Friday, January 21, 2005

Royals 5 Biggest Problems, Continued

4) Pitching

I originally titled this problem pitching injuries in order to limit the scope, but looking at the pitching rosters of the past 15 years or so, then vomiting, then regaining my composure, then vomiting again, I feel compelled to comment on the Royals' pitching woes in general.

Since 1989, the Royals have developed one starting pitcher of note:

1) Kevin Appier

I thought about adding Jose Rosado, but his career line consists of 3 pretty good seasons, followed by - what else - an injury that ended his career. Zack Greinke looks to be #2, and the Royals are protecting him like he's George Bush on Inauguration Day, but I see no reason to get ahead of myself given the Royals' putrid recent history of handling pitching prospects.

Look, I understand that many pitching prospects don't pan out for all organizations. "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect", or so it goes. But one - ONE - quality starting pitcher in 16 years (or even longer) is patently pathetic and must be indicative of some systemic problem within the organization. Performance wise, it is the single biggest failure of this franchise in the past 2o years. There is nothing more important for a small market team like the Royals than to develop a stable supply of quality pitching. I believe the Royals could compete for a division championship without a good offense, but not without quality pitching.

The Royals, to be glib, are kryponite to promising prospects. Let's share some pain by reviewing the list of heavily-touted prospects who have gone down to injury and/or flames:

Serious Injury: Jose Rosado, Orber Moreno, Miguel Ascencio, Kyle Snyder, Runelvys Hernandez. Snyder has always been damaged goods. He's 6' 8", 220 and will be a soft-tossing, finnese pitcher who can't strike anybody out. Ascencio was let go, and may be done for good. Hernandez is a wait-and-see, but please remember that he pitched for a long stretch of the 2003 season with a serious injury - without telling anyone. No "cookies and milks" for Elvys, eh Tony Muser? Let's also not forget that Jimmy Gobble pitched much of the 2004 season with an undiagnosed back injury, another feather in the cap of the cracked Royals training staff.

Developmental Failures: Blake Stein, Chad Durbin, Jim Pittsley, Jeff Granger, Dan Reichert, Chris George, Chris Fussell, Kris Wilson, Jeff Austin, Colt Griffin. Lots of #1 draft picks, top rated prospects sprinkled in this list, none of which amounted or will amount to anything. I watched Dan Reichert befuddle the Red Sox for 8 innings in 2000 from the bleachers in Fenway, and his stuff was FILTHY. Sigh. I guess when you walk as many as you strikeout good stuff doesn't get you very far. Where do the Royals FIND these people?

The Royals have also failed to develop a consistent closer since Jeff Montgomery. If the team didn't blow 30 something saves in 2000 they may have won the division title. Jeremy Affeldt seems to be talented enough to end that string, but he, too, is coming off of 3 straight disappointing seasons and is much less valuable as a closer than he would have been as a starter.
What are the systemic problems? Fundamentally, the Royals have not scouted and drafted well. There are too many players with undisclosed injuries or histories of arm abuse, soft-tossers who cannot strike out enough batter, strikeout pitchers with no control, etc. The training staff has also done a terrible job rehabbing pitchers or preventing injuries in the first place. And the Royals have been extremely unlucky. I understand that there are dedicated people in the Royals' front office and scouting departments who spend countless hours researching, scouting and evaluating players, and I want to acknowledge that. I don't want to be a completely hostile armchair critic, because one of my everyday rules of engagement is never to assume that people on the other end aren't trying and don't care. They usually do. Just by dumb luck the Royals should have drafted a Ben Sheets or Jason Schmidt, but fate has not been kind. If there is indeed regression towards the mean, the pendulum will swing back positively in the Royals' favor over the next 5 to 10 years.

Now what? The Royals are in a better position now after hiring Donny Rowland, who had been very successful with Angels. I wasn't particularly enamored with year's pitching draft, as Matthew Campbell and JP Howell look like two more soft tossing lefties. Andy Sisco was a fine rule 5 pickup, who may be wasted on the ML roster all season but has more upside that most Royals prospects. The Denny Bautista heist was Allard Baird's finest moment as a GM (that's a little sad) and is now the best rated prospect in the Royals' system. The Royals have the 2nd pick in the upcoming June draft, and I pray (oh yes we pray!) that they will spend the money to draft the finest player available.

They have a future top of the rotation pitcher in Greinke, which is a great place to start. His delivery and mechanics are so smooth that its hard to imagine that he'll get hurt. I'm still bullish on Gobble, despite his poor 2004, hoping that his undiagnosed back injury robbed him of 4 to 5 mph on his fastball. If he can strike out 6 to 7 per 9, he'll be very good. Affeldt needs to develop consistency with his location and stay healthy in order to become a quality closer (though I'd still prefer to see him as a starter, or at least an old school 2 inning closer). Everything else is a crapshoot, with players who are young (Bautista), coming off injury (Hernandez) or trying to right their ship (MacDougal).


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