Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 5-3

5. John Lamb LHP

Entering his final season of high school baseball, John Lamb was considered one of the top prep pitching products. However, luck didn't favor John and he wound up losing his senior campaign to a broken elbow that occurred in a car wreck. The Royals, whom have in the past few years have made a living on taking high dollar chances in the draft, selected Lamb in the fifth round and signed him to a $165,000 bonus.

Lamb wasn't able to return to the diamond until roughly a year after his selection when he debuted in Appy League for the Burlington Royals. Almost immediately Lamb began to draw attention from the scouting world, earning the Royals praise from Baseball America for their patience and commitment. Lamb finished the 2009 season in the hitter friendly environment that is the Pioneer League. By the time his first professional season was over Lamb had posted a 3.80 ERA with a 71:20 strikeout:walk ratio.

Scouts praised Lamb's stuff, but even more they loved his tenacity on the mound. Lamb seemingly was never phased over the course of a contest. Lamb was fearless on the mound displaying the courage to show any pitch in any count. After a strong spring Lamb was named Opening Day starter for the Burlington Bees.

Lamb didn't stay in Burlington long, as he blew by Midwest League hitters to a tune of a 1.58 era through 40 innings pitched. Lamb then joined the Blue Rock rotation and instead of hitting a roadblock as would be expected for a teenage pitcher in the Carolina League, Lamb's numbers improved his era dipped to 1.45. His k rate rose from 9.7 to 10.8. His walk rate dipped from 3.8 to 1.8.

As you can imagine the Royals decided that Lamb needed to be tested. So in just his second professional season, Lamb found himself as a member of a Naturals' rotation that was pushing for a Texas League title. Lamb struggled at times often pitching several good innings but mixing in a terrible one in starts. But in Lamb's last start of the season, when the Naturals needed a W to have a shot at the Texas League title, John Lamb went 6.2 innings, k-ed 5, allowed 2 hitts, walked 1, and allowed just 1 runner to cross the plate.

Lamb operates with a fastball that typically sits in the low 90s, but has been known to hit up to 95 on the gun. He also has the top changeup in the Kansas City system, and a curveball that at times shows promise of being another plus offering. When you combine this stuff with a top notch mentality and what Baseball America says is the top command in the system it is easy to get excited about the future or Mr. John Lamb.

John Lamb should begin the season in the Naturals rotation once again. If you live within a two hour radius of Springdale there is no excuse to not see him pitch at some point this season before he is promoted to Omaha.

4. Wil Myers OF

What Wil Myers did in his second professional season isn't normal. Myers, whom the Royals nabbed with an over-slot bonus of $2 million in the third round of the 2009 draft, returned the Royals investment by hitting .315/.429/.506 between two minor league stops. Considering how Hosmer and Moustakas didn't rocket up the prospect charts until after their third seasons, and how they both struggled during their first stints in low and high, there are a growing number of people who believe that Myers could be the best of the bunch.

Myers has a somewhat unorthodox stance, where he is open to the pitcher as he begins his delivery. However, by the time the ball is released Myers is in attack position and with a great eye is already in the process of determining what pitch is heading his way. It is this fantastic batting eye that has enabled Myers to post 94 walks compared to just 112 strikeouts in his 148 game professional career.

The only thing that was set to hold Myers back from quickly reaching the Majors was his defense, which left much to be desired. However just as many predicted, the Royals decided to shift Myers from behind the plate to the outfield corner. With the move to rightfield Myers plus arm should continue to be a tremendous asset and should also get Myers to Kansas City much faster.

Myers has drawn comparisons to Dale Murphy, both of which began their professional career as tall athletic catchers that eventually would have to shift to the outfield. These are nice comparisons for a guy that hasn't reached 150 professional games yet. Myers should eventually hit for both average and power, while also having the capability of drawing 100+ walks a season.

Myers should begin the season as the three hitter and rightfielder for the Naturals. I expect him to reach Kansas City at some point in 2012.

3. Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas is a beast. In his first game for the Naturals this summer he homered twice. Mike Moustakas is a leader. In his first stint in full season ball he once pinned an older player and cussed him out for not hustling on a play. Mike Moustakas is a baseball player. For half of the 2010 season I had the privelege of watching Moustakas play in games, take swings in the batting cages, and take infield on a regular basis. He loves the game. He works his ass off and someday Royals fans are going to love him for his fiery personality on big league diamond.

Moustakas struggled a season ago in Wilmington. He hit just .250 and posted a Francouerian obp of .297. He struggled against lefties and fans were concerned. When he began the 2011 season in extended spring training many thought of it as just another step back for the guy the Royals chose over Matt Weiters. But as soon as Moustakas got his time in the Texas League he took supreme advantage as he burned Texas League pitchers to a tune of .347/.413/.687. Had he not received a promotion to Omaha there is a little doubt that the triple crown title would have been his and not teammate Clint Robinson's.

Moustakas struggled a bit during his time in triple-A, but with the help of a 3 homer, 11 rbi night he finished his time in Omaha with a .293/.314/.504. For the year Moustakas hit .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs and 124 rbi.

The concern with Moustakas is that his offensive game is fairly average dependent, meaning if he struggles to get hits, or luck favors the defense he could be a bit of a clog on the offense. The good news is that Moustakas has such supreme bat speed that he should be able to put enough balls in play to keep his average at a respectable level. Moustakas's power should also be strong enough that pitcher's will pitch around him much more than the typical hitter, which should enhance his on base percentage.

The other thing that the Royals will need to keep their eye on is how Moustakas fairs against left handed pitching. This will be a critical thing for him to improve on in order for him to develop into a superstar caliber talent. In his stint with Omaha Moustakas hit just .218/.244/.346. Because of these two concerns Moustakas doesn't come in as the top hitting prospect in the Royal Revival Prospect Countdown.

Heading into the 2010 scouts were afraid that Moustakas had filled out too much in his lower half to stick at thirdbase. Texas League managers tended to disagree and after watching Moustakas on a consistent basis I believe that Mous will have the range to stick at third for the early part of his career at least. He may not win any gold gloves but he should be at least average with a top notch arm from the hot corner.

With a strong Spring Moustakas could have positioned himself for a mid April callup. This would have delayed his service clock a year. However, due to a subpar Spring Moustakas is more likely looking at a callup sometime in late May or early June. I am unsure of the exact date necessary but this should delay both his free agency date and his arbitration eligible date.

This isn't just a good thing for the Royals from a financial standpoint but also from a development and evaluation standpoint. It will allow the Royals more time to figure out what they have in Chris Getz, Mike Aviles, and Wilson Betemit. But it will also give Moustakas more time to develop against lefties and refine his plate-discipline, two things that he needs to improve on before facing major league pitching. Nonetheless we will see Moustakas in Kansas City by season's end.

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