The AA Northwestern Arkansas Naturals won the deciding fifth game on the strength of Jefferson City, Missouri native Clint Robinson. Robinson, the Texas League Triple Crown winner, went 4-5 with three doubles and four RBIs to lead the Nats to an 8-4 win over the Springfield Cardinals. The 6’4’’, 225 pound left handed first baseman ran a line of .335 BA, 29 HR, 98 RBI to take the Triple Crown. The win sets up a rematch of last year’s finals with the Midland RockHounds, an Oakland Athletics affiliate.
The real story of the series though was the breakthrough performance by first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer homered in the first four games of the series before being held hitless in game five. After a game three win the Cardinals were only one victory away from advancing, but ran into a few hot left handed bats for the Nats which doused their Championship hopes. In game four Hosmer hit a two run homer in the first allowing the Nats to jump to an early lead. Trailing 5-4 in the top of the eighth, Hosmer stepped up again and hit another two run dinger relinquishing the lead for good, 6-5. Those late game heroics turned into early momentum for the Nats in game five, scoring seven runs in the first two innings.
Robinson was a 25th round pick of the Royals in the 2007 First year player draft. He attended Troy Univeristy, in Troy, Alabama. He hit .364 along with a team-leading 17 homers and 71 RBIs in his senior season for the Trojans. Those numbers were good enough to earn Robinson 2nd team All-American and 1st team All Sun Belt honors. Robinson made his professional debut with the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League. He went on the lead the league in RBIs (66), ranked second in homers (15), fifth in slugging percentage (.593), extra base hits (34), total bases (150), along with the eight best batting average (.336). This was enough to earn Pioneer League MVP honors in 2007. Since, Robinson has put together solid years while working his way up the organization. None compared to his Texas League Triple Crown worthy season of 2010, only the second time it’s been accomplished since 1927.
Not to take anything away from Robinson, it must be noted before Mike Moustakas was promoted to Omaha he was competing for the same crown. Moustakas actually had a higher batting average by 12 points, and at season’s end only trailed Robinson by eight homers and 22 RBIs. Those are numbers which surely would have been surpassed considering Moustakas had 218 less at-bats than Robinson at Northwestern Arkansas.
The common thread with all three of these guys is they are left handed corners. It has been well documented by media outlets the Royals have a potential logjam to worry about in a few years. Their most productive offensive player is Billy Butler, who is stuck at first because of dreadful defense early in his career. With all four of these guys, along with Kila Ka’aihue most likely on the outside looking in, fans can begin to see the strategy being deployed by the Royals brass. They are all big strong corners with the ability to be in the middle of the line-up and carry the offense.
That being said you can look around the field and see similar trends at different positions. Taking a look at the outfield farmhands it is mostly a group of spray hitting, extremely fast players, who usually lack power. This apparently is the type of player the Royals feel fit the teams needs best. Kauffman has a lot of space in the outfield, these types of guys will be able to track balls down in the gap that players like Jose Guillen could not in the past. It is simple to see guys like Jai Miller, Jarrod Dyson, and Derrick Robinson are all created in the same mold. It’s also no mistake the guys the front office signed to play the outfield this season were Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. Podsednik is the type of player I spoke previously about to a tee. Although Ankiel struggled with injuries and was never really accepted in Kansas City, he was brought in mainly for his defense.
The Royals feel they can sacrifice some offensive production in the outfield, as long as it is made up for in defense and on the base paths. There are two comments usually heard about the speed players like Dyson and Robinson possess, ‘you can’t teach speed’ and ‘speed never goes into slumps’. With heavy hitting corners the Royals don’t need five tool superstars to roam the outfield. Instead they need players that complement the others in their organization. Guys able to play defense and get on base are the perfect balance to their corner players. All of which are guys capable of knocking the ball out of the park, but have suspect defense and won’t be swiping a bag anytime soon.
Since the new ownership has come into power, it is easy to see where the focus is and how they are going to do their jobs. The only way to create a successful baseball organization is from the ground up. The way the game is taught and played needs to be the same for the 18 year old kids in the Arizona Rookie League as it is for Greinke and Butler. This creates an atmosphere of winning baseball at every level throughout the organization.
Don’t believe me? In 2009 the Royals roster was comprised of the lowest percentage of homegrown players in all of baseball except the Astros (Finished second to last in NL Central in front of the Pirates). For those of you naysayer out there thinking this is some sort of aberration, take a look at the top five AL teams on the list; New York Yankees (56%), Detroit Tigers (52%), Los Angeles Angels (52%), Boston Red Sox (48%) and Minnesota Twins (48%). Hmmm… coincidence, I think not. The Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, and Twins represented the AL in the playoffs. To take it even further the top two NL teams on the list were the Colorado Rockies (68%) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (48%), also both playoff teams.
Even the Evil Empire who is constantly criticized for over paying the top free agent talent understands the significance of player development. Most world champions aren’t built on the strength of creating a compellation of superstars. Instead it is a precise mixture of players who understand their roles on the team and know how to win. These are all things bred in the minor leagues. Sure all the teams listed have superstars, but they only get to hit once every nine batters just like everyone else in the game. Teams don’t get to pick who comes up when the game is on the line in the playoffs. That is why this game is so great, because a lot of the time it doesn’t come down to A-Rod. Instead it falls on the back of a journeyman utility player just called up from AAA, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
The First Year drafts, along with international amateur signings are the most cost effective and efficient way to create a roster. Free agent signings call for big, long contracts that don’t always go the way teams plan. The perfect example is the $55 million man, Gil Meche. When healthy, Meche’s talent is undeniable. Injuries are a part of the game though, and the Royals don’t get any discounts or refunds because Meche has run into arm problems. The current trend for the younger superstars in the MLB is to stick around with the organization in which they came up. Joe Mauer just inked an eight year deal to stay in the Twin Cities. Evan Longoria, possibly the best third baseman in the game, signed a nine year, $44 million contract, to turn Tampa into a threat for the next decade. $44 million??? I guarantee you every Royals fan would enjoy having Longoria around instead of Meche, while saving $11 million.
When teams bring in a group of young talented ball players working their way through the organization it breeds success. These guys have been playing with each other for years as pro ball players and learn to pull for each other. Two of the best examples I can give are the previously mentioned Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays were well documented losers, not even able to break 20,000 at the box office for most of their existence. All of a sudden though, there was an influx of young homegrown talent that blew the doors of Tropicana Field. B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Reid Brignac, David Price, Andy Sonnastine, Wade Davis, Dan Wheeler, and now Jermey Hellickson are all homegrown Rays. If you were wondering this is nearly half of the second best team in baseball.
The Twins are another well documented small market team, consistently finding ways to win. The Twins have bred Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Scott Baker, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Nick Blackburn from high school draft picks to the core of most likely the 2010 AL Central Champs. With Ron Gardenhire at the helm, the Twins are notorious for playing sound baseball. Playing team baseball, solid defense, minimizing errors, and finding ways to win (small-ball) are all traits associated with the Twins.
On Monday the 24 man roster for the Pan-Am Games Qualifying Team was announced. A quarter of the team was made up by Royals minor leaguers. Kansas City sends more prospects (6) than any other MLB organization. The next closest squad was the Rockies (3). Left handed pitchers (another trending player mold with KC) Tim Collins, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, and Everett Teaford, as well as infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were asked to join Team USA.
The Royals Assistant GM in charge of scouting and player development, J.J. Picollo, had this to say about the Royals presence on Team USA in an interview with MLB.com’s Benjamin Hill.
“One thing we tend to do as an industry is overvalue our own players,” he said. “But [the Royals] don’t have any say in who Team USA adds to the roster, so this serves as an affirmation that we’ve got some good players.
The [Team USA] scouts recognized the ability of our players and put them on their recommendation sheets,” he added. “And as the committee went through their selection process, they saw that a lot of our players would make a good fit for the club. We’re proud that they’re on the team.”
While the Royals season sputters to an end, seeing the youngsters come from behind in a playoff series is refreshing. This along with national officials holding Royals prospects in such high regard are good barometers to measure whether the Royals can turn from worst to first, a la the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.