A Royal Thank You

Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It is the norm this time of year to take a step back, reflect and ponder all that we are thankful for. When it comes to baseball that becomes even more prominent at this time, as the season has wrapped up and the yearly awards have been handed out to their (normally) deserving parties.

So with that said, I figured I would go ahead and toss out what I am thankful for this holiday season:

Credit: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

I am thankful the Royals didn’t have the worst record in baseball. Yes, it was a rough year, but there was also a glint of hope in the final two months.

It’s hard not to be thankful for Whit Merrifield defying the odds. No one pictured Whit being a regular major leaguer, let along becoming the best player on the Royals roster. Whitley has worked himself into a five win player, and I’m impressed by that every day.

I’m thankful for still having a reason to cheer for Danny Duffy. It would have been easy to consider him a lost cause after some of the issues he incurred in 2017. Instead, Duffy is still the guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, giving to help others and working through his flaws. His character is a big reason why a lot of us still root for his success.

How about Brad Keller’s rookie season? One of the brightest spots in this past 2018 campaign was the performance of Keller, who was just expected to be part of the back-end of the bullpen. Instead he turned his success as a reliever into a shot at the starting rotation and then never left. His rise this season has given more hope for 2019.

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Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m thankful Salvador Perez is still smiling. It would be easy for a player like Salvy to not smile as much, considering the Royals first half and all of his friends leaving for greener pastures. Instead, he still has that childlike aura whenever he steps onto the field. Hopefully that smile never fades from his face.

I am thankful that former Royals Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Joakim Soria, Erik Kratz and a host more got to enjoy October baseball this year. The legacy of those 2014-2015 teams live on with the players who helped get Kansas City a world championship.

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Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Speaking of former Royals, I’m thankful Kansas City was unable to bring Eric Hosmer back to the fold. While he is dearly loved by the fanbase, a contract even close to what San Diego paid him could have very well crippled the Royals future and made it harder to contend. Instead, the payroll should start seeing a slide downward soon, giving Kansas City the flexibility they will need.

Since we are talking about first baseman, I’m thankful for Ryan O’Hearn’s surprising ascent to the majors. No one expected him to get recalled, yet he went out and hit .262/.353/.597 in 44 games and gave himself the frontrunner’s spot at the first base position this spring. As someone watching him rise through the Kansas City system, it was a welcome surprise.

I’m also thankful to see Hunter Dozier healthy and getting an opportunity in 2018. It appeared that Dozier got more comfortable as the season progressed and he even put together a very solid August, hitting .280/.321/.467. Dozier will have some competition at third base this spring, but the opportunities will continue. 

How have I gotten this deep into what I’m thankful for and not mentioned Adalberto Mondesi? The kid was finally given the keys to shortstop and made the most of it his last two months. He hit .280/.316/.533 for August and September with 11 home runs, 21 total extra base hits and 24 stolen bases. The strike outs are still a concern, but 2019 will still be just his age 23 season and his ceiling appears to be even higher. Need a simple reason to visit the ballpark in 2019? That reason is Mondesi.

Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

 I’m thankful for Jakob Junis’ slider. That pitch is a beast.

I’m thankful for the performance of Jorge Lopez in Minnesota and giving us a glimpse of what he can do for Kansas City in the future. Actually, let’s give a nod for how Heath Fillmyer pitched as well. For the Royals to take some big steps forward next year, they are going to need some of the young pitching to step up.

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I will always be thankful for Alex Gordon’s glove. It is still as golden as it was seven years ago and shows there is still some value in the player. Cherish 2019, cause that very well could be the swan song for Alex.

Looking ahead, it’s good to see GM Dayton Moore replenish the farm system this past year. Between multiple deals of veterans being shipped off for young talent, overseas signings and the draft, the lower minors appear to be Kansas City’s hope for the future. Maybe the most important item of interest to watch next year will be the development of players like Brady Singer, Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto. The Royals have some players with high upside that still have room to grow.

I’m thankful that Moore didn’t sign Luke Heimlich. Although as time moves on, it appears I probably should thank ownership for Heimlich not being signed. Let’s hope that whole circus is over with.

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Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

I’m thankful for Brett Phillips’ arm. And his personality. And that laugh. Actually, Phillips is just an easy guy to root for. Hopefully his play on the field shines as much as his demeanor.

Here’s to seeing what Jorge Soler can do in 2019. If last year was a tease, than an injury-free Soler could be a lot of fun next summer. But he has to stay healthy, which hasn’t been easy up to this point.

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I’m thankful Jason Adam got to procure a lifelong dream in 2018. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Staying within the baseball world, I’m thankful we still have personalities in the game like Bartolo Colon. “Big Sexy” is good for the game and the game needs players like him. I mean that in every way possible.

I’m thankful for all the young talent in the game right now. Never before has this much younger talent been such a focal point of baseball. Hopefully that continues well into the future.

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October is still the funnest time of the year and I am thankful we even got a couple of Game 163’s! I’ve been wanting chaos for years and we finally got it this October.

I’m thankful Pitching Ninja is allowed to do his thing on Twitter. It’s a better world with him in it.

and finally, I’m thankful that my passion for the game hasn’t waned over all these years. I often tell people that my first love is baseball and outside of the strike, it has never left my side. I get so much joy from a child’s game and continuing to follow it has forced me to expand my world and my mind. I am better for loving baseball and hopefully baseball is better for letting us play a small part in it.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Now it’s your turn. What are you thankful for during this time of year?  

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Younger Days

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This was it. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball, an era of rebuilding that would shape the foundation of the organization for not only the next few years but years beyond. 2018 was going to be the year we all look back on and see the outline of a master plan that would come to fruition around 2021-2022. Instead, we are sitting almost five months deep into the season wondering what the point of this season was.

Dayton Moore has been preparing us for this rebuild for more than a year, knowing full well that the team would be losing a number of free agents after the 2017 season. He knew that financially it wouldn’t make sense to bring back the entire group and that it was time to move forward. That would normally mean allowing younger players to infiltrate the roster. But is that how it has gone down?

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Early in spring training the Royals went out and filled some holes on the roster with veterans, as they locked up Jon JayLucas Duda and Mike Moustakas. For the most part there was “no harm, no foul”, as Kansas City didn’t spend much on any of the three while giving the team trade bait for later in the summer.

For the most part that is how it has played out, as Jay and Moustakas have both been dealt and Duda is still a possibility to be traded later this month. So while these three have been taking up roster spots, they weren’t blocking a player who was ready to play in the big leagues.

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Credit: Associated Press

But there are some major question marks when it comes to a segment of the veterans still on the club and the amount of playing time they have been receiving lately. For example, over the last week or so we have seen Drew Butera make a couple starts at not only catcher but even first base. Yes, first base where he had started a total of two games before this season.

Four starts in one week for Butera feels like a lot. The guy is a solid backup catcher and appears to work well with the pitching staff. Should he be starting at a position he has played at sparingly when you have two youngsters (Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn) who actually play the position fairly regularly? Probably not. I won’t go as far as saying it is hurting their development but starting Butera over them this past week felt like a real head scratcher.

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How about everyone’s favorite punching bag, Alcides Escobar? It’s hard to justify his playing time with a line of .204/.257/.283 and -0.9 fWAR and yet he is in the lineup more often than not. Adalberto Mondesi has shown that offensively he is an improvement over Escobar and defensively has been superior for years now. Yet over the two months since being recalled, he has only started 31 games in the field.

Out of a group of six rookies (which does not include Mondesi, since he passed his rookie status before this season) that have played for the Royals this season, they have compiled 527 plate appearances, or only 108 more than Escobar. Whether it is allowing these players to ease into the big leagues or just not giving them a bigger role, these prospects have not gotten the experience many of us expected them to receive as the season progressed.

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It’s been a slightly different story for the pitching staff, as a number of rookies have been given more prominent roles. Brad Keller has probably been the pitcher of the year for Kansas City so far, posting a 3.57 ERA, 3.64 FIP and 1.3 fWAR. The Royals rookie pitchers (ten in total) have thrown 346 out of the team’s 1033 innings. Keller and fellow Rule 5 Draft Pick Burch Smith have thrown the most out of the bunch, 88.1 and 60.2 respectively.

Six Royals rookies have tossed 30 innings or more this year, including relievers Tim Hill and Jason Adam. It is hard to argue that the team is not giving some of the younger arms in the organization an opportunity to pitch this year when 4/5 of the current rotation are rookies. Then why does it feel like they could go even younger?

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The new “Black Hole of Death” appears to be in the bullpen, where Brandon Maurer, Jason Hammel and Blaine Boyer are taking up space. All three have struggled this year and have hurt the team on the field more than any value the rookies receive from their veteran leadership. It has been suggested that the club should cut bait with these three and give some of the arms in Omaha an opportunity…and at this point it is hard to argue with that reasoning.

Is there any reason not to give Eric Stout or Trevor Oaks a longer look? Are control issues enough of a detriment to see whether Josh Staumont and Sam Selman can have success out of a major league bullpen? What about new acquisition Jorge Lopez? And how are we in the middle of August and there is still no sign of Richard Lovelady? In my eyes, it makes no sense to employ veterans like Maurer and Boyer when they just aren’t getting the job done. Give them a bus pass and lets see what some of the inexperienced arms can do.

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Maybe my expectations were off course, but by this point in the season I presumed that the Royals would be employing one of the younger rosters in the league. Instead, they still feel really…old. By no means do I expect this team to be a cavalcade of 20 year olds, but I did expect the focus to be on the future. Instead, it feels like they are treading water.

Not every prospect is going to be ready and there is an appreciation for allowing them to develop at their own pace. But if the Royals are to contend again around 2021 (and that is the expectation in the front office) then they need to speed this process up. Giving at bats to Alcides Escobar or allowing Brandon Maurer another day on the roster isn’t helping anyone. For this to be a real rebuild, the Royals need to quit straddling the fence and move forward with players who could still be in Kansas City three years from now.

In Case You Hadn’t Noticed, the Royals are Bad Again

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It’s always a bitter pill to swallow when your favorite team isn’t good. Everyone handles it differently. Some people make excuses for why they are bad. Some accept it and move on. Others just flat out get angry but keep coming back for more.

This 2018 version of the Kansas City Royals is bad. Real bad. As in the numbers speak of a team reaching a new level of ineptitude. The Royals offense is last in the American League in wRC+, wOBA, slugging percentage, ISO, RBI’s, runs, home runs, OPS and RE24. The Royals hit a woeful .193/.253/.303 in the month of June and even those numbers feel a bit heavy if you have actually watched this team play on a regular basis.

The pitching numbers aren’t a whole lot better. The Kansas City pitchers are last in the league in fWAR, FIP, RE24 and ERA while having the lowest strike outs per nine innings and the highest home runs per nine. So it isn’t just the Royals bats that are pitiful; the entire package is one of the worst in baseball and a big part of why they have the second lowest winning percentage in baseball right now at .294 (my apologies to the fans of Baltimore. You understand what we are dealing with right now).

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Credit: Orlin Wagner, AP

…and yet I’m still watching most of the games. Call it loyalty or call it being a glutton for punishment; both are probably acceptable. Either way, I still find myself wanting to watch them most days and hardly ever does the little voice in my head question it with a ‘but are you sure?’ or a ‘does that seem like a good idea?’. At this point you might be asking why I would put myself through that…and I wouldn’t blame you for asking.

Sure, part of it is that the Royals are my team, and have been since I was seven years old and will still be if I reach the ripe age of 87. I truly bleed royal blue. But the other reason is that while things appear to be as bad as the worst Kansas City teams we’ve seen over the last 20 years, I also realize that it is possibly the beginning of some really important careers for the youngest of Royals.

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Hunter Dozier has been getting consistent playing time and is starting to look more comfortable, both at the plate and in the field. Adalberto Mondesi gets to play with less pressure and is hitting the ball a lot harder than he did during his previous stints in the big leagues. While Rosell Herrera might not be a part of the Royals future, he is being given the chance to see if he could be a part of it, at least.

On the pitching side, Brad Keller is making the case of being the best Rule 5 draft pick in Royals history (hello, Joakim Soria!) and has been possibly the brightest spot for this team so far in 2018. Jason Adam, Heath Fillmyer, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy and Burch Smith are all getting extended looks out of the bullpen, where in years past they might get just a cup of coffee in the big leagues or a small chance while someone was on the disabled list.

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There is more on the way, especially on the Omaha roster. Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O’Hearn, Nicky Lopez, Cam Gallagher, Donnie Dewees, and possibly even Bubba Starling are all names that could become a regular part of your Royals experience over the next year or two. Some of these guys will turn out to be regulars and others won’t reach the potential that some have expected of them. But the opportunity is why this team is still one to watch.

The Royals are in an interesting situation where they really have nothing to lose by giving these players a chance to prove their worth. I mean, it’s not like the team could be even worse, right? Right???!!! Maybe it’s a small dash of optimism, but one has to wonder if a few of these prospects could help churn out more runs for this team than what we have seen over the last month.

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It really hasn’t felt like a rebuild this year, not with all the veterans on the roster. But here before too long (maybe even by August), this is going to feel like a different team. I’m not going to sit here and try and tell you it’s going to be great the entire time, because you are going to see some bad baseball over the next couple of years. But the hope is also there to see some of these players blossom and become Royals legends.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken

So yes, this team is bad. It’s even safe to say that come September they are still going to be as awful as they are at this moment. If you are someone who has already tuned them out this year, I can sympathize. There are times that some of us die-hard’s have to take a break from this team, no matter how much we love them.

But there are also still reasons to tune in and head to the ballpark. While they will lose more than they win right now, they are also starting to build the foundation. One of the greatest experiences of my life has been watching “my” Royals go from being the joke of baseball to winning the World Series in 2015. For those of us that stuck it out through the bad, we were rewarded.

The reason it tasted so sweet was because we were around for the rough times. Trust me when I say that Kansas City will get back to the postseason and it probably won’t take another 30 years. Until then, watch this team grow and enjoy getting to watch the younger players develop into staples of the organization. It won’t always be pretty, but there will be moments for you to grasp on for years.

 

 

Closing Time

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Last Monday, the Kansas City Royals dealt their closer Kelvin Herrera (and biggest trade chip) to Washington for three prospects. While the trade has come with mixed reviews so far, the one conundrum it left the Royals with was who would be the team’s successor to Herrera as closer?

The question was posed not too long after the trade to Royals manager Ned Yost and he gave the answer most of us would have expected:

“All of them,” Royals manager Ned Yost replied when asked who will get a chance to close out games. “Opportunity exists down there. We’ll have to see who takes advantage of it.”

This isn’t a shock and considering the state of the Royals bullpen (last in the American League in fWAR, the highest ERA & FIP, lowest strike out rate and third highest walk rate all among relievers), it makes sense to keep it an open race. The problem in my eyes is that Ned is holding on to a formula that might not be the best for Kansas City in this situation:

“I’ll look at different guys, but I would prefer one guy to emerge, take advantage of the opportunity,” Yost said. “But it’s wide-open right now.”

Yes, Yost at the end of the day wants one reliever and one only to end up with the job. But to be honest, that feels like an antiquated solution to their problem.

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In Ned’s eyes, there are four main challengers for the role: Brandon Maurer, Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy and Justin Grimm. Maurer is the only one out of the group with experience closing out games while the rest have combined for five career saves; for this conversation I’ll avoid the save stat, for the fact that it doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture.

So far in 2018, McCarthy and Peralta have put up good numbers out of the pen, albeit Peralta’s have been in limited action so far. I’ve been a proponent of McCarthy for a while, as just a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Royals should be giving him a bigger role in the bullpen. When McCarthy was asked about moving to the closer’s role, he said he’s “not really thinking about that at all, really. I think anyone in the ‘pen can get it done.”

Peralta has seen a slight uptick in his velocity since moving to the bullpen last year in Milwaukee and has looked good for Kansas City since being recalled to the majors on June 17th. Peralta’s strike out rate has been well above 20% so far this year (24.8% in AAA, 29.4% in the big leagues), which is a significant improvement over the 16.8% he has averaged over his career.

The walk rate is a concern (23.5%), especially considering it was also pretty high during his time in Omaha (13.4%) earlier this year. Hopefully that is just a symptom of a small sample size, but it could also be a trend that began for him in 2017. Either way, it will take more innings before we get a real feel for what the Royals actually have in Peralta.

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Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP

That being said, I tend to think we have a pretty good idea of what they have with both Maurer and Grimm. Grimm has seen his strike out rate fall and his walk rate increase, which is a recipe for disaster. He is also allowing more fly balls and less ground balls, another bad sign for success. The hard hit rate is about on par with last year, which already had a decent increase from the previous seasons.

Nothing for Maurer has worked this year: strike outs are down, walks are up and hitters are hitting the ball hard against him 50% of the time (his previous high was 39.1% back in 2016). If anyone should be immediately eliminated from the discussion for closer, it’s Maurer. You might be thinking ‘But he was a closer before, so shouldn’t he be a front-runner for the role?’, right? Hold that thought:

This was from last year, the day after the trade that sent Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Royals from San Diego. Every time I see Ned bring Maurer into a high-leverage situation, this is what I think of. It is obvious from not only this scout, but also from what we have seen, that Maurer is better suited for a less pressure-filled situation in the pen. But because he has experience in the role, Yost wants to use him. This is part of why the whole idea of ‘one lone closer’ for this team isn’t really the best idea.

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Credit: John Sleezer

Ned is a big fan of roles. He likes to have his relievers set up to know what they will be doing and when they will be doing it. That is fine when you have a bullpen like Kansas City had back in 2015; unfortunately, those days are long gone.

This is a team who needs to keep an open mind about how they are using their relievers. While none of the names mentioned (outside of Maurer, of course) have experience closing, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the job. I’m pretty sure the Royals didn’t view Wade Davis as the absolute dominating beast he would become when they acquired him from Tampa Bay, even despite the success he had as a reliever with the Rays in 2012. But he had success, so the team continued to give him more opportunities.

Opportunities are what this current group need, most notably the younger arms that are inhabiting the pen. Roles can be a mental plus to some guys, but they can also backfire on you. Remember this great quote from 2014?:

“Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow,” Yost said. “That’s why. Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning. Kelvin’s is the seventh.”

Ned was so rigid back then that he insisted on using Aaron Crow as his sixth inning guy, even if the match-up wasn’t optimal for Crow. This insistence on keeping routine was a pivotal turning point in the Royals season and led to Yost using the best match-up in a situation rather than who has what inning. Ned loosened the ‘old manager mentality’ of how to use relievers and this change helped lead the team to an epic run in the playoffs just a few weeks later.

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Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This Royals squad isn’t going to go on the kind of run they had in 2014, but it would appear to help their situation if they just continued to use the ‘closer-by-committee’ currently in place. Whoever he uses in the 9th inning should be determined by what the better match-up is for that situation.

Let’s say two or three left-handed batters are batting in the final frame? Sounds like a job for Tim Hill, who lefties are hitting .219/.265/.250 against. You need a ground ball? Give the ball to McCarthy, who has a 62.6% ground ball rate. Just need a big strike out? Someone like Peralta or even Jason Adam would fit the bill.

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Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The point is that while it is great if you have that one guy you can count on to fill the closer’s role, not every team has a Wade Davis or a Kelvin Herrera. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and right now the Royals are in that situation.

Maybe a guy out of this group will step up and prove to be fit for the role. It could even be someone we haven’t even seen yet, like Richard Lovelady who is currently down in AAA. Hey, it is definitely possible and wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen for the Royals.

But it could also take a while to find that one guy. So until then, it would be great to see Ned take a page from the playbook he used in late 2014-2015 and use the percentages to his advantage. I’m not counting on this happening, but it feels like the better road to take than that same, beaten, old path that managers have been taking for years.

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.

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.

 

 

The Price to Pay for Pitching

If you have followed the Royals-verse (I know that technically isn’t a thing, but just act like it is) these past few days, you have probably heard the Royals are dangling star prospect and (hopefully) soon to be Francoeur replacement Wil Myers in a trade for a top of the line starting pitcher. This has caused many reactions, good and bad, and some shock as well. Why, I don’t know. At this point, almost everyone should be available in a deal, as the Royals hope to reach .500 for the first time since 2003. But is dealing a possible future star the real answer?

Wil Myers is probably going to be a special player in the big leagues. At the age of 21 he put up monster numbers in the minors this year, and every indication is that Myers is a future 30 homerun hitter in the bigs. His only struggles were the 2011 season at AA, but those worries got swept aside when he came back in 2012 and dominated both AA and AAA. As excited as we have been about Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez, Myers might end up being better than all of them. But there is one solid truth in baseball; to acquire talent, you have to trade talent.

Lester would miss pitching against the Royals.

Let’s look at some of the trade rumors thrown about lately. First is Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. Lester can be one of the top starters in baseball, when healthy. That right there should be red flag number one for Royals GM Dayton Moore when considering this trade. Lester has been broken down off and on the past few years, although he has still accumulated 200 innings pitched four of the last five seasons. Back issues have been a problem, and to be honest, those injuries are the ones that scare me the most. Back issues tend to linger, and if Lester can’t shake that then a trade would look like an epic disaster. As much as Lester has an upside, the downside would make a trade for Myers a no go for Kansas City.

  Next is James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. As much as I like Shields, and he is a reliable pitcher, he isn’t a top starter. He is a nice upper to middle of the rotation guy, which is definitely better than what the Royals have now. But if the Royals are serious about trading Myers, you use him to get a top guy, not a close-to-a-top-guy. To me, a Myers for Shields trade is laughable. Maybe a Billy Butler for Shields, or something closer to that, but Myers might never have a higher value than he does right now. To get a #2 starter, seems like a waste of his actual value.

     So instead of those deals, I have a better idea. I think a package deal might be a better course to take. The Royals have a lot of good talent in their farm system(is it still considered the best in baseball?), and maybe adding a major leaguer might entice the pot a bit. It also might be a chance to get rid of some excess baggage, like Jeff Francoeur or Luke Hochevar. A couple of prospects like Jorge Bonifacio or Chestor Cuthbert packaged in with maybe a bullpen arm or something else might net them a solid #2 or #3 starter. to me, that is the trade you want to make rather than trade a future star for two years of service from a Lester or Shields.

Dayton Moore has mentioned in the past that he needs to be creative, and now would be the time to do it. Maybe start the conversation bringing up Myers and steer them toward a guy like Bonifacio, who has a good upside as well. I would avoid trading an arm in the minors, so guys like Jason Adam, Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura should be off limits. A big part of why the Royals are in this mess in the first place is because they haven’t produced hardly any solid starters in the organization in years, so trading what few arms they have down there now makes a big problem a bigger problem in two or three years.

At the end of the day,Dayton Moore needs to take the bigger picture here into consideration. The Royals aren’t contending in 2013. I’m not even sure if 2014 is possible with the management that is in place right now. So why trade a talented guy like Myers, who you will have control of for six years, for a solid starter that you have control of for two years tops? The answer is you don’t. If this trade happens, we Royals fans might refer to it in the same breath as the classic David Cone for Ed Hearn trade or the enchanting Carlos Beltran deal that brought us John Buck and Mark Teahen. Yes, the Royals need a top of the rotation guy for their rotation. But if you can’t get that guy, a solid 2 or 3 starter should be the way to go. Trading Myers for that guy is definitely not the answer we Royals fans want.

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