Minors Wrap Up: More Pitching Help Needed In 2012

If, as Dayton Moore is so fond of saying, “pitching is the currency of baseball,” then the Royals drew pretty heavily from their account this season, dipping into the minors for nearly every capable reliever they could find.

Aaron Crow, hardly ready for the big leagues at this time last year, was promoted to the big league bullpen, as were several others who could probably have benefited from a little more work at Triple-A. Any of the cast of newbies – Tim Collins, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland – probably should have been on the list of 2012 top prospects, were it not for the big league club’s urgent need for arms. Throw in Nate Adcock and it was basically a Triple-A cast of characters.

But they held their own. The bullpen is now the strength of the pitching staff, and the team needs desperately to find some starters worthy of the collection of talent now manning the fielding positions.

There may be some help on the horizon, but nothing in the Royals’ farm system looks like a sure thing for 2012. In this, the second part of a post-season evaluation of the Royals’ top minor league prospects, I-70 Baseball.com highlights the pitchers. See the first part of the series for a look at the top prospects at the fielding positions for 2012.

(This article will ignore many of the pitchers who might well play a role in the Royals’ future, such as Robinson Tejeda, Vin Mazarro and Sean O’Sullivan. They’ve had their chances, and they are at this point nothing more than interchangeable parts.)

Right-handed starters:

There is a need for more top-flight righties in the system. The top righty however, Jake Odorizzi, might wind up being the best prospect in the entire organization. Will he be another Greinke, as was originally advertised?

Jake Odorizzi – he will rate very high in the next version of Baseball America’s rankings. Is he ready to make the jump to Kansas City? He will most likely be given at least a shot at a rotation spot in the spring.

Jason Adam – one of the Royals’ most prized developmental projects, Adam made 21 starts for Kane County in his first professional season. Though his numbers weren’t great, the potential is there.

Greg Billo – turned 21 at mid-season for Kane County. Pitched well as a starter and out of the pen, registering a 1.93 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.

Left-handed starters:

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas got most of the ink last winter, but it was the Royals’ wealth of left-handed pitching that made their farm-system truly phenomenal. With Danny Duffy, Collins and Teaford in this mix, they were simply loaded with top-flight lefties. But now the Royals need some of the remaining talent to give their big-league starting rotation a makeover.

Mike Montgomery – going into 2011, he was without a doubt the Royals’ most dynamic pitching prospect. But Montgomery never quite harnessed his tremendous ability this year. He battled the organization over training methods, and his 5-11 record, 5.32 ERA and 1.500 WHIP were all disappointments. Nonetheless, he will probably start the season in the KC rotation, and the team desperately needs him to develop into a quality big league starter.

Chris Dwyer – was up and down, but probably has a shot at making the Royals’ rotation next season. If not he will probably be second only to Odorizzi amongst the Royals’ top farm hands next season.

John Lamb – possibly the biggest disappointment in the whole farm system was the arm injury suffered by Lamb early in the season. Going into the year, there were many who considered Lamb the Royals’ top pitching prospect and one of the best in game. Now Lamb begins the long (approximately one year) road back from Tommy John surgery. According to the customary timeframe, he could be pitching by June of next year.

Noel Arguelles – many doubted this guy would ever wear a uniform, so secret and mysterious were his arm problems. But the Cuban signee finally did take to the field and he was solid if not spectacular. Time will tell if he can recover the arm strength that made him a coveted international prospect.

Right-handed relievers:

Former big-leaguers Tejeda and Jeremy Jeffress remain options at this spot in spite of their struggles.

Kelvin Herrera – the best prospect that never showed up on anyone’s radar, neither before the season nor during it. He quietly put together a dazzling season, jumping from Wilmington to Northwest Arkansas to Omaha in a whirlwind campaign. Batters at each of the three levels failed to hit .200 against him. His WHIP was an uncanny .842. Herrera will turn 22 on New Years Eve, and could make next year a happy one for Royals’ fans.

Jeremy Jeffress – everyone else acquired in the Greinke trade had a great season. This guy went the wrong direction, getting demoted twice in one year.

Kendal Volz – came over in a mid-season trade. He’ll be given a crack at the Omaha pen next year.

Left-handed relievers:

There aren’t many lefty-relievers at the top levels of the farm system. Considering the shakiness of Collins and Teaford, more help may be needed, sooner rather than later.

Kevin Chapman – at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas he struck out a combined 13.1 per nine innings. Due to the lack of lefty relievers ahead of him, Chapman should play a key role in the Omaha pen, just a phone call away from KC.

The big story come spring training will be who will make up KC’s starting rotation. Montgomery, Dwyer and Odorizzi should all receive a very long look. Judging by the rocky season Duffy just suffered through, fans should brace for the steep learning curve facing any rookie who makes the rotation. The bullpen looks more set, but Herrera and Jeffress will probably get a shot at making the big club.

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