Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Mike Aviles, apparently, is a hard guy to love.

Back in 2008, the Royals endured 46 starts of Tony Pena Jr. playing historically bad baseball (.169/.189/.209) and even tried Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German at shortstop before, reluctantly, giving Mike Aviles a chance to play.     Four hundred and forty-one plate appearances later, Aviles had fashioned a .325/.354/.480 line for an OPS+ of 121 and a WAR of 4.0 as a 27 year old rookie.   Along the way, Mike had even played good defense, posting a 24.0 UZR/150.

Even after the 2008 campaign, however, there were grumblings that Aviles would certainly regress due to his .357 BABIP and the relatively small sample size of defensive numbers we had to deal with. 

Along cam 2009 and Aviles was awful as he tried to play through an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery.    His defense was poor and the bat non-existent (.183/.208/.250).  

The Royals were outright mad at Aviles, too, as they felt he had hidden or at least not been completely forthright about his injury.    Apparently, it is okay for a gritty veteran (Jason Kendall) to try to play through an injury and be lauded for his toughness, but another thing entirely for a second year player who had pretty much had to beat down the door to the majors to do the same.

At any rate, Aviles became persona non grata in Royaland.  We found ourselves with Yunieksy Betancourt on the Royals’ roster and saw Alberto Callaspo blossom at the plate in 2009.   Even then, Dayton Moore went out and traded for another middle infielder in Chris Getz during the off-season.   I, like many others, quietly filed Mike Aviles 2008 season away as just ‘one of those moments in time’, soon to be forgotten.

This past spring, however, Aviles was back in camp and hitting a ton.   So much so, that the Royals even took him north for opening day.    He did not play much or hang around long in April before Mike found himself back in Omaha for 17 games.  

However, Aviles soon found himself back in the majors as the Royals had suddenly (perhaps understandably) lost faith in Alex Gordon at third base.    My guess is that had Trey Hillman stayed on as manager, we probably would have seen a lot more of Aviles at shortstop, but not long after Mike arrived back in the majors, Ned Yost came onboard as the new skipper.

Under Yost, the everyday shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt come hell or high water.   Whether that made sense or not is a subject for another day, but the end result pushed Aviles over to second base:  a position that he had played far less (79 minor league games) than Mike had at short (377) or third (164).

Aviles got off to a hot start and settled in as a regular, albeit not quite everyday, piece of the Royals lineup.   Still, this wasn’t the Mike we had known in 2008.    While he continued to hit for decent average, there was almost no power in his bat.   After going 0-4 on July 20th, Aviles’ OPS slipped below the .700 mark and although he continued to play, Aviles was once more an afterthought among most Royals’ fans.

Worse even than the slipping offensive output, Aviles was simply not a very good second baseman.   He was Alberto Callaspo Part II – and Alberto was an awful defensive second baseman.

For most of the summer I, along with many others, wondered if maybe Aviles was not totally healthy.     Mark Teahen, playing with a bad shoulder, was an awful third baseman.   Having no faith in your arm leads to rushing everything else in the field and suddenly your footwork is off and your hands turn to stone.   Maybe it was mostly hope (given I own an Aviles jersey) that made me believe that so many of Aviles’ troubles were simply a matter of not being fully recovered and playing a basically new position.   Maybe, just maybe, the 2008 Aviles was still in there somewhere.

In August, Aviles hit .305, but did so without hitting a single extra base hit the ENTIRE MONTH.    Even in my mind, Mike had gone from a part of the future to a placeholder until someone, anyone, better came along.  

Then, September came along, and something changed.   The timid 2010 Aviles who, it turned out, really was protecting his shoulder decided to cut it loose.   Starting on September 13th, he homered in four of five games and went has gone on to post a line of .358/.376/.630 for the month.   Sure, it is September, but last time I checked Fausto Carmona, who Aviles took deep yesterday,  pitches in every month of the year.

For the season, Aviles now stands at .307/.335/.414 with an OPS+ of 104 and a WAR of 1.2.   Not bad numbers for a guy who went half the summer as a dink singles hitter.    

Now, you would be right to once more point out that we should not carried away over a player’s hot September.   Ryan Shealy hit seven September home runs not too long ago and where is he now?   No, really, where is he now?

Still, in Aviles, we have a season just two years ago where he was the highest WAR position player in royal blue since Carlos Beltran, so this September has not come out of nowhere.  

We now have seen just under 1,000 career plate appearances from Aviles and even with the putrid, injury plagued numbers of 2009 included, he has a career line of .299/.327/.422 and an OPS+ of 101.    Somewhere around this mark, we have to stop writing off the lucky .355 BABIP in 2008 and the quasi-lucky .328 BABIP of this season.   (David DeJesus has a career BABIP of .322, by the way, so not everyone regresses to the magic number of .300).

Does any of the above make Mike Aviles an All-Star?    No.   Does it mean second base is not a concern for the next four years?  No.   What it does mean, however, is that Mike Aviles should be the second baseman in 2011 and get a decent amount of time at shortstop as well.   Not to beat a dead horse, but Yuniesky Betancourt currently holds a .286 on-base percentage.

Aviles deserves a little love….at least for another year.

Avoiding 100

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Hooray for 63 wins!

It’s come to this.  A celebration of avoiding 100 losses.

Sigh.

Don’t blame me if I kept the champagne on ice last night.  The Royals have never really been in danger of hitting the century mark this season.  In fact, the Royals will really have to go into the tank if they are to match last season’s total of 65 wins.

For a quick refresher, here are the team winning percentages since Dayton Moore took over:

2007 – .426
2008 – .463
2009 – .401
2010 – .414

For the team to match ’07, they will have to win six of their last ten.  Come on, boys!  Or something.

— Sean O’Sullivan got the “win” (which if you’re spending any time on the baseball internets these days means he pitched a better game yesterday than Felix Hernandez) but wasn’t exactly sharp.  He put the leadoff man on base in five of the seven innings he started and threw a total of 92 pitches in six innings.  His final line:

6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO

O’Sullivan was bailed out by an inept Indian offense.  Philip Humber came on in relief and allowed both of his inherited runners to score.  Of course, it would help if Billy Butler could catch a pickoff throw.

— Why did it take 12 days to get Humber some work?  Is it any wonder he struggled to find his rhythm? Of course, he’s not that good to begin with, but still…

— If you’re looking for something to do today, head to Royals Prospects and check out some of the videos Greg uploaded from his recent trips to Northwest Arkansas and Burlington.  Watching guys like Johnny Giavotella and Eric Hosmer, you can’t help but get excited.

— Minda Haas at Royal Blues had an interesting post where she looked at the Royals win to save ratio and found it to be the highest in the majors this season.  I’m not surprised.  The Royals have one of the top three closers in the game in Joakim Soria.  And they have been involved in 55 one-run games, which is the most in baseball.  For awhile, they had the most wins in one-run games, but a late season run of futility has dropped them to fourth – behind the Rays, Twins and Rangers.

— In Dutton’s Friday notes article, he reports the Royals won’t make any changes to their coaching staff with the exception of replacing first base coach Rusty Kuntz who resumed his role as special advisor to the GM for player development.  Following GMDM for the duration of his tenure, this doesn’t come as a shock.  He values loyalty and continuity on his staff.  Obviously, the coaches (particularly the Kevin Seitzer and Bob McClure) haven’t had a ton of talent at their disposal.

Seitzer’s accomplishments this year would include leading the league in total hits and finishing last in strikeouts.  Their 84% contact rate (a percentage of swinging strikes that are either fouled off or put in play) is the best in baseball as well.  On the negative side of the ledger would be the fact Royal batters see an average of 3.73 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks them 26th and their 7.5% walk rate is 27th.

As for McClure, this year has been kind of a disaster.  Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister have been stagnant in their development.  Royals pitchers posted a 1.85 SO/BB ratio, second worst rate in baseball, their team ERA of 5.04 is the highest in the AL and the same goes for their ERA+ of 84.  Looking for positives there were some minor individual success stories… Luke Hochevar was showing improvement before he missed most of the second half of the season with injury.  Kyle Farnsworth improved to the degree GMDM was actually able to get value in a trade.  Bruce Chen became a serviceable starter.

We all know the influx of youth will begin next season and will roll into 2012 and beyond.  GMDM obviously has confidence in his staff and their ability to work with young players.  I’ve seen enough from the pitching and hitting coaches to think they at least deserve a chance. The successes were limited this year because the talent was limited.  This is an area where we will simply have to trust The Process.

Last night, Billy Butler hit his 15th home run of the season  (Yes, they still count September stats in your season totals) and now sports a rather impressive .319/.385/.475 batting line.  That equates to an OPS+ of 134 and, folks, that ain’t bad at all.

As the season has ground on, there has been an undercurrent of ‘maybe we should trade Butler’ talk.   I can understand where such a sentiment might come from, at times I even wonder if trading Butler might be best for the organization.

After all, Billy is not a very good first baseman and probably never will be.   He doesn’t run very well, hit into a lot of double plays and has rather modest power for a first baseman/DH type.     Plus the organization would seem to have a bevy of potential first baseman coming up through the high minors.   Given that Kansas City is two years, if not more, away from seriously contending, it might make sense to move Butler for additional prospects.

Still, the reasons Royals’ fans get annoyed with Butler are not exactly secrets.   Potential trade partners would certainly be happy to highlight Billy’s 30 grounded into double plays this season, his sub-par defensive skills and basic lack of speed.   Would the return be worth losing Billy Butler?  

Recently, I have come around to a different line of thinking.  Now is the time to offer Billy Butler a contract extension and here’s why:

  • Arbitration – Butler is eligible of arbitration this season and, for all his faults, Billy can rather confidently go in front of an arbitrator with two years of well above average hitting on his resume.   I don’t know what the likely award might be, but a guy with back to back years of OPS+ of 125 and 134, who plays everyday is going to get paid.  
  • Timing – As good as Butler has hit, the Royals can make the case that while he may be one of the 15 best hitters in baseball under the age of 25, Billy is probably not in the top five.   Sure, the organization could use that as ammunition in an arbitration hearing or they could use it to negotiate a favorable long-term deal.   After all, the best hitter in Butler’s age group, Evan Longoria signed a six year/$17.5 million deal a couple of years back.   Why not offer Billy twice what Longoria makes for the next four years or so?
  • There is No Logjam – Until Kila Ka’aihue, Eric Hosmer or Clint Robinson actually starts raking against major league pitching, the Royals do not have a logjam at first base/designated hitter.   Right now, they have ONE proven hitter there and his name is Billy Butler.
  • He IS Getting Better – After hitting 51 doubles and 20 home runs in 2009, a lot of fans are of the opinion that Butler has regressed this season.   Sure, he has just 41 doubles and 15 home runs, but Billy has raised his on-base percentage by over twenty points.    He is walking a little more (61 currently vs. 58 last season) and striking out a lot less (67 times this season vs. 103 a year ago).   All this, and Billy will not turn twenty-five until next April.
  • How Much Would You Pay for the Next John Olerud - Now, before you answer that, click on the name for the  link to Baseball Reference.    Olerud played 17 season in the majors, and only once failed to post an OPS+ above 100.   In fact, only twice (his last two seasons) did Olerud not top an OPS+ of 110.    In 1993, Olerud hit .363/.473/.599 and just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he then hit .354/.447/.551 in 1998.   For his career, Olerud hit .295/.398/.465 with 500 doubles and 225 home runs.   He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but John Olerud would have been one of the top two hitters on virtually an Royals’ team in recent history.    Right now, one of Butler’s closest comparables is John Olerud and he probably has a chance to be better than Olerud over the long-term (perhaps minus those two huge seasons outlined above).

Early on in his career, the Royals seemed to have some concern over Billy’s motivation and professionalism, but those issues seem to have gone away.   Over the past two seasons, we have witnessed a player who works and plays hard.   One thing you can say about Billy is that, while he does not run fast, he does run hard – that’s worth something.    

Above everything else, Billy Butler is a professional hitter on a team full of hacksters.   Can you readily name me a pitch or location that routinely gets Butler out?   I can’t, but I can pretty much name one for every other hitter in the lineup (including David DeJesus – the other professional hitter on the roster).

Now is the time, I think, for the Royals to enter into negotiations to lock up Butler to a fair, but reasonable long-term deal.   Something along the lines of four years and $26 million might get the job done.   

To me, that sounds like a heck of a deal.

Episode #032 – In this episode Nick welcomes Adam back to the studio to talk about reasons to continue watching the Royals this season. They talk about some of the Minor League accolades to players like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, a hot Mike Aviles, good beer and whatever else seems to pop in their heads.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs032.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Adam on Twitter @kccommi

Music used in this podcast:

Hank Williams III – 3 Shades of Black

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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Prepare yourself… The Hot Stove hasn’t even been loaded with wood and the rumors are starting to percolate.  Newsday’s Ken Davidoff ran a column this week highlighting three “big” names who could be dealt this winter.  The three:

Carlos Beltran
Matt Kemp
Zack Greinke

With the money quote on our man, Greinke:

The Royals aren’t positive they’ll be highly competitive by 2012, so they would be open to a good offer for him, a person familiar with their thinking said. Plenty of teams — the Yankees, Texas, Detroit, maybe even Washington — would be interested.

Deconstructing this quote, the source is “a person familiar with their thinking.”  Hmmm… not exactly a heavy hitter there.  This means the source could be a fellow writer, just bantering in the press box between innings.  Or maybe a radio or TV guy, with whom he had a pregame meal.  You know what… I write a Royals blog and I’m pretty familiar with how the Royals operate…

I’ll go on record now: I’m not the source.

I suppose given the way he was identified, I could be.  And so could any number of us.

Still, the point isn’t to discount what was in Davidoff’s article.  The point is Greinke’s name will begin popping on these “rumor” reports from now until he either: a) actually gets traded, b) leaves as a free agent after 2012, or c) signs an extension.

Besides, Davidoff missed the best fit for everyone involved:  Tampa.  It’s perfect for Greinke because he gets to play for a winning organization in a low-pressure (have you seen those attendance figures?) environment and is close to home.  It’s perfect for the Royals because the Rays have the prospects to package in a deal.  And it’s perfect for Tampa as it would make their rotation the best in baseball.

Anyway, just be prepared.  The Greinke rumor mill is just now firing up.  There’s going to be a ton of talk on this topic over the next 12 to 24 months.

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The whole “Billy Butler Series Streak” extravaganza has me completely captivated not interested.  Butler is a good hitter.  We all know that.  Over the last two seasons (where the Royals have left him alone and hit him mostly in the third spot in the order) he’s put up a combined line of .308/.373/.481 with an OPS+ of 129.  His offensive WAR for those two seasons is a total of 6.4.  I mean, it’s impossible to break new ground here… Butler is a solid – if unspectacular – major league hitter.

As such, we should probably expect him to get at least one hit in every series.  At least. In an average three game set, hitting third Butler will come to the plate somewhere between 12 and 15 times.  This year, he’s walking about 10% of the time and he’s also striking out about 10% of the time.  He’s making contact in around 80% of his plate appearances.  So in a typical series where he has 12 plate appearances, he’s putting the ball in play in close to 10 of those PAs.  Since the dude is a .300 hitter, if everything played to averages he would collect three hits in those 10 at bats.

What this streak says is Butler is a consistent hitter.  He doesn’t go through a prolonged slump.  Check his monthly splits for 2010.  May was a very good month and July wasn’t so great.  Neither were exceptional months, though.

So he’s hit in 100 consecutive series.  The last series where he didn’t get a base hit was the opening series of 2009 against the White Sox.  If he has any sense of baseball history, he should stop now…  Because we love round numbers.

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Would you be surprised to learn that according to Defensive Efficiency, the Royals are the worst defensive team in the American League?  They are just one-hundredth of a point away of knocking Pittsburgh out of the cellar.

It’s a total team effort.  The worst fielders according to Baseball Reference’s Runs from Fielding metric are:

Wilson Betemit -10
Mike Aviles -8
Rick Ankiel -6
Yunigma -4

John Dewan’s +/- system is a little kinder to Aviles and Ankiel.  They both score a 0 defensively.  Betemit is a -14 and The Yunigma is a -18.  UZR is similarly unkind to our shortstop and third baseman.  Betancourt ranks the worst starting SS in the AL and Betemit is the second worst 3B according to UZR.

I know there are a ton of quibbles with defensive metrics, but I just presented three of them that all say the same thing – the left side of the Royals infield is the worst defensively in baseball.   And it’s not even close.

Certainly, the Royals team defense took a loss when David DeJesus got injured a couple of months ago, but the moves Dayton Moore made to allegedly improve the glove work mostly fell flat.  Scott Podsednik was worse than even I imagined in the outfield, taking bizarre routes and looking a few steps too slow in reacting.  Chris Getz may be a good defender, but his bat prevented him from ever gaining much traction prior to his concussion.  Ankiel was predictably awful and we never got to see much of Fields. (Although from what limited play I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.)

Here’s what GMDM had to say before camp opened way back in February:

“I love the moves that we’ve made this offseason.  We wanted to get more athletic, and we wanted more team speed and guys who could play better defense.”

The only place where the Royals have a positive UZR is first base.  First base!  If I had told you that last winter, you would have laughed.  However, Butler has made himself into an awkward, yet serviceable first baseman and Kila Ka’aihue looks decent enough with the glove.

The Royals will probably attempt to dress this pig up as they are prone to do from time to time.  Last year, the Royals allowed 77 unearned runs to score.  This year, they’ve allowed 49 unearned runs to score.  But really, is that the best way to measure defense?  (Rhetorical question… The answer is NO.)

The Royals entered the off season with a stated desire to get better defensively.  They didn’t.  And given who they brought into this team, the front office shouldn’t be surprised.  This whole things reminds me of the time when GMDM said he was going to place an emphasis on OBP and then acquired Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo.

While we still look forward to Project 2012 and the eventual influx of young talent from the minor leagues, the Royals continue to fail at evaluating major league talent.  Going forward, this will continue to be a concern.

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.

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