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Saturday, April 16, 2011

State of the Union: The Kansas City Royals

As many people know, the Kansas City Royals have been irrelevant in the baseball universe for quite some time now.  Since winning the 1985 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Royals have not made a playoff appearance.  They have finished last in their division 8 times, 4th 5 times, and haven't been higher than 3rd since 1995.  They have only had 6 winning seasons since that last WS title (out of 25 years), and nobody has had a reason to pay any kind of attention to them for 25 years.  They recently traded away one of only two truly valuable assets (Zack Greinke) to Milwaukee for a lucrative package of prospects, and going into the season, many people had them penciled in for failure before looking at the roster.  Hold the phone, folks, because the Royals may be ready to turn the corner in the very near future.

Before we venture off into the Royals' amazing farm system, let's look at what's brewing in the majors for them.  If you click the link above (the one that says Kansas City Royals), you will find the team page, and if you click on this year, you will probably be surprised.  The thing you'll probably be most surprised is Alex Gordon.  Upon seeing that name, you may have gone into shock, so I'll give you time to recover (yes, this is the same monumental bust that you may have kept asking, "Why don't you just dump him already, KC?")...well, something has changed (for the short period that has been this season).  Suddenly, a move to left field and absolutely no pressure on him at all has aided Gordon's plate discipline and power.  He leads the AL in hits and doubles, and he isn't striking out very much.  I'm not drawing any conclusion on him, but just do yourself a favor and keep an eye on him.  MAYBE he isn't dead in the baseball universe like many thought.

Well, Alex Gordon's resurgence really isn't what I wanted to focus on when starting to talk about what the Royals had, so let's get into that.  The Royals have one of the better DH's in the game of baseball (who, what?).  Yes, Billy Butler has moved over from 1B to DH, so that his wretched defense never has to see the field.  Butler has been improving his game each of the past three seasons, and he's off to an awesome start this year.  Great plate discipline, ability to hit the ball to all fields, and pretty good power have made Butler one of the better hitters in the game, and one of the game's best doubles hitters.  Along with Butler, the Royals have one of the best closers in the game of baseball, Joakim Soria. The Royals made it known how much they like Soria when they didn't trade him for top-level prospect Jesus Montero out of the Yankees' farm system. Soria has been absolutely dominant, but a good first baseman and a great closer won't get your team very far, so there must be something I'm holding from you, right?  Yup, it's that monster farm system I mentioned earlier!

The Royals feature the best farm system in all of baseball, and it isn't really even close.  On Baseball America's List of Top 100 Prospects, the Royals feature three players in the top 10, 5 in the top 20, and 9 players overall on the list of the top prospects in baseball.  Numbers are great to look at, but let's look at them, starting with the top rated player by Baseball America in the Royals' system:


Eric Hosmer, 1B: Big, strong, left-handed....all great ways to describe this monster of a 1B prospect.  After having LASIK surgery after the 2009 season, Hosmer has absolutely exploded in the minors.  Hosmer comes with the unique combination of power and patience that takes a good slugger to being a great one.  Think about guys like Prince Fielder and Joey Votto.  It isn't ridiculous to think that Hosmer could eventually develop into a player like them.  Great power, good bat speed, and patience at the plate have really helped Hosmer excel.  For the sake of argument, we'll plug him into the #3 spot in KC's future lineup.

Mike Moustakas, 3B: I would be lying if I said Moustakas wasn't my favorite prospect in the Royals' system. It's scary how quickly Mike Moustakas has developed in the minors.  Before last year, Moustakas hadn't don't much in the minors, but he got a promotion to AA...and then QUICKLY to AAA.  A slash line of .322/.369/.630 was impossible to ignore, so the slugger got a look at spring training, along with Hosmer.  Both will be in the minors, but the Royals have their clean-up hitter for the futre.  36 combined homers in 2010 between AA and AAA.  The Moose is going to be a force in the future.

Wil Myers, OF: Good hands, great patience, and solid power.  A third hitter of this type?  Yeah, that's why these 3 were all in the top 10. Myers bats from the right side of the plate, however, and he comes with a little bit more speed than his slugging counterparts.  I think the term "5-tool player" applies to a very select few players all-time, so I won't use that to describe Myers, but I will say that he's pretty good at everything, especially now that he isn't catching any more and will be more durable out in the outfield.  With a background at catcher, Myers has a great arm and will likely make his home in right field in the future, along with being the #5 hitter in Kansas City's future lineup.

John Lamb, LHP: Okay, so KC really needs pitching help.  Worry not, because John Lamb is here to help. Lamb is a lefty with a typically good fastball.  He throws it consistently in the low 90's and the pitch has late movement towards lefties and away from righties.   With great command, it is definitely a plus pitch.  His second pitch is a changeup that has been described as "devastating" by reports I've searched.  With a 10-15 MPH difference off of his fastball and great command, Lamb will likely be able to use this as an out pitch. Lamb's third pitch is a curveball, and it is his weakest pitch as of now.   After working with coaches, Lamb is trying to take a slow, sweeping breaking ball to a hard-spinning dominant pitch that he can use to become the ace that KC needs.  We'll consider him the future ace for now, especially with his easy deliver and ability to repeat his mechanics consistently.

Mike Montgomery, LHP: Another lefty starter for the Royals (remember that a lot of great AL Central hitters are lefties, like Mauer, Morneau, Dunn, Martinez, etc).  Montgomery is tall, lanky, and very close to being ready for The Show.Montgomery is a very mechanically sound pitcher and extends very well on his release. Mike has a fastball that also sits in the low 90's with late movement, and he has the distinctive "hop" that so many scouts talk about.   Much like Lamb, Montgomery sometimes struggles with his breaking ball, which is more of a sweeping breaking ball than anything else.  Perhaps Montgomery's out-pitch is his changeup. He throws it a little faster than Lamb, and his actually breaks a little later than Lamb's, which makes it more deceptive.  Montgomery could be the #2 for KC in the future.

Christian Colon, 2B: After getting Alcides Escobar, the defensive worries about Colon are no longer what they used to be, as he can now play 2B.  Colon was drafted in 2010 with more offensive potential than defensive potential.  Despite a bit of a lack of range, Colon has great hands and great footwork in the field.  Analysts such as Keith Law like Colon's contact ability at the plate, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Colon hit towards the top of the order in the future.  We'll say he fits the #2 hole for KC in the future.

Danny Duffy, LHP: Dear lord, another lefty.  This one, however, is a prototypical power pitcher.  Duffy's fastball sits in the low-mid 90's with the ability to touch as high as 97 MPH, and Duffy features good command of his fastball.  His secondary pitches aren't great, but he has the ability to control them pretty well, which leads to large numbers in the strikeout column.  Duffy's control and strikeout rates will likely continue to be great, and he has a lot of potential going forward.  Hard to say where he'll end up in the rotation, but with splitting up handedness in the rotation, we'll say he slips into the 4 spot in their future rotation, in favor of the next guy.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP: His fastball is his pitch.  Low-90's, great command, and "hop" make this Odorizzi's best pitch.  Unlike the other pitchers, Odorizzi's curveball is considered by some scouts to be an above-average pitch.    With a cutter as his 3rd pitch, Jake has a pitch arsenal fit for the rotation, but with inconsistency in his delivery (especially the speed), Ordorizzi finds himself being wild at times.  Odorizzi definitely projects as the #3 starter in KC's future rotation.

Chris Dwyer, LHP: Dwyer's best pitch is his 12-6 curveball.  It's a plus pitch in every sense of the word, and he locates it very well.  With good velocity in the low-mid 90's, Dwyer has an explosive fastball, but he struggles to control it at times.  In order to have a spot in the future rotation, he is going to have to improve his changeup a lot.  With improved mechanics and better control, I could see KC having a very legitimate #5 starter.  If he doesn't go to the rotation, he would make for a good relief pitcher.

So, you've met the prospects and the current big leaguers, so let's look at what the Royals could be in the future:

1. Lorenzo Cain, CF
2. Christian Colon, 2B
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
4. Mike Moustakas, 3B
5. Billy Butler, DH
6. Wily Myers, RF
7. Alex Gordon, LF
8. ???, C
9. Alcides Escobar, SS

John Lamb, SP
Mike Montgomery, SP
Jake Odorizzi, SP
Danny Duffy, SP
Chris Dwyer, SP

Joakim Soria, CP

So, if you're a Royals fan, start going to games so that the team can have money to pay all of these guys when they come up.  We didn't even get to the other potential players deeper in the farm system.  The future looks bright for KC.

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