Royals Farm Report: September 8th
Taking a season-long perspective as playoffs begin
In the postseason for the first time in 12 years, the Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League) won Wednesday’s first game of their opening-round playoff series against the Round Rock Express. The Storm Chasers are now just five wins away from capturing a PCL championship and a berth in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain showed that he has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. After exhausting his big-league rookie eligibility with Milwaukee in 2010, Cain spent all of 2011 with the Storm Chasers and hit .312 with a .380 on-base percentage, and cracked 28 doubles and 16 home runs. Right there with Cain is Clint Robinson, who hit .326 and led the club with 26 homers and 100 RBI. On the mound, right-hander Luis Mendoza posted a 2.18 ERA, a phenomenal figure in the hitter-friendly environs of the PCL as he seeks another shot in the major leagues. Finally, reliever Kelvin Herrera began the season without any experience above Class-A but excelled at three levels, striking out 18 in 17 innings with the Storm Chasers. He appears nearly ready to uncork his blazing arsenal against big league hitters and should get every opportunity to do just that in 2012.
Kila Ka’aihue put together another solid performance with Omaha, hitting .272 with a .379 on-base percentage in 95 games. But after struggling with Kansas City in the first month of the season, he may have fallen behind Robinson on the organizaton’s depth chart. After beginning spring training on the Royals’ 40-man roster, Lance Zawadzki spent significant time at both second base and shortstop but struggled at the plate, hitting just .233.
Mike Montgomery had an inconsistent campaign with the Storm Chasers, his first taste of the Triple-A level. Though his basic numbers (5-11, 5.32 ERA) do not impress, the southpaw did strike out a team-high 129 batters this season and showed glimpses of why he is considered one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball.
A late-season charge put the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas League) into the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The team opened the first round by losing to the in-state rival Arkansas Travelers, 2-1, in 11 innings on Wednesday.
In his first season in the Royals’ organization, right-hander Jake Odorizzi took a big step forward in his development, spending just a half-season at Advanced-A Wilmington before joining the Naturals. Though Odorizzi struggled with the home run ball in the Texas League, he fired seven one-hit innings in his final start of the regular season and posted a 54/22 strikeout/walk rate with the Naturals. Left-hander Will Smith was a solid presence in the rotation who improved as the season progressed. Smith led the Texas League with 13 wins and 161 1/3 innings pitched, earning Naturals Pitcher of the Year honors.
Challenged with an aggressive assignment to Double-A, Christian Colon was a steady presence near the top of the Naturals’ lineup, but hit a middling .257 with just 24 extra-base hits in 127 games. Toward the end of the season, Colon spent a bit more time at second base, where some think his future could reside. Reliever Patrick Keating was crucial to the Naturals’ bullpen during the 2010 championship run but battled injuries and ineffectiveness this season, allowing nine home runs in just 38 innings.
Wil Myers battled through a pair of freak knee injuries in the early part of the season and did not have a chance to truly establish himself until the second half. Still, at just 20 years old, Myers displayed an impressive eye at the plate (a .353 on-base percentage despite a .254 batting average) and hit for more power in the season’s final month. In some ways, it was a tale of two seasons for Chris Dwyer. The 23-year-old southpaw struggled to harness his stuff in the first half of the season but went 6-1 in his final nine starts. Most importantly, Dwyer stayed healthy all season after his 2010 was cut short due to a back injury. John Lamb appeared on his way to a solid season before going down with Tommy John surgery in early June. After rehab and recovery, Lamb probably won’t be ready for action until mid-season next year at the earliest, but with his arsenal and pitchability, there’s no reason to believe the southpaw won’t succeed upon his return.
The lone full-season Royals affiliate to miss the postseason, the Wilmington Blue Rocks finished the 2011 season at 66-72. The club did finish the year on a high note, entertaining the Frawley Stadium crowd with a sweep of the Frederick Keys on the final three days of the season.
Many of the team’s top early-season performers – Odorizzi, infielder Rey Navarro and southpaw reliever Kevin Chapman in particular – ended the season with Northwest Arkansas. Among those to spend the second half with the Blue Rocks, Yem Prades hit .289 in his first taste of baseball in the United States. The 23-year-old Cuban defector still needs to work on his plate discipline (10 walks against 66 strikeouts). On the mound, Elisaul Pimentel’s brief stint at Double-A didn’t go as planned, but that should not take away from a strong season that saw him walk only 31 batters in 133 innings of work. He’s likely to get a full-season taste of the Double-A level next season.
Nick Van Stratten began the season at Double-A before being dropped a level right around the midway point. Though his .271 average is respectable, at 26, Van Stratten’s odds of establishing himself as a future big-leaguer have grown slim. Wilmington’s home ballpark is a noted pitcher-friendly environment, but Tyler Sample posed a 5.25 ERA in his first season in the Carolina League.
Taken at face value, Tim Melville’s statistics (11-10, 4.32 ERA, 108 K/53 BB) are those of a player who put together a solidly-average season. But since this was the right-hander’s second full season at Wilmington, they don’t reveal much about his growth as a player. A shot at Double-A in what will be his age 22 season should give the Royals a better sense of what the former fourth-round pick’s future may hold.
In a twist of fate, the Kane County Cougars (Midwest League) played themselves into a first-round playoff matchup with the Burlington Bees, the club which had been the Royals’ affiliate prior to this season. Kane County shut out Burlington in the first game of their series and needs just one win to advance to the next round.
Perhaps no player in the Midwest League burst onto the scene in quite the same way as third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert did. In his first taste of full-season ball, the 18-year-old native of Nicaragua hit .328 from his first game with the club until the end of July. Though fatigue led him into a prolonged slump at the end of the season, Cuthbert’s full-season debut fully established him as a prospect to watch going forward. Though his velocity only reaches the mid-80s, right-hander Greg Billo befuddled Midwest League batters all season long, as the 20-year-old posted a 1.93 ERA in the regular season and fired seven innings of shutout ball in the opening game of the playoffs.
A player with prodigious power, Murray Watts hit just .211 with five extra-base hits in 35 games with Kane County before going on the disabled list. Though Watts returned to action and led the lower-level Burlington Royals in home runs, the season was certainly a disappointment for the Arkansas native.
Former Arkansas Razorback Brett Eibner epitomizes the “incomplete category.” A two-way player in college, Eibner opened the 2011 season with the opportunity to get a full season’s worth of at bats under his belt. But in the second game of the year, Eibner injured his thumb when diving for a ball in the outfield. After missing two months, he returned to belt 12 home runs and draw 48 walks in 76 games – but also hit just .215 and whiffed 90 times. An injury-free 2012, likely to be spent at Wilimington, should allow Eibner to harness his impressive talent and make serious strides in his development as a prospect.
Both the Burlington Royals and AZL Royals wrapped up their seasons before the calendar flipped to September, so the Idaho Falls Chukars (Pioneer League) remain the only of Kansas City’s short-season clubs still in action. At 33-42 overall, the Chukars have fallen short of postseason play and will wrap up their season on Sep. 8 against the Orem Owlz.
Though technically no longer a Chukar, Edwin Carl had the most statistically-impressive season of any Royals farmhand. Advanced for the level at the age of 22, Carl faced 122 Pioneer League hitters – and fanned 71 of them. He only issued only three walks and held the opposition to a miniscule .145 batting average. At the plate, 2011 draftee Richard Espy made a strong impression with a .391 on-base percentage, while Daniel Mateo led the club with a .341 average. Infielder Nick DelGuidice was passed over by all 50 teams in this year’s draft, signing as a non-drafted free agent. But he batted .396 with a 1.037 OPS between Surprise and Idaho Falls and seems on track to start next year with Kane County.
Like Carl, Jonathan Dooley competed in the Pioneer League as a 22-year old, where he was the Chukars opening day starter, but did not have the same success. The Arkansas native began the season in the rotation before being moved to the ‘pen, posting a 6.79 ERA in the process. Overall, the Chukars recorded a 5.38 staff ERA, with Jose Sanchez (8.17), Robert Penny (8.54) and Willian Avinazar (8.89) posting particularly high figures.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.