Wilmington Hurlers Could Prove Valuable Currency

“Pitching is the currency of baseball.”

Dayton Moore is fond of saying it. He seems to believe it. He’s traded more than one big league position player for minor league pitching prospects. He’s built up an arsenal of arms that is the envy of league.

The strategy seems to be paying off. Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress are already vital cogs in the bullpen. Sean O’Sullivan has yet to succeed, but he’s another young member of the pitching staff.

The overhaul will continue if and when Mike Montgomery, Daniel Duffy and John Lamb show they are ready to make the jump from Omaha to the big leagues.

But there is another crop of pitchers who aren’t as close to making the big league club, who are worth keeping an eye on.

In order to craft a championship-caliber roster, you have to mine the various sources of talent. High school and college draftees, international talent, players acquired by trade and via free agency.

Four youngsters, all arriving via very different paths, are laboring in Wilmington trying to add their names to the list of hot prospects in the Royals’ system. While not lacking talent, each is finding the path to the big leagues is hardly a smooth one.

Tim Melville – A Missouri high school graduate, Melville was projected as a first rounder in 2008. Because teams feared his contract demands, however, Melville dropped in the draft. He was taken in the fourth round, ahead of Lamb, and had similar expectations placed on him as Montgomery, a 2008 second rounder.

Standing 6-5 and lighting up the radar gun, Melville looks the part. But while Montgomery and Lamb rose steadily through the system, Melville sputtered.

He had an ok 2009 at Burlington, but 2010 was a disaster. Melville bombed at Wilmington last year, going 2-12 with a 4.97 ERA.

This year, after a rough opening-day start, Melville put together a five-hit, seven-strikeout second outing. Though he’ll be 22 by season’s end, the Royals would be best to not rush Melville. He needs to limit walks and homers and prove he can be effective at Wilmington.

Noel Arguelles – This 21 year-old has encountered the most obstacles of the Wilmington prospects. A defector from Cuba, the Royals committed $7 million in a bidding war without seemingly knowing a ton about him. He showed up unable to pitch, worn out from countless tryouts and exhibitions to get signed. He underwent shoulder surgery last August.

Royals fans bemoaned the signing. They watched fellow Cuban signee Aroldis Chapman light up big league radar guns while their own version remained hidden in the shadows. For months, fans had no idea where Arguelles was or if he’d ever put on a uniform.

Finally, 15 months after signing, Arguelles made his first appearance in the U.S. on April 11. He displayed some of the skill the Royals front office envisioned. He threw four shutout innings, yielding just two hits.

On Sunday, Arguelles posted the same line in his second start, going four innings again while allowing two hits. In his second outing, Arugelles added 5 strikeouts. The Royals have shown they will be very cautious with this costly commodity. But Arguelles’ two starts are cause for optimism.

Kevin Chapman – He’s already 23, but is highly regarded as a relief specialist out of the University of Florida. Taken in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, the Royals hope he can move quickly through the farm system.

Chapman gave up a lot of hits and runs coming out of the pen in Wilmington last season. But he’s already notched two saves this year. Look for him to jump to AA before long.

Jake Odorizzi – The last of the four acquired by the Royals, Odorizzi came as a piece of the Zack Greinke trade last December. The other three players acquired in exchange for Greinke challenged immediately for big league roster spots. But Odorizzi was a coveted prospect that sweetened the deal for the Royals. A supplemental draft first rounder in 2008, Odorizzi was the Brewers’ number one pitching prospect.

Odorizzi has not been rushed. He spent 2009 and 2010 on Brewers A-ball clubs. Now 21 years old, he’s still working at the A-ball level. But he has shown enough to warrant a number 37 ranking on MLB.com’s list of the top 50 prospects, released in January.

In 2010, the right-hander gave up just 40 walks over 120 innings while striking out 135 at the Brewers’ Wisconsin farm club.

Odorizzi gave up just four hits and a run over four innings in his first Royals start on April 10. But his second start, which came on Sunday, was rocky. He yielded four runs in just three innings. Still, he should be ready to make the jump to AA sometime this season.

Most of the enjoyment Royals fans have had over the last decade has come from scouring the Internet for information about the farm system. Hopefully the big league club is turning the corner of respectability, and the minor league watch won’t be our only source of diversion.

But keeping an eye on future prospects can be telling. The Royals’ development of talented young hurlers will be integral to future success.

Identifying talent, drafting it and signing it is one thing. Then you must develop it, nurture it, and advance it strategically. Keep an eye on these four as a gauge of how well the Royals develop talent.

If pitching truly is “the currency of baseball,” it is incumbent upon the Royals to develop as many of these talents as possible. Not only does KC need to improve upon the ragtag rotation it currently fields, but it would benefit from having excess arms to deal to fill other holes in the organization. The four at Wilmington could turn out to be some valuable currency.

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