So About That Royals Farm System…

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Last week I was posed the question of whether there was anyone in Kansas City Royals camp that could surprise the team this spring. I discussed a few non-roster invitees, but no prospects and there are a few reasons for that. For one, this team is pretty close to a set roster and will only have a few spots open for competition. The other reason is that there are very few Royals prospects on the verge of breaking into the big leagues. If you look at the top of most prospect lists for Kansas City, you will see Raul Mondesi, Kyle Zimmer and even Bubba Starling taking up space. Starling is probably (at the least) another year away, while Zimmer has to stay healthy first before he can be considered to help Kansas City this year. I do believe we will see Mondesi this year, in fact I wouldn’t be shocked if he is the starting second baseman by August. Defensively he is ready, but his offense is still a work in progress. But after these three? Well, the farm system has taken a hit the last few years, and is currently anywhere from 18 to 23 in most MLB depth lists. Is that a fair position to put the Royals farm system in?

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I believe so, since the team lost a number of top prospects this past summer in the Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist trades. Sean Manaea  went to Oakland for Zobrist and he is now the A’s top prospect. Cody Reed was a part of the Cueto deal and he is currently number two on the Reds prospect charts. This is all without mentioning Brandon Finnegan, the former number one draft choice who was dealt with Reed to Cincinnati last summer. It sounds like a lot of talent dealt, and it was, but think of it this way; without those trades, the Royals probably aren’t world champions, so at the end of the day it was worth it. The other thing to remember is that a number of main talents are in the lower minor leagues for Kansas City, players that have been stockpiled over the last few drafts. Guys like Foster Griffin, Nolan Watson, Ashe Russell, Ryan O’Hearn and Chase Vallot are all players you should store in the back of your mind for future reference, although none will be seeing the major leagues anytime soon. The Royals front office and scouting department has done a nice job over the last few years re-stocking their minor leagues with players who will hopefully be the next wave of talent that rises through the minors together, but they won’t be part of the big picture for a few more years. So who could we see this year in Kansas City?

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There are obvious choices, like Cheslor Cuthbert and Miguel Almonte, players we saw off and on throughout the 2015 campaign. A few other prospects worth mentioning are Matt Strahm and Alec Mills, two pitchers who have steadily risen through Kansas City’s farm system. Strahm is a lefty who could see some time out of the bullpen this year, while Mills is another power arm with a nice array of pitches in his arsenal. Mills finished the year in high A ball, striking out 111 batters while walking only 14. Either guy could be contributing for the Royals out of the bullpen by the end of the year.

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So there are prospects that can contribute this season, but not many. Just looking at the surface, it appears the Royals have neglected the farm. But in reality it is a steady process that will take a few years to fully bloom. This is what happens when you win; you don’t get the higher draft picks that are on the fast track to the big leagues. Instead you accumulate arms and athletes and hope a few over-exceed expectations. The future is bright, but it gleams brighter the deeper you look.

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.

 

Kansas City Gets Their Ace: Cueto Now a Royal

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Well, they did it. After much discussion and even the tease of a deal on Saturday night, the Royals pulled the trigger on strengthening their rotation, acquiring Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds for minor leaguers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed, all left-handed pitchers. The Royals now have a legitimate ace for the rotation and have more than likely increased their odds of not only reaching the playoffs this year, but possibly even the World Series. The fact that Kansas City has the best record in the American League without Cueto makes one wonder just how high this team can soar. So now that the deal is official, the question remains: was this a smart trade by Royals GM Dayton Moore? I think so and will explain why.

 

Sep 23, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with Cueto. The Royals have acquired one of the top starters in all of baseball since 2011:

The Royals starters are last in the American League in WAR(4.3), 2nd to last in BB/9(2.90), 13th in K/9(6.08), and last in innings pitched(530). If there has been on weakness on this Kansas City team so far this year, it is the rotation and everyone has known that for quite awhile.

Outside of the great work that Edinson Volquez has done for 3/4 of the season, the rest have been less than reliable. Yordano Ventura has encountered the ‘Sophomore Slump’, Danny Duffy has dealt with injuries and control issues and Jeremy Guthrie has finally come back down to earth. Chris Young has been a great fill in for most of the season, but the Royals coaching staff have long discussed him returning to the bullpen and Jason Vargas is done for the year as he will have the dreaded Tommy John surgery. All that being said, there have been some glimmer’s of hope as of late. Duffy has looked more like he did in 2014, his breakthrough season, and seems to be solidifying his place in the rotation. Ventura pitched great on Sunday and there is hope it is a return to form for the youngster rather than the outlier of his starts. Adding Cueto to this group can only help this Royals team and there will be two notable differences he will realize very quickly:

As well as Cueto has pitched so far this season(2.62 ERA, 145 ERA+, 3.12 FIP and 0.934 WHIP) just imagine how he will do with the best defense in the AL and in a ballpark like Kauffman Stadium? One would think his numbers would only improve from where they are and it leaves only one other question: is he healthy? There has been some concern about Cueto’s health this season, but apparently Royals management feels comfortable with it:

So Cueto is a big upgrade to what has been a struggling rotation. What about the three pitchers Cincinnati acquired?

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Brandon Finnegan is the most familiar pitcher going to the Reds. Finnegan was the no. 1 draft pick last year of Kansas City and by September was throwing out of the Royals bullpen. Finnegan was even a big part of the Royals postseason run, pitching in 7 playoff games and outside of a bad World Series game, he performed admirably. So far this year he has bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors, as the Royals have flip-flopped on his role. Originally Finnegan was supposed to stay in the minors and work on being a starter, building up his arm to throw more innings. That didn’t last long as he was recalled early in the season and dispatched to the bullpen. In 14 major league games this season, Finnegan has an ERA of 2.96, 138 ERA+, 4.67 FIP and a WHIP of 1.192 over 14 games. Some in the organization had soured on him, partly because of his conditioning during the offseason(Finnegan had noticably put on weight when he arrived at Spring Training) and partially because some in the organization saw him as a reliever, not a starter. Finnegan has a good arm and is still early in his career and it will be interesting to see just what Cincinnati does with him going forward.

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The resurgence of John Lamb has been one of the bigger stories in the Royals organization this past year. Lamb had Tommy John surgery back in 2011, back when he was one of Kansas City’s top prospects. Lamb would return in 2012, but not as the same pitcher he was before. In fact Lamb had struggled these last 3 years, throwing with less velocity and even having issues with his off-speed stuff throughout that span. After an up and down 2014 where Lamb would sometimes look like the guy that would one day be a part of the Royals rotation with Mike Montgomery, the question became ‘what now’? Well, Lamb has been nothing short of great this year in Omaha, a 2.67 ERA, and a 1.155 WHIP over 94.1 innings in 17 starts. Lamb made the AAA All-Star team and his name had been mentioned quite often when discussions were had about possible starters in Kansas City. Unfortunately, management looked at Lamb as almost a last resort, as the team preferred starting a veteran like Joe Blanton over calling Lamb up. Like Montgomery, I believe Lamb deserves a shot. Cincinnati might accomodate him on that, since Kansas City didn’t seem willing to.

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Finally, there is Cody Reed. Reed is a 22 year old, 6’5 lefty that is in his third professional season and recently was recalled to the Royals AA team in Northwest Arkansas. Reed is a hard-throwing southpaw, throwing in the mid-90’s with a curveball with good movement. He has had some issues with control so far in his career, although his BB/9 this year has hovered around 2.5, an improvement over the7.0 during his first pro season. Reed has been climbing up the Royals prospect list and there have been solid comparisons made to another Royals farmhand, Sean Manaea. If there is a steal in this deal for the Reds, it would be Reed. I can see him being in the majors at some point in 2016 if things go right for him.

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The best part of this trade for Kansas City was they were able to acquire a top level arm for the rotation and gave up no top prospects or major parts of their roster. None of the three players traded to Cincinnati were going to be major fixtures for this team anytime in the immediate future and top prospects in the Royals farm system(Kyle Zimmer, Raul Mondesi, Manaea) were untouched. To me, this is a big success on Moore’s part and should definitely be chalked up as one of his better trades. I also really loved that the Royals front office did whatever needed to be done to get this team back to October. Myself and many others have lambasted Moore and the rest of the braintrust in the Kansas City front office over the years, but they have done their part and no one can blame them for not trying their hardest to help this team win. Us Royals fans have been spoiled since late September, as almost every move on and off the field has worked out for this organization. If we are celebrating a World Championship in late October, we can point to this acquisition as a major step in getting the Royals to that point. Knowing the organization will go out and strengthen this team is a great feeling and I hope when Alex Gordon has his time to negotiate a new contract he keeps this in mind. Johnny Cueto is a piece of a large puzzle that Kansas City has been patiently working on. Now it is time to finish the puzzle and just watch it in all it’s glory.

 

Royals 2014 Draft Possibilities

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Last year the Kansas City Royals took 3B Hunter Dozier with the 8th pick in the MLB Draft. It was a surprising pick, as most teams had Dozier slated to be a late first round draft pick. The Royals were sly though, as they were able to draft Dozier, pay him a bit less(saving nearly a million dollars on their slot recommendation) and then draft the guy they really wanted, pitcher Sean Manaea, as their first round supplemental pick, a guy who had been picked as a possible top draft pick when the 2013 season began. A smart move by the Royals, and one that makes you wonder what they have in store for this year’s draft(which will be held later on tonight). The Royals currently have two first round draft picks (17th and 28th) and have been connected to a number of players for these two slots. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the players Kansas City has interest in and the chances of them being taken in one of those two slots.

mlb.com
mlb.com

Forrest Wall

From BaseballFactory.com:

Advanced LH bat with natural, confident actions in the box. Has a knack for finding the barrel. Runs well and has sure hands, but arm limits him to 2B or maybe CF in future.

And this from FloridaBaseballReport.com:

Forrest shows national level speed and power from the leftside of the plate. With plus batspeed and room to grow may play second or third base at the next level. Defensively has plus range and soft hands with an avg arm.

Wall is a prep second baseman that has been aggressively climbing draft boards as of late. There is a very good chance that he won’t be available for Kansas City by the time they get to the 17th pick. Wall is considered their “Plan A”. This was said about the Royals and Wall at http://www.baseballamerica.com during their latest mock draft:

Plan A for Kansas City would be Forrest Wall, who had a great predraft workout with the team, but he might have too much helium to get to them now.

If Wall doesn’t fall to the Royals, that might mean the Mets grab him at the 10th pick. If so that would make him the highest second baseman out of high school taken that high.

khon2.com
khon2.com

Kodi Medeiros

From BaseballFactory.com:

LHP with average-sized athletic body and long arm swing, but outstanding present stuff. Runs FB up to 95 and has a wipe out slider.

From BaseballProspectus.com:

Established himself as one of the top lefty arms on the circuit, sitting 90-92 mph and touching 93 with good arm-side life. He mixed in a promising 78-80 mph slider and solid low-80s changeup, though he struggled to command the former. Medeiros is a work in progress, but the raw materials are there for a premium arm to emerge over the next calendar year.

And from MinorLeagueBall.com:

He could get out big leaguers right now and I’m not exaggerating. His fastball is 90-93 touching 94 but that’s just the appetizer. It has run in on lefties like a screwball. It fades away from righties. You can see lefties bail as it attacks them making it impossible to hit well with any frequency.

Medeiros has long been linked to the Royals and it seems if they don’t take him at 17, they will try at 28(if he is still available). The biggest part of his repeirtoire that has scouts salivating is his slider. Once again from minorleagueball.com:

His slider is in the main course. It’s a 76-78 MPH nasty offering. It’s an expletive pitch. The first time I saw it live, I swore. From the angle he delivers it, it can be unhittable. Lefty hitters won’t stand a chance hitting the ball that starts behind them and ends up on the outside corner. Right-handers could swing and miss and it could hit them in the chest. It is amazing. It has tight spin, late break and enormous movement both horizontally and vertically, although the bulk of it is horizontal due to his low ¾, almost sidearm delivery.

There are concerns about Medeiros’ build and mechanics, but the upside outweighs those concerns. If I had to make a sure bet on a player getting picked by the Royals, this would be it.

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Foster Griffin 

From BaseballFactory.com:

LHP who has a repeatable delivery and a polished 3-pitch mix. Running his fastball up to 94 this spring has enhanced his draft stock.

From BigLeagueFutures.net:

Long, sloped and slider athletic build in Brian Matusz type mold.  He has a sound three piece delivery with the balance and transfer that is relaxed, effortless.  He repeats well for a long and limber pitcher, nice extension that allows him to attack the lower half with plane on every offering.  Fastball was 89-91 mph with an extension that plays up the offering.  Good movement on it with a tough plane to square up.  Curve, 73-75 mph, has the shape and path to project into an above average offering.  He did not show the change up this event, but that pitch could round out a nice 3 pitch mix.  Foster is very projectable with easy arm speed.

and from TalkingChop.com:

Scouts think he could fill out and add ticks to his fastball, which currently sits around 89-91 in game. In addition, he also tosses a changeup as his primary secondary and mixes in a curve as well. He’s committed to play with Ole Miss in the fall, but a first round signing bonus would likely lure him away.

BaseballAmerica.com has Griffin going to Kansas City at the 17th slot with their latest mock draft, which means if Medeiros goes at 28 the Royals would get two prep pitchers in the first round. There was some talk of Griffin falling to later in the draft, but it’s conceivable to see him go in the top two, especially since he is rated in the top ten of high school players available for the draft.

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Monte Harrison 

From BaseballFactory.com:

One of the top athletes in the class. Also a football star, he can run, throw and hit on the baseball field. Extremely high ceiling once he concentrates on baseball.

From PiratesProscpects.com:

Harrison has plus speed, can cover center field and has a plus arm. He has a ton of power potential in his bat. His only average tool is the hit tool, but even that currently rates 50 on the 20-80 scout scale.

and from PrepBaseballReport.com:

Standing 6-foot-2, 195-pounds, Harrison hits for power and average, as well as showing speed on the base path and ability to track down fly balls in the outfield. 

Harrison is probably a long shot for the Royals, and the reasoning why makes total sense. From BaseballAmerica.com:

Prep outfielder and uberathlete Monte Harrison is also a possibility, but the apparent failure of the Bubba Starling experiment will probably make them gunshy.

The Bubba Starling comparisons are everywhere: two sport athlete, from the Kansas City area( Lee’s Summit West), committed to play football at Nebraska. Harrison could be a pick for the Royals at 17, but my guess would be there is a greater chance the Pirates nab him at the 24th pick. To me, the Royals can’t make the same mistake twice. It would be way too costly.

veooz.com
veooz.com

So those are the most talked about prospects that the Royals could pick later on today in the MLB Draft. I’ve always felt like baseball’s draft is the hardest sport to know what you are truly getting and your slot in the draft doesn’t always guarantee success. The Royals have been burned a few times already in the draft over the last few years, so a successful draft at this point is almost a necessity. A productive draft at this point would go a long way to shaping the Royals for a promising future.

 

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