I'm not alone in sounding the trumpets for the Kansas City Royals outstanding minor league prospects. Publication after publication and source after source have raved about the quality and depth of the Royals organization.
I guess that makes sense. The Royals inept play for the past decade has rewarded them with top draft picks. And they just made a fantastic trade to bolster an already outstanding farm system.
Getting it right in the draft is what separates the good teams from the mediocre. The current Royals club may be the last of the cellar dwellers in the American League Central because help is on the way. It may take until late 2013 to realize the fruits of all their recent draft picks and that trade, but the team is on the rise.
Here is the last six years of first-round draft selections for the Royals. Keep in mind that this is first round only:
2005 - Alex Gordon (3B) $4 million (a non-factor to date) No. 2 overall
2006 - Luke Hochevar (RHP) $3,250,000 (now in rotation) No. 1 overall
2007 - Mike Moustakas (3B) $4 million (knocking on door) No. 2 overall
2008 - Eric Hosmer (1B) $6 million (knocking on door) No. 3 overall
2008 - Mike Montgomery (LHP) $988,000 (almost there) first-round supplemental and No. 36 overall
2009 - Aaron Crow (RHP) $1.5 million (not yet) No. 12 overall first round
2010 - Christian Colon (SS) $2.75 million (coming quickly) No. 4 overall
For comparison sake, let's take a look at the Seattle Mariners first-round drafts from the last six years.
2005 - Jeff Clement (C) $3.4 million (a huge bust) No. 3 overall
2006 - Brandon Morrow (P) $2.45 million (fine pitcher) No. 5 overall
2007 - Phillippe Aumont (P) $1.71 million (off the radar) No. 11 overall
2008 - Josh Fields (P) $1.75 million (has never been healthy) No. 20 overall
2009 - Dustin Ackley (OF) $6 million (now playing 2B) No. 2 overall
2009 - Nick Franklin (SS) $1.28 million (coming soon) No. 27 overall
2009 - Steven Baron (C ) $980,000 (good defense, no bat) first-round supplemental and No. 33 overall
2010 - Taijuan Walker (P) $800,000 (great upside) No. 43 overall
Each club has it hits and its misses. Drafting players is not an exact science. Alex Gordon was seen as a top, top prospect when he was signed. He hasn't produced. Phillippe Aumont was a star in Canada. He has a congenital hip issue. Teams pay the money and they take their chances. But on paper, the Royals are poised to take off and fly for a while. The Mariners are working now to come back to life.
Moustakas, Hochevar, Hosmer and Montgomery will soon be household names. Gordon is on organizational life support. Crow had a bad season but projects to turn things around. Colon's path to becoming the team's shortstop was short circuited with the trade for Alcides Escobar, and he'll struggle to make it into the team picture on photo day. But he can certainly play second base or be traded. The Royals are beginning to realize some options at positions and on the mound. That's a quality they haven't had in recent years.
The key to developing solid organizations can be found in the deeper rounds. Just like the National Football League draft, value can be found beyond the first round.
The Royals picked up:
Wil Myers, OF/C, in the third round
John Lamb, P, in the fifth round
Danny Duffy, P, in the third round
Chris Dwyer, P, in the fourth round
Tim Melville, P, in the fourth round
Johnny Giavotella, 2B, in the second round
Jarrod Dyson, CF, in the 50th round
Jeff Bianchi, SS, in the second round
David Lough, OF, in the 11th round
Clint Robinson, 1B, in the 25th round
I have written a great deal about Moustakas, Hosmer and Montgomery. This article will focus on some of the players I haven't spent much time on. I want to discuss some of the Royals players and look at their future as a contending AL team in the coming years.
An important clue regarding a club's early season plans for a player may be found by looking at the 40- man roster. If a player is placed on the 40- man during spring training it means that someone has to go - unless the roster was at less than 40 when the player was promoted. Often teams are reluctant to expose a player to waivers during spring training when other teams are still constructing their rosters. It's often easier to slip a player through waivers after the season is well under way.
Players marked with a asterisk (*) below are on the 40-man roster.
Johnny Giavotella, 2B, 5-8, 185
In 2010, the Double-A NW Arkansas team in the Texas League was the landing spot for a great number of the Royals prospects. Giavotella was among their stars. All he did was hit .322 while scoring 92 runs. The man was made to hit. But not to field. Therein lies the problem. He can't play major league defense. Yet.
I got to watch Giavotella play second base in the Arizona Fall League. I wasn't impressed with his defense, but he did hustle. He just has to dedicate every waking moment to improving his flexibility and his range. He has to get a much quicker first step to the ball and measure his throws. That said, I think the Royals will be patient with him because of the bat.
Giavotella is a patient hitter willing to accept a base on balls. He has an outstanding stroke that is advanced for his age and classification. He has enough speed to steal bases and cause pitchers fits. He isn't very big at 5-foot-8, 185, and he doesn't flash much power. But he can hit the gaps if he gets his pitch. Johnny Giavotella is a pure gap hitter with the ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. He's just a fine guy to watch play because he gives 100 percent every day. He's a very scrappy hitter. A tough out for any pitcher. I see him making the club in late 2012 and for good in 2013 if he can learn to play defense at second base. If not, he could be a life long minor leaguer. This is a crucial development year for Giavotella, but I think we'll be hearing from him in the not too distant future.
David Lough, OF, 6-0, 180 *
Lough could make the Royals as a fourth outfielder at some point in the near future.
He has a combination of good instincts, good baseball habits and a few average baseball skills. He has a good, selective approach at the plate that yields an average that should hover around .285 against major league quality pitching. He has enough power to hit double- digit home runs and enough speed to post multiple stolen bases if given at least 350 to 400 at-bats. Combining that with good defense in center field means that Lough will make a contribution off the bench as either a defensive replacement or a pinch-hitter/pinch-runner type. Lough doesn't really have enough power to play a corner outfield position, but he could help out if needed.
The left-handed hitter is an athletic 6-foot, 180.
The Royals aren't deep in outfielders, making Lough a name to remember. Look for him at some point in late 2011 or 2012 at the latest.
Jeff Bianchi, SS, 6-0, 175 *
There was a time I thought Bianchi would be the Royals shortstop for years and years to come. He was highly touted after his 2005 season when he hit .408 with six homers and 30 RBI in 98 at-bats for the Royals in the Arizona League. His health went completely downhill after that. It's really a sad story. A combination of labrum surgery, a bad back, a groin injury and a torn elbow ligament have derailed Bianchi. He is now reported to be healthy and headed for Triple-A Omaha. His chief competition at shortstop will be Christian Colon. But it seems likely Colon will play Double-A while Bianchi tries to get on track with Omaha. It will take some time for him to regain his ”baseball legs” and get up to speed.
At one point, Jeff Bianchi was a 4.10 runner from home to first base. He was seen as a player who would steal bases easily. Is that skill still there? At one point, Bianchi could hit with a little pop in his bat, but is that still the case? Can he throw from shortstop? Is his arm shot? What about the shoulder and the elbow? Questions and more questions. However, the only way he'll find out is if he plays against good competition. Bianchi is getting in some spring training games and is still on the Royals radar. I think we should continue to consider him a valued prospect until he proves he can't overcome the injuries. I'm betting he'll return.
Salvador Perez, C, 6-3, 175
I recently wrote a little about Perez as the Royals' top catching prospect. It is a position of weakness in the organization. I would like to see them trade from their pitching strength for a catcher like Jesus Montero or Austin Romine of the Yankees. But that's a story for another story.
Perez is a good defensive catcher with the potential to be very good. He still needs development time, but whenever I have seen him he has shown ability to handle pitchers with good defensive mechanics. But if he makes the club as a catcher in the years to come, the team will still need some offense from that position. Perez is streaky at the plate. He does make contact and he does have the ability to hit better quality pitching rather than being an automatic out. He's far from it. Of the hitting tools, he may be counted upon to hit for average. He has no power and he can't run very well.
The emergence of Salvador Perez has allowed the Royals to move one of their finest prospects, Wil Myers, to the outfield. I look for Salvador Perez to be on the Royals as one of their catchers in 2013. If Myers is also on the roster when Perez makes the team, it will provide the Royals with a third catcher. However, Myers will be able to hit.
Wil Myers, OF/C, 6-3, 190
Myers is a top-shelf prospect. He should be targeted for fantasy teams as a keeper as soon as this year's drafts. Period.
In High-A ball last season, Wil Myers hit .346 over 205 at-bats. He didn't flash much power, but he did manage to hit four homers and drive in 38 runs. He projects to increase the power and fill out his athletic body with more muscle. He walked 37 times and struck out 39 times. He had a .453 on-base percentage. That's why I like Wil Myers, though admittedly I really liked him more as a catcher. As an outfielder, he projects best as a center fielder, but I have to see how the Royals use him before I can come to any conclusions about his everyday playing position. I do wonder if the Royals will use him behind the plate at all or if he is now strictly an outfielder.
It really is his patience and outstanding pitch selection at the plate that helps separate Myers from the average outfield prospect. His sound mechanics and good plate discipline provide the high walk rate. That patience allows him to take pitchers deep into counts and gets him in hitter friendly situations more often than not. Of great consequence is the fact that Myers has the ability to hit for a very respectable average regardless of the level of the pitching I look for him to be a permanent fixture somewhere on the diamond in 2012. Probably in the outfield.
Clint Robinson, 1B/OF, 6-5, 235 *
Clint Robinson doesn't get near the publicity as fellow prospect first baseman Eric Hosmer. And with Hosmer, Billy Butler and Kila Ka'ailhue in the Royals system, it's going to be very difficult for Robinson to get attention. But how many guys have won a Triple Crown? Robinson did last year at Double-A Arkansas. He hit .335 with 29 homers and 98 RBI. He has to be the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball - he gets no respect. Truth be told, the 26-year-old left-handed power hitter could help an awful lot of clubs with vacancies at first base.
Robinson isn't the most athletic guy in the organization. He's big and strong at 6-5, 235. He lacks agility around the bag, and most scouts are not sold at all on his ability to play major league quality first base. And that's why he hasn't progressed. Attempts at playing Robinson in the outfield haven't produced better defensive results.
I'm not saying he's Adam Dunn, but a guy who can hit 29 homers out of any park should get a second and third look. Because he is blocked in the Royals system, I'll be interested to see if another club comes calling and makes the Royals an offer they can't refuse. Note that he's on the 40-man roster, so the club does think highly enough of him to have protected him from the past Rule 5 draft. If he isn't moved in a trade, look for Robinson to show up at Triple-A Omaha this season.
ARMS, ARMS AND MORE ARMS
Wisely, the Royals have stockpiled pitching at every opportunity.
They have lefties and righties, starting rotation candidates and bullpen guys. If they keep their core of solid prospects, the team should be loaded on the mound for years to come.
But I must throw up the yellow caution flag. Being a top prospect and making a transition to the big leagues is a huge leap. It's like taking the safety net away from the high-wire performer. How will he do when the net is gone? How will the pitchers do when the stands are filled with more than 3,000 people and the outfield lights are a little brighter?
Mike Montgomery- LHP, 6-5, 180
I've written about Montgomery many times, but I want to recap here in context with other Royals pitching prospects.
Using a mid-90s moving fastball and an array of quality secondary pitches, Montgomery is seen by many as the best of the Royals pitching crop.
The lefty has some bouts of wildness as he continues to develop. However, his mound presence, confidence and knowledge of how to fix his mechanics help project him as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Left forearm stiffness in the 2010 season is the only reason I am not going all in on Montgomery. I am on full caution mode with arm issues in young pitchers. In Montgomery's case, I wondered when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League if the forearm issues loomed in his mind? Maybe he is compensating in some way. If so, that will impact his command. I certainly view Montgomery as a top prospect, and I think he will be with the club as early as late this season.
John Lamb, LHP, 6-3, 195
Lamb is often referred to as the second-best Royals pitching prospect. That can stir debate as he has outstanding command and control of an entire repertoire of quality pitches. He didn't have a great 2010 season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He was 10-7 with an inflated 5.45 earned run average. After arriving in Double-A in July he gave up 37 hits in 33 innings pitched. However, his mechanics and his ability to pitch with confidence bode well for a positive rebound in 2011.
Lamb is far from overpowering on the mound, throwing a high-80s to low-90s fastball with late life. His second most prominent pitch is his change up that he throws with very good arm action at 77-81 mph. That change of speed is an important part of his pitching plan. His least effective pitch to date has been his curve. It's a pitch that has caused him some command problems in the past and one that requires additional work and refinement. However, scouts are fairly unanimous in their praise for Lamb's ability to repeat his delivery and his use of good, solid mechanics on the mound.
John Lamb likely will move up to Triple-A at some point this year on his road to becoming a middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Royals. It's unlikely he will see action at the big league level in 2011 because he has work to do on those secondary pitches against quality hitters.
Lamb is tall and slender, but athletic at 6-3, 195. He won't be 21 until July.
Danny Duffy, LHP, 6-2, 185
Like Montgomery and Lamb, the California-born Danny Duffy completes the southpaw-pitching triumvirate that comprises the top corps of the Royals' starting pitching future.
Duffy has a fastball that is very tough to pick up coming out of his hand. That's one of the keys to his pitching mechanics. His fastball gets on hitters before they realize it. He is ”sneaky fast” with velocity that hits between 89-93. His late sink also gives hitters something else to think about beyond trying to find the ball as it is released. His curve is one of the loopy, big break type pitches that has hitters back on their heels. In essence, Duffy sets up hitters by changing speeds and the batters vision with precision. Keeping hitters off balance allows Danny Duffy to have the ability to throw either of those pitches at any count. After they have been exposed to the fastball and curve, Duffy is capable of putting hitters away with a swing and miss change-up that throws the hitter completely off balance. He is becoming a very skilled surgeon on the mound, slicing up hitters with different tools in his bag.
Duffy won't turn 23 until December. Like his two lefty buddies, Duffy has plenty of time to make his mark in the major leagues. Duffy will be a strikeout-type pitcher who I think can claw his way to the top of the rotation if he continues his current path. He may have an even better career than John Lamb or Montgomery. It's yet to be seen.
Aaron Crow, RHP, 6-3, 195 *
Crow's refusal to sign with the Washington Nationals after the June 2008 first-year player draft has been well chronicled. He did, however, agree to terms with the Royals the following year. He actually dropped three rounds in the draft from going ninth with Washington to 12th with Kansas City. In his year off he played Independent baseball to keep his stock high and his mechanics fresh.
However, 2010 turned out to be a bit of a nightmare for the 6-3 righty. He lost his grip on his mechanics, and he fell into some very damaging habits. He failed to finish his pitches and his arm ”flew open,” which causes the ball to sail. He lost command and control of his pitches and served up easy-to-see and easy-to-hit pitches before he could correct himself.
When his mechanics are ”right” Crow can miss bats and induce strikeouts. At worst, his ball sinks enough to get a good portion of ground balls. Both those qualities should help him move up in the Royals' pecking order of quality pitchers. Again, when he is ”right” he can throw his fastball up to 96 mph. He also has a respectable array of secondary pitches that include a slider, a curve and change up.
But it is his fastball and slider that will get him to the big leagues.
Crow could move quickly through the system if he straightens out his mechanics. He has the arm and the repertoire to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Look for him in late 2011 or 2012 if he rights the ship.
Chris Dwyer, LHP, 6-3, 210
When he was 21 and still a freshman in college, Dwyer was drafted by the Royals.
Unlike other lefties in the system, Dwyer's best pitch is a wicked curveball that buckles the legs of hitters. He also has a very nice 91-93 mph fastball that he uses on any count. When scouts think of Dwyer, however, it is the curve they rave about. The good thing about the pitch is Dwyer's ability to throw it for strikes.
One aspect that scouts admire about Dwyer is his total lack of fear on the mound. He is the type of pitcher who uses the entire plate, and he isn't afraid to brush back hitters. He has the ability to command his pitches, so hitters have to be looking to swing.
At NW Arkansas in 2010, Chris Dwyer threw only 18 innings because of a sore back that cost him time on the mound during the season. In those 18 frames he started four games and gave up only 11 hits. What was most impressive was his 1.19 WHIP as he walked 10 hitters while striking out 20. In High-A ball at Wilmington before his promotion, Dwyer was equally effective. I project that Chris Dwyer could make the Royals in 2012 and fit somewhere at the top as opposed to the back of the rotation.
Tim Melville, RHP, 6-5, 210
Melville had a bad 2010 season in the Arizona Rookie League and at High-A at Wilmington. I had the chance to see him in Arizona, and he really didn't pitch as well as I expected. However, I like his arm a great deal, and I look for him to bounce back and remain a viable part of the Royals' future.
He has a nice fastball in the low 90s and a below-average curve.
I have seen him hang that pitch when his release point and velocity get away from him. The pitch is slow, his shoulder opens up too soon, he doesn't extend his arm and he gets hit. Hard. But that can be corrected. Combining a good, crisp fastball with a slow breaking ball that meets its intended target form a good combination. Melville has been accused of trying to ”paint” too many corners and nibble his way to strikes. Again, I think he will learn to pitch and his mechanics will improve.
Melville won't be 22 until October. He has a chance to improve his mechanics and take advantage of a fine arm and a golden opportunity.
Of the numerous Royals pitching prospects, I find Melville to be the furthest behind in development at this particular time. He is very athletic with height that can bring a pitch downhill with some velocity. I look for him to improve this season, move up in classification this year and next and be ready for prime time in 2013.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, 6-2 185
While some pundits argued that the Royals didn't get enough value for Zack Greinke, I was stunned at the quality of prospects surrendered by the Brewers for the star pitcher. Oh, and the Royals also gave up Yuniesky Betancourt.
Let's start with Jake Odorizzi. He might have been the top prospect in the entire Brewers farm system. Now he'll join the long list of Royals prospects waiting for his chance to shine. And he may be waiting a bit because he won't be 21 until the end of March.
Odorizzi has a plus fastball that generally sits at 92, a plus curve and good command of both. Odorizzi has significant movement on his pitches and he has gained a reputation as a high strikeout pitcher who misses bats. His slider and change-up are both works in progress, but he has been known to make the necessary adjustments to refine his pitches. When his pitches are working and he isn't striking out hitters he induces ground balls.
He was drafted in the first round (supplemental pick No. 32) after the Brewers had taken Brett Lawrie (now a Blue Jay from the Shaun Marcum deal) earlier in the draft.
Among Odorizzi's accomplishments last season was throwing the first eight innings of a combined no-hitter at Single-A Wisconsin. He should continue to improve by refining his pitches while facing tougher hitters. I look for him to surface at some point in 2013.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, 6-1, 185
Not only did the Royals get Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi from the Brewers for Zack Greinke and the weak hitting, below-average fielding Yuniesky Betancourt, they got Jeremy Jeffress as well.
Jeffress is a potential closer. He can throw the ball 101 mph with command. He has "shut down stuff" out of the bullpen. And now he pitches for the Royals. He also has a wide sweeping curveball that he should stop throwing until he can throw it over the plate. It's generally the curve that gets him in trouble.
I wrote extensively about Jeffress in my Arizona Fall League articles. I won't go into how close Jeffress came to being banned from baseball because of drug infractions. That appears behind him now.
Once he gets at least one secondary pitch at a speed different than his heater, Jeffress will be an impact pitcher at the end of ballgames. I wish I knew when that would happen. I'm counting on him to make the Royals out of spring training just so I can watch him pitch. He's exciting. His stuff is electric and he was an important component to the Royals giving up Greinke. And Betancourt.
So there you have it. A who's who of Royals prospects. Each a potential star if given time, development refinement and, eventually, an opportunity. The cupboard is loaded. All those pitchers can't surface all at once. But maybe one or two can be traded for an outfielder, infielder or catcher. Even if the Royals keep their entire stock of pitchers, at least one is bound to fail. At this point, nobody knows who he will be. But frankly, I like something about each and every one of them. I can't wait to see how this plays out by 2013. Buy now and keep them handy on your roster, my friends. Just choose wisely from the virtual feast of available arms.
Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a "graduate" of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix, Arizona. He writes a weekly column for RotoWire.com and gives his insight regularly as a guest on “RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today” on XM 175 / Sirius 211.