Friday, January 31, 2014

Rumor: Royals Sign Chen to Lifetime Contract

The Royals cleared $3 million in payroll space this season when Jeremy Guthrie agreed to a restructure of his deal and just 17 days later, Bruce Chen will quit his step aside from his semi final run on "Last Comic Standing" to return to the Kansas City Royals on a one year pact worth $4.25 million. The deal includes a $5.5 million option for the 2015 season.

Soon after the deal, Guthrie took to social media to tweet this:

This deal probably doesn't come as much of a shock to most Royals fans, the fact that Guthrie restrctured his deal seemed to indicate that another move would come. However, a restructure to save $3 million, seemed to indicate it would be for a guy like Chen.

As for Chen's fit on the roster, he will likely head to camp with the opportunity to win a spot in the rotation, with a fallback as an extra lefty in the pen, who can double as a long man. Let's take a look at his competition:


  • James Shields
  • Jeremy Guthrie
  • Jason Vargas
  • Bruce Chen
  • Wade Davis
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Yordano Ventura
  • Danny Duffy
  • Kyle Zimmer
These are the individuals that have been the most discussed for the 2014 rotation. Prior to the Chen signing my guess would be that the Royals rotation would be Shields, Guthrie, Vargas, Hochevar/Davis, Duffy/Ventura. I felt this way because it felt like a very Royals thing to do to expand their starting pitching "inventory" by opening the year with either Hochevar or Davis in the pen, then if they struggle, the loser of the Duffy/Ventura battle would be the first call up. 

  • Greg Holland
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Wade Davis
  • Aaron Crow
  • Louis Coleman
  • Maikel Cleto
  • Tim Collins
  • Donnie Joseph
  • Francisely Bueno
  • Bruce Chen
As you can see there are about 11 options on the 40 man for the bullpen. There are a few different ways in which this could play out. Let's try to pain a clearer picture of the competition of the pitching staff:
  • Locks: Shields, Guthrie, Vargas, Chen, Holland
  • Pretty much locks, but could be moved if they stink in camp: Crow, Hochevar, Davis, Herrera
This accounts for 9 spots of the 12 man staff. here's my guess at how the rest of the spots would play out:
  • Left Handed Relievers: Collins and Joseph
Let's add one of the two to the roster for now. That brings our total to 10. Now let's look at the competition for the final two rotation spots:
  • Candidates: Chen, Davis, Hochevar, Ventura, Duffy, and Zimmer.
We'll go ahead and assume that one of the Chen, Davis, Hochevar group opens in the rotaiton so that the Royals can expand their starting pitching inventory for the start of the season. We've already counted the three of them so we are still at 10 men. The winner of the Ventura/Duffy/Zimmer battle would be number 11 and the other two would return to the Minors. This leaves one remaining spot for the following:
  • Final Bullpen Spot: Coleman, Cleto, Bueno, loser of Collins and Joseph
Of course, the Royals could elect to go with two of the Ventura, Duffy, Zimmer group, which eliminate the final spot in our process. 

For those of you still hoping that the Royals acquire another starter, I think the odds of that decreased with the addition of Bruce Chen. I also don't think the odds were very good prior to the signing of Chen. However, if you believe the reports from Rex Hudler that the Royals have extended Ervin Santana a two year offer, there is still hope that this could happen. It of course would still be reliant on Santana coming down significantly from the five year deal that he is seeking. 

I am still of the opinion that the Royals are a front end start away from being taken seriously as AL Central contenders. This is not to say that Duffy, Ventura, or Zimmer couldn't fill those shoes. At this point though a signing of Bruce Chen helps with the overall depth of the club, but hardly tilts to the needle for the Royals in regards to AL Central contention. 

As for the reports that Bruce Chen's deal is actually the Royals version of the deal granted to Tim Wakefield by the Boston Red Sox, we can only hope that it turns out to be the case. C'mon Chen.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Spring Intrigue - Can Maikel Cleto Contribute in 2014?

One thing you will find out about me: I am a sucker for a plus-plus fastball. Especially one that consistently hits triple digits. That’s ok. Most Major League General Managers are too. There are very few people on Earth that can throw a baseball over 100 mph. 

Maikel Cleto is one.

The big right-hander has moved around a lot in his career. He will turn 25 in 2014, and the Royals are his fourth organization. Cleto was claimed off of waivers from St. Louis. The Cardinals acquired him from the Mariners, who had previously taken him in a trade from the Mets.

As mentioned in the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook: “Cleto has a live arm, but his below-average control and lack of command prevent him from getting the most out of his stuff… He can blow his heater by hitters, but focuses on velocity at the expense of throwing quality strikes.” 

Sounds like a reliever, that may be a little rough around the edges, right? Especially since he had only partly developed a slurvy secondary pitch and an afterthought of a change-up. However, likely due to his big, durable frame, both the Cardinals and Mariners were bound and determined to keep Cleto a starter as long as possible. He logged 140 innings in 2008, primarily in the South Atlantic League, as a 19-year-old. He was hit hard in the low-minors, having never had fewer hits than innings pitched in the Mariners organization, and his strikeout numbers were not as impressive as one might hope. In fact, a mechanical flaw in his delivery caused him to open up too early and give hitters a nice, long look at the baseball. 

Things began to click when he was acquired by the Cardinals for Brendan Ryan. In 2011, Cleto started the season in the Florida State League, then quickly moved up to Springfield. By June, he was in the big leagues and made two appearances out of the bullpen before moving down to AAA. The Cardinals insisted Cleto remain a starter and he logged 134.2 innings in the minors that season before returning to St. Louis in September. On the whole, Cleto pitched well in 2011, but he was shuttled around the system quite a bit.

The Cardinals committed Cleto to the bullpen in 2012. His numbers were inflated by a rough start to the season in which he allowed eight earned runs in his first four appearances. However, he settled down and put together a decent season and made a midseason transition to St. Louis, appearing in nine games. His command was improved, but far from great. He walked just two in nine innings, but allowed 13 hits and seven earned runs. On the (very) bright side - he struck out 15 hitters.

Fifteen strikeouts in nine Major League innings offered just a taste of his potential. It is what gets guys like me excited and is what excited the Mariners, Cardinals, and Royals. Still, the Cardinals kept Cleto in the rotation. He made nine starts in Memphis, and while he held opponents to a .228 average as a starter, he also held a 6.92 ERA at the time he was waived. 

While Cleto did not make an appearance for the Royals in 2013, he showed promise in Omaha. After a start in his first appearance (why?), Cleto worked the rest of the year out of the bullpen. He remained stretched-out, often working more than an inning and threw between 20-40 pitches per outing. Slowly but surely, his numbers improved and at the end of the year he had a 3.55 ERA (2.91 as a reliever) and held hitters to a .248 batting average (.232 out of the pen) - the second best mark of his career. He also kept the ball in the ballpark, allowing just one homer. In ten August appearances, Cleto allowed just two runs in 14.1 innings.

Cleto has allowed plenty of big innings, but he can put together long stretches of effectiveness. He does not have the secondary pitches needed to start, but if given the opportunity to work short outings out of the bullpen - and only be required to occasionally mix in his downward breaking ball - I believe he may be able to make an impact. 

I mean, the guy hits 100.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #25 Cam Gallagher

25. Cam Gallagher Catcher

Age: 21
Height: 6'3" 
Weight: 210
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft 

2013 Rank: 16

2012 Rank: 13

Landon Adams @Landon_Adams (25): Entering 2013, Gallagher was my breakout prospect pick in the Royal Revival preseason poll. If you asked me why I made Lancaster, Pennsylvania product my selection I would have pointed to his impressive approach at the plate, his glove skills, and his rumored power potential. A year later, I am still confident that Gallagher possesses those abilities despite his lackluster results in Lexington.

Full season ball can be a tough adjustment for any player, this is often especially true from players from colder climates. Not to make excuses for Gallagher, because he is from Pennsylvania, not Antarctica, but he hasn't played in the same volume of games as players from southern states. There is another caveat to Gallagher's 2013 results. He had the worst batting average on balls in play of all prospects listed in the 2014 Baseball America Handbook. 

Of course, a low babip doesn't necessarily mean hard luck for a player. It is always important to note that babip is in large part a reflection of how hard a player hit the baseball. In the case of Gallagher, his line drive percentage 14.6% was 2.3% lower than the South Atlantic League average. This ranked 34th among South Atlantic League players with at least 200 plate appearances. For a guy whose speed isn't winning any hits, a low line drive percentage is going to result in a low babip. It is easy to chalk up Gallagher's season to bad luck, but it should also be noted that he needs to start squaring up the ball more frequently before his babip can approach average levels.

Paden Bennett @PadenBennett22 (19): The 2nd round pick in 2011 hasn't really figured it out yet in his minor league career, but I have a feeling this year will be a year of Cam Gallagher turning the corner.  One of the main reasons he has struggled to find a rhythm is because of the plethora of injuries he has endured so far in his early career.  For some reason, I'm thinking those injuries will be put behind him this season and he will make strides in his development.  Gallagher has always had a good knack for talking walks and limiting his strikeouts; as shown by his 24BB:28SO last season in 222 at bats.  Like I said, I think this year Gallagher begins to make strides and stays injury free.

Joe Cox (23): Gallagher, a 2011 2nd round pick for the Royals, has struggled to get his professional career moving due in large parts to injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.  In 2013, Gallagher moved out of rookie leagues and up to the South Atlantic League, where he compiled 256 at bats.  He did not do much with these AB’s, as he hit only .212 with a .608 OPS, which may have been hurt a little by a low .231 BABIP, but his career thus far has shown (small sample size) that a low BABIP may be a part of his profile.Gallagher does impress with 24BB:28SO in 2013, which is a nice skill to have for a catcher.  

Gallagher threw out only 29% of base runners and needs to continue to learn the position, though there is no concern that he needs to be moved off of catcher, which is good because his bat is not good enough to play anywhere else.  I still see Gallagher as a guy who could reach the majors around 2016, but he will need to keep improving as he moves up the system and stay on the field, two things that are hard to project thus far. 

Dan Ware @Daniel_L_Ware (NR): 2013 was a disappointing season at the plate for Cam.  His slash line dipped dramatically, as he hit just above the Mendoza Line.  A line of .212/.302/.306 in 256 plate appearances with just 2 HR and 18 RBI doesn't look too appealing to most folks.  On the bright side, he has solid plate discipline, striking out just 10.9% of the time, well below the South Atlantic League average of 21.5%, while possessing a BB rate of 9.4%. Gallagher is also known for his defensive ability behind the plate, for which some scouts thought wouldn't last long.  Throwing out 29% of base runners last year and 26% in 2012, Cam has a strong arm and has shown promise for calling the game.  I see the 21 year old catcher to start 2014 in Lexington for a second straight season.  His numbers at the plate need a boost for him to move through the organization.  If he can do that, he has the makeup to be a Major League catcher.

Nicholas Ian Allen @NicholasIAllen (—): Cam Gallagher is a strong, young catching prospect that has really struggled in his professional career. Injuries have been a major concern, and were a big part of Gallagher’s 2013 season, his first year in a full-season league as a 20-year-old.

Gallagher played in just 66 games last season, catching 57. He started hitting .268/.300/.375 in April,  but missed six weeks with a hand injury that sidelined him until mid-June.  Upon his return, Gallagher had a rough time at the plate, hitting just .191/.269/.404 in June and 169/.291/.197 in July. His season ended in late August with a broken arm.

There were a handful of odd numbers for Gallagher in 2013: He hit righties (218/.318/.333) better than lefties (193/.254/.228). He hit far better in road games than at home (.261/.318/.333 to .159/.270/.215). He was better in day games than at night (.250/.348/.450 to .203/.292/.275) and he hit far above average in 15 games in the clean-up spot (.283/.316/.396) than elsewhere in the lineup (.189/.283/.278). Of course, those numbers are relatively small samples and may not mean much of anything other than Cam Gallagher had a rough 2013 season. 

While Gallagher has yet to figure things out as a hitter, he is a solid catching prospect. He has a strong arm and his receiving and handling are improving. In 2012, Gallagher threw out 26% of attempted base stealers and improved to 29% in 2013. At 6’3” and 210 pounds, his body size is ideal and should hold up to the stress of the position (of course we have not seen that to date). Some early indications mentioned Gallagher could profile to a first baseman or corner outfielder because of his power potential, but he certainly has not hit well enough for that yet. 

If he can stay healthy, Cam Gallager has the potential to become a big league catcher. That seems to be the key word with Gallagher to date: “potential.” With the Royals farm system thin behind the plate, and as a 2nd Round Pick, he will get every opportunity to succeed. Look for Gallagher to recover from injury and put together a solid season as a 21-year old in Lexington and Wilmington.

Total Points: 26

Monday, January 27, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #26 Alexis Rivera

26. Alexis Rivera Outfielder

Age: 19
Height: 6'2" 
Weight: 225
B/T: L/L
Acquired: Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 10th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft

2013 Rank: 39

Landon Adams (NR): Alexis Rivera failed to make my prospect list for 2014, but that isn't to say that I have lost my interest in the toolsy young outfielder. Despite what some would view as poor results in 2013 in Rookie League Idaho Falls, I expect that Rivera will open 2014 in Lexington. 

One thing that I'll keep my eye on in 2014 is Rivera's splits. For his career, he has hit .311/.387/.428 against righties, but just .263/.344/.375 against southpaws. Oddly enough his batted ball rates are virtually identical against both types of pitcher, but the problem has been a strikeout percentage that has been 4% higher against left handers. 

Paden Bennett (17): I rated Alexis Rivera the highest because of the upside I think he has.  Although that upside and power hasn't shown yet, I believe it will.  In the Pioneer League last season Rivera put up a .269/.349/.363 slash line.  Nothing that impressive.  However, Rivera has shown that he can take some pitches and work a walk.  This characteristic in a hitter always gives me hope that they one day will figure it out.  Rivera will turn just 20 this June so there is plenty of time for Rivera to start making strides.  He is a big kid for his age at 6'2" and 225 pounds so it's easy to fathom that he could eventually fulfill his power potential and begin hitting the long ball.  I look for Rivera to start in Idaho Falls with a chance to make it to Lexington.

Joe Cox (24): And we have yet another toolsy very young and far away outfield prospect on the list.  Rivera followed up a stellar 2012 in Arizona with an average year in the Pioneer league in 2013.  In 240 plate appearances, Rivera had a pedestrian .712 OPS with 4 homers and 9 stolen bases.  Statistically speaking, there is not much to take away here, though it is nice to see a 19 year show solid plate discipline, with a 9.6 BB% and a 15.4 SO%.   In last year’s write-up, I contended that the power potential is what makes Rivera a legitimate prospect, which is something we have yet to see at this time.  For right now, he remains in the mix of young outfielders without enough at-bats to know where they stand from a prospect status. 

Dan Ware (NR): Rivera's numbers plunged significantly after moving to Idaho Falls, but were still respectable.  Posting a .269/.349/.363 line for the Chukars, Alexis shows good patience in the batter's box with a 34/22 K/BB ratio.  He won't put on a power display as he only hit 4 HR in 240 appearances at the plate while compiling a 50.3% groundball and 18.7% flyball rate.  Considering Rivera is just 19 years old with good range in the OF and possesses good arm strength, he'll probably get a few more at-bats for the Chukars in 2014 before moving to Lexington.

Nicholas Ian Allen (--) Though his 2013 numbers do not sparkle as brightly as they did in his first professional season, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about Alexis Rivera. At just 19 years old, Rivera held his own in the Pioneer League. The Puerto Rico native and Kissimmee, FL high school product has a patient approach at the plate and the ability to set the table. He had a .386 OBP and 10 walks in 57 plate appearances (17.5%) leading off an inning as well as 17 walks in 120 plate appearances (14.2%) with the bases empty. His walk and strikeout ratios were very consistent from 2012 to 2013. 

The biggest upside for Rivera is power potential. Despite just seven home runs in two years in hitter friendly leagues, Rivera is a strong 6’2”, 225 lbs. He has a quick bat that produced many line drives. As he grows into his body, and potentially puts on more weight and muscle, look for the home run totals to rise. He should also drive in more runs. In 2013, Rivera hit .435 with runners on first base only, as opposed to just .206 with runners in scoring position.   

Due to a strong group of prospects in Idaho Falls, Rivera spent most of his time hitting in the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup (24 and 19 games, respectively). He appeared in 39 games in left field and 10 in right. Reports indicate Rivera’s arm is not exceptionally strong and despite nine stolen bases in 14 attempts,  he is not very fast. I believe he could see time at first base in the future (where he played some in high school) - provided he can hit enough for the position. 

Rivera will still be 19 at the start of the 2014 season, and he turns 20 in June. I expect him to open 2014 platooning in LF in Lexington. Based on his early production, he may move back to Idaho Falls for an everyday role in the middle of the order.

Total Points: 21

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Meet Nicholas Ian Allen

Hello Royals Fans!

Greetings from Ridgeland, Mississippi - my new home after spending the last three seasons as a front office executive with the Helena Brewers, Pioneer League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Prior to my stint in Helena, I spent three years teaching social studies and coaching baseball and football in Athens, Georgia - my home state.

Like my new best friends Dayton Moore and Ned Yost, I have roots with the Atlanta Braves. My coming of age as a baseball fan coincided with one of the most impressive runs ever for a Major League franchise. The 1990s were truly an ideal time to grow up in Atlanta. 

With that experience in mind, I have great optimism for the Kansas City Royals. The feel of the franchise reminds me of those late '80s and early '90s Braves teams. Built on a foundation of homegrown talent, with assembled veterans and a farm system that ranks among the best in baseball, the Royals will be a fun team to watch in 2014. I look forward to sharing my observations, insight and analysis with you. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Catching up on Minor League Signings

  • RHP Clayton Mortensen - Former Cardinals first round pick has posted a career 1.5 K:BB ratio. He'll return to the Royals organization after allowing 3 runs in 6 innings for the Storm Chasers in 2013. 
  • OF Edinson Rincon - After filing for Minor League free agency following the season, Rincon re-upped with the Royals organization for 2014. For his career the Santo Domingo native has hit .285/.354/.418. At just 23 years-old there could still be some upside for Rincon. He should open the season in Northwest Arkansas. 
  • RHP P.J. Walters - Another former Cardinals draftee, P.J. Walters was selected in the 11th round of the 2006 draft. Walters will be 29 on Opening Day and holds a 6.28 ERA over 5 seasons. 
  • RHP Wilking Rodriguez - Just 23, Rodriguez has spent his entire career in the Rays organization. During those seven seasons he has posted a 3.90 ERA. For his career he has allowed just 2.7 walks per 9 innings and struck out 8.2 per 9. Given his track record and age, I'd venture to say he offers much more upside than the previously mentioned relievers. 
  • 3B Brandon Laird - A corner infielder, Laird has played in 53 games at the highest level. Unfortunately, he's hit just .197/.255/.370 during his time in the Bigs. Laird was considered the Yankees 10th best prospect in the 2011 Baseball America handbook after coming off Eastern League MVP honors. At the time Laird was praised for good pitch recognition that it was predicted would allow him to hit for average as well as good power.
  • SS Brian Bocock - Over 687 career Minor League games, Bocock has hit .226/.297/.306. Last season, as a Triple-A player for the Pirates and Nationals he hit an even worse .175/.237/.287. In a way it is pretty impressive that a guy who has never OPS-ed over .656 for a season could have survived as a professional for this long. GRIT.
  • RHP Cory Wade - Wade is actually an interesting pickup and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him surface in Kansas City at some point in 2014. After all, it was just one year ago that Wade struck out 8.8 batters per 9 and walked just 1.8. Of course, what killed Wade was the 1.85 home runs that he allowed per 9, a problem that could be mitigated with a move to Kauffman Stadium. 
  • OF Johermyn Chavez - A 24 year-old outfielder whose highest level reached is Double A, Chavez will probably return to that level in 2014. Unfortunately, Chavez hasn't hit since his California League stint in 2010, when he torched the circuit by hitting .315/.387/.577.
  • OF Melky Mesa - Mesa's a career .400 hitter at the Major League level, albeit in just 15 at bats. As for his time in the minors, Mesa owns a career .246/.313/.438 triple slash. Mesa should spend 2013 in Omaha, but he'll serve as some additional depth for the Royals outfield corps in 2014. 
  • 2B Jason Donald - A 2009 Baseball American top 100 prospect, Donald was once included in the package that would bring Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. In the majors since that time Donald has failed to live up to the expectations, hitting just .257 over 170 career games. Donald spend the entirety of 2013 with the Louisville Bats and will return to AAA in 2014. 

  • C Ramon Hernandez - With the back up catcher role seemingly up in the air, Hernandez might have the best shot of all the Minor League signings at making the squad out of camp. At 37, the Venezuelan national has played 15 seasons at the Major League level. Last season he split time between the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he posted a .728 OPS and the Buffalo Bisons, where he played just 5 games.
  • RHP Brad Penny - Once upon the time Brad Penny was rated by Baseball America as the 5th best prospect in all of baseball. Since then, Penny has logged 1899 innings at the Major League level posting a career 4.26 ERA and recording 25.5 fWAR. Brad Penny didn't log an inning in 2013, after throwing 40 innings across 4 levels of the Giants organization in 2012. In Penny's last season long campaign, the 6'4" righty went 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA for the Tigers in 2011.
  • RHP Guillermo Mota - A reliever, Mota didn't pitch in 2013. This came despite posting solid peripheral numbers as a 38 year-old for San Francisco over 20 innings in 2012. Mota will be 40 in 2014, and will likely serve as an early season insurance policy for Kansas City as they stash him in Omaha, until he hangs up the cleats.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sluggerrr Is Better

You know how I know that Clark, the new mascot for the Chicago Cubs, is a pervert ...?

Even Sluggerrr was enough of a gentleman to keep his pants on ... 

That is all. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #27 John Lamb

27. John Lamb Left Handed Pitcher

Age: 23
Position: LHP
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 200
B/T: L/L
Acquired: Drafted in the 5th Round of the 2008 Amateur Draft
From: La Palma, CA

2013 Rank: 4

2012 Rank: 5

2011 Rank: 5

2010 Rank: 9

Landon Adams (29): There might not have been a bigger fan of John Lamb on this site than myself. Even when he underwent Tommy John surgery after his velocity was down at the start of 2011, I was impressed that he was able to post a 3.09 ERA over 8 Texas League starts. Considering that the success rate of Tommy John is approximately 90% now a days, I was confident that Lamb would return even better than before. Unfortunately, I have been proven wrong. 

I'm not ready just yet to totally count out John Lamb. This is evidenced by my ranking of him as 29th in the organization. However, this past season couldn't have been much worse for Lamb. Not only were his numbers down, but reports that his velocity was down was even more concerning. At one point in time Lamb could dial it up to 95, but reports last summer suggested that he was having trouble reaching the upper 80s. The faint glimmer of hope occurred late in the season when it was reported that he was hitting 90 for Wilmington. I do not recall these reports being validated by any other sources.

Hopefully, for Lamb it is simply of a slow rehabilitation process. Not everyone heals at the same rate. At this point though we approximately 2-1/2 years post surgery. If Lamb's velocity can return, he could shoot quickly through the system. If his velocity doesn't return he'll serve as a reminder that despite the improved success rates of Tommy John surgery, it is never a given that a pitcher will be the same guy again.

Paden Bennett (NR): I remember when I was extremely excited about John Lamb.  I thought he would one day be a potential ace for this organization and staff for many years to come.  Then the worst happened...Tommy John.  The horror story continued last year as he compiled a 5.63 ERA between Wilmington and Omaha.  His K rate dropped to 5.5% and his fastball velocity was in the mid 80's to upper 80s.  As much as I hope that John Lamb can come back and be something close to what he once was, I'm not optimistic that that is going to happen.

Joe Cox (NR):  Lamb, a former top prospect in the Royals system, spent much of 2013 as a 22 year old lefty at High A trying to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.  Lamb pitched a combined 48 innings in 2011/12, so the fact that he was able to make 22 starts last season is a good thing to see.  By the numbers, Lamb pitched good but not great in his 19 starts in high A, with an ERA of 5.63 and a FIP of 4.13.  The high ERA was due in large part to a below average LOB% as well as a .335 BABIP.  

Lamb did show excellent control and decent strikeout numbers, with a 1.85 BB/9 and 7.38 SO/9.  In three starts towards the end of the year in AAA, Lamb struggled, again struggling with runners on base, but this was a sample of just 16 innings.  How good Lamb will be moving forward will be strongly tied to his velocity. 

Lamb’s fastball typically sat in the 86-88 MPH range, at times hitting 91 MPH, which simply will not cut it in the Majors.  Some slack has to be given since he was coming back from TJS, but until we see an increased velocity it is hard to consider Lamb an important piece for Kansas City moving forward.  Youth is still on his side, and a healthy 2014 and increase in velocity could bring Lamb back in the mix as an upper echelon prospect.

Dan Ware (12):  Now 23 years old, John Lamb, the once top of the tier prospect for the Royals, is now simply fighting for a chance to stay in the organization.  Lamb threw 108.2 innings in both Wilmington and Omaha last season, posting a 5.63 ERA with a .335 BABIP, an 18.3% and 5.5% K and BB rates respectively.

Lamb's return to the mound since elbow surgery has been an exhausting one.  The velocity on his fastball, in Omaha, was sitting at 86-88 mph, which before his elbow issues occurred, usually sat around 89-93 mph.  Will we see the old John Lamb ever again? He's just now turned 23, so we have that going for us.  His 108 innings was his most on the mound since 2010, so I'm sure coaches will be cautious with John come Spring Training.  If he avoids setbacks and can gain some velocity, John should be back on track in no time.

Total Points: 21

Friday, January 10, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #28 Ramon Torres

28. Ramon Torres Short Stop

Age: 20
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 155 lbs
B/T: S/R
Acquired: Signed as non-drafted FA by the Kansas City Royals in 2009.

Landon Adams (16): Ramon Torres makes the Royal Revival top 30 countdown solely because of me. That's okay, I'll look forward to bragging about this one in September. As my colleagues have displayed, Torres is often the forgotten young prospect of the Arteaga-Calixte-Mondesi bunch. This is a mistake. Torres has an excellent blend of bat skills, good eye, and quality glove to stick at the position long term.

As a 20 year old in the pitcher friendly Applachian League he hit 30 points higher than league average and slugged 60 points better than his peers. upon a promotion to Lexington, Torres numbers dipped in large part due to an increased strikeout rate. One thing to note is that even during 42 difficult games with Lexington, the young Dominican still managed to hit line drives 6% more than the average South Atlantic League player, who also on average was 2 years older than Torres.

I look for Torres to rebound in 2014 and he is on the short list of position prospects that I will consider for my breakout prospect pick for 2014.

Paden Bennett (NR): Once Ramon Torres got promoted to Lexington last season he really struggled compiling a .218/.274/.264 slash line.  Nothing impressive.  However at age 20, Torres still has a lot of potential and has shown that he can put together good at bats by his walk rate and limiting his strikeouts.  Hopefully Torres will start in Lexington and make strides this season.

Joe Cox (NR): Torres is a 20 year old switch hitting shortstop who has been with the organization since 2010, and this season made his first at bats above rookie league baseball.  While he didn’t fare well in those 87 AB’s, he has had a solid career up to this point in the lower minor leagues.  At the plate, the 5’10’’ 155 lb. shortstop has shown the ability to draw walks while limiting strikeouts.  He does not have much power, but has hit for a decent average to make him a decent OBP player.  Last year, he significantly cut down his walks and strikeouts, but I wonder if he was coached to try to make as much contact as he could.

I don’t know much about him defensively, but it does look like he played some second base, though I am not sure if that implies that he may not be able to stick at short.  Basically any middle infield prospect with a pulse has value, and Torres is better than that.  We will answer a few questions this year during his year in a full season league.  

Dan Ware (NR):  Last season, Torres split up his time between both Rookie level Burlington and Low-A Lexington.  Ramon, who turns 21 in January, fared well in the Appalachian League, posting a line of .278/.306/.420 with 3 HR and 20 RBI.  Once he got the promotion to Lexington, he clearly struggled as his BA dipped 60 points.  Torres has a good discipline at the plate and is considered above-average on the base paths.  At shortstop, he has decent range and a plus, but Ramon is still years away from seeing Kansas City.  It would be no surprise to see him start 2014 in Lexington.  He'll need a better showing against South Atlantic League pitching before going any further in this organization.

Total Points: 15

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A quick and dirty look at xBB% and x SO%

Every winter I try to increase my baseball forecasting knowledge in one way or another.  This is not the easiest thing for me to do in large part due to my lack of advanced math skills and lack of time (or effort, but I am going to say time).  Two years ago I compiled my spreadsheet of baseball players with a number of different stats from the previous season, but didn’t really include any predictive measures other than using my common sense.  Last year was my first year purchasing Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster.  Using his 2013 projections along with ZiPs projection and the prior two season statistics, I tried to get a quick look at average projections in triple slash statistics for both pitchers and hitters.  This work has been based mostly on willingness of time spent rather than amount of thought used, which isn’t really so bad, and I did find some interesting results using predictive skills of baseball minds much smarter than myself. 
This year I have yet to do too much, as in my mind I want to use expected 2013 measures and use aging curve data to try to predict how this data will increase or decrease.  For hitters, using Fangraphs xBABIP, xBB%, xSO%, normalized HR/FB and LOB% along with aging curve changes seem to be my best bet for predicting future success.  But doing this all at once in an intelligent manner is becoming hard, especially since I try to do all this during my down time at work (shhh). 
Anyways, using Mike Podhorzer’s interesting formulas for expected walk and strike outpercentages, I wanted to see if any Royals had any major differences from their actual results.  First, the hitters: (sorry for messy formatting)
From these results I see a couple interesting things:
-Continuing concern for Billy Butler: By the equation, Butler very well could be walking at a higher rate than his current skill set, along with striking out less than his expected output.  Couple this with a BABIP that came back down to earth in 2013, and a career low ISO last year and there is reason for concern.  If we do see a power uptick from Butler next season, it could come at the expense of some walks and more strikeouts, leading to a decrease in BA and OBP.  Still, Butler turns just 28 next season and 2012 isn’t that long ago, so he is a hard guy to project offensively moving forward.  I am not overly optimistic, however.
-It is no fluke that Perez and Escobar do not walk: In fact, xBB% numbers gave both a lower percentage than the very low levels of last season.  Obviously, offense is not really the reason these two are in the starting lineup.  Perez does display a serviceable offensive skillset for a guy with his defensive reputation, age, and contract.  I do not see him suddenly figuring out how to take a walk, I think the skillset we see now is more or less what he is.  Escobar has some pretty serious issues offensively, basically nullifying the defensive value he gives to the team, and he is an elite defensive shortstop.  A positive for Escobar, his BABIP last season was .264, his expected BABIP was .338.  Even without this nugget, it goes without saying that there is nowhere to go but up for Escobar’s bat in 2014. 
-Alex Gordon is the team’s best hitter: Alex Gordon turns 30 next month, and I have little reason to expect much regression if any from him in 2014.  I have never been a huge fan of Gordon, but he is a clear above average player and should be a cog in the lineup wherever they put him this season.  Gordon’s walk percentage went down from 10.1 to 7.4 from 2012 to 2013, but if you believe in his xBB% figure it is fair to expect a rebound in walks in 2014. 
-Norichika Aoki is a weird player: As far as I am concerned Aoki and Andrelton Simmons have the weirdest batted ball profiles in the major leagues.  While Aoki’s xSO% was a tick higher than his actual total, he still was expected to strike out about half the amount of everyone on the Royals save Salvador Perez last season.  He makes a crazy amount of contact, the best of qualified hitters last year, and if you trust LD% he would have one of the lowest percentages in the league. For two years, he has been short of his xBABIP by about 50 points, which is why The Spitter loves him.  I was wondering if Aoki’s crazy strike out totals were at all fluky, but they seem to not be.  I am comfortable saying he is the best in the game at making contact, even if he isn’t hitting the ball all that hard sometimes.
I don’t know what this means at all for the 2014 Royal’s, but I did find this to be a sort of interesting exercise.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #29 Robinson Yambati

29. Robinson Yambati Right Handed Pitcher

Age: 22
Height: 6'3" 
Weight: 185
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent

2013 Rank: 19

2012 Rank: 28

2011 Rank: 16

Landon Adams (NR): It was only a few years ago that Robinson Yambati and Yordano Ventura were paired together. Unlike Ventura, Yambati met some control issues that have really held back his development. During that time it was also determined that Yambati's career would be best suited for the bullpen. I still like Yambati as a reliever and I think there is good upside there. Before he can make a mark he'll need to improve his control. If he does he could be a quick riser.

Paden Bennett (21): Like Michael Mariot I had hopes that Yambati would be a back of the rotation groundball starter.  However, it does not look like this is going to come to fruition either.  Yambati gets a ton of groundballs at a 52% clip but struggles with his command.  Also, his fastball is nothing special sitting in the 88-91 range but his three-quarter delivery does tend to give hitters problems with some deception.  For this reason I could see him being a really solid bullpen guy in the future if he can learn to better command his pitches.

Joe Cox (NR):  Robinson Yambati will be 23 by opening day 2014, but will actually be entering his 6th season within the Royal’s organization.  Yambati spent 2013 in A+ compiling 35.1 innings in 25 games.  He has a stellar strikeout rate (10.7 K/9) despite the fact that his fastball only hits 88-91.  He throws at a 3/4th angle and uses deception to miss bats.  He also misses the plate however, as his command took a step backwards last season walking 4.58 batters per nine innings.  Yambati does induce lots of groundballs, but his control and the likelihood that he remains in the pen gives him limited upside moving forward.  Hopefully we will see a decrease in walks without sacrificing many strikeouts, otherwise he is more of a depth piece within the organization than a potential high leverage relief arm. 

Dan Ware (27): Unlike prospect Michael Mariot, Yambati has been a model of inconsistency.  The past 2 seasons, the soon to be 23 year old has been a reliever in High-A Wilmington. 2012 was a good year as he posted a 2.16 ERA in 25 IP and had an impressive 3.10 K/BB.  Then last year, in 35.1 IP, Carolina League hitters felt a little more comfortable at the plate it seemed, raising Yambati's ERA up to 3.82, the highest it's been since '09.  Still, you can't ignore the fact that Robinson has a low to mid 90's heater, he posts good K/BB numbers, and his career ground ball rate is at a nice 52%, thanks to his three-quarter delivery.  If all goes well for Yambati, he should start his 7th year in the organization as a member of the NWA Naturals.

Total Points: 14

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sign and Trade for Kendrys Morales?

MLB Network's Jim Duquette provided the Royals with these two tweets yesterday afternoon. At this point I have a hard time believe that all of the Billy Butler smoke is only that. We've heard so many variations of the sign X player to DH and trade Billy Butler rumor that I have a hard time doubting this sort of thing is actually being discussed.

I theorized as to why the Royals might be so eager to shop Billy Butler here and most if not all of these points remain true today. Whether or not a trade and signing would improve the ball club obviously hinges on the return that Bill Butler could bring in a trade. Personally, I don't see the return being enough to warrant such a move.

Also. worth consideration in these rumors is that they often involve signing a player who has a draft pick attached. Looking at the big picture, in order for the Royals to truly come out ahead in a Butler trade and FA signing, the return for Butler would both have to be more valuable than a 1st round pick while also accommodating for the difference between production from Butler and the FA signing. A return this strong is hard to envision.

Here is a look at how Butler and Morales compare in a few different projections systems:

  • Steamer
    • Butler: .293/.373/.467 with a .363 wOBA worth 2.4 WAR
    • Morales: .275/.334/.467 with a .346 wOBA worth 1.6 WAR
  • Oliver
    • Butler: .288/.368/.419 with a .345 wOBA worth 1.1 WAR
    • Morales: .278/.338/.461 with a .346 wOBA worth 1.6 WAR
  • The Spitter (my own creation)
    • Butler: .301/.377.455 with a .364 wOBA worth 2.7 WAR
    • Morales: .293/.344/.481 with a .354 wOBA worth 2.2 WAR
  • Averages of the above projections
    • Butler: .294/.373/.447 with a .357 wOBA worth 2.1 WAR
    • Morales: .282/.339/.470 with a .349 wOBA worth 1.8 WAR
Basically, on average Butler is slightly more valuable as a designated hitter than Kendrys Morales. Again the complication with this deal is that the Royals need to obtain enough value for Butler to account for the loss of a 1st round pick that would come with a Morales signing. Of course, no team is going to overspend for Butler to compensate the Royals for a draft pick that they would lose in a separate transaction. This creates a problem for Kansas City, who rightly should view these two moves as one in the same.

One way that the problem of a draft pick could be defeated would be a sign and trade with Seattle. The Mariners have long had interest in Billy Butler and even this offseason have been rumored to have kicked the tires on Bill the Thrill. If the Mariners signed Morales and then flipped him to Kansas City the Mariners could grab the DH they've long sought, while the Royals could bring in Morales without losing a draft pick. Of course, in order for this to make sense for Kansas City, another piece would also have to go to the Royals to make this work.

If it is true that Kansas City is seeking pitching in return for Butler, then we would have to assume that in order for this deal to make sense, Seattle would sign Morales and then trade him to Kansas City with a Major League ready starter for Billy Butler. A few names that could fit this mold would be Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, or James Paxton. We know the Royals were hot and heavy on Paxton a year ago, but would they be able to return him in this sort of deal?

Complicating matters even further, the Mariners should also view this deal in the sense that they would be losing their right to a 1st round pick that could have been gained through compensation. Perhaps, the Mariners with their eyes set on 2014 would ignore this detail, but I have to think it would hurt the potential return that Kansas City could get for Butler.

Personally, I think this sort of route would be a creative solution by both the Mariners and Royals. I wouldn't consider this sort of move the Royals had to lose a draft pick. However, if the Royals can move Butler as they obviously are inclined to do, I'd prefer it to come in a situation like this. If a Morales plus Paxton or Ramirez deal was worked out, I think it is the kind of deal that would make sense for Kansas City. Ultimately, if none of this comes to fruition, the Royals will do just fine with Butler at DH.