Monday, June 26, 2006

Great weekend for the Royals

The Royals had a great weekend, winning both games against the Brewers. The start of Saturday's game didn't look promising, as Brandon Duckworth struggled against the Brewers. Fortunately, after a 4-run top of the 4th by the Brewers, the Royals answered with a 5-run bottom of the 4th. Duckworth made it through five innings, but allowed 10 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs. The mysterious Keppel and Duckworth have quickly been figured out it appears. Hopefully, they can adjust to the hitters and be serviceable for the rest of the season.

On a positive note, the bullpen finished the game strong with 4 scoreless innings. Dessens continues to be solid in long relief. The Royals have him signed through next year and his bullpen help is very welcome. Burgos picked up his 12th save Saturday night, striking out 2. Since June 8th, Burgos has picked up 5 saves and allowed just 1 run in 8 1/3 innings.

Sunday's game brought a great performance by Mark Redman and the bullpen, shutting out the Brewers. Redman has pitched well in June after a horrible start. David DeJesus had a great weekend, going 5 for 9 with 2 RBIs and a pair of doubles. When DeJesus produces, the Royals seem to get plenty of offense. Gobble picked up his first save, striking out 2. Gobble has been one of the Royals' best relievers. His improved command and strikeout abilities would make him a good candidate to start again.

July should be interesting for the Royals. They should finally get Greinke, MacDougal and Sweeney back and perhaps we'll see the team that could have been? The veteran acquistions haven't underperformed as bad as typical Baird signings do. Grudzielanek, Sanders, Mientkiewicz, Elarton and Dessens haven't been spectacular, but they've pretty much done what everyone expected. With the young players starting to produce again (Teahen, Buck, DeJesus) and the Royals' best players getting healthy (hopefully), perhaps the second half will be much more pleasant to watch.

The Royals have a few players being mentioned in trade rumors. Sanders, Mientkiewicz, Elarton, and Redman may interest a few contenders. I'll weigh the pros and cons of dealing them in a future post.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Royals' Winning Streak Ends

The Royals' 4-game winning streak ended yesterday as the Royals' offense couldn't manage much against Brewers' starter Dave Bush. Bobby Keppel struggled, lasting just 2 1/3 innings and allowing 5 runs on 8 hits and a walk. Typical Royal starter line there, except there's usually about 3 or 4 more walks. Affeldt pitched nicely in mopup duty, going much longer than usual (4 innings).

Hopefully, the Royals aren't ready to give up on Keppel yet. Keppel is still pretty young (23) and has pretty good stuff. He certainly deserves a few more starts before the Royals try to find another AAA starter to do no better. If he keeps on struggling, Jimmy Gobble should be the first to get another shot at starting. Gobble has figured out how to strike major-league hitters out and has improved his command. In 38 innings, Gobble has struck out 31 and walked just 12. That's much, much better than Affeldt, who is more or less finished as a Royal as far as I'm concerned.

Onto the good news, prior to last night's game, the Royals won 6 out of their last 9 games and 4 in a row. The Royals' offense cranked out 38 runs in 4 games, an impressive feat for a lineup of retread veterans and mediocre young talent. Leading the Royals' offensive surge is John Buck, who has an excellent .304/.403/.547 line for the month of June. Buck is pretty awful at the plate most of the time, but he gives you a couple good months during the season. Another youngster in the lineup who's had a solid month is Mark Teahen, who has a nice .318/.357/.470 line. It's nice to have some production from the bottom of the lineup, especially with Berroa down there contributing nothing.

The Royals take on the Brewers in the second game of the series tonight and send Brandon Duckworth to the mound. Duckworth has pitched well in his first two starts and hopefully will continue his success tonight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Royals Trade JP Howell for Joey Gathright

The Royals' new GM made his first trade yesterday, trading lefty JP Howell for CF Joey Gathright and a middle infielder who doesn't matter. Howell has pitched fairly well at AAA, particularly before his shoulder problems began. The Devil Rays get a lefty who has had a solid track record in the minors, but also has some questionmarks with his stuff and possibly injuries. The Royals get a centerfielder who has struggling mightily at the plate, but might have the best speed in baseball.

Gathright's minor league track record: Gathright's minor league career line is .316/.390/.361. He's very much a singles hitter, but he does get on-base at a very good rate. Throughout his minor league career, Gathright has stolen 165 bases in 215 attempts (77 percent).

What the Royals get: Joey Gathright's excellent speed should give the Royals a great basestealer and improve the Royals' outfield defense. Gathright has a great track record of stealing bases. Gathright has stolen 38 bases in 47 attempts (81 percent) in 150 major-league games. It's not unreasonable to think that Gathright could steal 40 or 50 bases on a regular basis, something the Royals haven't seen since Vince Coleman/Tom Goodwin. Moving DeJesus to the No. 2 spot in the lineup probably suits him better, with his gap power, great on-base skills, and above-average speed. If Gathright can get on-base, the Royals should have much improved scoring ability at the top of the lineup.

Now the big question, can Gathright hit enough to make his speed a worthwhile asset to the Royals and be enough of an improvement of David DeJesus in CF? If you believe Gathright's defensive stats, he will be a slight improvement over DeJesus. In 135 games in CF, Gathright is 3 FRAA. DeJesus is a career 0 FRAA in CF. DeJesus will be an above-average corner outfielder defensively. However, he is likely to be a below-average corner outfielder offensively. So, here's another question for you, is Gathright's speed worth taking away a typical spot (LF) for one of your best hitters?
If his OBP is close to his minor-league numbers and he steals 40 or 50 bases, then I'd say so.

How this trade hurts the Royals: The Royals gave up a young lefty who has very solid minor league numbers in spite of the Royals' rushing him. Howell is rather unconventional since he doesn't throw very hard and few starters throw as softly as he does. However, his secondary stuff is very good and his sinker does a good job of getting grounders. So, if he can control his fastball and keep it out of the middle of the plate, he can become a mid-rotation guy at best and more likely a No. 4 or 5 starter. That said, the Royals have plenty of back-of-the-rotation fodder, so this isn't a big loss. Still, if he does turn out to be an average starter, he'll be a bargain for the next 6 years and be more valuable than Gathright.

My take on the trade: Overall, the trade seems like a worthwhile risk. I hate giving up young pitching talent, especially when you look at the Royals' current rotation. Howell has had very good minor league success, but I think big league hitters can hit his stuff. He can't afford to miss his spots, otherwise his stuff will get hit hard. The future of the Royals' rotation depends on guys like Greinke and Hockevar developing into frontline starters. So, they can afford to give up Howell at this point. There might be some behind the scenes info we don't know about, perhaps about Howell's arm.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Top Prospect Update

The Royals' farm system continues to improve, despite setbacks to a few of last year's top prospects. The Royals' 2006 draft should help add depth and talent to a system that badly needs pitching help. Luke Hockevar is a tremendous talent who has ace potential and shouldn't be in the farm system long. Harold Mozingo is a polished college righty who is a steal in the sixth round. Blake Wood and Jason Godin are a couple of college righties who have good upside as starters, but aren't as polished as what you'd expect from a college starter. Overall, the draft should help to strengthen the Royals' pitching depth and it'll be interesting to watch these players at Idaho Falls once short-season ball starts in a week or two.

Onto the top prospect list:

1. Alex Gordon 3B/22: Gordon has done nothing to disappoint in his first full season in the minors. He has a very good .926 OPS and has stolen 14 bases in 15 attempts. Gordon will be a good candidate for a September callup, unless the Royals decide to delay his service time and keep him in the minors at the start of next year.

.305/.408/.518 226 ABs 19 2Bs 9 HRs 30 RBIs 14 SBs

2. Luke Hockevar SP/22: The Royals are beginning negoiations with Scott Boras. Hopefully the negotiations will go smoothly as the Royals would have been foolish to draft Hockevar if they didn't know what they'd have to pay him. Then again, you can't ever be sure when you're dealing with Boras.

3. Billy Butler OF/20: Butler is doing incredibly well at AA for a 20-year-old. Butler has a .881 OPS. He's only made 4 errors, so perhaps that's a sign he's becoming a serviceable outfielder defensively. If he doesn't, it doesn't look like he'll have any problems hitting enough as a first basemen or DH. After all, it's not like you have to hit to be the Royals' first basemen or DH, just ask Doug Mientkiewicz or Matt Stairs.

.318/.381/.500 264 ABs 18 2Bs 10 HRs 48 RBIs

4. Justin Huber 1B or OF/23: Huber is still very young and while he isn't putting up great numbers at AAA, he's still doing pretty well. Considering he sat and did nothing for the Royals because Bell is a moron and the Royals are trying him in the outfield (not a bad idea really), Huber is going through a lot. So, it's not surprising his numbers aren't great. He hasn't looked great in his major league appearances, but he hasn't really been given a chance yet. He should at least provide the Royals with a younger and better Matt Stairs-type player.

.253/.338/.461 178 ABs 6 2Bs 9 HRs 18 RBIs

5. JP Howell 23/SP: Howell has been dealing with a stiff shoulder. Before the injury, he was pitching very well. In his last two outings, he's pitched very well, allowing no runs in 6 1/3 innings and just 2 hits.

3-2 4.75 ERA 36 IP 39 Hits 3 HRs 14 BBs 33 SOs

6. Billy Buckner 22/SP: Buckner is having a good season at High Desert after struggling there last season. Buckner has a fantastic curve, which alone should get him to the majors. His strikeout numbers are promising, with 73 strikeouts in 81 innings. 6 HRs in 81 innings is very impressive, especially for the California League. He better not get used to that winning record though.

7-1 3.65 ERA 81.1 IP 84 Hits 6 HRs 39 BBs 73 SOs

7. Jeffrey Bianchi 19/SS: Bianchi had a great debut last season and scouts were very impressed with his speed and power. He'll start at Idaho Falls shortly.

8. Chris Nicoll 22/SP: Nicoll is dominating Midwest League hitters. Nicoll has struck out 65 in 66 innings and his control remains good (just 18 walks). His WHIP is a mere 0.97. He should be due for a promotion shortly.

3-4 2.45 ERA 66 IP 46 Hits 4 HRs 18 BBs 65 SOs

9. Chris Lubanski 21/OF: Lubanski has struggled at AA so far, with just a .694 OPS. He's still very young for AA and while he won't live up to his draft status, he might become a decent outfielder in a couple of years.

.239/.316/.378 251 ABs 16 2Bs 5 HRs 25 RBIs 4 SBs

10. Mitch Maier 23/OF: Maier is having a solid season at AA. Maier is solid overall, with good offensive and defensive abilities. He can play all outfield positions and should hit well enough to be at least a solid backup outfielder with his versatility. He could be the Royals' rightfielder next year if Sanders is traded.

.298/.353/.473 258 ABs 15 2Bs 8 HRs 45 RBIs 6 SBs

11. Luis Cota 20/SP: The young righty is struggling at High Desert. Cota's lack of secondary stuff will make it difficult for him to advance through the minors for a while. He must improve his secondary pitches and his command. He has the upside to become a top starter, but is still a long ways away.

3-6 6.91 ERA 71.2 IP 82 Hits 9 HRs 33 BBs 61 SOs

12. Ryan Braun 25/RP: Braun is a bit old for AA, but he's having a great season. Braun has a great power arm and could reach KC this year with the bullpen problems.
His strikeout numbers are very impressive.

1-5 1.98 ERA 9 Saves 36.1 IP 25 Hits 2 HRs 16 BBs 52 SOs

13. Angel Sanchez 22/SS: Sanchez pretty young for AA as well. He hasn't shown much power, but unlike Berroa, he isn't afraid to draw a walk.

.288/.354/.362 11 2Bs 2 HRs 27 RBIs

14. Danny Christensen 22/SP: Christensen has struggled after getting off to a get start at High Desert. His K/BB is great, with 80 strikeouts to 20 walks. The lefty has a very good curve.

1-4 5.78 ERA 76.1 IP 100 Hits 13 HRs 20 BBs 80 SOs

15. Harold Mozingo 6th Round 2006 pick: I see him having success and following a track like Nicoll.

16. Chris McConnell (oops, dropped him a bit too far)
17. Matt Kniginyzky RHP
18. Jason Taylor SS (position change imminent)
19. Andres Blanco SS
20. Derrick Robinson OF

Saturday, June 10, 2006

2006 Draft in Review

The Pine Tar Rag did a great job of recapping the draft and provides some great info on it: The Pine Tar Rag

Here are my thoughts about the draft after disgusting the info a bit more:

After watching Luke's scouting video again and watching the videos of Miller, Lincoln, and Lincecum, I'm a little more pleased with the selection. I can't quarrel with the Royals' reasoning for taking Hochevar. He's already had success against wood bats in an advanced league (High A or AA). Hochevar's video is impressive and his fastball has good velocity. He has a more complete repertoire than Miller, at the moment he's the best of the bunch. Miller has more upside in my opinion. Tall, hard-throwing lefties with an outstanding slider are rare. But, he would have probably would have been harder to sign (asking for a million or two more) and probably wouldn't pitch this year. Hochevar will probably sign quickly and report to an advanced league right away. It took me a while to get used to the surprise pick, but it's growing on me. Hochevar will probably cost a million or two less than an average first-round pick, so hopefully the money will go somewhere else toward player development or the draft.

First impression: Good, got a potential future ace who should advance quickly

Round 2: Jason Taylor, SS, Floyd E. Kellam HS, Virginia Beach, Va.:

There isn't much information available about Taylor and he wasn't on baseball america's top 100 prospect list for the draft. The Royals have picked out some good high school hitters in the past few drafts (Butler, Bianchi, Dickerson), so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here. Here's some more info about Taylor: Jason Taylor

First impression: Trusting the Royals on this one

Round 3: Blake Wood, RHP, Georgia Tech: Wood had a disappointing year for a preseason All-American, with a 5.04 ERA. Wood's 2005 season was much better, with a 3.13 ERA and 74 SOs and 24 BBs in 106 IP. Wood has a decent fastball sitting at 92-94 mph with some tailing motion. His slider also looked pretty good in the MLBTV video. He has good size for a pitcher and might have some projection remaining, so the Royals should probably keep him as a starter (teach him a third pitch). Wood wasn't projected to go this high, but the Royals might get a steal if he regains his 2005 form. Wood is a mechanical engineering major, so at least the Royals didn't draft another pitcher with nothing upstairs.

First impression: Good potential, but there were better players available

Round 4: Derrick Robinson, OF, P.K. Yonge Laboratory School, Gainesville, Fla.: Robinson committed to play corner for Florida, but he will sign with the Royals. Robinson's greatest asset is his speed. His video showed that very good speed as well as a decent swing, although he wasn't making very good contact. He hit .488 this past season, but didn't manage much in the power department.

First impression: Good, Royals added some much needed speed

Round 5: Jason Godin, RHP, Old Dominion: Godin is a strikeout fiend, racking up 146 K's in 115 innings. Godin has a solid repertoire of 3 pitches and good command of them, walking just 38 this season.

First impression: Good, another solid pitching addition

Round 6: Harold Mozingo, RHP, Virginia Commonwealth: Mozingo might make up for the reaches at 2 and 3. Mozingo was in Baseball America's top 100. Mozingo sounds a lot like Chris Nicoll, the Royals' 3rd round pick last year. He has terrific command and has some projection remaining.

First impression: Very good

Round 7: Brett Bigler, OF, California-Riverside: Bigler, like Robinson, adds speed and defense to the organization.

First impression: Good

Round 8: Joshua Cribb, RHP, Clemson: Cribb is only 5'9", but he put up decent numbers for Clemson.

First impression: Okay

Best of the rest:

Round 19: Jeffrey Inman: Inman has committed to Stanford, so he'd require a good signing bonus to break that commitment. Inman has good command of a fastball, curve, and change and has plenty of room for growth.

First impression: Worthwhile risk, Royals need more younger arms with projection

Overall impression of the draft: The Royals had a good draft. They focused on the two biggest needs of the organization: pitching and defense. The Royals drafted 5 college (including Hochevar) pitchers, giving them solid pitchers who can advance through the system quickly. The Royals also added two speedy centerfielders. I would give the Royals draft a B at the moment. There isn't anything that stands out as being great, but the Royals addressed their needs well by drafting college pitching. A few more high school arms with greater potential or another power hitter might have helped balance the draft better, but they did a good job overall.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

New GM and the Draft

I had a feeling when I left on my trip three weeks ago that the organization would be considerably different after I returned and it appears I was right.

The “changes” have begun. As the Daily Lancer reported, Dayton Moore is about to become the team’s general manager (press conference today). I couldn’t be happier with the Royals’ choice for general manager and it sounds like the Royals are making the changes needed to get the organization back on track. In particular, it appears that the Glass family has changed their role in the organization, relinquishing the control of baseball operations to the new general manager. Moore is considering one of the best young GM candidates and has a good track record with an organization that has developed good young talent. He also comes from an organization that has been built around pitching, so hopefully he will be able to rebuild the Royals organization in a similar manner. I was very skeptical that the Royals would make a good choice for general manager. I also didn’t think Mr. Glass would give up control of baseball operations, which would also restrict the candidate pool. Surprisingly, it appears that Mr. Glass made the right decision and the organization can start rebounding with the right general manager.

The Royals selected Luke Hochevar with the first-overall pick, surprising the baseball world. Most of the discussion had focused around North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller, who was selected by the Tigers. Most publications considered Miller as the best talent in the draft, although there isn’t considerable separation among the top few college pitchers. Miller ended up with the Tigers, who are amassing an impressive collection of power arms in their organization. Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow and Tim Lincecum also drew consideration.

This is just my speculation, but I’m guessing the Royals had about $4 million to spend on their pick and Andrew Miller exceeded that, so they passed on him. So, the Royals thought that Hochevar was the best talent among the rest of the available college pitchers. Was Miller worth an extra million or two? Tall, hard-throwing lefties don’t come around very often, especially with the stuff Miller has. The Royals will take a lot of heat if Miller turns out to be a great pitcher and they passed up on him. The Royals had 5 very good college pitchers to choose from and hopefully they picked the right one.

Here’s the video of Hochevar: Hochevar Video

Hochevar’s fastball showed good sinking action and his curve looked very good. However, I wasn’t particularly impressed with his command in the video, but he was probably having a bad day. His delivery doesn’t look like it will produce excellent consistency, which is a bit worrisome. He falls over his left ankle and doesn’t have very good balance at the end.

I will comment more on the rest of the draft as well as Moore’s press conference in upcoming posts.