It has been another long season for Kansas City Royals fans, at the major league level anyway. The big club is 40-52, 11 games out of first place in the AL Central. There are some bright spots. The team has played better for new manager Ned Yost (28-29) compared to ousted Trey Hillman (12-23). The hitting attack and the bullpen, both big problems last year, have improved. But the starting rotation has struggled; Zack Greinke has been human this year, and the rest of the rotation has been awful. Despite the mixed results at the major league level, there is an undercurrent of optimism among Royals fans, due to whatís going on in the farm system.
Several players in the organization are in the midst of apparent breakthrough seasons. Royals fans have been burned before by overhyped prospects, and are understandably cautious. But this group looks particularly promising, and is worthy of a closer look.
This is not a complete report on the Royals' system; disappointing players like Aaron Crow and Tim Melville arenít the focus; Iím looking at players who have improved their stock or are having breakout seasons.
Louis Coleman, RHP: The former LSU ace starter is a reliever now, posting a combined 2.23 ERA with a 64:16 K:BB ratio in 61 innings combined between Double-A and Triple-A, with a mere 39 hits allowed. Drafted in the fifth round in 2009, heís adapted to pro conditions very quickly, and should be ready to reinforce the Royals' bullpen sometime next year, where his low-90s fastball, sharp slider, and deceptive delivery should provide solid middle innings.
Kila Kaíaihue, 1B: The Royals still donít seem to believe in him, but even skeptics have to be impressed with a .310/.462/.595 mark in Triple-A, combined with an amazing 79:58 BB:K ratio. Itís the combination of power, walks, and a very low strikeout rate that stands out. Heís 26 now and in desperate need of a real opportunity, in Kansas City or elsewhere. This campaign helps his case.
Mike Moustakas, 3B: After scuffling most of 2009 at High-A Wilmington, Moustakas exploded at age 21 with a .347/.413/.687 mark through 66 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this spring. Recently promoted to Triple-A, heís just 3-for-20 (.150) so far at Omaha, but he had little left to prove in Double-A and the promotion is justifiable. After gaining weight and losing mobility last year, heís slimmed down this spring and looking better both offensively and defensively. His strikeout rate is low, but his walk rate is also low, and he still needs a bit of work with the strike zone.
DOUBLE-A NORTHWEST ARKANSAS
Chris Dwyer, LHP: A fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2009, Dwyer was 6-3, with a 2.99 ERA and 93:33 K:BB in 84 innings for High-A Wilmington before his recent promotion to Double-A. So far the Texas League hasnít been a challenge: heís 2-0, with a 1.06 ERA in three starts with a 19:6 K:BB in 17 innings. Dwyer had some command issues in college and still needs some refinement, but his 90-94 MPH fastball, plus curve, and plus changeup have him shooting up prospect lists very quickly.
Eric Hosmer, 1B: Many scouts felt Hosmer had the best bat in the 2008 high school class, and his poor performance last year in A-ball was very puzzling. It turned out he was having vision problems, since corrected by laser surgery. The results have been stunning: .354/.429/.545 at Wilmington, and a 6-for-14 (.429) performance with three homers in four games since moving up to the Texas League. Heís also stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts. Hosmer has firmly re-established himself as one of the very elite first base prospects in the game. He doesnít turn 21 until October.
Mike Montgomery, LHP: Montgomery got off to a great start this year (1.04 ERA with 33:4 K:BB in 25 innings at Wilmington, 2.79 ERA with 25:10 K:BB in 29 innings for Northwest Arkansas) but was sidelined in June with a sore elbow. He has successfully rehabbed and is back on the mound in the Arizona Rookie League, throwing two scoreless innings on July 19. The Royals are understandably cautious; before the injury he was showing greatly improved command of his 90-95 MPH heater and power curveball, and some scouts were calling him a future No. 1 starter.
Derrick Robinson, OF: A year ago, Robinson looked like a failed prospect, hitting just .239/.290/.324 in High-A. But he made some adjustments to his swing this year, and the results have been outstanding: .308/.372/.407 in Double-A. Heís always had blazing speed and is still showing that with 41 steals, though he needs to improve his stolen base success ratio to get the most out of it. Iím still not totally sold on Robinson, and I think heís more Joey Gathright that Kenny Lofton or even Scott Podsednik. At least now it looks like he can be at least a fourth outfielder, and a year ago that didnít seem likely.
Buddy Baumann, LHP: Who? While the other guys on this list have received at least some notice as prospects in the past, Baumann is still an unknown. A local talent, he was drafted from Missouri State University in the seventh round in 2009. Heís pitched excellently as a swingman this year in High-A, posting a 2.38 ERA with a 75:24 K:BB in 64 innings for Wilmington, allowing only 46 hits, starting six games but also picking up four saves. Heís a short guy at 5-foot-10, but has a terrific feel for his craft to go with outstanding K/IP and H/IP ratios.
John Lamb, LHP: A fifth-round pick in 2008, Lamb could have gone much higher in the draft if not for a fractured elbow suffered in an auto accident. The Royals trusted their doctors who gave a positive medical report, and were rewarded this year with a breakthrough season: a 1.39 ERA in 19 starts between Low-A Burlington and Wilmington, with a 120:32 K:BB in 103 innings and a mere 74 hits allowed. Lambís velocity has picked up into the low-to-mid-90s, his breaking stuff and changeup have improved, and his command has been stellar. He didnít turn 20 until earlier this month, and certainly qualifies as an elite pitching prospect at this point.
Wil Myers, C: A third-round pick in the 2009 draft, Myers could have gone in the first round but a lot of teams didnít think he was signable. The Royals did their homework and got him inked, and heís been excellent with the stick this year, hitting .289/.408/.500 in the pitching-dominated Midwest League, earning a promotion to Wilmington where heís hit .362/.449/.466 in 17 games. Heís showing strong power potential and excellent plate discipline thus far. On the negative side, he needs a lot of work on defense, coughing up 18 passed balls in 56 defensive games this year. Some scouts see him as a future right fielder, and he has enough athleticism and arm strength for the position. The bat should play anywhere.