Lost Opportunities

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.

But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.

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Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.

Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256  over 85 plate appearances.

He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.

At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.

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Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.

Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.

Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.

But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.

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Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.

Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.

At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.

By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.

That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.

That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.

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Credit: MLB.com

But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.

The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.

Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.

It’s Time to Trust “The Process”…Again

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Sometimes, when I’m half asleep and veering off into unconsciousness, I remember. I remember a time when we relied on hope. It was a simpler time, when players were “mistake free” and reporters were told to “rewind yourself”. It was a time when the thought of a winning season, never mind a full-blown championship, was enough to put a smile on any Kansas City Royals fan’s face. During this period, a phrase was uttered so many times that it became both a mantra and a sarcastic answer to another blow-out loss. That phrase was “Trust the Process”.

I was reminded of this the other day when reading the latest from a former Kansas City scribe, Joe Posnanski. Joe was around for a number of the lean years and remembers them (I’m sure) somewhat fondly. More than that, he remembers Dayton Moore and his beliefs B.C. (Before Championship):

Moore isn’t naive about it; he dutifully answers those questions. But this idea of baseball being bigger than baseball, this is what he really wants to talk about … and it always has been. He has believed from his first day on the job with the Royals that if he could hire great people, acquire talented players who love the game deeply, create an atmosphere where everyone looks forward to coming to the ballpark and appreciates just how lucky they are, that the team unquestionably would win a championship.

People — again, including me — had their doubts.

But that team absolutely did win a championship exactly as Moore planned.

So here we are again. The rebuild has begun. Once again, Moore wants us to believe in “The Process”. But as fans, did we fully buy in before?

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Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The answer is yes…and no. At first we bought all in. The Royals had become a laughingstock and at that point any sign of an actual plan that might come to fruition seemed promising. What wasn’t promising was the farm system. To truly understand, here are the top ten prospects going into 2006 according to Baseball America:

1. Alex Gordon
2. Billy Butler, of/3b
3. Justin Huber, 1b
4. Chris Lubanski, of
5. Jeff Bianchi, ss
6. Luis Cota, rhp
7. Chris McConnell, ss
8. Mitch Maier, of
9. Donnie Murphy, 2b
10. Shane Costa, of
It started out promising…and then just flat-lines (although I will admit to being a Mitch Maier fan). The system was ranked 23rd in all of baseball to start the year and it was obvious that Moore had his work cut out for him when he took the GM job in June of that year. So at first, we trusted; Moore had an idea where he wanted to go and how to go about it. But as time wore on, our faith wavered.

By 2012 the Royals were almost six years into “The Process” and by the end of May it felt like we had been dealt some cruel, mean joke. Do you remember the slogan for that year? “Our Time”. For those of you not following the team back then, you probably can imagine how that slogan went down as the Royals limped to a 72-90 season. At this point, “The Process” had become a joke.

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

All it took for me was a quick glance at my blog posts in 2012 and I can see where my faith had diminished. In fact, read just about any article I wrote from 2012 to 2013 (which you can check out at bleedingroyalblue.com) and I was no longer aboard the “Process Express”. It took Moore seven full seasons to grasp a winning record and while the Royals were in the pennant race into the last week of 2013, a number of fans weren’t sold yet that Dayton’s mantra was the end-all, be-all answer.

Then 2014 happened. The wild card game, the sweep through the American League playoffs and a seventh game of the World Series. Then the Royals won it all in 2015. At this point, we had forgotten about our lack of faith (I’m sure Dayton found it disturbing) and bowed to GMDM’s greatness. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, “The Process” had worked and reached its final destination.

So here we are in 2018 and we begin to wrap our heads around putting faith back into Moore’s plan. I won’t lie; the first time I heard him utter those two words again I froze. But when I look at the farm system right now, I feel better than I did in 2006. Here are the top ten current prospects according to Baseball America:

1. Nick Pratto, 1B

2. Khalil Lee, OF

3. Seuly Matias, OF

4. Josh Staumont, RHP

5. Eric Skoglund, LHP

6. M.J. Melendez, C

7. Nicky Lopez, SS/2B

8. Hunter Dozier, 3B/OF

9. Foster Griffin, LHP

10. Scott Blewett, RHP

While there will probably be a few misses on this list, there is also a chance for some major upside with guys like Lee, Pratto, Matias and Melendez. In fact, by 2021 the Royals lineup could be way better than say, the 2009 Royals:

 

PROJECTED 2021 LINEUP

(Listed with 2021 season age)

🔸C Salvador Perez (31)
🔸1B Nick Pratto (22)
🔸2B Nicky Lopez (26)
🔸3B Cheslor Cuthbert (28)
🔸SS Raul A. Mondesi (25)
🔸LF Seuly Matias (22)
🔸CF Khalil Lee (23)
🔸RF Jorge Bonifacio (28)
🔸DH Hunter Dozier (28)
🔸SP Danny Duffy (32)
🔸SP Jake Junis (28)
🔸SP Josh Staumont (27)
🔸SP Eric Skoglund (28)
🔸SP Foster Griffin (25)
🔸CL Kelvin Herrera (31)
That is a lineup and a rotation I could live with in three years. One interesting aspect that Moore has brought up multiple times is how it’s not always the top-tier prospects that pan out:

I can’t help but point out that nobody is thinking the Royals can win anytime soon, but he says that has always been true — and he’s right, most experts thought that the 2014 team would battle for last place, and they won the American League pennant. Most people thought it was a fluke, and the ’15 team won the World Series.

True, but then I point out that those Royals had some big prospects — Eric HosmerMike Moustakas — that this team lacks. He then says, “Nobody had [five-time All-Star] Salvador Perez on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Lorenzo Cain on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Greg Holland or Kelvin Herrera on their Top 100 list.”

Moore is right about this. While it’s easy to point out the Hosmer’s and Moustakas’ that toiled for “The Best Farm System in Baseball”, it was the off the radar guys that pushed the Royals to the next level. All it takes is for a few players to outperform their expectations and push the team back into contention.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

So is it time to “Trust in the Process” again? The better question might be why you should put your trust back in Moore. The truth is a lot of us doubted him and he proved us wrong. While it might be easy to snicker and roll your eyes when he discusses his ‘grand plan’, it did procure us fans some of the greatest moments in Royals history. For that, I will be forever grateful to Dayton Moore.

It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything he says, and it doesn’t mean we have to like every move he makes; you can still disagree with decisions while being supportive. But it does mean putting a little dab of faith and a nice chunk of hope into the eventual finished product. We might all be crazy for going down this road again…but if it ends with the same payoff, then I am all in.

 

Where are They Now: Powder Blue Edition

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I am friends with quite a few baseball geeks. Hey, it’s very hard to just ‘kind of’ like baseball! Because we love the game so much, we remember players who have long since either left the game or left (at least) the big stage of the big leagues. So I thought it would be fun to see what some former Royals are up to nowadays. Yes, I am as scared as most of you…

Royals vs. White Sox

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila was once a rising star in the Royals farm system as a possible solution to Kansas City’s shortage of power. In 2008, Kila was crushing balls left and right in the minor leagues and seemed to be on the fast track to Kansas City. Unfortunately, despite being called up in September of that year, Ka’aihue must not have impressed Royals management and was back in AAA in 2009, despite their need for a power bat(no, Mike Jacobs was NOT the answer!). Kila would continue to put up solid numbers in the minors until his next shot at big leagues, which wasn’t until 2010. By then, whether it was the obvious lack of faith in him by Royals management, or his flaws just being prominent against big league pitching, Ka’aihue struggled. Kila started 2011 with the Royals but only lasted 23 games before rising prospect Eric Hosmer was recalled to take over first base. That was it for his time in Kansas City. Ka’aihue bounced around the last few years, as he played in Oakland in 2012, then picked up by Arizona before the 2013 season. Kila played in the Diamondbacks farm system until June 2nd last year, when he was released so he could sign a contract with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. Kila is still only 29, so there is always an outside chance he could return to the big leagues at some point. I always felt like the Royals badly mismanaged Kila and never really gave him an honest chance to prove what he could do. It was obvious in 2008 that he at the least  should have been given a chance to show what he could do. Alas, that was not allowed to happen.

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Justin Huber

I always feel like if I mention Ka’aihue, I should mention Huber. Justin Huber was a prospect(from Australia) for the New York Mets before he was traded to Kansas City in July 2004 for…Jose Bautista. Yes, THAT Jose Bautista, but before he was really good. Huber was originally signed as a catcher but had made the move to first base for Kansas City, a spot that opened up once Mike Sweeney was gone. Huber had a great season in 2005 in the minor leagues and actually got 78 at bats that season for the Royals. But that would be about it for his time in Kansas City, as he would only appear in 13 big league games the next two years. During Spring Training 2008, Huber was purchased by the San Diego Padres. San Diego is where he got the most playing time of his major league career, a whole 33 games that year. Huber would also appear in a few games the following season for Minnesota, but that would be all she wrote for Huber and his time in the bigs. Huber is currently playing for the Offseason Leagues Australian Baseball League(or as I like to refer to it as, the OLABL). As to his time in Kansas City, once again, I felt like he was never given a fair shake. I fondly remember him getting called up at some point(I believe in the 2005 season) during a series in Minnesota. At the time, the Royals were sucking(as normal back then) and Huber would sit on the bench for that entire series, except for one at bat. He would then get sent back to AAA. I never understood why you would even call him up if that was all he was going to do. In all honesty, it probably meant that the Royals (and this wasn’t the first time for this) just didn’t see anything in him, a mistake that continues to get repeated. Once again, I felt like they could have at least given him a chance.

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Mitch Maier 

Hard to believe it, but Mitch Maier was a 1st Round Draft Pick of the Royals back in 2003. Even back then, it didn’t seem as if the Royals knew what to do with Mitch. He had started his career as a catcher, but by 2004 they had moved him over to third base.  With Mark Teahen on the horizon, the Royals once again moved Mitch in 2005, this time to the outfield. By 2006 he was a Texas League mid-season All-Star and made his big league debut in September. Maier would find himself back in the majors in 2008 and would hang around for awhile, becoming the Royals backup outfielder for the next 3 1/2 seasons. Mitch became a bit of everything for Kansas City, whether the team needed him to play in the outfield, pinch hit, pinch run, be the team’s third catcher at times and even come out of the bullpen. Seriously. Maier has two career pitching appearances, pitching an inning in both, giving up no runs and only one hit each appearance. The running joke amongst most of us fans was how if we needed someone to stop the bleeding, Maier should be called in to close the door. Unfortunately, Maier was designated for assignment by the Royals in July of 2012, spending the rest of the year in Omaha. Mitch would spend the 2013 season in Boston’s minor league system and has signed a minor league with the Chicago Cubs for the upcoming 2014 season. Now, I always felt Maier was a good fourth outfielder and I still feel like he has a lot of value to a team, especially a National League team. I don’t know if he would ever be a starter, but there is no reason he doesn’t have a major league job. Hopefully he catches on in Chicago and finds a new home.

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Mike MacDougal

Remember MacDougal? I mean, he was a former All-Star for the Royals. MacDougal was another 1st Round Draft Pick for Kansas City, 25th pick overall in the 1999 draft. Originally a starter, MacDougal was shifted to the bullpen in 2003 and became the Royals closer that season. He had racked up 24 saves by mid-season that year and made the All-Star team. MacDougal would struggle with flu-like symptoms during Spring Training 2004 and lost his closer job to Jeremy Affeldt. MacDougal would return to the closers role the next season, as Affeldt would deal with blister issues, which plagued him during most of his time in Kansas City. Injuries found MacDougal again in 2006 and would return to the field in July of 2006. His stay in Kansas City was wrapping up though, as he was dealt to the White Sox about a week later. Mike had a great rest of the season for Chicago, but injuries would find him again. Since then, MacDougal has bounced around, from Washington, to St. Louis, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Cincinnati to Philadelphia. MacDougal had some success with the Dodgers a few seasons ago, but in what looks to be a pattern, then turned around and struggled the following season. MacDougal was blessed with an arm that could throw in triple digits, but between injuries and lack of consistency, he has not been able to find a steady home. There is still time for him to add to his big league resume, but at 36 time is getting short.

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Philip Humber

Humber didn’t have a very long stint with the Royals. In fact his Royals numbers only total eight games. Humber was a top prospect for the Mets before they traded him to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade. Between a Tommy John surgery and his struggles in the minors, Humber never really settled into a home before his arrival in Kansas City. There was a lot of intrigue in Humber by Royal’s management, as the team at that time was constantly looking for fringe players who might blossom if given a chance(as long as they weren’t home grown, obviously). Humber was recalled in August of 2010 by Kansas City and earned his first major league win in relief against Detroit. He would also get a start during that period, racking up 21.2 innings in his eight appearances. Humber was let go by Kansas City in December so they could make room for Jeff Francoeur on the roster, a casualty of the numbers game. Royals management had mentioned they would have liked to keep Humber around but felt they needed to use roster space on other players. Humber would be picked up by Oakland, then designated for assignment by them as well that off-season before the White Sox picked him up. Royals fans cringed when Humber pitched well in the first half of the 2011 season, earning him a contract for the 2012 season. Humber would throw the 21st perfect game in MLB history in April of 2012 against Seattle. Unfortunately, that did not mean added success for him, as he struggled the rest of the season and was let go following season. Since then, Humber struggled with Houston last year and signed a minor league deal with Oakland this past off-season. I know there were Royals fans who felt the team gave up on Humber too soon, but he really hadn’t done anything with Kansas City that made it seem as if he was going to be a quality fifth starter for the team. I tend to credit White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper with Humber’s success, as Cooper has helped numerous pitchers rise from the ashes of fallen careers and is a big part to Humber throwing that perfect game. Humber had some success after leaving Kansas City, but not enough to make anyone feel as if they did wrong by letting him go. For most of us, he will be “that guy who threw a perfect game after leaving the Royals”.

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Johnny Giavotella

Giavotella played for the Royals from 2011 to…wait, he is still with the team? Oh, that poor man! I figured since they had given up on him then that would mean they had let him move on. Should I restart the #FreeGio campaign? Or just revisit this once he is allowed to travel to greener pastures? That poor, poor man…

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So those are just a few former Royals and what they are up to now. I always find it interesting to see what happens to some of these players once they leave and you never hear from them again. At some point we will revisit some other players from years past, possibly even some from many a year ago. Sorry to leave everyone waiting, but Onix Concepcion and Angel Salazar will just have to wait. Until then I recommend chewing on a toothpick like U.L. Washington. I hear they are tasty.

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