Thursday, March 03, 2005

Reclamation Projects

Royals 2005 ("We Promise Nothing!") features 3 highly touted pitching prospects who have fallen on their collective arses in the major leagues. They all share a similar history - excellent to dominant performance at practically all levels of the minor leagues, but practically zero sustained success in The Show.

The shine is off these stars, and we can't give ourselves any illusions that these pitchers are going to suddenly figure it out and become then next Carlos Zambrano. But perhaps one of them will surprise us by developing into something not seen in Kansas City in 2 score: an actual major league pitcher.

1) Jeremy Affeldt. For many Royals followers, Affeldt has lost none of his shine. He's the prototypical 12-and-6 left handed master and they make excuses for his poor performance to this point - blisters, injuries, shuffling roles, poor coaching. All of these have played a role in his disappointing display to date, but its impossible, I say, IMPOSSIBLE to ignore the facts on the ground:


2002 1.57 7.8 4.3 1.8
2003 1.30 7.0 2.7 2.6
2004 1.61 5.8 3.8 1.5
Affeldt took a huge step back last year. He was the linchpin to last season, in my mind, and he withered under expectations.

But I think after three years of shuffling back-and-forth from the rotation to the 'pen that we did learn one important thing - Affeldt is not a starter, notwithstanding Guy Hansen's protestations that he's a Cy Young starter in the making. Its pretty clear that he's been more effective as a reliever, but his problem has always been consistency, which is crucial for a closer.

If he can restore his K levels to around 8 per 9 innings and drop those walks between 2 and 3, he'll be a top 15 closer. I'm cautiously pessimistic. Peter Gammons likes him for a breakout season, but then again, he said the same thing last year. If not, he'll be a journeyman LOOGY for a spell, since there will undoubtedly be other teams willing to take a chance on that golden-but-rusting left arm.

2) Jimmy Gobble. In my estimation, Gobble has been mishandled by the Royals. He was famously rushed to the big leagues straight from AA in 2003 when the Royals desperately needed someone to shore up a crumbling rotation for a fading contention bid, and they again counted on him to make a huge leap in 2004 when they expected to contend. He didn't embarrass himself in 2003, but he sure did in 2004, with an unbelievably anemic 3.0K/9, which was good for dead last in the major leagues. The Royals compounded his problems by keeping him on the KC squad for much too long, bruising his confidence and apparently his back, which was an injury undetected until the offseason (I don't think there's anything in the Trainer's Handbook that says teams CANNOT prevent injuries. Am I wrong about this? Someone fax that page to the Royals, posthaste.)

Gobble should have spent all of 2003 in AA and most of 2004 in AAA, but what's done is done. My problem is that the Royals seem to have cooled on Gobble and might not give him a fair shake in spring training, even though their bumbling has probably contributed to his poor performancesas much as anything. And to think players aren't loyal to the Royals. For shame!

I have hope that his horrible strikeout rates were a consequence of lost velocity due to his back injury, and once restored he will become what we all hoped he could be - a left handed Zack Greinke-lite with excellent control and decent strikeout stuff.
Check out his minor league stats -his strikeout rates were solid if not spectacular, his HR rates were tolerable, and his control was well above average. I just can't believe he's truly this bad. Plus, he's only 23 - tha'ts good for something, right? RIGHT?

But if that strikeout rate of last season is any indication of his true abilities, he's not the pitcher we all thought he was.

3) Dennis Tankersley. Poor Dennis is commonly referred to as the "throw-in" in the May-Long trade. Quite the contrary, he was the key to that trade, with May and Long simply exchanging addresses to play out the string on their unfortunate contracts. DT has dominated the minor leagues at all levels, but has done nothing on the major league level. His problem has been control (none, that is), but he
swears that Guy Hansen has straightened him out (I think Guy Hansen may have found the cure for the Bird Flu in his spare time at Surprise as well. The man is a miracle worker!).

I haven't seen Tankersley pitch enough to have a good feel for his strengths and weaknesses, so I'm least confident in his ability to straighten things out. But looking at this major league/minor league splits, I get the impression that he's just been pitching scared in the bigs. Maybe he doesn't have the make-up to succeed here, but with his talent and minor league track record he's clearly more than a throw-in (especially for Ryan Bukvich, who lasted about 5 days with the Padres organization), and if he can somehow maintain his composure on the mound, the Royals may have found themselves a solid 5th starter or middle reliever.


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