I’ve been a bit short on time recently, but I did want to pass along a few thoughts on the recent injury to Salvador Perez and the effects that will be felt by the Kansas City Royals.
For Salvy, it is a frustrating blow that could see big ramifications on his career. Not only will he be missing a full year to the injury, but there are no guarantees that Perez will return next year “as good as new”. In fact, when it comes to catchers who have the ill-fated Tommy John Surgery, the history is bleak to say the least. For a guy who is most valuable behind the dish, this might be one of the worst injuries that could occur to him.
How will the aftermath of this injury effect the Royals? Obviously the loss will hurt, especially when you add Perez’s value on both offense and defense. Cam Gallagher was scheduled to be the backup to Salvy before the injury and now will carry a bigger weight as he shares the position.
Gallagher brings above-average defense to the table, especially when it comes to pitch framing. Gallagher has caught a number of the pitchers within the Royals system over the years and has a good rapport with many of them.
Offensively, he will probably be below league-average with the bat. He’s never been known for his offensive prowess throughout his minor league career although he did see a bit of an uptick his last few years in Omaha. As far as I’m concerned, the Royals should only be concerned with what he does on defense this year and anything he adds with the bat should be considered extra.
The Royals have also gone out and acquired veteran backstop Martin Maldonado to share time with Gallagher this year. Maldonado is a former Gold Glove winner and is a good fit for Kansas City, a veteran who can work with the younger pitching staff. The Royals have a number of up and coming pitchers in their system and fitting a veteran defender with them makes the most sense for their development.
The signing of Maldonado also gives extra time to Meibrys Viloria, the other catcher on the 40-man roster. Viloria had a cup of coffee in the bigs last September, appearing in 10 games while hitting .259/.286/.333. More time in the minors for Viloria is a good thing, since before his recall last year he hadn’t played above high A ball (Wilmington) all year. Viloria is entering his age 22 season and while he could see time in Kansas City later in the season, a bit more seasoning during a rebuilding year isn’t the worst thing in the world for a prospect like him.
So while the injury to Perez will hurt, there are a few silver linings to it. If anything, the time away will save Salvy some wear and tear on his knees and he will hopefully be rested and ready to go next spring. Honestly, the Royals weren’t planning on contending this year, so giving extra playing time to a Gallagner or Viloria should only be considered a plus and an opportunity to find out what they have when it comes to catching depth.
The biggest loss is the positivity that Salvy brings to the clubhouse. Not having his childlike attitude around during a long, 162 game season means the Royals are losing a great influence on their youngsters for the better part of a season. Hopefully they can find a way to keep him around as much as possible while he rehabs the injury. God knows we as fans will miss seeing his grin while attending games at The K this year.
Here we are, the middle of April and I’m sure a number of you are already frustrated with the Kansas City Royals. I mean, the bullpen has been a dumpster fire, the offense feels anemic and it’s just been a struggle to play games on consecutive days. Luckily, there is another way to enjoy Royals baseball this summer without watching the big league club.
For those of us longtime fans, we spent a number of the ‘Lean Years’ paying attention to the Royals minor league teams and keeping track of what the top prospects were up to. It was a way to keep an eye on the future while figuring out if these players fit in to what Kansas City needed.
So doing this can be daunting for a newcomer to Royals baseball or just for someone who has only ever focused on the major league squad. To help you out on this journey, I’m going to pass along some links and websites to keep track of so you can follow the progression of the Royals of tomorrow.
Let’s start with the Royals AAA affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. To keep tabs on the team you just need to go to their website where you will get daily updates, schedules, statistics and more. You can also follow them on twitter or instagram. Top prospects currently on the Storm Chasers roster include Hunter Dozier, Richard Lovelady and Trevor Oaks. Since Omaha is the Royals top rung of the minor league system, they are a good source of seeing players who could be on the main roster sooner rather than later.
Going down the line, there is the Kansas City’s AA team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. You can check out their official site for daily updates and the regular updates on Twitter. The team right now houses prospects like Foster Griffin, Samir Duenez and Donnie Dewees. The Royals occasionally promote players from AA but not as often as they used to, as many will receive a little bit of time in AAA before their promotion to the big leagues. The Naturals are also the team that current Royals bullpen coach Vance Wilson was managing for the last couple of seasons. I mention Wilson, since I’ve long believed he is a future Royals manager in waiting, which is relevant since Ned Yost’s contract runs out at the end of the year.
Sliding down to High A ball, where we check in on the Royals affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. You can check out their main page and follow them on Twitter. Their roster has a nice array of prospects like Gerson Garabito, Chase Vallot, and top prospect Khalil Lee. The team will probably see a plethora of other top prospects recalled to their squad this year, since a number of the team’s top talent is in the lower section of the farm system.
Finally, there is the Royals Class A team, the Lexington Legends. Once again, they have their official minor league site and Twitter to follow. The team has a number of the Royals top shelf prospects, like last year’s number one draft pick Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias. The players at this level are names you should be keeping tabs on and watching their progress, as they could be a big part of the major league team’s future. While the Royals are ranked as having one of the worst farm systems in baseball, the players at this level could start to turn the tide and we could start seeing results from them as early as this year.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the great work that Minda Haas Kuhlmann does, especially covering the Storm Chasers. You might have noticed that she took a number of the photos you see in this article and writes a weekly feature over at Royals Review. The feature is called “This Week in the Minors” and is a good way to keep up to date with what is going on with the organization on a weekly basis. Minda is a great writer and I highly suggest you check out her work, as it is always top notch.
Meanwhile, I will occasionally write about some of the up and comers here at bleedingroyalblue.com. One of the fun aspects of being a baseball fan is keeping track of the players who are on the way and I’ve always enjoyed writing about them on this blog.
So that should get you started on following the Royals minor league system and help educate yourself about ‘who is next’. Just remember that while the major league team will probably struggle most of this 2018 season, they won’t lose forever. The odds always come around at some point and the Royals will be a contender again. When that happens, you will already have an idea who will be a part of the “Royal Resurgence”.
There is nothing quite like late July in Major League Baseball; pennant races, visits to Cooperstown and the trade deadline. It’s long been believed that the Kansas City Royals would be buying at the trade deadline and last week Royals GM Dayton Moore swung a deal with San Diego for three pitchers to help both the rotation and bullpen. Earlier in the weekend, it was known that Moore was also on the hunt for a bat to beef up the lineup:
#Royals are contemplating adding a corner OF bat for stretch run. Two possibilities: #Phillies Howie Kendrick and #Whitesox Melky Cabrera.
So the Royals have now added an additional bat for the lineup. The question has already been asked so let’s immediately address it: Where does Melky fit in?
The answer is ‘everywhere’. The most apparent fit would be left field, as Alex Gordon has struggled most of the season. The numbers seem to preach that as well:
Gordon-.201/.294/.296, 0.4 fWAR
Cabrera-.295/.336/.436, 0.8 fWAR
Since Melky would be a possible fit at DH against lefties, I decided to break down those splits as well:
Gordon- .186/.336/.209, 59 wRC+
Cabrera- .296/.327/.500, 118 wRC+
Moss-.318/.412/.591, 166 wRC+
In years past there have been some heavy splits for Moss against lefties, but so far in 2017 he is handling them very well. It would appear that Gordon would be the odd man out in this scenario, but while I expect to see Gordon’s playing time cut, he will probably still see a good number of starts as well as being a defensive replacement late in the game. If you look up above at the fWAR numbers, Melky and Alex aren’t too far off and that is mostly because of defense. Alex has been an above average defender in 2017 while Melky continues to be below average. What I would expect to see is Melky floating around, playing left field one day, right field another, and DH every now and then too. Manager Ned Yost will probably mix and match according to who is on the mound that day and who is struggling/needs rest. Melky being a switch hitter helps in this equation, as he can fit in whether there is a righty or a lefty on the mound. While Melky isn’t exactly tearing up the league offensively, he is an improvement over what Kansas City has had most of this year and while not displacing just one player, will be a fairly regular in the Royals lineup, most likely in the two-hole.
While his bat will improve the lineup, maybe the biggest addition with Melky is his presence in the clubhouse. During his previous stint in Kansas City, he was beloved by the likes of Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and Melky has still been known to give a hug to Hosmer whenever he reaches first base when he has been on the opposing team. In fact, it surprised me a bit that Melky didn’t try to return to the Royals before the 2015 season when he was a free agent. This is what I wrote back in August 2015 about it:
But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:
Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”
So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…
So Melky is now going to get that chance to play with his friends and I can only imagine good things come from that. There is no statistic to quantify clubhouse chemistry, but it is well-known that Kansas City has a great group of guys that most have enjoyed playing with whenever they come play for the Royals. I have to believe the addition of Melky has put a bunch of smiles on the faces of the veterans who were with Kansas City back in 2011.
Adding Melky to the Royals equation was a smart move, but there is always the other side of a deal and in this one it involved two young pitchers. A.J. Puckett was the Royals first pick for Kansas City back in the 2016 draft (in the second round) and has been pitching this year in the Royals High A affiliate in Wilmington. Baseball America had Puckett ranked as the number 5 prospect in the Royals farm system before the 2017 season but he has struggled a bit so far in this campaign: 3.90 ERA over 108 innings, allowing 107 hits and a 1.412 WHIP. The original belief was that Puckett would go as far as his breaking ball takes him and at his ceiling would probably be a #3 starter in the big leagues. That being said, consistency has been his enemy this year:
Puckett lacks a dominant pitch and hasn't shown that great of command start to start. Give something to get something.
Scoles does a great job analyzing the Royals farm system for Baseball Prospectus Kansas City and is someone who has been keeping an eye on Puckett. Davis is a 23-year-old lefty who hasn’t been listed on any of the Royals top prospect list but has done a good job against lefties this season at Class A Lexington: .216/.289/.352 batting line in 97 plate appearances this year. His overall numbers are a bit pedestrian: 4.82 ERA, with a 1.389 WHIP and a nice 3.78 strike out to walk ratio. Obviously Puckett is the bigger piece of this deal and while it always hurts to give up a solid pitching arm, this feels like a low regret type deal for the Royals in the long haul.
So the Royals pick up another piece on their latest run to the playoffs and if anything the front office and ownership has shown they will step up when needed:
Royals will owe Cabrera $2.5 million the rest of the season. Chicago is covering a little more than half of remaining contract, per source.
The MLB trade deadline is set for 3pm Central on Monday, more than enough time for ‘Dealer Dayton’ to grab another arm. If the last week has been any indication we should expect another surprise within the next 24 hours. It feels good to know that no matter the end outcome, Royals management is giving this team everything it needs to play October baseball. The band is back together and getting ready to spin their greatest hits over the final two months of the season…and maybe the encore come October.
With it becoming more and more apparent that the Kansas City Royals will be buying and not selling this month, the question has arisen more and more on who they might be buying. Names like Jaime Garcia, Brad Hand, Dee Gordon and Pat Neshek have all been bandied about and I’m sure more will be tossed out there before the trade deadline at the end of the month. While Kansas City does appear to be buyers, the honest truth is that they won’t be able to buy much, as a combination of a depleted farm system and a need for almost everyone on the current roster leaves them few options for dealing. With that in mind, I thought today we would look at a few options in the Royals farm system that could help the team down the stretch run. Now there is no guarantee we will see these players, but they would fill a need and are currently just a call away.
Let’s start with a former first round draft pick in Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer has been able to stay healthy over the last month and has been converted to the bullpen for the Royals AAA club in Omaha. His numbers are less than spectacular so far ( 7.52 ERA, 5.52 FIP & 4.87 walks per 9) but his velocity has been stellar and can be dominate when he is around the strike zone. He has given up one run or less in 8 out of his 12 outings this season, but the last few appearances have seen Zimmer get lit up (7 runs over 3 2/3 innings). I’m sure the Royals would like to see a bit more success before recalling him, but with his stuff (he was clocked between 94-97 mph in his last outing) he could be a nice addition to the pen down the stretch.
Brian Flynn pitched on the big league club in 2016 but has spent most of this year on the disabled list. He returned near the end of May to the Royals AAA team and has been superb over his last four appearances (2 runs given up over 9 1/3 innings). Flynn has the ability to get both righties and lefties out and could be a trusted arm out of the pen as a situational lefty or a guy to eat a few innings for the pitching staff. I do think we will see Flynn in Kansas City before the year is out.
Raul Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling would all be good additions to the Royals bench/DH/outfield situation. Unfortunately, all three are dealing with an assortment of injuries and while I can see a scenario where we could see them this season, I doubt we do before September. Mondesi has found his groove in Omaha before the injury, hitting at a .316/.346/.544 clip with a wOBA of .372 and wRC+ of 121. Mondesi still swings at too many pitches and hardly walks, but his strike out rate is the lowest of his career (20.9%) and well below his career major league rate. I talked a bit about Starling last month and he would be an interesting option in the OF/DH situation for Kansas City. Scouts still think he will struggle mightily once he finally gets to the big leagues, but his adjustments this year have given the team a sign of hope and his defense has been major league ready for years. Don’t expect to see any of these guys in the next month, but we very well could see all three in September.
Maybe the most intriguing prospect that entered into Royals’ conversations is left-hander Richard Lovelady, a reliever stowed away down in AA Northwest Arkansas. The 6 ft. twenty-two year old is only in his second professional season and has been dominating this year between Wilmington and NW Arkansas. He is averaging over 11 strike outs per 9 and has not allowed an earned run since May 1st. In 42 innings this season, Lovelady has an ERA of 0.86 in 42 innings, allowing only 4 earned runs and striking out 52 in that span. His name has been tossed about more and more as a possibility in the Royals bullpen come September and could be in the vein of a Brandon Finnegan and his contribution to Kansas City back in 2014. I would say at this point the likelihood we see him in September is very good, so keep your eye out for the young lefty with a fantastic name.
A couple of names in AA to keep an eye on the next couple of months are Foster Griffin and Nicky Lopez. Both are currently playing at Northwest Arkansas and have had fantastic years. Griffin just appeared in the MLB Futures Game, getting both of the batters he faced out. He has started 19 games this year, posting a 2.89 ERA, striking out 108 batters over 109 innings. I doubt we see him in Kansas City this year, but the former first round draft pick has an outside shot of seeing time with the big league club in 2017. Lopez has been a rising star in the Royals farm system, racking up a .299/. 378/.402 line, 122 wRC+ and a wOBA of .357. Lopez is a shortstop and while he isn’t going to take Alcides Escobar’s job this year, it might not be long before he is in the middle infield for Kansas City, possibly forming a double play team with Mondesi. He started the year in Wilmington and while I’m not expecting him in Kansas City yet, he could at least be in the discussion come September. If there is a name you should be keeping an eye on in the next year, it’s Nicky Lopez.
I am still expecting the Royals to buy and acquire someone for the back of the rotation, but for now those are the names within the system that could provide some help over the next couple of months. I would love to add top prospect Josh Staumont to this list, but he has struggled mightily at AAA over the last 6 weeks or so and was shipped down to AA recently. His arm is electric but he is still battling the control issues that have plagued him for years. Even without him in the discussion, the Royals have some arms to count on during the pennant race if they so choose. There is no one there that will steal the show and become household names, but every winning team gets contributions from player one to player twenty-five on the roster. If the Royals are serious about heading back to October, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let a few of these kids shine.
Back in April I took an early look at how some of the Kansas City Royals top prospects were doing down in the minors.Since we are a little past the halfway point of the season and getting closer to September, when call-ups are made, I thought we could take a look today at how not only the prospects mentioned in April were doing, but also a few others.
Let’s start with Jorge Bonifacio, who has continued to be an offensive force in AAA Omaha. In 104 games this year, he has put up a line of . 276/.344/.470 with 15 home runs and 64 RBI’s. You can add a wRC+ of 114 to his numbers, which are almost all higher than his stats for last year. Bonifacio has even seen an uptick in his walk rate, while his strikeout rate is on par with 2015. I really don’t know if Kansas City still sees him as a future starter in the outfield, but if not he could be a nice trade piece if the team is looking for young starting pitching this offseason.
When last we checked in, Brooks Pounders was starting for the Storm Chasers while putting up some good numbers. He would eventually be moved to the pen, where he is continuing to put up good numbers. Over 70 innings, Pounders has an ERA of 2.82, FIP of 3.90 and 10.49 K/9. Pounders has had two stints with the Royals so far this year, with very mixed results. Pounders still has value out of the pen for the Royals, but probably not a permanent spot with the team.
Most Royals fans are interested in how Bubba Starling is doing since his recall to AAA, as he was given a promotion about a month ago. So far in 29 games, Bubba is hitting .218/.269/.327 with 2 home runs, 12 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 56 in 109 plate appearances. His walk and strikeout rate are a bit higher in AAA than he put up in AA in about half the games. This is the definition of a small sample size, but it doesn’t appear as if a higher level of talent has elevated Bubba’s offensive game much. Good thing he is a plus defender.
Third base prospect Hunter Dozier started the year in AA but was soon recalled to Omaha and has probably been their best hitter this year. In 76 games in AAA, Dozier is raking at a .306/.368/.519 clip with 13 home runs, 38 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 133. Combined with his AA numbers, he has hit 21 home runs, drove in 59 and a wRC+ of 164. Dozier has bounced back nicely from his rough 2015 season and has to be viewed as a possible replacement for Kendrys Morales next year as the Royals starting DH. He is definitely knocking on the Royals door and should be allowed entry soon enough.
Alec Mills started the 2016 season in AA and was able to make his major league debut in May. Mills has started 20 games combined this year between AA and AAA, with a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to results. Mills was solid in AA, throwing 67 innings with an ERA of 2.39, FIP of 2.09 and K/9 of 9.04. During his 8 games in Omaha, Mills numbers aren’t quite as impressive, as he has posted an ERA of 5.54, FIP of 5.59 and K/9 of 7.85 over 39 innings. His walk rate has jumped up to 3.23 in AAA and his HR/9 has also seen an uptick, to 1.62. There is quite a bit of room for improvement in Mills at AAA, but is still a solid prospect for Kansas City and I would imagine we will probably see him again sooner rather than later. I’ve always felt he might be better suited for work out of the bullpen, but with the Royals struggles with starting pitching, he could get a shot at the rotation in 2017.
Matt Strahm has put up solid numbers this year for AA Northwest Arkansas, posting an ERA of 3.43, FIP of 3.68 and K/9 of 9.41 over 102 innings. The most impressive part of his season to me has been the dip in his BB/9, down to 2.02, the lowest of his career. Strahm was recalled by the Royals this past weekend and while he struggled in his major league debut, he threw some major heat in his second outing, ending his time on the hill with a strikeout on a fastball clocked at 97 mph. When the season began it seemed Strahm might be better suited for the pen in the long-term, but I think there is a chance he could be a future mid-rotation starter for Kansas City if allowed to develop. Either way, his electric arm will be in play soon enough for the Royals and should see some success no matter the role.
Back in April we discussed Ryan O’Hearn, as he was killing the baseball for the Royals High A ball affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Not long after my post, O’Hearn was summoned to AA and took over first base for Northwest Arkansas. O’Hearn had a small learning curve very early there, but would soon find his stroke. In 83 games, he is hitting .265/.349/.440 with 9 home runs, 36 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 125. Combined on the season, he has hit 16 home runs, 54 RBI’s not bad numbers for a guy in his age 23 season. O’Hearn has seen his walk rate kick up this year while his strike out rate has been steady, a good sign for a future power bat. O’Hearn seems to be developing at a good rate and I still feel like he has a good shot of being Eric Hosmer’s replacement at first base if Hos leaves Kansas City after the 2017 season.
Pedro Fernandez was also recalled to AA this year but hasn’t seen much time there so far. After 6 games in Wilmington, Fernandez was recalled to Northwest Arkansas and so far has appeared in just 8 games, 5 of them starts. In AA he has an ERA of 4.03, FIP of 4.07 and his K/9 is at 5.90. The move to a higher level of baseball hasn’t been dominant for Pedro, but most of his numbers, like BB/9 and HR/9 are just a slight notch above what he has done the last few years in A ball. I doubt we see him in Kansas City anytime soon, but I would think he will begin the 2017 season in AA and then go from there.
Samir Duenez has put up some stellar numbers at the Royals High A ball team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Duenez took over first base from O’Hearn and has hit .313/.380/.524 with 6 home runs, 24 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 149. Duenez has played in only 39 games in Wilmington, since being recalled from Lexington, another A ball affiliate for the Royals. Duenez has seen his walk rate improve in Wilmington but has also seen a slight increase in his strike out percentage. Between both teams this year, he has produced 12 home runs, 79 RBI’s and 41 total extra base hits. Duenez is only 20 years old and very well might improve his power numbers as he ages. Duenez is definitely a player to keep an eye on and see how he progresses in the minors.
Josh Staumont is an interesting pitcher in the Royals farm system who was just recently recalled to AA from Wilmington. Staumont is a power pitcher, as is evident from his 11.59 K/9 in A ball this year. Problem is, he also has a bit of a control problem, also apparent by his BB/9 ratio of 8.26. Staumont has an electric arm and when he is on he is almost unhittable with his 95 mph+ fastball. But he still has a problem finding the strike zone some times and is still very much a work in progress. He has appeared in 4 games so far this year in AA and has an ERA of 3.31, FIP of 5.29, K/9 of 11.57 and BB/9 of 8.82. He has thrown 89 innings combined so far this year and most can see that Staumont could be a great arm for the Royals at some point down the road. Unfortunately, his control issues will slow down his progress and it is going to have to see an improvement before we can even discuss him contributing for the big league club. The arm is there, but Staumont is nowhere near a finished product.
There are a number of other names within the Royals farm system you should keep your ear to the ground on. Nolan Watson, Ashe Russell, Marten Gasparini, Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin, Chase Vallot and Ramon Torres are all names that you could be hearing over the next 2-3 years. I would love to throw Kyle Zimmer into this conversation, but honestly, his health has been a constant concern. Zimmer was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and we won’t really know more until Spring Training rolls around next year. The Royals have some pieces for the future that will be helping the big league club and they will need it once the 2018 season rolls around. We are all aware that the farm system was gutted last summer in the Cueto and Zobrist trades, trades that helped the Royals win a world championship. The cupboard isn’t empty, but the team does need to stockpile more talent over the next couple seasons. Baseball has been moving more toward youth the last few seasons and more and more teams are willing to take chances on younger(cheaper) talent. These players could very well be part of the Royals future, some sooner than later.
From about 2009 on, I have regularly followed the Kansas City Royals minor league teams to keep track of the development of the prospects throughout the Royals farm system. Initially it was done to get a glimpse into brighter days, as the big league club was struggling and the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez were all being touted as the future of the organization. Luckily, I enjoyed keeping track of the future big league stars in the minors and have continued following the development of the Royals prospects. So while the Royals are now the World Champions of baseball, their farm system is still chugging away with a number of players who will end up contributing to the big league club. Today, let’s look at some of the players who are putting up good numbers down on the farm.
Let’s begin with the Royals AAA team, the Omaha Storm Chasers. The Chasers are about 21 games into the new season and have gotten some solid hitting from their lineup in the first few weeks of the 2016 campaign. Jorge Bonifacio has been the big bopper so far, as he is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak into Saturday’s game. Bonifacio, the brother of former Royal Emilio Bonifacio, has been hitting at a .333/.341/.571 clip with 4 home runs, 17 RBI’s and 48 total bases. Bonifacio has had some competition though, as Cheslor Cuthbert has been tearing it up as well, hitting .325/.393/.584 with 5 home runs, 23 RBI’s and 45 total bases. But it hasn’t just been the hitters stealing the show for the Chasers so far this year, as Brooks Pounders is 2-0 in his first 4 starts, with an ERA of 2.25 and a WHIP of 1.20 to lead the Chasers pitching staff.
Meanwhile, let’s mosey on over to the Royals AA affiliate, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The name on most people’s lips on this team is Raul Mondesi Jr, who is one of the Royals top prospects. While Mondesi has shown some decent power this year for really the first time in his career( 4 home runs so far, 8 total extra base hits), the early staple of the Naturals lineup has been former #1 Draft Pick Hunter Dozier. Dozier is hitting .299/.405/.627 with 5 homers, 14 RBI’s and 42 total bases. On the pitching side, the team has been bolstered by two guys I have talked about before, Alec Mills and Matt Strahm. Both have 4 starts under their belt so far this year, ERA’s under 2.00 and WHIP’s under 1.00 while striking out a combined 41 batters over 45 innings. I still think their future is tied to the bullpen, but so far they have been the horses of the Naturals’ rotation.
The final stop on this Royals minor league tour is Kansas City’s High A ball affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. A player who has been steadily rising on the Royals prospect board is first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn has been a ‘One Man Wrecking Machine’ in Wilmington, putting up a line of .366/.424/.707 with 7 home runs, 18 RBI’s and 58 total bases in just 21 games. On the pitching side, the Blue Rocks have been led by Pedro Fernandez, a fireballing righty who has been almost unhittable so far this year. Fernandez has struck out 23 over 22 innings so far this year, posting a 1.21 ERA and a WHIP just a hair over 1.00(1.03). These two players are the best prospects in Wilmington at the moment and I would have to think will be in AA before the year is up.
So a quick trip through the Royals farm system shows a number of prospects are putting up stellar numbers in the early going of 2016. It’s still too early to tell just how many of these players will end up helping the Royals, although one would think at least a few will see time in Kansas City before the season is over. What this shows is that while the Royals are one of the older teams in the American League, there is still youth in the minors that could be helping the team in the near future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe the most perplexing issue facing the Royals in this disappointing 2014 season is the struggles of two players who were supposed to be sure things:
No, not those two. We already know they are hard hitters. The two I am referencing are these two:
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to be two of the most frustrating players ever, if for no other reason than the fact that they were supposed to be the cornerstones of this franchise. Instead it’s getting more and more apparent that these are not the baseball players(droids) we are looking for. So where did it all go wrong?
Let’s start with Moustakas first, since I have chronicled his issues heavily. There was last year’s struggles ; aaaaand this year’s slump. You read that correctly; Moustakas has pretty much been in a slump for two seasons now. Moose had looked to really up his game in 2012, as his defense had drastically improved and his bat produced numbers good enough for consideration for the All-Star Game that season. But a knee injury in the second half of the season sapped his power and seemed to sap whatever lightning he had trapped in his bottle. Since then he has been a mess at the plate, producing either a strike out or pop-up 30% of the time this season and producing these numbers earlier this season:
Moose’s numbers seem to be bottoming out this year and even a stint in Omaha didn’t cure whatever is ailing him, as he has only four hits since his return and his hitting .148 in those eight games. The bad thing is that even his newfound patience, which has raised his walk rate, seems to be of no use. Moose seems to have bad pitch selection, as he has a higher contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone than inside the strike zone. The other major concern is that Moustakas can’t seem to hit fastballs at a regular rate, which is explained by his -10.0 wFB, or Fastball runs above average. To give you a comparison, Billy Butler has never had a wFB below 15.1 in a full season(besides this season where his numbers have taken a dive). More and more it just seems Moustakas can’t catch up to a fastball:
So the verdict on Moose? Moustakas is still young enough to bounce back and be a regular contributor in the majors. He is still above average defensively and has some pop in his bat. At this point, the Royals have given him over 1500 at bats and he still has a career slash line of .235/.288/.376. The team has given him close to a season and a half to break out of this “slump” and he is still putting up putrid numbers. There does appear to be some trade interest for Moose, with three teams interested. My guess would be that those three teams think a change of scenery would do him good. In my opinion it might be time to cut ties with Moose and let him get that change of scenery. If the Royals decide they don’t want to do that, they have to send him back to the minors…for real this time. His hitting obviously hasn’t improved from the ten days he spent in AAA, so a more prolonged time might be the way to go. The Royals are unfortunately thin at third base, at least in the upper minors. Cheslor Cuthbert is in AA Northwest Arkansas, but he still needs time to develop before he is major league ready. Hunter Dozier is the other major third base prospect in the Kansas City farm system, but he is currently in Wilmington, the High A team for the Royals. Dozier has been crushing the ball as of late, but he still has a way to go. So there isn’t a clear cut answer at third base for Kansas City in the minors, but it is also apparent Moustakas isn’t that answer either.
Now onto the other Kansas City problem child, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012 and started out 2013 about the same way, only he was able to get some hits but showed absolutely no power and seemed incapable of pulling the ball. Insert Pedro Grifol in as the Royals hitting coach at the end of May and we started seeing a new Hosmer, one who could pull the ball and hit homeruns. The difference was notable in his swing and stance:
The numbers are a bit closer, thanks to the change in June, but it is apparent there was a different Hosmer between the first and second half of last year:
Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half 90 86 374 344 46 98 18 2 9 40 7 3 25 51 .285 .332 .427 .760 147 8 1 1 3 2 5 .310 89 111
2nd Half 69 69 306 279 40 90 16 1 8 39 4 1 26 49 .323 .379 .473 .852 132 7 0 0 1 2 2 .368 113 140
So coming into this year, it seemed as if Hos was fixed and there were no worries with him…
…but there are worries. Hosmer has seemed to have lost his power(slugging percentage is down to .357 from last year’s .448) and his approach at the plate the last few weeks has been hack-tastic. I’m starting to think Hosmer went to school at Francoeur High, where their motto is “We have never seen a pitch you don’t like”. Hosmer’s strikeout rate is up, walk rate is down but the biggest fall has been his situational hitting. Hosmer’s RE24(Base-Out runs added, where zero is average) is at -3.5, compared to last year’s 25.1. while his WPA+(Wins Probability Added) is at 4.6 next to last year’s 14.3. What that basically means is that in situations where the Royals need a big hit from Hosmer, he just isn’t producing. His doubles are way up this year, sitting at 20 already compared to last year’s 34, but across the board he is hurting the team more than helping. His defense is still above average(although the advanced metrics have not been nice to him defensively over the years) but his oWar is at a -0.9. So whatever he is bringing to the table defensively is being negated offensively. This is a nice look at his “new” approach:
Hosmer has a bit different verdict than Moustakas at this point, as there is still value in Hos. It amazes me that the Royals continue to hit him in the 3rd spot in the order, as he is hitting only .171 in the last month, but there he is every night, near the top of the order. Does a trip to Omaha help? Possibly. I could see a scenario where Hos is sent down and Matt Fields is given a shot in his absence. The likelihood of that happening is probably miniscule, as the Royals seem reluctant to admit their draftees need to be sent back down(Moustakas being the perfect case). Another option is to package Hosmer in a trade to a contender at the trade deadline. David Lesky(who is a great follow on twitter) first proposed this at PineTarPress.com and I was taken aback at first. I had never really considered the idea of trading Hos, as he always seemed like a possible future MVP candidate. But as we stretch into year three of him struggling for major portions of the year, I really started considering if this was the right thing to do.
On one hand, it’s obvious the talent there. When Hosmer puts it all together he is a middle of the order threat and can be a major factor in the direction this ballclub goes in. But the more he struggles, the more you start wondering what is fundamentally wrong to where he can’t just put it together. Why does his swing get messed up so often? Why is his approach at the dish a mess? Why does his power go on vacation at the worst times? You really start to wonder if mentally he just isn’t cut for this and if this is how he will be his entire career. The Royals are very much in “win now” mode and if they fall out of contention this move could be considered. Hosmer still has a lot of value and I’m sure some team is already salivating at the thought of working with him on his swing and untapping his true potential. I’m not saying the Royals should go out and trade him; what I am saying is that it isn’t foolish to consider that as a possibility.
Hosmer and Moustakas were supposed to be two of the main keys to get the Royals to the “Promised Land”, the playoffs. But so far we are left with two players who just aren’t producing like this team needs them to. I remember once having a conversation about which of the two of these hitters the Royals should try to sign to an extension if you could only keep one(the thought being they are both Scott Boras clients so there was no way the Royals would be able to keep both). This was early in the season of 2012 and I couldn’t make a definitive choice. Now in 2014, I seriously don’t think the Royals should sign either to a long term deal. As the old saying goes, it’s time to quit straddling the fence on these two; it’s time for Kansas City to either “Shit or get off the pot”, cause Hosmer and Moustakas are killing the Royals in more ways than one.
Most 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.