Monday, January 30, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #21 Jarrod Dyson

#21 Jarrod Dyson

Age: 27
Height: 5-9
Weight: 160
B/T: L/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 50th Round of the 2006 Amateur Draft
From: MComb, MS

Jarrod Dyson makes this countdown not because of his upside, but because of his floor. Dyson a couple of plus plus tools, both of which are thanks to his blazing speed. Dyson may not be the fastest player in the organization at the moment, but Dyson could be the fastest player  on any Major League roster.

Dyson has a developed skill on the bases and unlike Joey Gathright he has learned to use his speed to steal bases. He gets great reads, fantastic jumps, and there aren't many catchers in the league that have a chance at throwing him out at second base. The Royals call him their "offensive closer" because if they need a run to win the game and he is on first with no outs, you can bet he's going to score.

Thanks to his speed, Dyson is also a fantastic center fielder, but again unlike Joey Gathright, Dyson knows how to use his speed. He takes awesome routes and has his name in the Royals record books for most putouts by an outfielder in a single game. If Dyson was given an entire season in center it would be interesting to see what kind of putout numbers that he could put up. Much like Alcides Escobar, he wouldn't have to hit much to have a positive value.

Dyson is likely better suited as a fourth outfielder, where he can be used as a spot starter, defensive replacement, and pinch runner. With his plus speed and defense he could be extremely valuable in this role. Right now the Royals have Mitch Maier under contract in 2012. Maier is out of options, so he is likely the only player on the Royals depth chart that Dyson would have to pass to earn a roster spot.

My hope is that October 3, Jarrod Dyson is standing on first with no outs in the bottom of the 9th. Jose Valverde is on the mound and if Dyson scores the Royals win the division. With everyone in the park knowing a steal is on the way, Dyson takes second anyway. The next at bat Dyson takes third on a grounder to second, and then scores on a sacrifice fly. Although, I'll admit I'd settle for a division title in any form.

"That's what speed do."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #22 Clint Robinson

#22 Clint Robinson

Age: 26
Position: 1B
Height: 6-5
Weight: 235
Acquired: Drafted in the 25th Round of the 2007 Amateur Draft
From: Jefferson City, MO

Since being drafted out of Troy University, all Clint Robinson has done is hit. He has moved one level at a time, and for his career he boasts a .312/.379/.536 line with a triple crown under his belt. Of course there are a couple things that have always held Clint back from being a big time prospect: age and defense.

Because Robinson was drafted as a college senior and because of the Royals unwillingness to push him along, Robinson has always been old for his level. He is now 26 years old and will be 27 for the 2012 season. Due to his age, he has constantly had to prove himself at the next level and it will be no different when Robinson makes his final step into the professional ranks. Could he be a second division regular? Or is he a AAAA player? We just won't know until he gets an opportunity.

I like Robinson. For a full season I had the privilege of watching him mash Texas League pitching. In my mind he absolutely deserves a shot at the Major League level. However, I don't see this coming in Kansas City. Robinson is a poor defender and a base clogger on the bases. Kansas City is already set at DH and 1B, so there isn't much room to fit Robinson on to the Major League roster.

The Royals have toyed with playing Robinson in left field. I can recall a game in Springdale in 2010, when Robinson even got the start in the outfield. It was ugly. Robinson has a decent arm, but he had troubles getting the ball out of the corner and it was not a pretty sight.

As a Clint Robinson fan, I would love to see him get a shot in another organization. However, from a Royals perspective his value is probably highest as an organizational insurance policy. There isn't a trade market for blocked 26 year-old first base prospects. For this reason he isn't worth much in a trade, unless he is an extra piece. Robinson has a couple of option years remaining, so he's most valuable to the organization as an insurance policy should Eric Hosmer or Billy Butler fall to injury.

Clint Robinson's mental toughness will be tested as long as he is in the Royals organization. Thanks to the talent ahead of him, he won't have a shot to win a big league spot, unless it comes as the result of injury. Robinson will need to focus on the things in is own control for 2012, and continue to mash. If he can do this, eventually he'll get his chance.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #23 Justin Marks

#23 Justin Marks

Age: 23
Position: LHP
Height: 6-3
Weight: 195
Acquired: Via trade with OAK on 11/10/10 with Vin Mazzaro for David DeJesus
From: Owensboro, KY

The Royals liked Justin Marks quite a bit heading into the draft, but ultimately weren't able to select him in 2009. A year and a half later, the Royals acquired him and Vin Mazzaro in a trade that sent David DeJesus to Oakland. At this point I hope, that the Royals saw something in Marks, because after seeing what Kansas City has in Mazzaro it would be pretty disappointing if Marks was just a throw in piece. I don't think that was the case.

Marks has a good frame, and of course has the benefit of throwing left handed. For most of his career Marks has worked hitters with a three pitch mix of average offerings (fastball, curve, change). However, in college his slider was his best pitch, and in 2011, he was allowed to throw the pitch again with regularity. Marks has back end potential. After a strong 2011 campaign, Marks should open 2012 in Northwest Arkansas's rotation.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Royals Invite 16 to Major League Camp

Royals announced that they would be inviting 16 Minor Leaguers to Major League camp this Spring. That number is down from 25 a year ago. Here are the names of the chosen few:

Francisely Bueno
Chris Dwyer
Tommy Hottovy
Zach Miner
Mike Montgomery
Jake Odorizzi
Will Smith

Cody Clark
Max Ramirez
Julio Rodriguez

Tony Abreu
Irving Falu
Kevin Kouzmanoff

Greg Golson
Wil Myers
Paulo Orlando

A couple of notes I'll make. First, having Max Ramirez and Greg Golson in camp on a minor league deals brings in good depth. Both probably even have outside shots at making the team if they turn enough heads in Spring (by turn heads, I actually mean breaking necks, because they will need to dominate). 

Kevin Kouzmanoff is my prediction for most likely of the non roster invitees to make the team. If the Royals elect to go with a 13 pitchers, this won't happen. But if the Royals wise up and only keep a 12 man staff that opens up an extra spot on the Royals bench. If that is the case, Kouzmanoff would likely have to beat out the loser of the Mitch Maier/Jarrod Dyson fourth outfielder battle.

Of course the most exciting of these names will be the big prospects: Montgomery, Dwyer, Odorizzi, and Myers. With strong camps they could really position themselves for big league time in Kansas City this summer. In particular I'm talking about Montgomery and Odorizzi whom are the closest of the bunch to the Majors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pull the Trigger

By now Royals fans are well aware the free agent starter Roy Oswalt is targeting a one year deal at around $8 million. But now there are also rumblings that fellow free agent starter Edwin Jackson has lowered his asking price from 5 years, 65 million all the way down to a one year deal. Let me make this perfectly clear, if the Royals aren't involved on these two starters and they wind up signing for one year deals elsewhere, the Royals will have missed a huge opportunity.

The rumors have been clear that Oswalt is looking to land a one year deal with a contender, something I can totally understand. However, when it comes to professional athletes, I've learned that there is always a dollar figure that can buy them out of their notions of going to a winner, or staying near home, or whatever else for that matter. Not to mention if Oswalt came to Kansas City, I'm sure the top reason he'd give to the press is that the Royals are on the verge of contention and that he wants to be a part of something special in Kansas City.

The Royals have the money to spend in their current budget. The team is right around $60 million for 2012, after being over $70 million in both 2009 and 2010. In fact, there was a time when the Royals payroll was closer to $80 million than 70. Last year the payroll was in the $35-40 million dollar range. So it isn't unrealistic at all to assume that the Royals possess the flexibility that would be necessary to add another starter into the budget. The Royals would likely have to pay more than 'a contender' to lure Oswalt or Jackson in, but ultimately money talks.

In fact, Dayton Moore himself has even stated that the team was looking into acquiring another starter, before ultimately deciding to take the prudent route and saving the final rotation spot for one of the kids. If you believe that the fifth rotation spot belongs to Duffy, Crow, Teaford, or Montgomery, that's fine. But personally I think all of the aforementioned pitchers could use more time in Omaha honing their craft.

The Rays have possibly the best rotation depth in all of baseball. In 2012, there will likely be two starters that don't make the Rays rotation that would be one of the best starters on the Royals roster.Look at the manner in which the Rays have developed their starters. The Rays develop their starters with patience.

There is a belief that pitchers have to make adjustments at the next level. Many Royals fans are of the opinion that Danny Duffy has learned all that he can in Omaha. They would argue that sending him to Omaha to begin 2012 would serve no purpose developmentally. They may be right, I am no expert in pitcher development. However, I would point to the Rays model, which has been pretty effective over the past few seasons. Look how many innings some of their prospects threw in the upper levels, before becoming fixtures in the rotation:

David Price: 109.1
Matt Moore: 155
Matt Garza: 183.1
Alex Cobb: 187
Jeremy Hellickson: 307
Alexander Torres: 323.2
Jeff Niemann: 361
Wade Davis: 399.1

Of course Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Alexander Torres could all add more innings in 2012. Also of note is that the starter with the least amount of innings in the upper levels is David Price, who is probably the most advanced college arm ever outside of Stephen Strasburg (Strasburg by the way threw just 66.1 innings in the upper levels). 

Here's a look at where the Royals arms stand in the upper level inning count:

John Lamb: 68
Jake Odorizzi: 68.2
Danny Duffy: 81.2
Aaron Crow: 119.1
Chris Dwyer: 159
Mike Montgomery: 210.1
Everett Teaford: 219.2

The Rays are arguably the best team in professional baseball right now in terms of developing starting pitchers and keeping those pitchers healthy at the Major League level. Thanks to a patient approach that waits for starters to force their hand they have successfully developed a deep starting rotation. As a result of this rotation they have been able to compete in the toughest division in baseball, despite financial restrictions that their rivals don't face.

Like I have said, I'm not an expert on prospect development. I am merely looking at what the best have done and wondering aloud if the Royals would be wise to emulate it. As it stands there is one open rotation spot for 2012. The rotation at this point consists of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, and Felipe Paulino. If the Royals were to add another starter on a one year deal the benefit could be twofold. 

First, the Royals would strengthen their rotation in the short run. But also Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, and Mike Montgomery would all be allowed to return to Omaha, where they could continue to develop. At some point a rotation spot will open up as the result of injury or poor performance and then the most deserving of three can get the promotion to Kansas City. Later another spot will open up and perhaps even another. By Opening Day 2013, there will likely be plenty of room in the rotation for all three should they deserve it and the rotation at that point could be a force.

There are also service time benefits of a plan such as this. If Aaron Crow spends some time in the minors his free agency will be pushed back a season. If Mike Montgomery comes up at mid season his free agency and super two status could both be pushed back a season. If Danny Duffy spends a few weeks in Omaha, his Super Two status could be pushed back by a season. 

By adding another starter now the Royals could save themselves millions of dollars in arbitration and even gain some extra team control. I'm sure the Royals are aware of all of this and considering Luis Mendoza is out of options they may have a plan for starting him in the rotation to reach these benefits. Mendoza isn't a bad depth player, but if the Royals are serious about contending he won't open the season in the rotation.

There are two very talented starting pitchers that could be available on one year deals. The benefits of signing one of them could reach far beyond improving the Opening Day rotation. If the division is going to be as tight  as I believe it will be, the addition of either starter could propel the Royals into a tighter race. More wins means staying in contention longer. Staying in contention longer means more ticket sales. More ticket sales mean more money. 

Even if the Royals fall out of contention, both Oswalt and Jackson would be hot commodities on the trade market in July. If they perform as expected they would both be worth a decent prospect in return, and will have already served their value in allowing the Royals pitching prospects more development time. 

If I was sure that the Royals would take their extra financial flexibility in 2012, place it in a bank account and allow it to accumulate interest until Hosmer and Moustakas could be extended I would consider that route. But I can't be sure that the funds would roll over in such a manner. However, if signing Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt paid out all of the potential dividends the financial hit it would take to sign them would be minute. 

There is obviously risk involved, but the Royals most glaring weakness is starting pitching and right now there are two starters that could upgrade this staff. If the Royals can grab one of them on a one year deal, well I think I've been pretty clear on potential rewards of that. If the Royals can't afford them, well shame on the Royals for jumping the gun and dishing out $4.5 million to Bruce Chen and another $2 million to Yunieskey Betancourt.

It may not be realistic to expect the Royals to make anymore major moves this offseason. But it isn't unrealistic to believe that they could afford to do so. There's an opportunity, I just hope the Royals pounce. Pull the trigger and let's make the AL Central a two horse race in 2012.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blood in the Water

With just over a month before pitchers and catchers report let's examine the landscape of the American League Central. 

Chicago White Sox

Let's start with the Chicago White Sox, who after assuming several bad contracts are finally paying the price. A year ago, the White Sox managed a 78-82 record. They outperformed their Pythagorean by 3 wins and can't decide whether or not to rebuild. 

Outside of Paul Konerko, and Alexei Ramirez there aren't many players in the lineup that have both proven themselves in the Majors and would be desirable to other organizations . Morel and Viciedo have some upside, Pierzynski is consistent (consistently a douche bag), while Dunn and Rios have both produced, but at the moment have albatross contracts. 

If Sale can make a smooth transition to the rotation, he'll provide the White Sox with a solid top three with Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Jake Peavy used to be good, and I wonder if Phillip Humber ever was. The club is without a closer and the farm system is nonexistent. At this point the best case for Chicago is to continue to walk in the twilight between the light of contention and darkness of the cellar. 

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins, for a moment forgot what kind of market they were playing in. They were so close to contending and increased revenue thanks to a new publicly funded stadium allowed the club to bump payroll over the $100 million mark.

Unfortunately for the Twins their stars have been unable to stay healthy, while their pitchers have been unable to miss bats. (Of course, this could be an organizational flaw in pitching philosophy. Just because you developed Brad Radke, doesn't mean you've found a better recipe for pitcher development.) The Twins finished the year with 63 wins and actually outperformed their Pythagorean by 1 win in 2011. 

Entering 2012, the Twins have lost their three best hitters in terms of OPS (Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome). They have brought in Josh Willingham, but at this point the only hope for the Twins to have a respectable season in 2012, is Mauer refinding his power, and Morneau to morph back into his pre-2011 version. 

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were the surprise of the Central in 2011. The got off to a blazing start, but once again failed to reach .500. They finished the season with an 80-82 mark, and like everyone else in the division beside the Royals, outperformed their Pythagorean record, which for the Indians was 75-87. 

The Indians have a good young infield and are hoping for healthy years from Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and Travis Hafner. If those three guys can stay healthy, the Indians could surprise people again. Of course that is a huge IF. Sizemore hasn't played more than 106 games since 2008, and Hafner hasn't played more than 116 since 2007.

The Indians have already made their "go for it" move when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez for their two top pitching prospects last July. Their farm system is one of the worst in the game so there aren't a lot of bullets in the gun should they need to reload. 

The Indians were on the cusp a year ago and looked like an up and coming team. At this point I wonder, if their aggression last summer, may have actually hurt their chances moving forward. For the Indians contention hopes hinge on the arm of Ubaldo Jimenez. If he can return to first half 2010 form, the trade looks great and they sped up their window. But if he continues post an ERA over 5 he did in Cleveland last summer, well that's good news for the Royals.

I can imagine that the Indians ground crew has already been told to push the limits in terms of infield grass length for the up coming season. Their starting staff is all about inducing the ground ball. I like Masterson quite a bit, but outside of him and Jimenez there isn't really anyone that scares me. This is especially true now that the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona has been arrested for a false identity. It is yet to be determined how this will affect his status in 2012.

Detroit Tigers

Thanks to outstanding seasons by Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Alex Avila the Tigers were able to run away with the American League Central in 2011. They finished the season with a 95-67 record. But there is reason to believe that they shouldn't be a head and shoulders favorite for 2012. First, the Tigers not only outperformed their Pythagorean record by 6 wins in 2011, but they also played over their heads.

Justin Verlander is a dominate pitcher. But the pitching triple crown isn't a feat that is likely to be repeated in 2012. Verlander's triple crown was the first in the American League since 2006 and just the second since the turn of the century. Will he win 24 games, with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 2012? I don't think so. Don't get me wrong, he'll should continue to be one of the very best starters in baseball, but an ERA up around 3 is more likely than an ERA of 2.40. 

It should also be mentioned that Jose Valverde's dominance should come back to Earth a bit after averaging just 2 Ks per walk (not a bad number, but not what you would expect from a supposed dominant closer). I'll also wager that Doug Fister doesn't continue to win 80% of his starts while posting a 1.79 ERA in 2012. 

Of course the biggest reason for lowered expectations for the 2012 Tigers, would be the loss of Victor Martinez, who will miss all of 2012 with a torn ACL. I would have loved for this news to come out halfway through Spring Training, when the outside options were more limited, but I guess I'll accept the news now. 

The Tigers still have time to fill the void via free agency. However, if they do elect to fill the void via trade they will have to do so with the 29th best farm system in the game. Not a lot of pieces to work with. The Tigers just have a couple of prospects that would be coveted by other organizations and outside of that there isn't much help in the pipeline on the way. 

Kansas City Royals

I'm not going to talk to much about Kansas City here. There is too much for me to say regarding why we should be optimistic for 2012. But keep this in mind:

Final 2011 Standings
Detroit Tigers 95-67
Cleveland Indians 80-82
Chicago White Sox 79-83
Kansas City Royals 71-91
Minnesota Twins 63-99

Final 2011 Pythagorean Standings
Detroit Tigers 89-73
Kansas City Royals 78-84
Cleveland Indians 75-87
Chicago White Sox 75-87
Minnesota Twins 62-100

When you consider this the Royals don't need to make up 24 games in 2012. They need to make up 11. Just 11. Do you think the Royals have a better roster now than they do a year ago at this time? I certainly do. Do you expect the Tigers to perform as well as they did a year ago? It's possible. But after losing Martinez, I don't think anyone would be shocked if they regressed. There is blood in the water and there is reason to believe that Kansas City is in for an unforgettable summer.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alex Gordon Extension

In the last Royal Revival poll, the Royals Nation was asked when they expected an extension to be announced for Alex Gordon. Here are the results, after 68 votes:

  • Before 1/22/12: 8 votes, 11%
  • Between 1/22/12 and 4/6/12: 39 votes, 57 %
  • Between 4/6/12 and 10/3/12: 4 votes, 5%
  • Between 10/4/12 and Gordon's Free Agency: 6 votes, 8 %
  • Gordon won't sign an extension with Kansas City: 11 votes, 16%
I chose 1/22/12 as a the cut off for "very soon" because a year ago Billy Butler signed a four year contract extension on that date. If I had to vote right now, I would actually bet that Gordon signs a contract extension after that date, and if I had to be more specific I would bet on next week. If I had to be more specific, I'll go with Wednesday. 

As for the amount, well Gordon offers more positional value than Royal counterpart Billy Butler. However, Butler had produced well for four seasons, while Gordon has produced for two. Ultimately, I think Gordon will receive more than the $32 million that was guaranteed to #CountryBreakfast a year ago. 

So here's my official guess for Gordon. On Wednesday he'll sign a 4-year contract extension with a 5th year team option and I think the total value for the contract will be $34 million. Structured something like $5 million with a $1.5 million dollar signing bonus in 2012, $8 million in 2013, $8 million in 2014, and $10.5 million in 2015. In 2016, the team will hold an option for $14 million with a $1 million buyout. 

What would be even better is if the Royals could get even more of the contract front loaded. For example, making the signing bonus $2 million, then in years 2-4 spreading the money out evenly at $9 million per year. Of course, saving $1.5 million in 2015 may not be a huge deal either way.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Gordon signs a four year extension worth anywhere between $32-40 million. Anything in this range is probably a good deal for Kansas City. If the value falls on the low end it is a great deal for Kansas City. If the Royals can get a team option or two tacked on to the end of the contract even better.

So what are your predictions? When will Gordon sign an extension? What will the value be? How will it be structured? How many years?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #24 Reynaldo Navarro

#24 Reynaldo Navarro

Age: 22
Position: SS
Height: 5-10
Weight: 175
B/T: S/R
Acquired: Via trade with ARI on 5/1/10 for Carlos Rosa
From: Caguas, Puerto Rico

The Royals acquired Rey Navarro roughly 20 months ago, for reliever Carlos Rosa. At the time Rosa was considered a borderline top 10 guy for Kansas City, while Navarro was the same for Arizona. Both however, were in the midst of a period that saw each of their values take major hits. Rosa simply stopped getting movement on is fastball, while Navarro was posting uninspired numbers in High-A.

Entering 2011, Navarro had fallen off of the map a bit, and his prospect luster just didn't gleam like it once had. Of course considering the talent in the Royals system, it was easy for mediocre prospects to be lost in the shuffle. But one year later, Navarro has done enough to reenter the collective conscience of the prospect aware Royals Blogosphere and Twitterverse.

I'm still not as high on Reynaldo Navarro as some, because his season numbers are propped up by a tremendous start in Wilmington. With that being said, knocking the cover off the ball for five weeks in the Carolina League isn't a small feat. In fact when one takes a closer look at Navarro's numbers, one finds that maybe Navarro was more consistent in 2011, than his High-A and Double-A batting lines would indicate.

In Wilmington, Navarro posted a 17.8% line drive percentage. In Northwest Arkansas, Navarro actually saw this number jump to 18.9%. Of course a major difference is that in the Carolina League the league average mark is 12.8% instead of the 18.4% mark in the Texas League. But a big reason, why Navarro's power was sapped upon his promotion was a decrease in fly ball percentage from 29.2% to 20.7%.

What was promising was Navarro's ability to adjust his offensive approach to the advanced pitching that comes with a promotion to Double-A baseball. The pitches that Navarro chased outside the strike zone dipped from 24.4% in the Carolina League to 18% in the Texas League (both of the percentages were roughly 1% lower than the league average). Navarro was able to maintain an O-Contact% of roughly 4% higher than the league average.

When you look at the percentage of pitches Navarro offered at inside the strike zone, one finds that after his promotion he actually came in just a couple of percentage points lower than the league average, while in Wilmington this mark was about 9% higher than the league average mark. Navarro's Z-Contact % actually stayed consistent of about 8% higher than the league average.

What these numbers tell me is that, upon his promotion Navarro refined his approach. The pitch details aren't the same at each level, but relative to the league average percentages they are very consistent despite the promotion. The only major difference being Navarro's increased pickiness on which pitches to offer at inside the strike zone.

Navarro will need to continue to make adjustments and refine his approach, but it would appear that he made major strides in 2011. Given his versatility and defensive prowess he could be an extremely useful utility infielder one day. In my mind that is his upside, while some would argue that he could be a solid starting second baseman.

I expect Navarro to open the 2012 season in Northwest Arkansas alongside Christian Colon in the middle of the Naturals' infield. We'll have to wait and see who is on what side of the bag.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #25 Kevin Chapman

#25 Kevin Chapman

Age: 23
Position: LHP
Height: 6-4
Weight: 210
B/T: L/L
Acquired: Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2010 Amateur Draft
From: Coral Springs, Florida

Yes, I know Kevin posted a 4.94 ERA in 2011. Yes, I know that his career minor league ERA is 5.06. But I'm still putting him at #25 on the Royal Revival Prospect Countdown. The primary reason why I'm doing this is because Chapman has an electric arm.

Just look at Chapman's K-rates and tell me there isn't back end of the bullpen upside. Chapman has never posted a K/9 below 10, and his career mark is 12.4. Granted, Chapman has struggled with command, but despite that he has maintained a K/BB over 3, while allowing less than a HR/9. Obviously the Royals want to see Chapman to continue to improve his command, but even if he were to fail to do so, he still could be a solid big league reliever.

The walks are clearly, part of the reason that Chapman's ERA has consistently been high. But in 2011, we also know that Chapman gave up an extraordinarily high batting average on balls in play (.460 in Wilmington). Often times BABIP is used as an excuse for a poor performing pitcher or as a deterrent for an overperforming one. It is definitely a statistic that has now become a bit overused, but if you can trace it back to something more basic there are things that can be learned.

At the Major League level, it is typically expected that BABIP should be  about 12% higher than a player's line drive percentage or line drive percentage allowed assuming ground ball and flyball percentages are around league average. In the minor leagues this gap is probably larger, thanks to worse fielders, and poorer infield quality. As a result ground ball pitchers will often have higher BABIPS than fly ball counterparts.

Chapman does get his fair share of ground balls. But when his opponents' line drive percentage is 17% and his opponents' BABIP is .460 this cries a bit foul. Chapman possesses a mid-90s fastball, with a knockout slider, for a reliever he also throws a solid change. Like I said, the guy's arm is electric.

Thanks to a deep Kansas City pen the Royals can afford to be patient with their relief prospects. With that being said I expect to see Chapman in Kansas City at some point in 2012.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Royals Sign Kouzmanoff

Royals made some HUGE news today by announcing the minor league signing of third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kouzmanoff as recently as 2010, was a 3 win player as judged by fangraphs. This is in large part due to Kouzmanoff's glove, which at this point in his career is one of the best at the hot corner in all of baseball.

For his career Kouzmanoff boasts a .255/.300/.420 line. Bill James projects him at .257/.308/.430 for 2012 and Roto Champ has him at .251/.298/.400. When you consider how strong his glove is, I feel as though Kouzmanoff is as good of a minor league free agent that you will find.

A year ago the Royals signed Pedro Feliz to a minor league deal. There was a fuss and ultimately we never really heard from him again. With a May 1, opt out date for Kouzmanoff the same scenario could reasonably play out. At this point Kouzmanoff provides the Royals with good minor league depth.

If Moustakas were to get bit by the injury bug, or struggle so much that the Royals have no choice but to give him some time in Triple-A. I would feel much more comfortable with Kouzmanoff getting the call than Mario Lisson or Jaime Romak. Ultimately, I love this acquisition. Not because I expect it to really matter, but because the Royals continue to acquire quality depth. Look at this organization and there is a level of depth that hasn't existed in a long time.

The Royals were extremely fortunate a year ago in the injury department. Moves like this help to ensure that if the Royals health regresses to the mean, so to speak, they will be able to better combat it with the depth they have built.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #26 Orlando Calixte

#26 Orlando Calixte

Age: 19
Position: SS
Height: 5-11
Weight: 160
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent in February, 2010
From: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Orlando Calixte finally has cast aside his invisibility cloak and stepped up into the light for Royals fans. After identity issues forced his career to start late, the Royals swooped in an signing him for a seven figure bonus in 2010. On the Hot Stove show two years ago Dayton Moore stated that with the signing of Calixte, in addition to Cheslor Cuthbert and Noel Arguelles, the Royals had nabbed three of the top five international free agents.

Of the three seven-figure Latin American shortstop signees, Calixte has the highest offensive upside projecting to hit for both average and some power. He's also an average runner and his frame should allow him to stick at shortstop.

At first glance Calixte's 2011 numbers are somewhat disappointing, but there are several things that must be remembers. First Calixte is just a teenager. It isn't rare at all for teenage hitters to struggle in the Midwest League, which tends to have a lot of college talent and is a pitcher friendly league. Also, 2011 was just Calixte's second season on American soil. One can imagine that the transition from life in the Dominican to America would be difficult enough without the expectations that follow a high dollar professional ball player.

As for Calixte's numbers, well I find his batting average to unindicative of his true success. The league average Midwest League average is .250, while Calixte came in at just .208. But more showing was Calixte's league average line drive percentage. Given Calixte's slightly above average ground ball percentage, I would come to the conclusion that in a league full of hitters in their twenties Calixte performed much more like a league average hitter than the .208 hitter that appears in the stat column.

In 2009, there was a 19-year-old middle of diamond hitter that was making the transition from Latin America life to life in the United States. It was his first crack at full season ball and after hitting .189/.230/.236 his prospect luster took a dive. Two years later Salvador Perez .331/.361/.473 in Kansas City. I don't expect Calixte to make the same quantum leap, but there are things to like about Calixte's 2011 campaign and still plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the prospect's future.

Despite Perez's Midwest League struggles the Royals assigned him to Wilmington the following season. My guess is the Royals don't take the same aggressive approach in 2012 with Calixte and instead he will make a return trip to Kane County. However, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Calixte opens the season with the Blue Rocks.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #27 Kyle Smith

#27 Kyle Smith

Age: 19
Position: RHP
Height: 6-0
Weight: 167
Acquired: Drafted in the 4th Round of 2011 Amateur Draft
From: Lake Worth, FL

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Kyle Smith was one of my favorite picks last from last June's Amateur Draft. Smith is extremely polished for your typical high school starter and it is my belief that if not for his height he would have been selected much earlier in the 2011 draft. With the 126th pick of the draft the Royals selected Smith and signed him for $695K, nearly tripling the suggested slot for the pick.

In high school Smith baffled Florida hitters with a mid 90s heater, sharp curve ball, and an effective change up. He displays fantastic command and his change is well advanced for a pitcher his age. In his senior year at Santaluces High School Smith cruised to a 0.40 ERA in 69 innings pitched. In those 69 innings Smith allowed 46 hits and 14 walks, while striking out 116.

Just for emphasis that translates to 15.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 or a K:BB of 8.2. I should also mention that of those 46 hits allowed only 4 went for extra bases. Also of note, is that these numbers weren't posted in an area of the country not known for great baseball talent. Smith was playing in Florida, which thanks to that Florida sun enables players to play year round resulting in a quality level of competition.

Kyle Smith has drawn comparisons to Tim Hudson thanks primarily to his frame, but a Tim Hudson kind of ceiling may be pretty accurate for the young starter. I don't want to get to worked up about a pitcher that hasn't made a professional appearance yet, but I can't hardly help it with Kyle Smith. I expect him to spend 2012 in extended Spring Training and then as the weather heats up in the Midwest League, Smith should find himself in Kane County.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #28 Robinson Yambati

#29 Robinson Yambati

Age: 20
Position: RHP
Height: 6-3
Weight: 185
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent on 2/4/08
From: Monte Plata, Dominican Republic

To be blunt, the wheels fell off for Robinson Yambati in 2011. After a fantastic 2010 campaign saw him rocket up the prospect rankings, Yambati totally lost control in the Appy League last summer. As a result, he walked more batters than he struck out in 2011.

When he's on Yambati displays a three pitch arsenal that made him the Arizona League's second best prospect following the 2010 season. Yambati's fastball typically sits in the low 90s, but when he is on can hit 96-97. According to Baseball America, Yambati also throws a hard slurve and a change up. His stuff and command vastly improved during 2010, but both took steps back in the Appy League. His walk rate climbed to 5.60 while opposing hitters beat him up to a .458/.527/.802 line.

Yambati's fastball at one point was said to have good life, but my theory is that for some reason it was too straight in 2011. In 2010, Yambati posted a 2.38 GO/AO, but in 2011, that number dropped to just 1.75. When you couple this number with the batting line of opposing hitters it becomes apparent that batters were having a much easier time squaring up Yambati in the Appy League.

Early in his career Yambati's control problems stemmed from the lack of repetition in his delivery. When he finally began to repeat his delivery in Arizona his command and velocity both improved dramatically. I'm not scout, but I think Yambati's repetition likely took a big step back in 2011. As a result of decreased velocity, my guess is Yambati tried to throw harder, resulting in straighter fastballs with less life. A straight fastball and poor command makes for a recipe for disaster.

Yambati is still very young. He will just be 20 years old for the 2012 season. My guess is he will be either reassigned to Burlington, or the Royals will try a change of scenery approach and send him to Idaho Falls. My fingers are crossed for the latter as I will be spending the summer in Pioneer League territory.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #29 Michael Antonio

#29 Michael Antonio

Age: 20
Position: SS
Height: 6-2
Weight: 190
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2010 Amateur Draft
From: New York, New York

When the Royals selected Michael Antonio in the third round of the 2010 draft, some viewed the selection as a bit of an overdraft. It was a time when Royals fans had grown accustomed to the over slot selection and high profile pick, but instead the Royals grabbed a guy that was considered by most to be the top hitting prospect in New York City.

Antonio was drafted as a shortstop, but it was his bat that really peaked the Royals interest. According to one source Antonio has the potential to hit around .300 with solid average power. At first glance, Antonio's line in 2011 would seem to take off some of that luster, but upon further review it's easy to see why the Royals are still in love with his bat.

Despite being just 19 years old in the Appy League Antonio posted some great power numbers, while coming in just above the league average batting average of .261 (a number that could have been much higher if not for his .253 BABIP). Particularly of note was Antonio's HR/FB percentage which came in at 15.4%, or 5.7% above the league average mark. To slug with such power in the Appy League as a teenager gives me optimism that the Royals 2010 third round selection could develop into a strong prospect.

But as with most teenage prospects there are concerns as well. At this point Antonio has already outgrown the shortstop position, meaning the Royals will likely shift him to third for 2012. This hurts his value a little, but if Antonio can hit like some scouts expect, his bat should still play at the hot corner.

What Antonio really needs to improve on is his plate discipline. In 225 plate appearances in the Appy League Antonio swung at over 28% of the pitches he saw outside the zone. This number was about 4% higher than the league average. However, after receiving 35 plate appearances in Idaho Falls, Antonio swung at 64% of pitches outside the strike zone.

Of course 35 plate appearances is an extremely small sample size when it comes to measuring such things, but as Antonio advanced he will need to continue to develop his approach. In Burlington, Antonio was well above average when it came to making contact with pitches outside the strike zone. Oddly enough, because of this skill Antonio will need to be more conscious in his pitch selection. Otherwise more advanced pitchers will be able to translate his aggression and contact ability into weak outs.

With Cheslor Cuthebert ahead of him, and Mike Moustakas solidifying the third base position in Kansas City there is no rush with Antonio. I expect him to open 2012 as Kane County's starting third baseman.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #30 D'Andre Toney

#30 D'Andre Toney

Age: 19
Position: OF
Height: 5-10
Weight: 170
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 14th Round of the 2011 Amateur Draft
From: Columbus, GA

D'Andre Toney was drafted a year and a half ago in the 33rd round by the artist formerly known as the Florida Marlins. However, after not receiving an offer that he believed was up to snuff, Toney elected to accept a baseball scholarship to Gulf Coast Community College. By pursuing the junior college route for the 2011 season, Toney was able to reenter the draft. Fortunately for the Royals, this decision enabled them to select Toney in the 14th round.

At Gulf Coast Community College Toney played alongside Terrance Gore, who came in at #31 on the Royal Revival Prospect Countdown. After the pair were drafted they were both assigned to the hitter friendly Arizona League. There the two's batting lines were extremely similar. (Gore: .340/447/.404). Of course the major difference between the two is that unlike Gore, Toney displayed a good amount of pop in his bat in his first professional stop. This was evident in Toney's significantly higher ISO of .247 (league average: .131).

Also, while a huge percentage of Gore's hits came off ground balls, Toney obtained success in a different manner. Toney's groundball percentage was less than half of the percentage Gore posted, while his line drive percentage came in at 15.4% (league average: 14%) and flyball percentage came in at 37.4% (league average: 29.4%).

Thanks in large part to Toney's quick success with the bat, Toney is already garnering some greater attention. Hipster prospect guru Kevin Goldstein even labeled Toney as his sleeper prospect for the Royals system, citing his tools, average power potential, and plus speed as notches in Toney's belt. In addition to Goldstein's scouting report Toney is said to have a plus arm. Thanks to Toney's toolshed, I've seen him comped to Mike Cameron and even Ron Gant.

Toney is just one of the toolsy outfield prospects that the Royals have compiled in the lower levels. If there is a spot in Kane County, then the Chicago suburb will likely be his 2012 destination. However, if the Royals decide to take it slow with him I expect to see him in Burlington, NC. This would be the same path that the Royals took with Michael Antonio.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #31 Terrance Gore

#31 Terrance Gore

Age: 20
Position: OF
Height: 5-7
Weight: 165
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 20th Round of 2011 Amateur Draft
From: Macon, GA

Terrance Gore is just the latest in a long line of speedy outfielders that the Royals have selected in the amateur draft. When Dayton Moore took the helm he promised an emphasis on speed and defense. Since his hiring a Royals prospect has seemingly been a part of the draft's fastest player discussion on an annual basis. This year Gore laid claim to the top spot on the draft's burner list, when he posted times of 3.7 seconds from home to first. (Just for some perspective scouts consider a 3.9 time to be an 80 on the scouting scale.)

Gore's blazing speed isn't the only reason to be excited about him as a prospect, as Gore also posted one of the top pro debuts for any of the Royals' 2011 draftees. Gore posted an .852 OPS in 115 Arizona League plate appearances. Gore also managed to swipe each of the seventeen bags that he attempted to steal.

Granted hitting 66.7% of your batted balls on the ground isn't a great recipe to success. But I like how Gore plays to his strengths. When you are as fast as Terrence Gore, you can build a quality game around your speed. Gore has a long way to go before he can be considered a major piece for the Kansas City Royals. But in 2011, Gore did everything in his power to take a step down that path.

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