Monday, January 30, 2006

Organizational Analysis: Infielders

Sorry for the delay in the organization reviews. Just got back from Paris (very cold in January). Not too much news on the Royals' front at the moment. Most exciting news at the moment is that Baseball America released their top 10 prospect list: BA Royals' Top 10. You have to have premium access to read the chat wrap and the scouting reports. No real surprises in the top 10 of the list. I wasn't particularly impressed with Kimmey's analysis. I think the Royals' farm system ranks somewhere in the 20-25 range because the Royals don't have good enough pitching depth in the farm system, but their top 5 prospects are very solid. On to the infield analysis:

The Royals' infield has pretty good depth overall, improving considerably over the past few years. The Royals had a major void at 3rd base and catcher before the Beltran trade and were able to add two pretty solid young players at those positions (Teahen and Buck). Adding Grudzielanek improves the second base position considerably, giving Murphy, Blanco, and Gotay needed developmental time in the minors. Berroa will continue to fool around at shortstop, with no competition on the horizon until 2008 or 2009. The Royals' infield also features two of the Royals' best offensive prospects in the organization, Justin Huber and Alex Gordon.


The catcher positon has been a problem since Mike MacFarlane left almost a decade ago. John Buck appears to be the Royals' catcher of the future. Buck is a solid defensive catcher and does a pretty good job of throwing out runners. His game-calling skills still need some work though. Buck has shown good power at times and may hit 15-20 homers. He'll never be a great hitter, but could be a productive bat at the bottom of the lineup and a solid defender.

Prospects: Adam Donachie, Kiel Thibault, Matt Tupman

Donachie is an excellent defender and could make the team by 2008 as a backup. Should find out more about Thibault, Howell, and Everett, the catching trio the Royals drafted last season.

First Base/DH:

The Royals have a crowd at first base. Mike Sweeney has been a mainstay in the middle of the lineup for several years and could be moved to make room for Huber and Butler. Mientkiewicz improves the Royals' defense at first base and provides insurance in case Sweeney has an extended period on the DL. Stairs will play some first base, DH, and maybe stumble into the outfield from time to time.

Prospects: Justin Huber, Kila Kaaihue

Huber is the Royals' first basemen of the future. Huber has an excellent bat and compares well to Mike Sweeney to an almost extraordinary degree.

Second Base:

The Royals signed Mark Grudzielanek to give Blanco, Murphy, and Gotay time to develop. Grudzielanek should improve the Royals' offense and defense at second considerably. Certainly hard not to improve upon the .500-something OPS Blanco, Murphy and Gotay combined to produce last season.

Prospects: Jeff Bianchi, Donnie Murphy, Andres Blanco, Ruben Gotay, Gary Perez

The Royals have pretty good depth at second base. By 2007, when Grudzielanek's contract will likely expire (option for 2007), the Royals should have 3 candidates for the job. Murphy is probably the best overall prospect close to the majors. Murphy has shown pretty good power and has an above-average glove at 2nd. Bianchi has much more upside and could be a potential All-Star down the road.


The Royals unfortunately gave Berroa a long-term contract. So, we're stuck with him for the near future. The Royals don't really have any shortstop prospects near the majors.

Prospects: Chris McConnell, Andres Blanco, Angel Sanchez

McConnell has earned the reputation as an outstanding defensive shortstop and hit pretty well at Idaho Falls last year. Blanco is a great defender, but can't hit at all.

Third Base:

The Royals are in good shape at third base, despite poor depth. Mark Teahen could be a gold-glove third basemen in a year or two and has shown signs of being an average hitter. If he learns to pull the ball, I think a 20+ HR season isn't out of the question. The Royals' premier talent, Alex Gordon, will challenge Teahen for the third base job. Gordon's bat is more valuable at third base. So, the question will emerge: are we better off with Teahen at 3rd and Gordon in the OF OR Gordon at 3rd and an OF prospect/FA in the OF?

Prospects: Alex Gordon

Overall Grade:

1. Current Infielders' Performance: D (poor defense, lack of production offensively last season)
2. Current Infielders' Potential: C
3. Current Prospects Depth: B- (still thin at catcher, short and third, but better)
4. Current Prospects Potential: A

Overall, the future of the infield looks brighter. The Royals improved their infield offense and defense this offseason. With improving depth and two very talented offensive talents ready to make an impact, the infield should be much improved by 2008.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Organizational Analysis: Bullpen

First off, Royals Corner continues to provide great free info about the Royals, including an interview with Billy Butler. If you haven't visited Royals Corner yet, I'd highly recommend it. Also, the Royals have just signed Hernandez and Affeldt to one-year deals worth around $1 million apiece, avoiding arbitration. Now, on to the Royals' bullpen.

The Royals' bullpen is one of the strengths of the organization. The Royals have one of the best power bullpens in baseball, with 4 or 5 relievers who can throw in the 94-99 mph range. In addition to a strong core of power arms, the Royals have a pretty good middle relief staff as well. The farm system doesn't have many reliever candidates at the moment, but the Royals should survive without that for now.

Middle Relievers:

Mike Wood and Elmer Dessens will share middle relief duties for the next two years. Wood's sinker does a good job of getting groundouts and he was an average pitcher for the Royals last year. Nothing wrong with that. Dessens throws a sinker as well and should be an average pitcher as well. Joe Mays might also end up in the bullpen if he doesn't get the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

Future middle relievers: Jimmy Gobble, Brian Bass, Kyle Snyder

Setup men:

Burgos and Sisco are going to be the Royals' primary setup men. Burgos has a great fastball that can reach 99 mph as well as a very good splitter when he has command of it. Both Burgos and Sisco struck out over 1 batter per inning last year. Burgos will compete with Sisco for the closer's job in the future. Until then, the Royals will have a very talented group of setup men.

The other one or two spots in the bullpen are questionmarks at the moment, largely dependent on who gets the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Jeremy Affeldt, Denny Bautista, and Leo Nunez will contend for the extra spots. All three are very talented pitchers with 96+ mph fastballs and quality secondary pitches. Talent-wise, the Royals' bullpen is about as good as it gets. Translating that talent into consistent, quality relief will be the number one priority in 2006.


MacDougal ended the closer controversy last season, saving 21 games in 25 opportunities. MacDougal was pretty consistent last year and he had pretty good command (24 BBs in 70 1/3 innings). Consistency and command, I never thought I'd associate those with MacDougal. 2006 will tell us whether or not we can count on MacDougal as the team's closer for the near future.

Overall, the bullpen looks pretty good. The Royals' trio of late-inning guys performed very well last year and hopefully their success will continue. The Royals added a solid middle reliever (Dessens) and picked up a pretty good one off waivers (Peralta).

1. Current Relievers' Performance: B+ (consistency was a problem last year)
2. Current Relievers' Potential: A
3. Current Reliever Prospects' Depth/Potential: C (good depth at the major league level helps ease concern here)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Organizational Review: Starting Rotation

With a new season slowly approaching, it's time to take a detailed look at the organization and the direction its heading. The Royals have a long way to go to become a contender. But, the Royals do have some of the pieces that could make that possible by 2007. I'll break down the organization's depth and talent at each position, examine the organization's direction, and look at the team's financial picture. I'll start with the starting rotation, the weakest aspect of the organization.

The starting rotation has been a big problem for the Royals for the past 10 years. The Royals have been remarkably bad at developing starting pitching. The Royals have had some pretty good offenses at times, but no pitching to go along with it. The first step toward contention is improving the starting rotation situation. The Royals' starters finished last in ERA (6.00) and pitched the fewest innings in the majors. Hopefully, the Royals' free agent additions and improved infield defense will help the starters' ERA get closer to 5.

2006 optimistic outlook: Redman, Elarton, and Mays will hopefully pitch reasonably well (ERA around 4.50-5.25) and eat innings. Zack Greinke and Runelvys Hernandez will put together at least league-average performances.

2006 pessimistic outlook: repeat of 2005

2007 and beyond:

#1 starter:

The Royals really don't have a true ace right now. The closest candidate is probably Zack Greinke, if he regained his outstanding command he showed in his 2004 debut season.

Prospects: None at the moment, Andrew Miller or the Royals' first-round pick if they draft a pitcher

#2 starter:

The Royals don't really have a No. 2 starter right now. Zack Greinke probably fits best here in the future. Greinke has 4 good pitches and pretty good command of them, so he profiles as a No. 2 starter. Denny Bautista also profiles as a No. 2 starter with 3 very good pitches. But, his lack of command, small frame and potential injuries, and the Royals' inability to develop raw pitchers will probably prevent him from reaching his ceiling. Should the Royals move Sisco or Burgos back to the rotation, they might fit here as well.

Prospects: Luis Cota (High Desert)

Cota has a good fastball (mid-90s, good movement) and pitched well in the Midwest League as one of the youngest pitchers. He has a lot of upside if he can develop his secondary pitches and improve his command.

#3 starter:

Runelvys Hernandez profiles as No. 3 starter if he can stay healthy and in shape. Hernandez will probably be a league-average pitcher as his command improves (should as he recovers from TJ surgery).

Prospects: Juan Cedeno (Wichita)

Cedeno will be a starter for Wichita this season. He's a lefty with a mid-90s fastball. Cedeno has been pretty hittable throughout his minor league career and his control hasn't been very good.

#4 starter:

JP Howell will probably be the No. 4 starter by 2007. Howell has well-below average velocity, but still manages to do a pretty good job of striking hitters out (6.69/9 IP).

Prospects: Chris Nicoll (Burlington), Billy Buckner (High Desert/Wichita)

Nicoll displayed good command in college as well as his debut at Idaho Falls. Buckner did reasonably well at High Desert after a good start at Burlington. Both have pretty average stuff.

#5 starter:

Mike Wood may be the No. 5 starter by 2007. Wood pitched pretty well as a starter during the 2005 season. He'll probably move between the long relief role and the No. 5 spot.

Prospects: Matt Campbell (Burlington), Devon Lowery (Wichita), Brian Bass (Wichita)

Other prospects with unknown ceilings: Brent Fisher, Rayner Oliverios, Eric Cordier

Overall Grade:
1. Current Starters' Performance: F
2. Current Starters' Potential: D+
3. Current Prospects Depth: F
4. Current Prospects Potential: D

Overall, the Royals' aren't in good shape here. Even the best case scanerio looks like an average rotation. The Royals have some young starters, but the depth isn't very good. Zack Greinke and JP Howell were really bad and Denny Bautista spent most of the season on the DL. Runelvys Hernandez is a decent starter, but he's getting pretty close to free agency and isn't very young. The Royals convert so few young starters into quality major league starters that the Royals most improve their depth just to fill out the rotation.

How to improve the rotation: The biggest step to improving the rotation is to draft a starter in the 2006 draft. This is the Royals' best bet to fill the void at the front of the rotation. The Royals must focus on pitching in this draft and figure out why they can't develop starting pitching.

The organizational reviews get more optimistic from here. Next up, a look at one of the bright spots in the organization: the bullpen

Monday, January 09, 2006

Early look at the Royals' Top 10 Prospects

The Royals are just over a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Spring Training isn't that far away and we'll get an early preview of the team we'll see in 2007. Having Butler, Gordon, and Huber in the lineup will be fun to watch. These are the Royals' best prospects and all three will be at AA or AAA this season. The Royals' top three prospects are among the best trios of hitting prospects in the minors. After those three, the list drops off quite a bit. The Royals have serious pitching depth issues that remain unresolved. With the first overall pick, the Royals should be able to add a potential future ace to the farm system. The 2004 and 2005 drafts added a nice group of position players, so hopefully the Royals will focus more on pitching in 2006. But, that's a moot point if the Royals can't develop any of the pitching talent they have to work with.

1. Billy Butler/OF/DH: Butler is coming off a remarkable season, particularly for a 19-year-old. Butler has great raw power and should be a good contact hitter as well. Butler hit 30 HRs during the regular season and hit above .300 at High A and AA. His plate discipline has been good so far, although he struggled a bit in that area at AA. He'll have no trouble finding a spot in the lineup, but finding a position in the field might be tough. It might be hard to hide his glove in LF, although surely he couldn't be worse than Emil Brown or Matt Stairs. Corner outfield is a position of need in the organization, so he'll get every chance to play there.

2005 Stats: AA 112 ABs .313/.357/.527 9 2Bs 5 HRs 19 RBIs
High A 379 ABs .348/.419/.636 30 2Bs 25 HRs 91 RBIs

2. Alex Gordon/3B/OF: Gordon had a decent debut in the Arizona Fall League, exhibiting good plate discipline with a .403 OBP. Gordon has very good power from the left side of the plate. Gordon has drawn a lot of comparisons to Mark Teixeira and could be the Royals' No. 3 hitter of the future. The biggest questionmark is Gordon's future position. The Royals are going to keep him at third until Teahen proves himself. If Teahen becomes a solid third basemen, then Gordon will likely be moved to the corner outfielder.

3. Justin Huber/1B/DH: Huber had a productive year in the minors, putting up a 1.002 OPS at AA. Huber hit pretty well at AAA, but struggled at the big league level. Part of that was because he was injured at the end of the season. Huber has shown a lot of similarities to Mike Sweeney. Their minor league numbers are very similar and both have been converted from catcher to 1st basemen. Huber will have most of the season to polish his defense at 1st base and should be the Royals' 1st basemen in 2007.

AA 335 ABs .343/.432/.570 22 2Bs 16 HRs 74 RBIs
AAA 113 ABs .274/.374/.540 7 2Bs 7 HRs 23 RBIs
ML 78 ABs .218/.271/.256 3 2Bs 0 HRs 6 RBIs

4. JP Howell/SP: Howell quickly rose through the Royals' farm system and made a quick debut in June. Howell had a terrific debut, pitching 5 innings and striking out 8. Howell has maintained a solid strikeout rate because of his solid repertoire of secondary pitchers. Howell must improve his command of a below-average fastball and cut down on the walks (39 in 72 2/3 innings). With the addition of 3 new starters, Howell will have the opportunity to work on those things at AAA.

High A 3-1 1.96 ERA 46 IP 33 Hits 24 BBs 48 SOs
AA 2-0 2.50 ERA 18 IP 12 Hits 5 BBs 23 SOs
AAA 3-1 4.06 ERA 37.2 IP 40 Hits 19 BBs 29 SOs
ML 3-5 6.19 ERA 72.2 IP 73 Hits 39 BBs 54 SOs

5. Chris Lubanski/OF: Lubanski put up some great offensive numbers at High Desert. Lubanski had 72 extra base hits and drove in 116 runs, even with a very slow start to the season. However, Lubanski's great numbers were likely a result of his home park, as his road splits weren't nearly as impressive. AA will tell a lot about Lubanski's future. His defense in CF is suspect and his arm isn't good enough to play RF.

High A 531 ABs .301/.349/.554 38 2Bs 28 HRs 116 ABs 14 SBs

6. Luis Cota/SP: Cota had a pretty good season in the Midwest League. Cota has a very good fastball, but needs to improve his secondary pitches and his command. Cota's command will be tested at High Desert this season. A lot of pressure rests on Cota's shoulders, as he's the only intriguing pitching prospect below AAA.

Low A 5-8 4.01 ERA 148 IP 143 H 137 SOs 63 BBs

7. Jeffrey Bianchi 18/SS: Bianchi had a great debut in the Arizona Rookie League before sustaining a back injury. He's a very advanced hitter who should move quickly and could enter the 2nd base picture by 2008. Bianchi would be rated higher, but the limited sample size brought him down a couple of spots. Bianchi will probably start at the Pioneer League or Burlington.

AZL .408/.484/.745 98 ABs 7 2Bs 4 3Bs 6 HRs 30 RBIs

8. Leo Nunez 22/RP: Nunez has displayed pretty good command and pitched well most of the time for the Royals. But, there were times when he couldn't get anybody out. Nunez has a fastball that can reach 97 mph with pretty good movement. He should be apart of a solid bullpen at some point during this season.

AA 1-0 0.69 ERA 13 IP 2 BBs 14 SOs
ML 3-2 8.23 ERA 42.2 IP 13 BBs 26 SOs

9. Chris McConnell 19/SS: McConnell had a very good season at Idaho Falls. McConnell is considered an excellent defender, so his bat was a nice surprise. McConnell will likely start at Burlington next year or could jump to High Desert. The Royals' post-Berroa infield could feature Bianchi at 2nd and McConnell at SS. Of course, that's a long ways away.

Pio 262 ABs .328/.402/.511 16 2Bs 7 3Bs 6 HRs 36 RBIs

10. Mitch Maier 23/OF: I feel like I'm forgetting someone, mainly because I don't think Maier should be in the top 10. Nonetheless, I couldn't find a better candidate. Maier is the best defensive outfielder in the farm system, has pretty good speed, and has shown solid gap power. Maier's swing needs lots of work, so he's still at least a year away.

High A 221 ABs .336/.370/.583 26 2Bs 8 HRs 32 RBIs
AA 322 ABs .255/.289/.416 21 2Bs 7 HRs 49 RBIs

Sunday, January 01, 2006

10 Questions for 2006

The Royals will have some big questions that will be answered in 2006. This is going to be a pivotal year for the direction of the franchise. By the end of 2006, we should know where or not the "youth movement" is succeeding and where or not Baird's plans are working. If not, expect some major changes during the 2006 offseason. Here are 10 questions that should be resolved by the end of 2006:

Will Jackson County finally pass something to improve the Sports Complex or build new stadiums?

Who will be the starting corner outfielders in 2007?

Who will be Buddy Bell's next obsession (Terrence Long last year)?

Will Gordon, Butler, Huber, and Lubanski continue their track toward KC as the future 3-4-5-6 hitters?

Will the Royals draft the best player available and sign them?

Will Baird's offseason moves improve the Royals significantly?

Will Zack Greinke emerge as the Royals' future ace or be the prospect that couldn't miss who did?

Will the "youth movement" be a success or will the Royals choose an alternative plan?

Will Allard Baird be fired?