Most off-season talk is being devoted to the Royals farmhands anchoring Team USA through the qualifying round of the 2010 Pan Am Games. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have started every game helping Team USA to a 9-1 showing to start off qualifications. Meanwhile, 60% of the starts have gone to Royals southpaws, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, and Everett Teaford. Tim Collins is the icing on the cake, the undersized reliever leads Team USA’s bullpen in appearances.
While not playing internationally Hosmer, Duffy, and Montogomery stay busy in the Arizona Fall League playing for the Surprise Rafters. The Royals sent pitcher Patrick Keating, pitcher Brandon Sisk, outfielder Derrick Robinson, and second baseman Johnny Giavotella along with the threesome to sharpen their game in the AFL.
Everywhere you look, Royals prospects are beginning to pop up at every minor league level. All of a sudden it isn’t just a few standouts. When guys who aren’t featured as top level prospects begin to perform like youngsters Giavotella and catcher Wil Myers have, everyone else around the league takes notice.
It all started with the regime shift. With fresh minds in the front office, the Royals were more willing to give the top level talents in the draft the money they wanted. The money the Royals have spread across the amateur drafts is now beginning to show some impact. A perfect example is the 20 year old lefty who won the Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. Consider this, Kansas City has a minor league with such a depth of prospects, the winner of the most prestigious pitching award for Royals prospects, isn’t even one of the guys playing for Team USA or the Rafters.
On September 1, 2010, the Kansas City Royals named John Lamb as the Paul Splittorf Pitcher of the Year. Lamb is a perfect example of a kid a more conservative Royals front office wouldn’t have invested in. Lamb was a top level high school talent, but wanted six figures and had missed his entire senior season due to a car accident. The Royals put down $165,000 on the 6’3’’ lefty in the fifth round of the 2008 amateur draft. The Royals approach in the 2008 draft was dead on.
The 2008 MLB draft class has already began its impact on the league. First rounders Andrew Cashner (Cubs), Ike Davis (Mets), Brett Wallace (Astros), Justin Smoak (Mariners), Brian Matsuz (Orioles), Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), and Gordon Beckham (White Sox) all have already made their way to the big leagues. The draft class is probably headed by a guy still making a huge impact on the World Series, the Giants catcher Buster Posey.
The Royals took away a pretty impressive haul from the large pool of talent. The Royals spent their first six picks on Hosmer, Montgomery, Giovatella, RHP Tyler Sample, RHP Tim Melville, and Lamb. Hosmer and Montgomery’s success has been well documented. Sample and Melville haven’t put up as impressive numbers, but are still considered high talent prospects.
Giovatella started the 2010 year off in AA Northwest Arkansas. He had the best season of his young, three year career posting a line of: .322/.395/.460, 35 2B, 9 HR, 65 RBIs, and 13 SB. Giovatella was named a 2010 Texas League All-Star. He was a mainstay at second base and in the number two spot in the Natural’s lineup. He played in 134 games for the Texas League Champions.
He’s now extended his career year into the first few weeks of the AFL. Giovatella leads the Rafters in hitting and doubles at .448 and seven, respectively. He also leads the team in total bases (23) thanks to his first AFL dinger on October 22.
Lamb has had a similar success through his first two professional seasons.
Considering he hadn’t pitched in over a year, there weren’t many expectations for the Laguna Beach, California, native. Lamb impressed so much he was promoted to Idaho Falls after only six starts in Burlington. This year he started his season in Class A and ended it in AA, contributing to the Texas League crown. As Lamb progressed from Class A to high A, his numbers improved across the board.
In 2010 Lamb threw 147.2 innings, with a 2.38 ERA, while striking out 159 and only allowing 45 free passes. He had two postseason starts, posting a 3.12 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8 SO, 4 BB, in 8.2 innings of work.
Lamb has been praised for his pitching intelligence and mound awareness. He is an extremely talented athlete, hitting .396 in his junior year. Some saw him as a hitting prospect, a ‘John Mabry’ type stick. Lamb gets his fast ball into the low 90’s, with a change up as his best off-speed threat. The Baseball America 2010 Prospect Handbook described Lamb as, “a 19 year who pitches like a major league veteran, never getting rattled.”
Since Dayton Moore has arrived, there have been many comparisons to the shape of the Royals farm system and the Braves of the 90’s. Lamb’s free flowing, natural motion, along with his athletic background naturally draw comparisons to Braves workhorse Tom Glavine.
Glavine was drafted out of high school in the second round of the 1984 MLB Draft. Glavine displayed similar athleticism in high school, earning a selection in round four of the 1984 NHL Draft as well. The L.A. Kings gambled on Glavine, but ultimately lost out to the Braves.
In reality, Lamb’s high school injury setback his major league arrival by a year. His first two years in pro ball mirror Glavine’s first two years though.
Glavine – 11-9, 2.65 ERA, 143 H, 86 BB, 201 IP
Lamb – 15-10, 2.83 ERA, 179 H, 65 BB, 230 SO, 216.1 IP
Glavine, age 20, began his third year at AA, finishing his year in AAA. Glavine made his MLB debut the next season at age 21. Lamb, who turned 20 in July, seems to be leading a similar path. Expect a mid-season Omaha call-up if Lamb continues his progress. Even if he doesn’t hit the big leagues for a September call-up two years from now, he will still only be 22.
His arrival would coincide with the projected Kansas City arrivals of multiple other highly touted prospects. Glavine’s arrival was complimented by the debut of John Smoltz. A couple years later Braves brass lured Greg Maddux away from the Cubs to complete their famous trio.
Royals’ fans hope the pitching depth will ultimately provide a similar threesome for the future. Many expect the Royals to earn the award for the top minor league organization in baseball. The 2009 winner, the Rangers, can attest what the award means. The Rangers farm has been built on pitching depth and complimented by kickbacks from trading homegrown prospects like Mark Teixeira. The Rangers received shortstop Elvis Andrus and reliever Netalfi Feliz in the deal.
Many have criticized the Braves for overextending. Top MLB level talent comes at a steep price though. This is the type of price Zack Greinke would command. I’m not suggesting a trade, but at this point in the process it’s a mistake to ignore it.
It’s possible the Royals will enhance their roster through free agency and trade over the next few years. But the stars of the future are already within the core of talent surging through the minors now. The Royals amassed so much talent, it will be interesting how many will eventually make a big league impact. With the likes of Lamb leading the way, it is beginning to be undeniable the twenty something’s will be making a splash soon.