The Royals’ minor league clubs moved quickly into action as soon as the big league club broke camp. No sooner were the minors rosters set than they were on the field, starting games on April 5.
The Royals had the top rated farm system in all of baseball just over a year ago. But much has changed since then, and most of those top prospects are now doing battle in KC.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the cupboard is now bare. The minor league rosters are peppered with another crop of elite prospects. And though the games going on in KC should actually mean something this year, the minor leagues bear watching as the next wave of prospects matures.
Noticeably absent from the minor league rosters is John Lamb, Baseball America’s #18 prospect in 2011. Lamb is still rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow in Surprise. Still, Baseball America thought enough of Lamb to rank him sixth among Royals prospects.
Triple-A rosters are usually stocked at least in part with veterans who are ready to jump to the big leagues in a moment’s notice. KC’s Omaha farm team has a handful of starters who have already failed once (or more times) at the big league level.
Zach Miner fits that description. The 30-year-old who owns a 25-20 record in the bigs is still trying to work his way back from an injury that knocked him out of the entire 2010 season.
Also on Omaha’s staff will be Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan, two who failed miserably in their chances in KC. No longer considered prospects, Mazzaro, O’Sullivan and particularly Miner will need to seize this as possibly their last opportunity.
Brandon Sisk, a 26-year-old who has received very little attention to this point, had a very good season split between NW and Omaha in 2011. Ryan Verdugo, 25, came over in the Melky Cabrera trade from San Francisco.
In the Omaha bullpen are three familiar faces to KC – Louis Coleman, Nathan Adcock and Jeremy Jeffress. Coleman has to be the most disappointed to not be on the big league roster. Coleman pitched well for the Royals last season, posting a 2.87 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP in 48 games.
Adcock was overmatched last year, but he has a chance now to prove who he truly is as a prospecT. Jeffress spiraled from KC all the way down to Double-A, struggling at every level. But his enviable physical ability keeps him in the “top-prospect” category.
Much to Ned Yost’s dismay, Montgomery solidified his spot in Omaha quite early in the spring. KC hoped to give the big righthander every opportunity to crack the big league rotation. But Montgomery failed miserably in spring training and took himself out of the running. Still ranked #1 among Royals prospects by Baseball America, Montgomery needs to improve on an awful 2011 in Omaha (5-11, 5.32 ERA), or he’ll be in danger of becoming a bust.
Double-A tends to be the “proving ground” for prospects. Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that most of the Royals’ premier pitching talents (aside from Montgomery) will start the season in Northwest Arkansas, even though many of them ended 2011 there.
Probably the team’s top pitching prospect at this point is 22-year-old lefty Odorizzi, the Royals’ #4 prospect according to Baseball America. A key piece in the Zack Greinke trade, Odorizzi has moved slowly but steadily through the ranks. Odorizzi’s performances were spotty at Northwest Arkansas after dominating at Wilmington in the first half of 2011. He will probably get a promotion if he pitches well at Double-A.
The Royals’ #9 rated prospect, Chris Dwyer, will also start the same place he finished 2011. Dwyer was marginally successful last season, going 8-10 with 5.60 ERA. He will also be gunning for a mid-season promotion.
Northwest Arkansas will have an abundance of starting pitchers, and the most intriguing prospect is Noel Arguelles. The Cuban signee finally made his appearance in Wilmington last year after hiding in the shadows of a huge contract and mysterious arm troubles. Opinions of his ability vary greatly, but Arguelles had a 3.20 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP in his first professional season.
Other marginal prospects Tim Melville (22-years-old), Justin Marks (24) and Kendal Volz (24) will have a chance to prove themselves as prospects or just warm bodies against the tough Texas League competition.
The Royals #8 prospect, Jason Adam and #10 prospect, Yordano Ventura, will begin the season in Wilmington. Both 20-year-olds had losing records and high ERAs at Kane County last year, but both have highly-regarded talent.
Keep an eye on 21-year-old Greg Billo. He went 9-5 with a 1.93 ERA and a 1.022 WHIP at Kane County. Billo struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings.