfielder in the system-Myers probably does not give you the kind of pop a contending team would want from its outfield trio.

What if, and it is a bigger IF than ever before, Alex Gordon at last emerges?

Of course, we are looking for emergence from a guy who hit .215/.315/.355 in 74 games last season.   A player whose career line through 1641 plate appearances, is .244/.328/.405 with an OPS+ of 95.   A guy whose closest comparable right now is Darnell Coles, followed by the likes of Darryl Motley (who in 1984 was my favorite Royal) and Eric Soderholm.

Also among Gordon’s comparables, however, are guys like Larry Hisle, who starting at age 26 posted an OPS+ of 111 or better in six straight seasons, and Nick Esasky, who muddled around until age 27 when he posted 119 OPS+, then 107 and then a massive 133 at age 30.   What happened to Nick Esasky, by the way?  After hitting 30 homer for Boston at age 29, he got 35 at-bats with Atlanta the next year and never played in the majors again.

The chances that there will ever be a statue of Alex Gordon outside Kaufmann Stadium are virtually nil at this point, but the hope remains that Gordon could become a power hitting corner outfielder.   A guy who can pop 25 to 30 homers, post an on-base percentage north of .360 and every third year or so, hit 40 homers and be a real force.

How nice would it be to have THAT Alex Gordon play 150 games in left for the Royals in 2011?  How much would THAT Alex Gordon help to push The Process along?

I, like the rest of you, am skeptical of it happening, but I think we can safely say that for early 2011, Alex Gordon is the Key Man.

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