The greatest indictment of “the process” stood center stage on Monday and Tuesday in Cleveland. When the Royals took on the top team in their division, with a chance to gain some ground and cut into the Indians’ lead, the turned to the aces of their pitching staff… Nate Adcock and Will Smith.
You can hate Adcock and Smith for not being Tom Seaver if you want to, but they are what they are. They are second-tier prospects who are trying to learn under extreme pressure to get big league hitters out.
The problem lies deeper than Adcock and Smith. If you want to point fingers, you can start with the draft class of 2008, then 2009, and finally one curious Latin American signing.
About a year and a half ago, I interviewed player-turned-broadcaster Jeff Montgomery on the topic of Royals pitching prospects. This was just after the team’s farm system had been decorated tops in baseball.
Montgomery admitted that not all blue-chip prospects pan out. But he said at the time that the Royals had so many top arms stockpiled that he didn’t see how at least some wouldn’t reach their potential. The percentages were in KC’s favor.
Much of that stockpiling took place in June of 2008. After nabbing Eric Hosmer in the first round of the draft, the Royals used four of their next five selections on pitchers. They were heralded for using those picks on pitchers with “signability issues” – guys who would have gone much higher, but who demanded an unusual amount of cash to sign – particularly Mike Montgomery and Tim Melville.
This was a watershed moment, if you believed some draft analysts. KC was finally willing to open up the wallet to get top prospects. To Montgomery and Melville, the Royals added Tyler Sample and John Lamb.
And finally in that off-season came another watershed moment. KC dug even deeper into its pocket to sign a Cuban prospect, outbidding the usual big spenders for Noel Arguelles.
By January of 2010 they looked like geniuses. The prospect rankings came out, with Montgomery, Lamb, Dwyer and Danny Duffy all in the top 100 of baseball’s prospects.
Jeff Montgomery said there was no way they could all miss.
Yet here we are, running Adcock and Smith to the mound in a crucial series, and cussing them for not succeeding.
If you want to place blame, some can be directed at health issues. Hardly underachievers, Lamb and Duffy had their success curtailed by injury.
But that leaves plenty of room for criticism.
The biggest disappointment would have to be Montgomery. A year ago he was one managerial decision away from a spot in the Royals’ rotation. Now he’s following up a miserable 2010 with a 5.17 ERA and 1.617 WHIP thus far in 2012 at Omaha.
Not far behind, however, would be Arguelles. Mysterious arm-troubles kept the Cuban in the shadows for more than a year, making his signing look like a huge mistake. With a $6.9 million signing bonus in his pocket, Arguelles sits on 7.27 ERA and a 2-5 record in Double-A.
And then there’s Melville. Heralded coming out of high school as a first-round talent, KC took a risk by offering him top dollar as a fourth rounder. It took him two years to get out Wilmington, and now he’s showing Arguelles new ways to get shelled in Double-A. His ERA is a robust 7.71 and his WHIP is 1.800.
Compared to his Northwest Arkansas mates, Dwyer looks like Cy Young. At least he has a sub-7 ERA of 5.51. But he’s now 24 years old and looks less like a top-100 prospect all the time.
And in case you are wondering about Sample, consider this “Sample-size:” 1-6 record, 5.29 ERA at Wilmington.
Crow is the only one left, and he’s not yet been turned into a starter at the big-league level, making him a pretty pricey middle reliever.
Every time Nate Adcock and Will Smith take the hill in a KC uniform, fate proves Jeff Montgomery wrong. The Royals played the percentages, believing even with their luck that not ALL their pitching prospects could turn into busts. But thus far, Adcock and Smith are the best they can come up with.