Duffman: Signed, Sealed & Delivered

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Most of the focus this winter for the Kansas City Royals has been on how they were going to bounce back in 2017 while trimming payroll, as the team’s cavalcade of free agents after this year looms in every conversation about this team. Throughout all this, there has been a growing sentiment (one of which was from me last summer) that the Royals real focus should have been on getting a new long-term contract worked out for staff ace Danny Duffy. After word leaked out back in November that Duffy and the Royals were negotiating a contract extension, it was hard not to get excited about a deal getting done before Spring Training in February. But as November became December and December became January, worry started to set in. Luckily, all that worry was for not, as Kansas City has locked up Duffy with a 5 year, $65 million dollar deal. Now that Duffman is signed, sealed and delivered, let’s break down the deal and how it will affect the Royals.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals

Let’s start with the specifics:

Duffy had asked for $8 million through arbitration last week and the Royals had countered with $7.25 million for 2017. Obviously, GM Dayton Moore has backloaded this deal, which trims some money from Kansas City’s 2017 payroll. Not a big shock, as Moore has shown a tendency to backload contracts to keep the current payroll as low as possible. This will give the Royals some flexibility this year in case the team decides to make any further moves, which it would appear very well could be the case. This is a move that not only is exciting for us fans but for Kansas City management as well:

“We’re very excited to have Danny Duffy with us for the next five years,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com. “Danny is someone who fits in with our organization and within our community.”

It was obvious that Duffy’s 2016 season was a deciding factor in working out an extension with him:

“He has begun to separate himself among the top left-handers in the game,” Moore said. “As I said, very excited to know he’ll be a Royal for quite some time.”

Considering how the market has grown the last few years, especially for pitchers, this deal could actually turn out to be a steal for Kansas City, as it is a fair comparison to other elite left-handed starters in baseball. As an example, Chris Sale (who will be the same age as Duffy next year) will be making $12 million this year, $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019. Duffy’s deal will be just slightly less than Sale’s but within that same ballpark. While Sale has had more success to this point in his career, they are very similar pitchers in many different aspects and it is easy to see Duffy being discussed in the same sentence with Sale if he continues to pitch the way he did in 2016.

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Maybe the biggest advantage to getting Duffy locked in is making sure the rotation is taken care of past this upcoming season. If Duffy had left through free agency after the 2017 season, that would have left Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy for the Kansas City rotation followed by a bunch of question marks. Chris Young has a team option and Mike Minor has a mutual option for 2018, but both are question marks in the first place so who knows how valuable they will be in 2017, let alone the year after. Matt Strahm is a possible future fixture in the rotation, but at least in the immediate future he looks to be ticketed for the bullpen. Nate Karns could also be in the back-end of the rotation, but he could also be better suited for the pen. What about any prospects in the farm system? Pitching-wise, there is very little on the immediate horizon, as guys like Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford have taken a step back, Kyle Zimmer can’t stay healthy and Josh Staumont will probably end up as a valued piece of the bullpen. The good news is that the Royals would have had options, but none of the names mentioned would be able to be what Duffy was last year, which was the stopper, ace and leader of the pitching staff. When the Royals scored 0-2 runs in a game, Duffy had an ERA of 1.37 and a strike out to walk ratio of 11.0. Having that guy at the top of the rotation can help a team’s confidence and make a few losses not turn into a long losing streak. Danny Duffy is that guy for the Royals.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles

More than anything, this gives the Royals a homegrown starting pitcher to build the rest of their rotation around, which has been few and far between during Moore’s tenure as General Manager. In fact the only homegrown pitcher to flourish during his time as GM (besides Duffy) was Zack Greinke, who was drafted in 2002, well before Moore was employed by the Royals. If there is one part of the Moore regime that has failed, it is the development of starting pitching. Locking up Duffy gives the Royals a homegrown pitcher that can lead the team into the future and possibly give the younger arms in Kansas City’s system someone to aspire to, an organizational cog. With Duffy signed, the team doesn’t have to go outside the organization and sign a staff leader, or trade a top prospect to get that arm to Kansas City. Instead, they have rewarded a player drafted by the team and can spend the money or prospects on something else over the next five years. Signing Duffy, in some ways, is growth for this franchise.

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Over the last couple months there have been more questions than answers in Kansas City and with this signing there is one less question to be answered for the future of the Royals. The future looks a little bit brighter and (dare I say it) a little more gnar. While some might question the Royals ownership decision to not “push all the chips in” this year (and you can probably count me in that group), it is evident the front office is looking past 2017 and well into the future. Long ago, Danny Duffy said “Bury me a Royal” and while it felt a tad like pandering, you could tell the man meant it and was extremely grateful for this organization and what they had done for him. Now it is his time to return the favor. I honestly can’t think of a better representative to lead the future of this franchise into whatever direction they will be going into. Duffy is a sound investment and hopefully in the future will be discussed the same way the generation before talked about Leonard, Splittorff and Busby.

Dealer Dayton: Royals Land Zobrist, Prepare for October

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Just two days ago it felt like the Royals struck gold by picking up Johnny Cueto to help an ailing rotation. It was known even then that Royals GM Dayton Moore might not be done, as the team was looking for an outfielder/infielder to help cover Alex Gordon being injured and Omar Infante struggling. It was also well known that Kansas City was eyeing Oakland every-man Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is one of the most versatile players in the game and can play all over the infield and outfield and has over the last 6 years accumulated the fourth best WAR in all of baseball(38.1):

Dayton has seemed to turn into Kenny Rogers(the singer/fried chicken entrepreneur, not the left-handed pitcher), as he has pushed all of his chips in, acquiring Zobrist for two more pitchers, Aaron Brooks and one of the top Royals prospects, Sean Manaea. Like the Cueto trade lets digest this move and see how GMDM did.

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Let’s start with the prize for Kansas City at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, Ben Zobrist. Zobrist was coveted by numerous teams(the Nationals seemed to be right there with the Royals for his services) and it’s easy to see why. Zobrist is the odd utility player who plays every day, so he is an everyday player just at different positions. Not only that, but he plays good defense in every spot he is thrown at and has an above average dWAR every year since 2009(although for this year he is sitting at -0.9). Zobrist has been one of the most valuable players in all of baseball during this span, getting MVP votes in 2009 and 2011-2012. To the average baseball fan Zobrist doesn’t scream ‘star’ nor does it appear as if he is the catch that many of us laud him for. But his value stretches past the versatility and defense. Zobrist has an OPS+ average of 123 in that span and offensively brings a mix of decent power and patience at the plate that is highly valued within the game. In fact Zobrist might be the oddball of this Kansas City lineup, as he has been averaging 74 walks and 51 extra base hits per season. Initially Zobrist will get the majority of the time in left field until Alex Gordon comes back, but also expect to see him play at second base and right field before the year is done:

He can also play some shortstop or third base if something would happen to Alcides Escobar or Mike Moustakas:

Zobrist has added a glove, a bat and depth that is immeasurable to this Kansas City team. It should be fun watching him play these next couple months as the Royals work toward reaching the playoffs.

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Now, onto the arms that are going to Oakland. First, Aaron Brooks is a right handed pitcher who has had a few stints in the big leagues the last two years. Okay, by that I mean he has appeared in 4 big league games. He is probably best remembered for an awful start in Toronto last year, where he only finished 2/3 of an inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks and 7 runs. Yes, that explains his 43.88 ERA in 2014. That being said, Brooks has been a solid starter for AAA Omaha this year. So far he has started 17 games, posting a 3.71 ERA in 106 innings and a WHIP of 1.303. Brooks was not a top prospect for the Royals and really his main use was depth, although if Brooks was starting games for Kansas City that means something drastically had gone wrong. It looks like Brooks is going to get a shot immediately for Oakland:

Brooks is an arm that Oakland GM Billy Beane likes and that the Royals really didn’t need. Hopefully the kid has some success for the A’s and is given some time to prove whether or not he belongs in the majors.

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Now to the key piece of the trade for the A’s, Sean Manaea. Manaea was one of the top prospects in the Kansas City farm system, up there with the likes of Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer. Manaea is known for his mid-90’s fastball and a nasty slider but also has had some control issues in the minors. So far this year in 7 starts, Manaea has 3.1 walks per 9 innings…but also 11.1 strikeouts per 9! Obviously he has electric stuff and if he can get over his control issues would probably be a top arm in a major league rotation. The other issue is his health, which has been a problem early on in his career. Before he was drafted he had hip surgery for a torn labrum, which hurt his draft position and why the Royals were able to snatch him at the 34th slot in the 2013 draft. Manaea also didn’t make his first start this year until late June due to an abdominal injury. There is no way of knowing if the injuries are random or something that will follow him for the rest of his career, but it is something to take note of. It hurts a bit that Kansas City gave Manaea up in this trade, but Kansas City still has Zimmer, Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford, plus the new arms that were drafted in this past June’s draft. The Royals were going to have to give up someone for Zobrist and Manaea was probably a better choice than some of the other options. You must trade value to get value.

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So who won the trade? I think both teams can claim a victory on this, especially considering the two teams are at different places this season. The Royals get a quality bat and defender who can play multiple positions and fill in wherever needed. I would prefer Zobrist’s bat near the top of the order because of his high On-Base Percentage, but it looks like that won’t be happening:

So Zobrist helps fill a hole in Kansas City’s lineup that they needed. Brooks and Manaea will help Oakland now and in the future. Brooks looks to be getting a shot in the rotation this year while Manaea will be part of the future(as long as he isn’t traded; Beane likes to do that). The A’s are already looking toward the future while Kansas City has their sights on October. You have to give it to Dayton Moore; in just a few days he has acquired the top pitcher and bat on the market and have made the Royals the favorites in the American League come the playoffs. All that and Moore did not give up one piece of the main roster, keeping it intact for the rest of the season. The games still have to be played and there is still a lot of baseball to be played. But right now, we Royals fans can start dreaming of another ‘Blue October’. Even if a world championship doesn’t happen, there can be no blame laid on the doorsteps of the front office. Dayton and company have done what is needed to put the Royals in the best position to bring the World Series trophy back to Kansas City. Now it is up to the players to win the whole damn thing.

 

Royals’ Spring Hopefuls

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One of the great things about Spring Training every year is that it’s the beginning for younger players to show what they can do. It’s also a proving ground for wily veterans to work with a clean slate and start anew. Every year there is a surprise(Arizona) player(or players) that the big league club didn’t have penciled in as a part of the major league team that leaves them with no other choice than to bring them up north to begin the season. There is no guarantee that any of the players I am going to bring up here will be with the team on Opening Day against Chicago but they are all interesting cases that are with the Kansas City Royals this spring for a variety of reasons. Some you will have heard of, others this will be the first time. But what they all have in common is they want to be in Kansas City to start the year.

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1) Christian Binford

If you follow this blog even mildly you know this isn’t the first time I have mentioned Binford. In fact last year I mentioned he was a prospect to keep an eye on and the Royals had even considered him to be a September call-up out of the pen. This spring is his first in Royals camp but he comes in as the Royals 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and has a good shot of getting the call to the big leagues at some point this year. Binford isn’t going to break any radar guns but he throws strikes(and has a great walk ratio) and great command. The Royals had tried him in the bullpen late in the season at Omaha with less than spectacular results but that doesn’t tarnish his abilities or how the organization views him. Binford compiled 8 starts in AA last year before the experiment in Omaha, and it is a good bet he starts this year back in Northwest Arkansas. But honestly, probably not for long and there is a chance if the Royals need a starter at some point later in the summer Binford could be the one who gets the call. In fact Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland has liked what he has seen from Binford this spring, as he wonders if some of the tinkering with his delivery would add a few miles an hour to his fastball:

“What I’ve seen, I like,” Eiland said. “He’s a strike thrower. He’s got movement. He’s much more downhill, better angle now, once we moved his hands a little bit.”

Binford won’t ever be a top of the rotation starter but could very well fill out the back end of the rotation sooner than later. Binford’s ability to throw strikes and pitch to contact should be a plus with Kansas City’s defense. So don’t be surprised if you hear Binford’s name again before this season is over.

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2) Bubba Starling

Let me clarify here–Bubba Starling will not be on the Royals 25 man roster on Opening Day. That is not why Starling is in camp this spring. He is in camp to get a feel for what goes on at big league camps and learn from the Royals coaches and players. It at least sounds like he is getting adjusted, as Starling started hitting the ball finally in a game, as he struck out his first five plate appearances this spring. The Royals are still holding out hope for the 2011 first round pick, as he is still only 22 years old. Starling’s struggles have been well documented and there is some concern that he might never reach the majors, at least with the numbers he has compiled so far in his minor league career. The hope is that rubbing elbows this spring with the likes of George Brett, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer will light something under him and will at least bump his career in an upward trajectory. No matter what, the experience of being at big league camp this spring has to be viewed as a positive for ‘The Man They Call Bubba’.

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3) Ryan Madson

Madson is an interesting case for the Royals. On one hand, he is a former closer for the Phillies who has a lethal change-up. On the other hand, he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and last pitched in a regular season game back in 2013 for the Angels in A ball. Finally, on the other other hand(yep, he has three hands; deal with it), Madson is fighting for a spot in what is already a jammed pack bullpen. Even if the Royals decide to go with 8 pitchers out of the pen to start the season, Madson might be on the outside looking in. The best chance for Madson this season might be to get some velocity back in Omaha and wait for a bullpen arm to get injured. There is some positive to Madson’s story so far this spring, according to the Kansas City Star:

“Madson lacked accuracy with his four-seam fastball, but scouts still clocked the pitch at 91-92 mph, a tick below the 94-mph heater he unleashed with regularity for the Phillies through 2011. His changeup fooled his adversaries, even if they were of the lower-level variety. Manager Ned Yost referred to the offspeed pitch as “a real weapon.”

Hopefully the Royals are able to retain him and keep him stowed away until he is needed. He could be an interesting add to a bullpen late in the season, if the team is making a playoff push. Nothing like another solid arm for an already elite bullpen, if you ask me.

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4) Francisco Pena

I find Pena to be an interesting case. For one, he is the son of former Royals skipper Tony Pena. Two, Pena has been in the minors since 2007 and has cleverly avoided the “prospect” term for the majority of that time. In fact you almost wondered when the Royals acquired him before the 2014 season if they did it because a)of who his dad is or b)they thought his brother, Tony Jr.(former Royals SS) had changed his name or c)they just needed some depth at the catchers position. C seems to be the most likely answer but little did we know that Pena would put together a solid offensive season last year in Omaha, compiling 27 home runs, a.515 slugging percentage and an OPS of .795. Hey, not ‘blow you out of the water’ numbers, but impressive for a guy who had hit a combined 40 home runs the previous 7 minor league seasons. At this moment it appears that Salvador Perez’s personal caddy, Erik Kratz, will be the Royals backup catcher, but if something were to happen to Kratz while sitting on the bench(or getting Perez a cup of water), Pena could see some action in the big leagues. There is also the possibility that Perez will break down like an old Buick due to all the innings manager Ned Yost makes him catch, but I hate the idea that this thought even creeps into my brain. Instead know that Pena is an outside shot to make the big league club but a possibility to warm the bench later in the season.

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5) Franklin Morales

Morales might have the best chance of this group to make the Royals this spring, if for no other reason than because of an injury. Royals left handed reliever Tim Collins has ligament damage in his left elbow and very likely could have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2015 season. That would leave Kansas City with a decision to make in their bullpen, including whether the team should go with another lefty to take Collins’ place in the pen. If they go the route of adding another lefty, Morales very well could be the answer. Morales has flipped back and forth between being a starter or a reliever the last few years with Boston and Colorado, so he is familiar in either role. But the Royals specifically signed him to work out of the pen and that is his best shot at a job for the team. Last year Morales pitched well against left-handed batters, with his splits showing a noticeable difference. In fact if the team wanted to use him as a LOOGY(a left-handed specialist who would primarily pitch to left-handed batters) I think he would be quite successful in that role. A lot of factors will determine whether or not he goes north with the team in April, such as whether or not Luke Hochevar is ready or whether the Royals plan on carrying an 8 man bullpen or not. The other factor is whether or not the team wants to keep Brandon Finnegan as a reliever or if he gets sent to the minors to begin the process of starting again. Either way, a good spring from Morales would go a long way to deciding his fate. A good spring makes the Royals decision harder. A bad spring and Morales is either in Omaha or on the unemployment line, although not for long; I mean, he is left-handed.

Royals Spring Baseball

A few weeks still remain in Spring Training, so things could unwind even more before the team heads back to Kansas City to start the season. There’s a good possibility we see a few of the names mentioned here at the least or maybe even most of them. It’s one of the great things about baseball; you never know how a season will unfold. All we know at this point is most of these players are fighting for a spot and want to be with the team the first week of April at Kauffman Stadium. It’s been said before and will be said again; hope springs eternal.

 

Winning the Arms Race

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With the Royals continuing their winning ways and stretching their lead in the American League Central(2.0 games ahead of the Tigers) there has been some talk of plans for the team come September, preparing themselves for a stretch run to the playoffs. One of the most discussed ideas has been that of calling up some of their top arms in the minors and using them to help in the last month of the season. Think about that for a minute; a team that prides themselves on having one of the best bullpens in baseball is talking about adding more arms. You might be asking yourselves right now ‘why?’ and that is a valid question. But what Kansas City is considering is not a new concept.

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Let’s start with the two main arms that have been mentioned to be part of the Royals pen come September. Brandon Finnegan is the Royals #1 Draft Pick this year but has been progressing through the Royals farm system this summer, currently at Double AA Northwest Arkansas, where he has been pitching out of the pen, working 2 innings at the most in those games. The initial thought when he was drafted from TCU was that his future might be in the bullpen, the thinking that his size would hold him back from being a consistent major league starter. Finnegan has a plus fastball, plus slider and a good changeup to boot. He seems to be in the vein of a Billy Wagner type pitcher, small stature with some high heat. Finnegan even throws across his body like Wagner. The 21 year old isn’t even a year removed from college but has a chance to be pitching in games that matter come September for Kansas City.

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The other prospect that has been discussed for bullpen work this September is Christian Binford. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I discussed him earlier this season. In fact, out of the current crop of minor league arms in the Royals system, the only other pitcher that has me as excited as Binford is Miguel Almonte. Binford started the year in Wilmington, moved up to Double AA Northwest Arkansas after 14 starts, pitching in 8 games there before being called up to Triple AAA Omaha this past week. Binford isn’t a guy who will light up radar guns, but he has tremendous command of his pitches and a superb walk ratio. Binford has mainly been a starter since the Royals drafted him, and I’m pretty sure he takes the place of Jason Adam, who the Royals had shifted to the pen awhile back before trading him to Minnesota in the Josh Willingham trade. I’m not entirely sure how Kansas City would use him out of the pen(long reliever if needed? Help rest the other relievers?) but he would be different after seeing the smoke thrown by guys like Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. I don’t think this role is really in Binford’s long term future, but for this year he might be just what the Royals need.

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So what about Kyle Zimmer? Most of us are aware of how 2014 has been a wasted season for Zimmer, as he has been battling a lat injury these last few months. Before that the Royals were taking their time with him, as he has dealt with injuries since the Royals drafted him in 2012. At this point, Zimmer has appeared in one game this season for Idaho Falls in the Rookie League. At one time there was some talk that we could see him in September, but that was before the lat injury stripped him of playing time this season. At this point, the best thing is for Kansas City to let him get some innings in the minors the rest of the year and chalk up this year to a lost cause. We will see Zimmer soon enough, just not this year.

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Earlier I mentioned that the concept of using youngsters in your farm system to help out the relief corp in September wasn’t a new idea. Off the top of my head I can think of two times it has helped a team further their chances in the postseason. The first is the Los Angeles Angels using Francisco ‘K-Rod’ Rodriguez to help them gain a World Series title in 2002. Rodriguez only appeared in 5 games that season, but was a key part of their bullpen come October. K-Rod would appear in 11 games for the Angels that fall, giving up only 4 earned runs in 18.2 innings. It had to be hard for teams that year to really get a scouting report on this kid that the Angels had barely used in the season. The other instance I can think of is the St. Louis Cardinals using their young arms these last few years in the playoffs. Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez all were used off and on during the postseason and were live arms that could go out there and just throw heat in short outings for the Cardinals. More than anything it helped the team in 2011, as the Cardinals were able to come away with a World Series title in Tony LaRussa’s final season. These are both prime examples of teams that used young arms in their farm system to help their bullpen in postseason play and use them to help gain the richest prize of them all.

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So with just over 5 weeks left in the season it appears as if the Royals are making plans to make the team the best they can be if they are headed to October. Adding a couple of young arms to the pen might not seem like the most obvious paths to take for guys like Finnegan and Binford, but it would give them the opportunity to experience a pennant race(and possibly postseason) while getting big league experience. It’s not a guarantee we will see these two youngsters next month but I would bet money we see at the very least one of them, if not both. The Royals bullpen is a juggernaut and has been the last few years, but adding these two could make it even stronger. With all of us hoping for a “Blue October”, I love the out of the box thinking, especially with some of the struggles as of late for Aaron Crow, Francisley Bueno and Bruce Chen. Finnegan and Binford might be future rotation mainstays for Kansas City, but for now their value might be pitching late in the game during the most exciting September Royals fans have seen in three decades.

The Royals Right Field Answer Might Be in Tampa Bay

David DeJesus

 

ed. note: Right after finishing this I found out DeJesus suffered a fractured left hand off of a check swing and was placed on the 15-day DL. I have not seen when they expect him back, although a guess would be 3-6 weeks, or close to the trade deadline. 

The Kansas City Royals are in first place and visions of playoff games and parades dance in our heads. The Royals are on an unprecedented streak of ten straight wins and it almost seems like the winning will never stop. Only it will stop, and when it does the Royals still will need to win the majority of their games to be contenders. With Kansas City (FINALLY!) being a contender, it only makes sense for the team to upgrade a few worry areas before the July trade deadline. With word coming out this week from GM Dayton Moore that the team would be allowed to add payroll to help out before the trade deadline, it appears the green light has been given to make those upgrades. Obviously the most pressing spots are right field and third base, but I’m pretty positive that Royals management still believes in Mike Moustakas and are giving him until (at the least) the end of the season. That leaves right field, as it has become pressingly obvious that Nori Aoki just isn’t cutting it. I like Jarrod Dyson, but the more he plays the more his flaws are in sight for all to see. So upgrading right field is a must, but the Royals also don’t have a lot to deal. Unless the team wants to part with a major prospect(which isn’t recommended) or a key part of the current roster(which will leave another hole) it appears Moore is either going to have to be creative or go for a player that won’t take much to acquire. There are some good option’s out there, like Chris Denorfia or Seth Smith both of San Diego, but I think a great option for Kansas City is in Tampa Bay at the moment and is familiar with the Royals organization. No, I am not talking about Wil Myers(I knew that is where everyone would go); I am talking about David DeJesus.

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Let’s preface this with this little nugget of information; despite the Rays being in last place in the American League East and 13 games out of the lead, they still feel the majority of their roster is a championship team. So the Rays won’t be holding a fire sale, or a garage sale, or buy one get one free sale. What they will be doing is dealing a few players for other parts, guys like Ben Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson and DeJesus. DDJ isn’t a major part of their offense and at 34 probably isn’t a major part of their future. That should make it fairly easy to deal for him. In my mind, a minor league arm or two should be all it takes to acquire DeJesus. It shouldn’t be someone like Miguel Almonte or Christian Binford, but maybe someone at AA NW Arkansas or A Wilmington. So a deal for DeJesus should be an easy one to work out for the Royals.

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If the trade happens, I have to believe that you pencil DeJesus in as the right fielder and leadoff hitter. Now, he isn’t as fast as he was in his Royals’ prime, but that is to be expected at 34. The thing is, DeJesus never was a big base stealer, as his high for any season was 11 in 2008 for Kansas City. The Royals know what they would be getting with him, and that is a solid  above average performer. DeJesus’ numbers are up this year across the board, with his higher walk percentage(11.9%)and lower strikeout rate(5.7 AB per SO) really sticking out. You have to feel good that DeJesus might  not steal many bases or hit many home runs, but he gets on base and has always been able to smell out extra bases at Kauffman Stadium. Right now his OPS+, slugging percentage and OBP are way up over the last few years and is already halfway to last year’s extra base total. It appears that despite a little bit of regression over the last few years, DeJesus is performing smarter in 2014 and his numbers are greater because of it.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays

Now there are a few things for mild concern, as no player is ever perfect. DeJesus’ defense is just about average nowadays which is probably why he has been the Rays DH most of this year(37 games at DH compared to 15 in the field). He’s not quite a liability in the field(and probably still an upgrade over Aoki defensively) but he’s never possessed a strong arm and has obviously lost a step or two. The good thing is he was always known for being a smart fielder, knowing where he was at and where that hitter liked to place the ball. I’ll take a smart fielder any day over one that takes bad routes to the ball. DeJesus also won’t supply much power, but as long as guys like Gordon, Perez and Butler supply some that shouldn’t be an issue. DeJesus’ main job will be to get on base and be a veteran presence in the clubhouse.

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Now it appears as if the Royals won’t make a move to upgrade until mid-July, so they will have some time to feel things out and see what direction they want to go. I personally would prefer a move sooner rather than later, but it seems as if a wait is in our future. I don’t expect a blockbuster move or one that shakes up the foundation of the team, but adding DeJesus to a clubhouse he is familiar with could really pay off. DeJesus is easily an upgrade over Aoki and can be had on the cheap. DeJesus also has another year on his contract, so acquiring him would also give the Royals their right fielder for 2015, as the team waits on Jorge Bonifacio to take over that spot. Add in his postseason experience and good clubhouse character and you have a guy who would make a perfect fit for this Royals team as they contend for a playoff spot. DDJ was never a guy who gained much attention but is the definition of a solid ballplayer and is probably one of the most underrated players in team history. Having him be a part of  the first Royals team to make the playoffs since 1985 seems like an appropriate role for a guy who played on some awful Royals teams. He might not be flashy, but he might be exactly what this Royals team needs.

 

Five Future Royals to Keep an Eye On

Kansas City Royals Photo DayMost of us Kansas City Royals fans have gotten used to a new prospect being called up over the last few years and bring excitement to the team(at least at first). Just within the last three years we’ve seen the debuts of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. The Royals are a small market franchise, so one of the things they will constantly have to do is develop homegrown talent and keep a steady stream of them running through their farm system. With that in mind, I thought I would give you a glimpse of a few of those prospects. Now, I won’t mention Kyle Zimmer(pictured above) and Adalberto Mondesi, Jr., probably the two top prospects in the organization. Both are discussed fairly often and look to be major cogs in the Royals machines in the near future. Instead, let’s look at some of the other prospects that haven’t been hyped nearly as much.

Sugar Ray Marimon

Sugar Ray Marimon

Sugar Ray Marimon isn’t just a guy with a cool name(although I will fess up to loving the name). Marimon isn’t rated as a top level prospect, as he is 26 years old(27 in September) and has been very average with most of his pitches. A full scouting report can be found here, and most of it reads that Marimon is questionable as to if we will even see him in a Royals uniform. Marimon has an average fastball(88-93 mph), a curve that has a sharp break(but he hasn’t been able to command it) and a change-up that could be pretty good but he seems to prefer the curve being his out pitch. To this point Marimon has been a starter, so one wonders if is moved to the bullpen he will add a few ticks to the fastball, improve on the curve and change and he could be a steady arm in the pen. There is quite a difference in velocity between his fastball and his two other pitches, so if he can show some improvement he could bump up to a bullpen job in the ‘bigs’.  Right now Sugar Ray is in AAA Omaha for Kansas City so there is only more step to take to the big leagues. He also is one of the few prospects at AAA right now which shows that most of the Royals prospects are still a few years away. Marimon might be a long shot, but I think he could improve on a few things and make a shift to the pen he would be a valued arm. He could be nothing of note or a surprise for the Royals; either way, time is running out for the man they call Sugar Ray.

 

Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game

Jorge Bonifacio

If the name Jorge Bonifacio sounds familiar, it might be because he is the younger brother of former Royal Emilio Bonifacio. Or it could be because he is rated as one of the top prospects in the Royals farm system. Bonifacio is thought so highly of that it was said around the time of the Wil Myers trade that the organization had Bonifacio “rated higher” long-term than Myers. I’m still wrapping my head around that one. Here is what John Sickels of SB Nation had to say about Jorge:

Hit combined .298/.372/.429 at three levels with a good finish in Double-A. Hasn’t developed his power yet but hits for average, makes decent contact, has a good arm, and is just 20 years old. I think he’s a year away.

Obviously he has dealt with issues as well early in his career, including a broken bone in his hand last year, which can sap your power. His numbers were encouraging enough for Kansas City to bump him up to AA Northwest Arkansas late in the year, where he held his own. His body frame is an issue(or more bluntly, his weight) to at least keep an eye, but scouts don’t seem too worried about and continue to say that he should develop power as he goes along. The hope is that Jorge is ready to man RF for the Royals no later than 2016. At the least he looks like he would be a solid corner outfielder who can handle the bat quite well. Who knows if he will rival Myers, but the Royals don’t need him to. They will just need him to be a solid major league outfielder. That would be an improvement over the last few men who have roamed right field at Kauffman Stadium.

 

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Christian Binford

Christian Binford is another young arm in Kansas City’s system that is currently pitching for the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League(A Ball). Binford was drafted in 2011 by the Royals has slowly been moving his way up the ladder in the lower portions of the minors. Binford has a very average fastball(sitting in the low 90’s) but that wasn’t what Paden Bennett at Royal Revival liked about Binford:

The thing that stands out to me about Binford is his exceptional command.  Command for a young pitcher is a very valuable skill to have and Binford has it.  He also keeps the ball in the ballpark with a career HR/9 of just 0.41.  You put his command and keeping the ball in the ballpark together and you have something to be excited about.  

A full scouting report on Binford can be found here and almost universally the thought is that Binford is on the rise and could see his velocity increase, as he is just a little over a year removed from the famed Tommy John Surgery. Binford seems like he is learning the art of pitching at an early age, which is a great sign for the Royals. Between his BB rate, his precision location and still a chance at more upside, it’s easy to see how Binford has moved into Baseball America’s top ten prospects for Kansas City. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Binford in Northwest Arkansas before the year is out.

 

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Lane Adams

Lane Adams is the 2013 George Brett Hitter of the Year, which goes to Kansas City’s top hitter in their farm system. Adams is an intriguing case, as you can tell from what mlbprospectwatch.com had to say at the end of this past season:

Adams is a man without a place.  He’s played more center field than on the corners in his career, but he’s been spending more time in left and right as he gets older and moves up.  He doesn’t have the power to be a productive corner outfielder, and while he has good speed, he doesn’t get on base quite enough to use it effectively, although his walk rate did jump up this season.  He has the makings of a tweener, but he can do enough things right that he could carve out a niche for himself.

The thing that kept popping up to me while reading that was “wow, that reads a lot like David Lough…who was a lot like David DeJesus…who turned out to be a really solid major leaguer”. No idea if that will ever happen for Adams, especially since reviews are quite split on his chances, especially since he would be considered an older prospect at 24 years old. There are concerns about his ability to make contact, as mentioned here by Joe Cox of Royal Revival:

The caveat in all his skills has been his inability to make contact at each and every level, which will not work for his skills at higher levels.  In 2014, it is likely Adams will get a good chunk of his at bats in AA.  I realize I have made this comment about quite a few of the prospects on this list, but this outfielder needs to make more contact to have a legitimate chance to make it as a role player in the big leagues

Although Nichoals Ian Allen did throw some positive Adams way:

There is less overall upside to Lane Adams than some of the younger outfielders in the system. The thing that excited me most about Adams is his ability to steal bases. Adams has 73 stolen bases as a professional, and is successful 82% of the time. He was 15-of-15 with Northwest Arkansas. The Royals like him and he will continue to be given opportunities to improve his stock – beginning with big league Spring Training in 2014. From there, it is likely he will spend the season in NW Arkansas and Omaha.

Adams won’t be a prospect at the level of Bonifacio or Myers, but there is always something to be said for guys who does a lot of things good and one thing(speed) great. We will probably start seeing the winds of change in the Royals outfield starting next year, and it’s possible we could see Adams name pop up as a guy getting playing time.

 

Miguel Almonte

Miguel Almonte

There is no prospect in the Royals system that has me more excited than Miguel Almonte. Almonte has jumped up most prospects lists and looks to have a higher ceiling than originally thought, as prospect361.com discussed at the end of last year:

When Almonte signed with the Royals out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for $25,000, I doubt the Royals projected him to be one of their top prospects three years later.  At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Almonte is not your prototypical physical pitcher but has an arsenal that features a 92-94 MPH fastball that can touch the mid-90’s, two breaking pitches (with the curve ball starting to flash well above average), and his money pitch – a plus change-up that he commands with ease.

Add a few MPH’s on his fastball and that reads a lot like Yordano Ventura. He also doesn’t seem to be someone who looks like an injury waiting to happen:

His arm action is very clean as he throws with ease.  He has very good momentum to the plate which gives his fastball that much more life.  The balance and posture could be improved but overall the mechanics are matching the performance numbers he is posting.

Almonte has gone from a guy who would be a good major league reliever to possibly as high as a number two starter. Landon Adams at Royal Revival agrees on the Almonte love:

When it comes to Almonte the Royals have a seriously advanced pitcher considering the fact that he has logged just 130 innings in full season baseball. Almonte has shown excellent command. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and his changeup was called the best in the system by Baseball America. At this point he feels like a safe bet to reach his mid-rotation potential (by pitching prospect standards) and could feature even higher if he can develop a quality third offering. 

Sentiments are pretty much agreed by Dan Ware:

Almonte has flourished through the system, and won’t turn 21 until April.  He has a fastball that stays in the 91-93 mph range, but can hit 96 mph.  His changeup, ranked the best in the Royals’ system, sits around 82-86 mph, which is a solid difference in velocity compared to the heater.  What impresses scouts is the repition of his mechanics and his ability to keep his pitches low in the zone, which shows in his solid groundball rate of 45% and BB rate of 6.3%.

We Royals fans have seen very few top pitching prospects over the past twenty years develop into top arms, but with Ventura, Zimmer and now possibly Almonte, there is reason for optimism in the Royals pitching prospects in the not-so-faraway future.

 

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That is just a taste of some Royals that are coming down the pipeline. There is still a chance that none of these guys could be factors, or all of them. What we do know is that the Royals have talent in the farm system and that is without me even mentioning guys like Jason Adam, Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier. These are always fun to write, so there is always a chance a look to the future will happen again down the road. Now is as good a time to dream as any.

 

 

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