Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Disappointed (re: Hochevar)

For the second year in a row Luke Hochevar out pitched veterans for a spot in the rotation and for the second year in a row he will begin the season in Omaha. Sidney Ponson, who got blistered today, is the favorite to start the first game in the renovated K. I imagine that wasn't one of the selling points to Missouri legislators and if it was I'm going to start to question the IQ of my elected representatives. More on the home opener later in the post.

Last season Hoch was passed over in favor of John Bale and Tomko, a less controversial move due to his limited minor league experience. I'm sure there will be some that echo Sam's comments that Hoch didn't blow Trey and DM away with his spring performance but neither did Ponson or HoRam. And don't you want to put the best team possible out there?

I think Hochevar will be in KC by the end of May (if not before) but where will the Royals be in the standing by then? Division titles may not be won in April but they can certainly be lost.

April records this decade:
2008 * 12-15 (75-87) counting 1-0 in March
2007 *   8-18 (69-93)
2006 *   5-17 (62-100)
2005 *   6-18 (56-106)
2004 *   7-14 (58-104)
2003 *  17-7  (83-79) counting 1-0 in March
2002 *   8-16 (62-100)
2001 * 10-15 (65-97)
2000 * 12-13 (77-85)

It's interesting that their three best April records coincide with their three best season records. Whether or not you think they can compete for the Central (and I'm having my doubts now) a fast start is imperative for a successful season.

Now back to the home opener, I would actually let Greinke make this start. Yeah I know he's the #2  guy but he's also 0-6 with 7.78 ERA in Chicago (Ponson is even worse, unsurprisingly). And wouldn't it be fitting that one of the faces of the franchise and fresh off a new 38 million dollar contract extension start the first game in a completely renovated K? I get why the team would hesitate to do this though I doubt it wouldn't be hard to sell Greinke on the idea, but I could be wrong.

So to recap: Hoch in Omaha, Ponson likely starting home opener. Let the fun begin.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Um, what?

More Dutton speculation I hope:
Hillman offered no hints on the two other slots, although Sidney Ponson is pitching Tuesday, which lines him up to work the season's fourth game. Horacio Ramirez, Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister are the other candidates.

Look I know spring ERA's should be taken with a grain of salt but Hochevar's is sitting at 3.86 in 16.1 innings. He was told to compete for a job and he has outpitched the other candidates. And honestly he should be the #4 guy, not Ponson or Ramirez. Just because Hochevar has options remaining doesn't mean he should start the season in Omaha - especially if he's better than the others.

I didn't mind the Ponson experiment if it came at HoRam's expense but it would be ridiculous to start the season with both Ponson and Ramirez in the rotation. If KC goes this route then I will backtrack on my prediction that they win the division this year.

I want to stay positive regarding their division chances because I really think 2009 can be a special year but if this move actually happens (and really I'm gonna have to see it to believe it) I will be one depressed blogger.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teahen batting 3rd? Really?

Some quick hitters before I get into this Teahen batting third silliness:
  • Lack of content lately is due to NCAA Tournament and some offline distractions, hopefully I'll start posting regularly fairly soon.
  • I've reached out across the blogosphere and traditional print media once again for the annual AL Central preview. That should be posted by the first of April.
  • Todd Jones gave the Royals a little love in the lastest issue of Sporting News magazine. He named Meche as a sleeper CYA candidate and Trey as manager of the year. He likes what's going on KC.
Now then let's talk about Mark Teahen.

If Mark Teahen hits his way into a starting job — which seems more likely now than even a week ago — he would project as a more prototypical No. 3 hitter and push DeJesus up a notch. Aviles would drop down and add production to the lineup’s lower half.

This is just speculation by Bob Dutton of course but given that Teahen has 765 career PA's in the 3 spot with a .281/.350/.412 line it makes me wonder if Trey would pull the trigger on such a move. The general consensus was that DeJesus would be batting third and really I was fine that. DDJ has a good eye and though he doesn't have much home run power he does have some pop - he has slugged over .440 three of the last four seasons.

If Trey decides he wants to put DDJ elsewhere in the lineup I would rather see Butler or Gordon batting third rather than Teahen. They are both in their third season so the let's protect their confidence argument doesn't work with me, it's time these two deliver and I think at some point this season they will both be batting somewhere in the top five spots.

I'm still not convinced that Teahen will win the 2B job but if he does his bats projects better in the lower third of the batting order.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Gobble talk

Bob Dutton is concerned about the LOOGY-sized hole in the bullpen but Trey Hillman isn't:
“We just didn’t see him being a fit at this time,” Hillman said. “I’d prefer not to have a left-handed specialist.”

Trey has admitted to using Gobble incorrectly last season so I do believe him when he says this. Dutton, to his credit, noticed the contradiction in relation to the teams desire to have a left-handed starter.
Club officials have, however, long stressed the need for pitchers capable of handling the many tough left-handed hitters in the AL Central.

That view undergirds the Royals’ near insistence in working a left-hander into the rotation and explains why they overspent the market last December to sign veteran Horacio Ramirez, who hasn’t been an effective starter since 2005.

Thats called calling it like you see it and Dutton nailed it. I suppose if they were going with a six man bullpen then I'd agree that a LOOGY is a luxury they can't afford but since they insist on having seven why not keep a guy who can come in and get a Mauer or Morneau out in a tough situation?

Let's walk through their decision. Ramirez is not good but he's left handed so they want him in the rotation because the Central has a lot of good left handed hitters. Gobble dominates left handed hitters but since he struggles against right handers there is no room or him in the pen. Ramirez would pitch every fifth day, Gobble conceivably could pitch everyday. Okay, admittedly their logic escapes me.

So now with runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 7th inning with Justin Morneau at the plate who does Trey call upon?
Gobble 69 .200/.246/.323
Soria 139 .167/.261/.275
Farnsworth 122 .275/.375/.578
Cruz 110 .159/.310/.232
Waechter 122 .303/.358/.486
Tejeda 88 .225/.284/.413
Bale 45 .275/.356/.325
Peralta 97 .247/.330/.600
Mahay 110 .255/.327/.394

Cruz and Soria are the 8th and 9th inning options so they are out and I can't see him bringing in Tejeda no matter what the splits say. My money is on Mahay or Bale and I suppose that it will be fine but neither is Gobble. It will be interesting to see how many times Trey pulls them when the next hitter is right handed, I bet it happens more than once because he is more conventional than he lets on.

By the way left handed hitters hit .350/.403/.433 versus Ramirez last season. Take from that what you will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Third Base Prospect Rankings

Every week until the start of the season I will go through what I consider to be the top 5 prospects at each position in the Royals farm system. Catchers. 1st Base. 2nd Base. Shortstop.

#1 - Mike Moustakas
6’0 – 195 lbs.

After his junior year in high school, scouts began to take notice of the 5’11 – 175 lbs. shortstop after he hit fourteen home runs for Chatsworth HS (CA). A stronger Moustakas returned for his senior season and hit a state-record twenty four home runs which gained his first of many Baseball America accolades as the High School Player of the Year. He was also the QB for his high school team and clocked in with a 98 MPH fastball while on the mound. The Scott Boras client was said to have scared off many small market teams, but the Royals remained undeterred and used their 1st round pick (2nd overall) to sign Moustakas who many claimed to be the best hitter available in the 2007 draft. The Royals went right to the wire in signing Moustakas eventually inking him to a contract with a $4 million bonus.

The Royals sent Moustakas to the Pioneer League where he started his professional career with the Idaho Falls Chukars. There he played in just eleven games but had a .293 average to go along with ten RBI’s and five extra base hits. Scouts with Baseball America commented during the season that they loved his short, quick swing and his advanced approach at such a young age.

Moustakas spent the entire 2008 season in the Midwest League where he helped lead the Bees to a league championship. The cold Iowa weather did not treat Moustakas kindly as he hit just .190 in April with one home run and zero extra base hits. It didn’t take long after that for Moustakas to begin showing his power as he supplied twenty one home runs in the next four months, the most in the MWL. His OBP went up every month during the season and he also hit .321 after the all-star break. He ended the season on a torrid pace hitting .330 with seven home runs and twenty two RBI’s in the month of August. In the field, Moustakas started the year at shortstop and had a .942 FPCT in fifty nine games before finishing the season at third where he had a .956 FPCT.

The post-season accolades soon came pouring in as he was listed as top prospect in the Midwest League according to Baseball America. Baseball America also named him the 13th best player in the minor leagues while Baseball Prospectus listed him at twenty one . Moustakas will start the year in High A Wilmington but I hope that with a strong first half, he’ll see some time in AA before hopefully finishing the season in the Arizona Fall League. It’s yet to be seen where Moustakas will end up in the field, in the latest 2012 projected line-up by Baseball America they had him in right field…not a bad spot for the young prospect who has a cannon for an arm.

#2 – Fernando Cruz
6’4 -184 lbs.

Cruz was selected in the sixth round of the 2007 draft after being home schooled in Puerto Rico. He was allowed to enter the draft one year early, and many believe the Royals got a steal as he was projected to be a first or second round pick if he would have waited to the 2008 draft.

As a seventeen year old Cruz started in Surprise Arizona where he finished with the following line - .210 AVG / .254 OBP / .519 OPS. He also ended up with five doubles, one home run and fifteen RBI’s. A point of concern for many young players is their K/BB ratio and that came into play for Cruz as he walked just four percent of his at bats. Of the forty eight games he played in, forty six of them were at third base where he made twelve errors en route to a .875 FPCT.

After extended spring training in 2008, the Royals sent the switch hitting Cruz to the Appalachian League to ply his craft with the Burlington Royals. As an eighteen year old his numbers did not improve significantly as he finished with a .237 AVG and walked just one percent of his at bats. He didn’t fare much better in the field for the rookie level Royals where he had a .911 FPCT to go along with nine errors in one hundred and one total chances.

So why does this young player earn the second spot in the rankings? First, the depth at this position is very scarce. Second, Cruz has the potential that minor league scouts desire. His progress will largely depend on whether or not he can attain the strength that the Royals have projected that he will acquire. However, Cruz will turn just nineteen years old later this month so he will be young for whatever league the Royals send him to next. I expect to see him stay in extended spring training before another possible tour with the Burlington Royals or a slight promotion with the Idaho Falls Chukars.

#3 - Jake Kuebler
6’4 -200 lbs.

After finishing his career at Southeast High School, the Royals selected the lanky infielder in the seventeenth round of the 2008 draft. Kuebler, who happens to be Alex Gordon’s cousin, was named to the All-Nebraska team after going 7-0 with a 0.17 ERA in his senior season. He also was one of the top hitters in the state, batting .545. Kuebler signed with the Royals even though he was highly sought after by the Nebraska Cornhuskers to help in their pitching rotation.

Mike Anderson, the head coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers commented on Kuebler after he signed with them in December 2007, “Jake is probably one of the most intriguing guys in this class. He has a very high ceiling and the more you see him, the more you appreciate the things he does on the diamond. At 6-4, 195, he is starting to fill out a frame that could easily add 15-20 more pounds without losing any of the athleticism he possesses. He is a natural athlete who has a plus arm that reaches the low 90s. He projects as both a pitcher and a corner infielder who could hit with power.”

After he signed with the Royals, Kuebler played the remainder of the 2008 season in Surprise where he struggled posting a .187 AVG to go along with a .237 OBP. He had one home run to go along with four doubles and ten RBI’s in thirty five games. His performance in July was easily the best month of his short career as he posted a .276 AVG and also swiped three bags. August however was not as kind as he hit just .122 and struck out fourteen times in forty one at bats.

Deric Ladnier, former Royals senior director of scouting, had this to say about Kuebler “He’s got some mechanical things to work on with his stroke, but that’s true of almost anyone that age. The tools are there, and he keeps growing. It’s possible he might grow to be a Scott Rolen type, at least physically.”

Kuebler certainly has some work to do, and I expect him to also see time in extended spring training before moving up to the Appalachian League with the Burlington Royals. If third base doesn’t work out, the Royals can try him on the bump where they originally scouted him.

#4 - Josh Johnson
5’11 – 170 lbs.

The Royals picked the heralded high school product out of Tampa, Florida with their third round pick in the 2004 draft. He started his professional career with the Surprise Royals where he showed that his speed and patience were key attributes in his game. He stole twenty three bags in thirty six attempts and he also walked in nearly twenty percent of his at bats leading to a .413 OBP even though he carried a .213 AVG. The Royals gave Johnson a cup of coffee with the Low A Burlington club to finish the season as he played in just four games with the Bees posting a .167 AVG.

In 2005, Johnson started the year with the Surprise Royals where he posted the following line - .259 AVG / .387 OBP / .780 OPS. He also stole seven bases in eight attempts but showed no power getting one home run in twenty eight games. While in Arizona he played primarily at second and had a .959 FPCT while also playing six games at shortstop. Johnson received a promotion to finish the year with the Idaho Falls Chukars and played all thirty nine games at shortstop. While with the Chukars he hit .240 but his outstanding walk rate again led to a high OBP of .369. It was quite clear by this time that Johnson had little power as he hit just three home runs in one hundred and twenty two games up to this point.

Johnson spent the entire 2006 season with the Burlington Bees where he earned an all-star selection finishing second in the Midwest League with a .391 OBP and drew the most walks (ninety three) in one hundred and twelve games. Johnson split time between second and shortstop and showed some good leather on the field finishing with a .982 FPCT at second. He also stole eighteen bases in twenty seven attempts and had a .242 average to go along with eight doubles, three home runs and forty RBI’s.

In 2007, he made the jump to high A ball where he played in just eighty three games. While in Wilmington, he began to see more time at SS as he played thirty games there while also playing fifty games at second base. He finished with a .252 average to go along with a .354 OBP and his walk rate went down to 13%. It was obvious that Johnson was most comfortable hitting down in the lineup as he went .330 in the nine hole compared to .208 everywhere else in the lineup. He repeated the 2008 season in Wilmington where he continued to have a high OBP (.399) while also having a uninspiring average (.252) and lackluster slugging percentage (.337). The switch hitter was significantly better against lefties (.314) than against right handers (.234). Johnson went deep three times and had thirty eight RBI’s to go along fourteen steals in twenty six attempts. In this season he made the surprising transition to third base where he finished with a .956 FPCT.

I don’t think that third base is the final destination for Johnson as his bat does not match what the position requires offensively, second or short is more in line with his capabilities. He has his highest fielding percentage at second (.971) and would seem to fit better there than at any other position on the diamond. At 23, and with two seasons of high A ball under his belt I look for Johnson to move up to Northwest Arkansas to start the 2009 season. His patience is obviously what keeps him in the organization but it would be nice to see the doubles type power that he possessed in high school to come to fruition in the minors, if it hasn’t arrived by this time it may never appear.

#5 – Corey Smith
6’1 – 200 lbs.

Due to an utter lack of other third base prospects to choose from this former top prospect that signed as a minor league free agent with the Royals this past winter makes the list. As you may have noticed Mr. Smith has received a fair amount of at-bats with the Royals during spring training, more on that later.

Smith was a first round pick out of Piscataway High School in New Jersey by the Cleveland Indians in 2000. The Indians sent Smith to what was then their Appalachian League affiliate in Burlington where he had a decent start to his career parking four balls in fifty two games to go along with thirty nine RBI’s, eight steals and a .256 AVG. The Indians promoted him to Low A ball in 2001, where he started to show his potential hitting eighteen home runs and eighty five RBI’s, this performance led to Baseball America naming him the third best prospect in the Indians system. Like many power hitters, the strikeout became Smith’s nemesis as he got K’ed one hundred and forty nine times in five hundred at bats.

In 2002, Smith received a promotion to play in high A ball with Kinston where he hit .255, thirteen home runs and sixty seven RBI’s. After the season concluded, Baseball America deemed him the best prospect in the Indians system and the seventy third best prospect in minor league baseball even though he again showed a penchant for striking out (28% of his at bats) finishing third in the league in the dubious category. Smith moved up to double A in 2003 where he saw a drop in his power numbers (only nine home runs) but did raise his average to .271 and also had sixty four RBI’s. He got back on track in 2004 as he repeated the year in AA hitting nineteen home runs and sixty six RBI’s, these numbers led to a late season promotion to AAA where he played in just five games with a .111 average.

In 2005, the Indians traded Smith to the San Diego Padres and he once again repeated the season in AA, this time with Mobile. While in the Southern League, he led his team in home runs (18) and RBI’s (73) but was at the top of the strikeout leader-board in the entire league with one hundred and forty four K’s. At the end of the season the Padres put Smith on their Arizona Fall League squad where he hit .330 to go along with seven home runs and twenty one RBI’s. Smith spent his fourth season in AA in 2006, this time he was in the Chicago White Sox organization. Not much changed for Smith as he played with the Barons finishing with twelve home runs to go along with one hundred and twelve strikeouts.

Smith was released by the White Sox at the end of the season and joined the Newark Bears of the Independent League. In 2007, his eighteen home runs and seventy two RBI’s helped lead the Bears to a league title and Smith showed some progress at the plate hitting .274 and struck out just eighty nine times (against obviously lesser opponents). The LAA Angels bit on this strong season and sent him to, you guessed it, their Double A club to start the 2008 season. While in his fourth AA tour of duty he hit twenty six home runs and finished with eighty RBI’s. Of course, the strikeout curse followed him as he got K’ed ninety six times in one hundred twenty eight games. Smith finished the season with their AAA club and saw action in just seven games.

The soon to be 27 year old is hitting .316 in spring training thus far and has not hit a home run but has struck out five times in nineteen at-bats. At this point in his career, Smith has played just twelve games at the AAA level and in the best case scenario he could have his ticket punched for Omaha at the end of spring training if he wants to stay in the Royals organization.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The curious case of Brandon Duckworth

The Sydney Ponson signing has me wondering where Brandon Duckworth fits in the organizations plans. Duckworth knows his role (and as far as I know has not complained) and does it pretty well - somebody gets hurt and he comes up and gives the team a serviceable starter for a month or two.
Year Starts IP W/L BB/K ERA
2006 8 42.2 1-4 19/26 4.85
2007 3 15.2 0-2 7/8 4.02
2008 7 38 3-3 19/20 4.50

Ponson is not an upgrade over Duckworth by any stretch of the imagination and if plans are for him to be third in line (behind Bannister/Hochevar and Duckworth) then this is probably a no risk move by Moore and one I would have no complaint about. But if somebody gets hurt and Ponson comes up before Duckworth and gets predictably shelled then the second guessing will begin and rightfully so. From 2006-2008 and counting all appearances Duckworth has a 5.11 ERA and 90 ERA+ while Ponson checks in at 5.71 and 76.

And it actually makes me wonder if they plan to part ways with Duckworth, which would be a mistake in my opinion. It's nice to have depth in your system, and make no mistake bringing in Ponson is all about adding more, but it's even nicer when that depth is used correctly.
I'm set to appear on Seth Stoh's weekly podcast tonight.The program begins at 9 PM central time.. There will be bloggers representing every AL Central team as we discuss the upcoming season. You can check that out here, I'm penciled in at about 9:40.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ramirez and the upside of dreadful

Craig Brown gets it.
Ramirez became the first starter to go five innings yesterday in the Royals 9-3 win against the White Sox in Surprise. He allowed all three runs on six hits while walking one and striking out two. There's never any reason to put much stock into a spring training performance (or five) for a starting pitcher, but this line strikes me as very close to a best-case scenario for Ramirez if the Royals insist on placing him in the starting rotation.

Five innings and three runs are indeed a best case scenario and really gives off a Mark Redman/Odalis Perez vibe (and not in a good way, if in fact there is a good way). But I fear for every start like this we will suffer through two or three just really bad outings.

Since 1999 there have been fourteen starts where a left handed starter pitched five plus innings (but less than six) and given up three earned runs. The Royals record in those games is a robust 3-11. In the same time frame there have been 143 starts where a lefty has gone less than six innings and given up three-plus runs, this is most likely going to be the norm for Ramirez, and KC has gone 30-113. Now most teams will have a poor record in that situation but you would think that they wouldn't try to replicate it - but that's exactly what KC is doing with the HoRam experience. Which brings to mind one of the greatest quotes ever:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Unfortunately I remember all too well.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Davies breakout is coming

Nice story about Kyle Davies from Bob Dutton, basically says he's out there thinking less. He became a legitimate #3 starter behind Meche and Grienke last season when he went 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA (including an impressive 4-1 2.27 September) and has followed that up with a dominating spring. After his four scoreless innings today he now has given up just one earned run 12.2 innings. I'm a Davies believer and I think we are going to see him put it all together this year (much like we witnessed with Greinke last season).


So while talking to my brother I mentioned how I thought the Royals would win the Central this year and he challenged me to put it in a blog post. So I did that here for Dugout Central, I'm obviously in the minority but I really don't care. I think it will be a four team race with the Sox watching from the sidelines and it will go down to the seasons final few weeks. I expect to take some ridicule but in the end I also expect to be right.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hochevar and Bannister

I'm going to go ahead and assume Horacio Ramirez is handed wins the  #4 spot in the rotation despite already giving up 12 hits and 9 runs in just 3 innings (yeah I know 6 are unearned, I don't care!) so that leaves Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister battling for the final spot. Some nice draft pedigree going on there. Hochevar was the 1st pick in the 2006 draft and Bannister's dad was the first pick in the 1976 draft. And unlike Ramirez (also Willie Bloomquist and Bert Callaspo and the 2B job) they are actually trying to earn their spot. They have both pitched pretty well and it will probably go down to the wire to see who pitches fifth for Kansas City and first for Omaha.

Player IP H R ER BB/K
Hochevar 5 4 2 2 1/3
Bannister 5 3 2 2 1/2

I know they are extremely small sample sizes but they are still nice to see. This is typical for one and the opposite of typical for the other (as a Royal). Last season Hochevar who was really not given a fair shot at making the team had a 2.25 ERA in 8 innings. Bannister whose spot was assured had a 8.48 ERA in 11.2 innings.

In 2007 Hochevar pitched 2 scoreless while Bannister got hammered (10.03 ERA in 11.2 IP) and started the season in AAA. Of course he would go on and have a great rookie season.

Bannister won a spot in the Mets rotation in 2006 putting together a fantastic spring (0.95 ERA in 19 innings). He of course got hurt and the Mets traded him for a pyschopath.

I know they both had rough seasons last season but I think they will both rebound and whoever loses the spring battle will of course be called up when the HoRam experiment goes seriously awry (much like the Tomko experiment and the Albie Lopez bullpen experiment, yes Royals fans that really happened. It wasn't just a bad dream, though it was a nightmare).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Around the Central

  • Baseball Digest, started in 1942 and is the nations longest running baseball only magazine, now has an online edition. It launched March 1st and I have agreed to be the content editor of the Royals page. I'll basically be doing there what I do here.
  • Andrew Reilly  gives his two cents on the Matt McCarthy controversy. I thought this book looked interesting and had planned on reading it but now I think I'll pass.
  • Nick Nelson wonders if shoulder injuries will be a problem for the Twins this season.
  • Samara Pearlstein looks at Jeremy Bonderman's health from a different perspective, his.
  • Brian La Shier writes that a healthy Travis Hafner is capable of an .890 OPS. He also believes that the Tribe can finish in the top three in runs in the AL. One is of course tied to the other but I'm a bit skeptical that Hafner can return to elite form.
  • Clint at Royals Report Card tells us why he still in believes in Chris Lubanski, he makes a compelling case for the former prospect. Despite Lubanski's falling stock I think he has more upside than both Shane Costa and Mitch Maier so it will be just a matter of time before he gets his chance at being the fourth outfielder in Kansas City.
I've already posted my Mike Jacobs projection and feel quite confident that I'll be somewhat close. Next up is Jose Guillen and his age based comps show a down year coming for a cleanup hitter (yes I know last year was considered a down year too but 20 home runs, 97 RBI's and 42 doubles suggest he did do some things right). When computing Guillen's production I threw out the extreme outliers which were Luis Gonzalez (57 HR's 174 OPS+) and Jacque Jones (19 OPS+). Then I randomly chose five of the remaining eight to base my projection on and I think it is a distinct possibility that Guillen achieves this (unfortunately for us all).

RSP .282/.335/.456 16 66
ZIPs .271/.321/.448 19 87
CHONE .265/.317/.428 18 79
Bill James .271/.322/.445 21 88

Monday, March 2, 2009

Shortstop Prospect Rankings

Every week until the start of the season I will go through what I consider to be the top 5 prospects at each position in the Royals farm system. Catchers. 1st Base. 2nd Base.

#1 - Mario Lisson
6’2 - 210 lbs.

After the Venezuelan prospect was signed by the Royals in 2002, he split the year between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League to begin his professional career. The then 18 year old played in just ten games in Florida and split time between playing at first and behind the plate. During his quick stop in Florida he hit .200 in ten at bats, walked four times and also struck out four times.

Lisson spent the entire 2003 season in the Dominican Summer League where he was named the “Salcedo Player of the Year” leading the club with three home runs and twenty nine RBI’s to go along with a .290 average in sixty two games. Although Lisson was signed as a catcher, he made the full time transition to playing in the field with the Idaho Falls Chukars during the 2004 season. While with the Chukars he played at 3b and SS and started to show a little pop (eight home runs) at the plate while also having the ability to carry a decent average (.289) in seventy one games. Along with these numbers he also had forty nine RBI’s and fifteen stolen bases. In a 2004 chat at Baseball America, Will Kimmey made these comments regarding Lisson: “He's got great baseball instincts and is one of a rare group of young hitters to show some nice pop and already sound plate discipline.”

He missed the majority of the 2005 season due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder but did see some time in the Midwest League with the Burlington Bees. While in the MWL he struggled somewhat at the plate hitting only .250 but had an OBP of .386 along with six dingers and twenty three stolen bases in twenty seven chances. He repeated the 2006 season with the Bees where he was named Player of the Year due in large part to his power numbers (thirteen home runs) and speed on the base-path (forty one stolen bases). He led the team in doubles and runs and finished second in the MWL in stolen bases where he was caught eleven times in fifty two attempts.

Another promotion in 2006 showed more promising results for Lisson as at 23 he played for the High A Wilmington club. While with the Blue Rocks, he had the following line .285 AVG / .348 OBP / .756 OPS. He finished in the top ten in the league in hits, runs scored and stolen bases and earned a mid-season and post-season all-star selection.

Lisson continued moving up the Royals farm system in 2008 where he hit somewhat of a wall with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Double A. In one hundred and thirty games he hit just .225 with an OBP of .284. His power was still evident as he hit fourteen home runs, twenty three doubles and finished with sixty five RBI’s. He also stole thirty one bases in thirty seven attempts. This season also marked a transition to more playing time at the SS position as he played sixty games there with a .958 FPCT. In the previous four years of his career he had played somewhat sparingly at SS.

Unfortunately, Lisson did not have better luck at the plate in the Venezuelan Winter League as he hit just .211 striking out twelve times in twenty two games. Although his power was still prevalent last season, I would like to see Lisson (who will turn 25 in May) start the 2009 season in AAA to see if he can raise his average at a higher level.

#2 - Kyle Martin
6’0 – 175 lbs.

Following a four year college career split between San Diego Mesa College and Texas Tech University the Royals selected the California native in the 29th round of the 2007 amateur player draft. In his senior year with the Red Raiders, Martin had solid but not spectacular numbers at the plate hitting .279 while also knocking out thirteen home runs in fifty three games.

He joined the Burlington Royals in 2007 and had the following line - .242 AVG / .294 OBP / .755 OPS. His power numbers did provide some promise as he hit ten home runs, which was second in the league and also had the tenth best slugging percentage. While in Burlington he primarily played at SS where he had a .960 FPCT but also saw some time at second. Martin received a late season promotion to finish off the year with the Idaho Falls Chukars. As a Chukar he saw action in three games and hit .583 in twelve at bats getting a home run and three RBI’s in the process.

Martin was shipped to Iowa to start the 2008 season where he saw action at every position in the infield. He had a injury marred season which limited him to only fifty six games with the Bees but in that time he produced a .316 AVG and also had nine home runs along with twenty eight RBI’s. The Royals wanted Martin to get more at bats to end the 2008 season so he finished the year in the Hawaii Winter League with the North Shore Honu. While with the Honu he had eerily similar numbers to those he had with the Burlington Royals as he finished with a .245 average to go along with a .274 OBP. He also had six home runs, tying him for first in the league with Roger Kieschnick (another Texas Tech product) and twenty six RBI’s (third in the league). These numbers garnered a post-season all star selection as Martin once again played all over the diamond.

Martin heads into the 2009 as a man without a true position. As he climbs up the organizational ladder he will always be behind Moustakas at third and Giovetella at second. It only makes sense to see if Martin can flash some glove at SS while providing a strong power bat at the plate, he may eventually end up in the OF.

#3 – Chris McConnell
5’11 – 175 lbs.

Upon graduating from Delsea HS in New Jersey, McConnell was selected in the 9th round of the 2004 draft. The Royals scouting department looked like they had a steal in McConnell as he went to Arizona to play with the Surprise Royals where he lit the league on fire hitting .339 with three home runs and eleven RBI’s in thirty seven games.

The Royals promoted the young shortstop to the Pioneer League to start the 2005 season where he continued his hot hitting finishing with a .331 AVG along with six home runs and thirty nine RBI’s. With this performance he earned a post-season All Star selection as well as the Player of the Year award for the Chukars. Going into the 2006 season, McConnell was listed as the sixth best player in the organization by Baseball America, however the promise of McConnell’s career hit stalled somewhat as he started the year out with the Burlington Bees hitting only .172. He was sent back to the Pioneer League for the remainder of the season where he hit .262 to go along with four home runs and thirty five RBI’s.

In 2007, he again began with the Bees where he posted below average numbers - .231 AVG / .311 OBP / .622 OPS, McConnell also stole fourteen bases in sixteen attempts. He received a mid-season promotion to play with the High A Wilmington club where his numbers were pretty much identical as he hit .236 with a .306 OBP. At the end of the season, Baseball America named McConnell the best defensive infielder in the Royals farm system but fell into the 20’s in their organizational prospect rankings.

McConnell spent the entire 2008 season with the Blue Rocks (High A) where he posted the following numbers - .252 AVG / .333 OBP / .658 OPS. He had a career high in stolen bases as he swiped twenty three bags, but he also was caught sixteen times. This rate was not significantly different from other years as he has consistently stolen a handful of bases but has also been caught frequently. McConnell also struggled in the field posting a .950 FPCT and made twenty eight errors.

Each year MLB teams are allowed to send one player below the AA level to the Arizona Fall League; McConnell earned that honor and saw platoon time with the Surprise Rafters. In twenty four games, he hit .204 and had four extra base hits along with three RBI’s. He struck out twenty two times and walked just three times.

It’s obvious that McConnell’s fielding is what will keep him at the forefront of the minds of the Royals front office. However, McConnell must improve markedly on his hitting and patience if he is ever going to play at Kaufman Stadium. With that said, McConnell has played a season and a half in High A so I look for him to advance to the Double A Level in 2009.

#4 - J.D. Alfaro
5’9 – 170 lbs.

Alfaro, a ninth round selection by the Royals in the 2008 draft, left a mark on his amateur career leading Grayson County College to their first JUCO Championship in eight years. He had an amazing run during the tournament where he hit .476 with fourteen RBI’s leading him to be named the tournament MVP. During the season, Alfaro hit third and had seventeen home runs along with seventy six RBI’s and a .366 AVG. Even with these numbers, Pgcrosschecker.com reported that scouts were unimpressed with his style at the plate saying he was a free swinger and had a poor overall approach.

Alfaro began his professional career with the Idaho Falls Chukars where he played in fifty nine games, all at shortstop. He made fifteen errors and finished with a .943 FPCT. At the plate, Alfaro finished with the following line - .266 AVG / .300 OBP / .804. He started the year out on a tear hitting .382 in June before he faced a slump in July batting just .202. Alfaro proceeded to have a good August (.302 AVG) followed by a rough September (.211 AVG). During the summer he hit fifty five RBI’s which was fourth in the Pioneer League and was also in the top ten in total bases and doubles. He also had nine home runs and stole nine bags in eleven attempts. The free swinging style he possessed in college did carry over to the minors as he struck out nearly 30% of his at bats.

It will be interesting to see if Alfaro can develop some consistency in 2009 as I believe he will more than likely be promoted to the Low A Burlington club to start the season. His speed and above average arm strength are his greatest tools but scouts believe he needs to improve on his patience and contact at the plate this season before he can be considered a true prospect.

#5 - Yowilll Espinal
6’0 – 180 lbs.

During the summer of 2007 the Royals made a big splash in International signings and one of those ended up being the then 16 year old out of the Dominican Republic. Espinal, signed for $250k and scouts described him as an average defender with a solid line drive stroke that could lead to a career of smacking around doubles.

The 17 year old saw a lot of action in the AZL this summer but didn’t post awe inspiring numbers showing that his talent is still raw. In fifty games he hit .240, had four home runs and also stole thirteen bases. His K:BB ratio might need some work as it was 21:1, but even with those numbers it was good to see that Espinal put some things together to end the month of August with a .289 AVG to go along with twelve RBI’s.

Espinal was invited to take part in this falls instructional league but unfortunately an injury prevented him from participating. He is expected to remain in Arizona for extended spring training before a promotion to the Appalachian League with the Burlington Royals.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cruz worth the pick

Giving up a 2nd round pick in June's draft to get Juan Cruz may run contrary to a philosophy of building from within but it was also the right choice. The Royals track record in the 2nd round is spotty and just shows how much a gamble the draft really is. In the Royals history they have selected 43 players (counting compensation picks) in that round and though they have come away with some great players they also have drafted a lot of trashYou can toss out the last four picks as none have had time to develop but of the thirty-nine before that only eighteen have reached the majors. Beltran in 1995 was the last to have an impact and though Hamelin was a ROY you have to go back to 1981 with Gubicza to find another one. From there you go back to 1971 and 1972 with Brett and Leonard. Lieber was a good pick but was traded for Stan Belinda in 1993 so he never pitched an inning with KC.

So Cruz or a draft pick that may never reach KC? DM made the right decision.