Monday, March 28, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 2-1

2. Mike Montgomery LHP

In 2008 the Royals selected a lanky California lefty with their supplemental first round pick. His name was Mike Montgomery and one of the first things that Royals fans learned about him was that he was kicked off his high school basketball team due to receiving to many technical fouls. Nonetheless baseball people seemed to brag about this fact like it was a badge of honor and it wasn't hard to picture Royals scouts watching Montgomery in the summer sun with proud eyes while leaning to the guy sitting next to them and stating "I just love his fierce personality and how he is a fiery competitor."

Montgomery also has some of the top stuff on the Minor League circuit. His fastball is a plus plus pitch that sits in the mid 90s with plenty of life. His curveball comes in somewhere in the 70s and is another dominating pitch. He also possesses a changeup that is average and should continue to be an even better offering down the road. Montgomery has top of the rotation stuff with a frame that suggests it should only improve.

Montgomery has received raved reviews throughout his time in the organization and there was even a point this season when Baseball America questioned if he was the top pitching prospect in baseball after a dominating start in Wilmington. With his success at the high A level Montgomery rather quickly earned a bump up to the Texas League. However, once there he suffered some fore arm tightness and so the Royals shut him down for an extended period. Montgomery has top notch mechanics, with a fluid motion so injuries won't be a concern moving forward.

Because of his time missed during the regular season, the Royals were able to give him some time in both the Pan-Am games and the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Montgomery's era left something to be desired in the AFL, but on the night he pitched in the Rising Stars game the announcers couldn't help but salivate over his Cliff Lee potential.

Heading into Spring Training most viewed Duffy as the most ready starter out of the 4 lefties. But after Montgomery's Spring performance most are now raving how near ready he is. Montgomery is not yet on the 40-man roster but we should see him in Kansas City by season's end.

Given that a hitter's production is typically maximized by controlling him through his age 23-29 year old season, it makes sense for the Royals to be extremely conservative in their development and promotion of Moustakas, Hosmer, Colon, Eibner, and Myers. But with pitchers this peak value usually occurs between ages 21-27 or 22-28, basically from whenever the pitcher reaches the Majors until his reaches free agency.

While the Royals are going to want to choose the most effective years possible for their control, it is also important that their players service time matchup as best as possible. Given the current situation this service shouldn't be off by more than one, maybe two seasons. Also, when you consider the amount of pitching depth that the Royals have it would seem to make sense to get the pitchers up now and then take your time even more with the guys behind them. By doing so you could ideally lengthen the value of the current crop of prospects in the system.

1. Eric Hosmer 1B

There is a perception amongst many baseball followers that top prospects will hit the ground running upon their promotion to the Major Leagues. However, the vast majority of the time this is not the case. I believe that Eric Hosmer will be one of the few prospects that create an immediate impact at the Major League level.

Evan Longoria was a similar bat when he burned the American League to a tune of a .272/.343/.531 slash in his rookie campaign, while leading the Rays to their first division title in franchise history. Buster Posey was an impact bat a year ago when he posted a .305/.357/.505 line when he began the final piece for the Giants quest at a World Series title.

I believe that Hosmer's bat will immediately translate and we can only hope that this has the same impact on the Royals as Longoria's and Posey's had for the Rays and Giants. Hosmer is probably Major League ready now, however with Butler and Ka'aihue already entrenched on the Major League roster the Royals will be able to find what they have in those two players, while leaving Hosmer in the minors long enough to delay his service time.

At this point I can envision a situation in which the Royals call up Moustakas in mid June, thus delaying his service clock for a year while also preventing him from obtaining Super 2 status. But with Hosmer the Royals would be wise to not break him into the Majors until mid April 2012. By doing this they can have him under team control thru 2018. By staggering Moustakas's and Hosmer's service time the Royals won't face a situation where they lose both of their middle order bats in the same season should they not lock them up long term.

If Ka'aihue and Butler perform as many hope and some expect them to, it shouldn't be too difficult for the aforementioned scenario to play out. However, if Ka'aihue struggles to translate his minor league and spring training success to the Major League level then we will likely see Hosmer in Kansas City midseason.

I would also like to see the Royals at least test the idea of having Hosmer move to the outfield. It has long been believed that Hosmer could handle the move, his fastball was clocked in the mid 90s in high school and is much more athletic than one would at first believe. He wouldn't ever win any gold gloves but he would probably have at least serviceable range and an arm that could be a valuable asset in right or left.

If Hosmer proved capable of playing left field then the Royals could potentially feature Butler, Ka'aihue, and Hosmer in the lineup at the same time. The Royals could then have a longer period of evaluation for both Kila and Butler and by the time Hosmer began to slow as an outfield defender, the Royals could shift Hosmer back over to first where he should be an above average defender.

It will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on as the summer unfolds and hope that the Royals aren't conservative with Hosmer during his time in Omaha. Put it this way, the guy can already hit, if he can handle a move to the outfield it would only push the Royals timetable to contention along and would only increase Hosmer's versatility and value.

Hosmer's bat will carry him to the Major Leagues. Once he is there he should be a superstar caliber hitter consistently hitting over .300 while competing for batting titles. It also isn't hard to project Hosmer and Moustakas combining to hit 70+ homers annually. It should be a fearsome duo in the heart of the Royals order for years to come.

Someday Hosmer, Moustakas and company will be the face of the Royals franchise, but for now we just aren't sure when that day will come.

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