Monday, July 5, 2010

The Search for a Lefty

Others across the blogosphere have made reference to the Royals sudden stockpile of quality left handed pitching prospects, but now it is time for this blog to take a stab at it.

The left handed pitcher has became a sort of enigma for the Kansas City Royals. When Dayton Moore took over the helm the system didn't have a single quality southpaw prospect, but now just four years later the system could boast that it has the best left handed starting pitching depth in all of minor league baseball. Of course none of these prospects have reached the Major League level and attrition could very well destroy the entire crop. However when it comes to pitching prospects quantity can produce quality and with the quantity of quality that the Royals currently have there should be a quantity of quality arms to reach Kansas City within the next couple of seasons. Did you follow that?

Currently the Royals have a big five of left handed pitching prospects with others that could add their own names to the list. (I'm looking at you Crawford Simmons.) These five prospects represent a change, a commitment to assembling a wealth of pitching prospects at the minor league level. A wealth that is designed to one day anchor the major league rotation or provide the Royals with the prospects needed to acquire that one last piece to compete for a division title. Pitching is the currency of major league baseball and for this organization it is the key to a bright future.

In early June 2007 Dayton Moore took the reins for his first draft as a General Manager, and in the third round he selected a 6-2, 185 pound lefty from Lompoc, California. His name was Danny Duffy. Duffy signed on June 28, 2007 and instantly became the best left handed starting pitching prospect in the organization. He reported to Surprise, Arizona for his first stint in professional baseball. All he did there was pitch in 37 innings with a 1.45 era and a 67:17 strikeout to walk ratio.

The next season Duffy was given the opportunity to anchor Burlington's staff in the Midwest League and there he continued to dominate with a 2.20 era while striking out over 100 batters in just 82 innings. In 2009 Duffy went 9-3 in Wilmington with a 2.98 era and 125 Ks to just 41 walks. Going into the 2010 season Baseball America proclaimed "the last remaing test for the potential number 3 starter is finding out how he handles adversity- because he hasn't encountered any."

That adversity came in March when a sore elbow was going to sideline Duffy until late May Whether or not it was because of the elbow or not it was strange that right after this first sign of adversity he elected to hang up the spikes and retire from the game of baseball. Duffy took his leave and rethought his priorities and has now returned to the game and is currently building up his stamina in the Arizona League. He still has the ceiling of a mid rotation starter and I expect him to compete for a rotation spot next spring.

The 2008 Rule IV draft could very well wind up being the best in the history of the Royals franchise, but that discussion would probably best be made five years from now. In the supplemental first round of the draft with the 36th overall selection the Royals took a 6-5 left hander that had been dismissed from his high school basketball because he had received too many technical fouls. But the Royals and many of their fans saw this as more of a positive than a negative and they applauded him for his intensity when it came to competition. His name was Mike Montgomery and going into the 2010 season he was considered by most everyone as the top prospect in the Royals' system.

Like Duffy, Montgomery began his professional career in the Arizona League where he posted a 1.67 era. The following season he went to Burlington and continued to post Duffy-esque numbers with a 2.17 era prior to his midseason promotion to Wilmington. There he went 4-1 with a 2.25 era. The peripheals have not been as impressive as Duffy's heading into 2010, however Montgomery possesses a lanky but athletic 6-5 frame that offers more projectibility than his counterpart.

Montgomery accepted a return assignment to Wilmington, but apparently didn't want to stay on the Riverfront too long as he posted a 1.09 era with 33 K's and just 4 walks in 24 innings of work there prior to his promotion to Springdale. Once in Springdale he continued to roll to a tune of a 2.79 era until the Royals played it conservative with a sore elbow. Rumor has it though that he will return later this week while the Naturals are in Tulsa. Montgomery has ACE potential and there are only a handful of pitchers like that across the minor league baseball landscape.

In the fifth round of the 2008 draft the Royals rolled the dice on a pitcher that had missed his entire senior season due to a car accident that caused a fractured elbow. The Royals ponied up and signed him to a $165,000 bonus and held him out of professional baseball for the remainder of the 2008 season. In 2009, the Royals allowed him to pitch in rookie league ball where he went 5-3 with a 3.80 era with 71 Ks in 68 innings. The results were very promising but surely not good enough to make him a top 10 prospect. Right?

Going into the 2010 season Baseball America ranked Lamb as the number 7 prospect in the organization citing his cool demeanor and his three potentially above average pitches as their reasoning. Lamb was sent to Burlington to be the ace of the Bees' staff. He wasn't the ace long as he dominated Midwest League hitters for 40 innings before he was promoted to Wilmington. All he has done is in Wilmington is continue to post a era around 1.50 and improve upon his strikeouts per 9 innings and his walks per 9 innings. The Royals appear to want to play it conservative with Lamb's arm but if he continues to dominate they won't have a choice but to promote him to Springdale.

Going into the season Baseball America said that Lamb projects as a solid number 3 starter. While I wouldn't call him a potential Ace at this point I do think that Lamb has done everything in his power to raise his stock and he definitely looks like a future front of the rotation starter. With Montgomery currently on the shelf there is no starter in the organization that has me as excited as John Lamb.

In 2009, the Royals again drafted a lefty very high and paid him a deal so far over slot that it was rumored Bud Selig wouldn't allow it to go thru until the deadline in order to prevent the deal from inflating other signing bonuses. The difference this time is that the pitcher was coming from college. Except the pitcher represented the rarest of rare, a draft eligible freshman. His stuff was raw but impressive and the Royals wagered that with proper coaching he could be transformed into a top prospect and front of the rotation guy. His name was Chris Dwyer.

Dwyer was only able to pitch in 8.2 innings in 2009 but he showed Royals fans both why he fell to the fourth round (8 walks) and why the Royals paid him a bonus around $1.5 million (15 Ks). In 2009 Dwyer began the year in Wilmington there he pitched alright for April and May but in June he posted a 1.67 era with 36 Ks in 27 innings earning him a promotion to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
Dwyer possesses a 90-94 mph fastball, a power curveball that could develop into a fierce out pitch, and an advanced change up that also projects as above average. The tools are there and if he can continue to put them together he could be in Kansas City before you know it.

The final lefty member of the group came to the Royals thru a different pipeline of talent that prior to the Dayton Moore era had been virtually non-existent. He was a Latin American splash that caused even those within the industry to sit back and say "What? The Royals gave him how much?" He broke the bonus record for a Royals amature his contract could net him somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million. His name was Noel Arguelles.

Noel is 20 years old and has yet to pitch a professional inning due to the fact that his arm is being given time to recorver after pitching for roughly 14 months straight. His fastball sits inthe low 90s and his curveball and changeups both should be average to above average pitches. He has a receiver like build and is said to have a smooth and easily repeatable delivery. Scouts believe he is near major league ready and once he does being the climb he should move quick through the organization.

The quantity of quality southpaws that Dayton Moore and company has assembled should have Kansas City fans daydreaming of future mound dominance. A return to pitching and defense at the K. The way the team was built in the beginning. Quality baseball. Odds are that all of these prospects won't reach their ceilings. In fact odds are probably that only a couple of the five will amount to anything, but Royals fans should be exciting because for the first time in the history of the franchise, the organization has a crop of left handed pitching talent that would make every team in baseball green with envy.

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