Posted on 22 June 2011.
A mid-season evaluation of the pitching in the KC farm system won’t be much cause for encouragement.
But before being too harsh, it needs to be noted that there are a host of youngsters receiving on-the-job training in KC.
Several guys who probably should be gaining experience on the Double-A and Triple-A level, far away from the white-hot spotlight of the big leagues, are instead taking their lumps every night against the best hitters in the game.
And for the most part, they have held their own.
The number of young pitchers who have made their big league debut this season is astounding: Nate Adcock, 23; Louis Coleman, 25; Tim Collins, 21; Danny Duffy, 22; and Everett Teaford, 27.
Throw in 23-year-olds Jeremy Jeffress and Sean O’Sullivan, 24-year-old Vin Mazzaro, and 25-year-olds Greg Holland and Blake Wood, and you have staff that’s barely old enough to celebrate the occasional win with a beer.
The KC bullpen has skimmed the cream off the top of the farm system. So it’s no surprise that there doesn’t appear to be a lot of prospects ready to make the move up. The best ones are already up.
That said, however, the results are grim at the halfway point of the minor league season. For all the acclaim the KC farm system garnered (even being called the best accumulation of talent in the history of rankings by Baseball America) there don’t seem to be any difference makers on the horizon.
The best way to evaluate the first half performance of the Royals pitching prospects is to utilize the spaghetti western ranking system of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Unfortunately there is just too much ugly to feel real great about the future of pitching in KC.
Listed below are the prospects in the order of how much was expected from them coming into the season:
John Lamb: Bad – Tommy John surgery doesn’t seem like the death-knell that it once was. But it certainly is a setback for Baseball America’s #18 prospect. Lamb can expect about 9 to 12 months of recovery time, so hopefully he can be ready to go next spring.
Mike Montgomery: Ugly – I watched him pitch in the Futures Game in KC on April 2, and was ready to anoint him a “can’t miss” prospect. He couldn’t have looked more dominant. But something is definitely amiss with Montgomery. Baseball America’s #19 prospect gave up four homers in his last outing. He now has a WHIP of 1.551, and his ERA has climbed to 5.83. He may still get a call up at some point this fall, but he certainly seems to have some issues to resolve.
Jake Odorizzi: Good – I don’t know what the Royals are waiting for, but it would seem a promotion for the 21-year-old righty is imminent. He’s been about as dominant as you could be at High-A level Wilmington. His walks per nine innings is 2.7, while his strikeouts per nine is 12.6. It’s time for a new challenge.
Chris Dwyer: Ugly – Baseball America’s #83 prospect has had only two good outings since May 1. His ERA is now over 6.00. If Montgomery is stalled, then Dwyer is going in reverse.
Jeremy Jeffress: Good – I’m sure Jeffress isn’t thrilled to be in Omaha when he started the season as a member of the KC pen. But it’s not as bad as it might appear. If he can get his walks under control, he certainly has the talent to be an effective reliever. The good news is that in his last 10 innings, he’s only surrendered three walks. Rumors that he would be tried as a starter were either unfounded or the plan was quickly abandoned.
Noel Arguelles: Good – Many wondered if the guy would ever pitch, much less pitch this well. I think many were starting to question whether this Cuban defector even existed. For all the time he took off to recover from injuries, he’s hardly rusty. He’s giving up less than a walk per nine innings, and has a WHIP of just 1.031. Wilmington has limited his work to about five innings per outing. Odorizzi and Arguelles have probably benefited from playing at pitcher-friendly Wilmington. They’ll be tested when they get to the less forgiving Texas League.
Tyler Sample: Bad – The gigantic third-round pick from 2008 is still giving up too many walks to look like he’s ready to move up to Northwest Arkansas.
Jason Adam: Good – The fifth-round selection from Blue Valley Northwest is off to a great start at Kane County. The Royals need some prospects from the lower levels to climb quickly, and Adam is one to watch.
Kelvin Herrera and Kevin Chapman: Good – These two relievers jumped to Northwest Arkansas and have continued to lock down games in the bullpen. The 21-year-old Herrera has recorded 25 strikeouts and just one walk in 13 innings since the promotion.
Yordano Ventura: Good – A little guy with a hot fastball, Ventura just turned 20 and is striking out more than a batter per inning at Kane County.
Justin Marks: Bad – The guy would seem to have talent (witness the 12 K’s in six innings in his last start), but it would be nice to get at least one good pitcher from the David DeJesus trade. So far he’s been too hit and miss.
Timothy Melville: Bad – He has been ugly at times, but not nearly as ugly as last year. So much more was expected, however. His walks are still too high and his strikeouts are still too low, and his bad outings are still too frequent. He’ll be 22 in September and still doesn’t seem ready to move beyond A ball. I don’t think much is expected out of him any more, and his window of opportunity is closing.
The early results from the farm system are troubling. The Royals are in desperate need of starting pitchers. When three of your top guns – Lamb, Montgomery and Dwyer – have fired off duds thus far, your future looks grim.
But when you factor into the picture that 11 of the 12 pitchers on your current big league team are under 28 years of age, it tells you much of your young talent is already at the highest level.
Dayton Moore believes that “pitching is the currency of baseball.” The Royals don’t look as poor as they used to, but they won’t ever be truly rich unless they can find, somewhere, some quality front end starting pitching. They currently have a staff full of #4 and #5 starters and middle relievers.
The second half of the season for Montgomery and Dwyer, the advancements of Odorizzi and Arguelles, and the rehabilitation of Lamb are crucial to the long-term transformation of the team.