Tag Archive | "Mid Season"

I-70 Conversations: The Night Shift Host Nolan Woodford

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Nolan Woodford, the host of ‘The Night Shift’ on 610 Sports Radio took a few minutes out of his schedule to talk with me. We discussed The Royals, focusing on the Shields/Myers trade with the benefit of some hindsight, how he would rate their season in general, and answered some mid-season award questions.

Paul: At the halfway point of the season, how would you evaluate the year? And what letter grade would you give it?

Nolan: The season hasn’t been a total disappointment so far – this is the closest the Royals have come to contending in a decade.  They’ve done some outstanding things and have loads of potential, but the results have been average at best, thus far.  They’re right on pace to go 78-84, which is where I had them at the start of the year.  But with the talent on this team and the way the starting rotation has performed, being under .500 should be considered underachieving.  So I would give them a C.  It’s going to be enough to get most everyone through the year, but it’s not a grade you’re particularly proud of.  There are certainly going to be opportunities for the grade to go up in the second semester.

Paul: Would you consider the Royals hitting .500 this year a success?

Nolan: Kind of.  I think the team has to go at least .500 for Ned Yost to keep his job.  But I think they’re clearly the second most talented team in the AL Central behind Detroit, which means they play a lot of games against teams they’re better than.  So while going .500 for the second time in the 21st century wouldn’t be a failure, they need to finish with a winning record.

Paul: In light of the Shields for Myers trade, does that make .500 not enough? Since KC only has Shields for 2 years and Myers is a potential future star, does that change the perception of what the Royals should do this year and next year?

Nolan: They need to make the playoffs either this year or next year.  And they have enough talent they can do so, especially if Eric Hosmer continues to produce like he has in the last few weeks.  But you traded away 6 or 7 years of Wil Myers for 2 years of James Shields.  Surely, the Tampa Bay Rays expect Wil Myers to guide them to the playoffs in that time.  So Shields needs to do the same in Kansas City.  You don’t trade away the Minor League Player of the Year if you’re not trying to win now.

Paul: Who would you consider to be the team’s MVP and Cy Young this year?

Nolan: I think the MVP is Salvador Perez with Alex Gordon a close second.  Perez is a year or two away from being the perennial All-Star starter / Gold Glove winner for Catchers in the American League.  The Royals went 2-7 when Perez was out after the death of his grandmother.  He just brings too much both to the line-up as well as the pitching staff.  There’s a reason he is considered the one absolutely untradeable commodity the Royals have.  Gordon is a close second because he’s also an All-Star candidate, a tremendous leader, and one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.  As far as Cy Young goes, while James Shields and Ervin Santana have pitched at an All-Star level, I’d give it to Greg Holland.  He averages nearly 2 strikeouts an inning and after a shaky first couple of weeks has established himself as one of the most dominant closers in baseball.

Paul: Who would you consider to be the AL’s MVP and Cy Young?

Nolan: Chris Davis is having a hell of a year in Baltimore, but to be the man you’ve gotta beat the man.  And Miguel Cabrera is still the man right now.  I would’ve gone Clay Buchholz for Cy Young before he went on the DL, but right now I’d probably go with Hisashi Iwakuma in Seattle.  At 13-0, Max Scherzer is in the discussion, but record doesn’t really matter anymore with the Cy Young voters.

Paul: Who would you consider to be the NL’s MVP and Cy Young this year?

Nolan: It’s not as easy a choice for MVP in the NL, but at this point in the season I’d go with Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks.  Carlos Gonzalez is having another MVP caliber season in Colorado as well.  Hands down, I’d go Clayton Kershaw for Cy Young with Matt Harvey as runner up.

Paul: What are your thoughts on Jeff Francoeur departing? Does that make the Myers trade harder to swallow?

Nolan: Nothing against Francoeur personally, but his departure was long overdue.  I think you have four very good outfielders in Gordon, Cain, Lough, and Dyson all outplaying Francoeur both offensively and defensively.  The Myers trade will only be hard to swallow if James Shields leaves without guiding the Royals to at least an AL Central Title.  Jeff Francoeur’s release only helps improve their chances of winning one.

Paul: Do you think Brett will have an impact as hitting coach and help change the hitting for The Royals?

Nolan: Since George Brett took over as Hitting Coach (with Pedro Grifol) on May 30th, the Royals have the best record in the AL Central.  Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have both shown improvements, and their success may be the biggest key to the Royals having success in the second half.  Plus, I think just having the greatest Royal of all time in the dugout can do nothing but help a young team trying to guide a once great franchise to its first postseason in a generation.

Paul: You mentioned Yost, who was on the hot seat earlier this year. Now he seems to be a little safer as manager. What are your thoughts on him as a manager and on him keeping or losing his job?

Nolan: I think there’s probably a better manager out there for the job than Ned Yost.  Some of his managerial decisions are downright baffling – such as his insistence on batting a player with a .279 OBP in the 2-hole because he “thinks it’s a good fit”.  I remember – when the writing was on the wall for Trey Hillman – voicing my hope that the Royals could bring in Clint Hurdle, a former Royal who was serving as the Rangers’ Hitting Coach.  Now he’s managing the team that has the best record in the National League despite having Vin Mazzaro on its roster.  But no matter what, Ned’s going to be here until his contract is up at the end of the season.  I believe bringing in George Brett was done to help add a needed new voice without firing the manager and in turn putting Dayton Moore on the hot seat.  If the team finishes below .500, I think Ned gets let go regardless of who ends up on the hot seat next.  If they do better, then anything’s possible.

Thanks again to Nolan for doing the interview with me. And those in the Kansas City market, look out for his show ‘The Night Shift’, where you can hear more of his thoughts on The Royals, baseball and sports in general.

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What was the real point of the Rasmus trade?

It’s been two years since the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly dealt former uber-prospect Colby Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays mid-season for a host of pieces in return. And in the two years since that deal, the value of what’s come of the trade is still very much undetermined. There are some that say the deal was what sealed the 2011 World Series win, while others feel it was a necessary move to salvage the remaining value of Rasmus’ quickly dipping stock at the time. Yet the truth of the matter probably lays somewhere in-between, and the absolute value of how the Cardinals have emerged is on the verge of being a potential loss in the long-term.

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At the beginning of the 2011 season, Rasmus was a troubled, yet still integral part of the future of the team. He was the former top prospect of the organization as little as two years prior, and was just a year removed from a 23 home run breakout effort. Yet, that seemed like decades ago by the time the trade of him away was necessitated. The triangle of issues created between Colby/Tony Rasmus, Tony LaRussa and ultimately John Mozeliak, pushed Rasmus away from being a coveted talent, and into the problem child bin, and regardless of talent, problem children don’t get the same returns as promising talents do. So Mozeliak made a July trade to send Rasmus away in exchange for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson and Marc Rzepczynski, his stock had gotten to the point where it was just good to get anything back in return for him.

Of all of the acquisitions made in that deal, the then25-year-old lefty made the biggest difference in the club’s playoff and postseason run, and set up a solid basis of what to expect coming ahead. This was of particular importance as well, because he was the only part of the deal that had any guaranteed time with the team after 2011. Regardless of what Rasmus’ actual production was, he still carried a decent amount of name value and upside perception, so to come away from that deal with only a middle relief left-hander, that pitcher better surely become among the best at what he does. However, the year and a half since Rzepczynski has been a full-time Cardinal has been perhaps less fulfilling than any part of Rasmus’ on-field run.

Since the beginning of 2012, in 79 games, Rzepczynski has posted a 1-3 record, with a 4.77 ERA in 54.2 innings. His WHIP across that time has been a robust 1.44, and he has surrendered better than a hit per inning pitched. In fairness, he shouldered an inadequate amount of the load a year ago, as the only consistently available left-handed option, as the team went through a carousel of veteran flame outs around him. Yet, this season he’s struggled more than ever, posting a 7.88 ERA and surrendering a run in four of his nine appearances, with at least two in three of those efforts in an inning or less work. Overall, batters have hit .361 against him on the season, and that will not do in the leverage of the situations he’s called upon (or really any other either, at that), and yesterday, just a year and a half after being the promise received in return for promise dealt, Rzepczynski found himself headed towards a place he hadn’t been to since 2010: the minors.

In the first move to shake some life into the team’s lifeless bullpen, the club optioned him to Memphis in exchange for the 2011 organizational pitcher of the year, Seth Maness. This is a shocking move, whereas in it didn’t seem likely that the team would put itself voluntarily down to one left-handed reliever, but it also sends a message: get it done, or you’re replaceable. There’s a chance he won’t stay down for long, just enough time to rediscover what he lost along the way. There’s also the chance that he becomes a victim of the ever-emergent depth of arms converging on the Cardinals pitching staff from the minors. This is not a team to fall behind in fortune with, because there is always somebody who is pushing for a chance. It likely isn’t a death sentence for him, but it definitely will serve notice to anybody on the staff that is struggling.

All in all, looking back it’s tough to say what is what about the absolute outcome of the Rasmus/Blue Jays deal. What is clear is that something had to be done in the moment, and that the outcome of it did improve the team at the absolutely right moment. Despite popular opinion, it’s not THE move that won the World Series for the club; seasons like that don’t hinge on one moment. However, it did play a role in that moment, and with the after effect as it is shaking out around the only remaining part of the deal so soon after it was completed, perhaps it was the ultimate all-in maneuver for the moment.

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Cardinals Pitching Forced to Evolve Post-Carpenter

Without rushing to judgment or burying a guy too early, time to face facts:  the future in regards to competitive baseball is not looking too promising for Chris Carpenter. With a re-occurrence of the nerve injury that kept him sidelined for much of 2012, the future of the 37-year old pitcher looks to not contain much more active baseball.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Six

Some of the focus has inevitably shifted away from Carpenter, and to how the St. Louis Cardinals will try to fill the void he will leave in the rotation. There still looms the actual gravity of that situation. Unlike last year, there isn’t the hope of one of the game’s most domineering presences looming, waiting to reinsert himself in the mid-season fray. This was arguably what Carpenter’s biggest impression on the 2012 season was, and eventually became last summer. But that’s gone now, and from all impressions, what’s here now is what you get.

However, that’s not necessarily a totally bad thing. What won’t be possible to do is replace what he epitomizes, but from the standpoint having the talent on hand to deal with such a blow, perhaps no team is better equipped. The great strength of the Cardinals organization is young, power arms. This sudden opening creates another opening for that stockpile to be more widely featured in the Major League starting rotation.

But there will be ripple effect that goes into play, and many different actors will see themselves up more high leverage roles in the rotation, and ultimately throughout the season. Who fits in best, and where? Adam Wainwright will be the anchor atop the rotation, while Jake Westbrook will stabilize the backend as the fourth starter, but nothing less than everything changed everywhere else today. Here’s the potential impact, and new calling, the loss of Carpenter could carry for each of his young potential heirs.

Lance Lynn: He goes from competing for the fifth starter role to most the most qualified to directly take Carpenter’s place as the #2 starter. His 18-win, All-Star campaign from a year ago looks much better on paper than it played out in real time, but he represents the best combination of experience and top-end stuff to fill the role. He averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, but will have to pitch more efficiently and self-reliantly than he did a year ago to be a true asset in the role (11-0 with six or more runs scored, 6-5 with 5 or less).

Jaime Garcia: Who know s what to call from the sole lefty starting option in the rotation. That feature alone makes him very valuable, but the need for him in the midst of the rotation is offset by the tough truths of his situation. His shoulder health is static, and even when he’s healthy, it’s tough to call what he will offer. He’s given up over nine hits per nine innings the last two years, with a steadily rising ERA. He fits the profile of a solid middle of the rotation starter, winning 13 games in both 2010 and ’11, but if he’s not healthy, yet another question remains. A question that could potentially open up another door, for the most intriguing group of arms in the equation.

Shelby Miller/Trevor Rosenthal/Joe Kelly: And then, there were three. The race for the last spot in the rotation gets easier to pick out with Lynn ascending up the rotation. The decision still will be very difficult, with each representing a different quality. Kelly is the most experienced starter of the group, but Miller and Rosenthal are the more heralded talents of the trio.

This decision could set into motion much of the direction of the team throughout the season. There is next to no chance that Miller works out of the bullpen; he would be sent back to Memphis to continuing starting if he doesn’t win a spot with St. Louis. However, Rosenthal and Kelly have experience in both capacities, and could be immediate assets in the bullpen from Opening Day on. However, due to roster logistics, more likely than not one goes back to the Minors as a starter, one stays on in the bullpen.

How that plays out, anybody knows at this point. But there will be a gain, by yesterday’s unfortunate subtraction somewhere soon.

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Royals Winter League Wrap Up

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SPRINGDALE, AR –Although the 2012 minor league season officially ended in September, 20 current and former Northwest Arkansas Naturals continued their work on the diamond as they participated in the Puerto Rican, Venezuelan and Australian Winter Leagues. With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in less than two weeks, all of the former Naturals have completed their winter seasons.

Puerto Rican League Wrap-up

The Puerto Rican League welcomed five Naturals alums, but a recent Natural created the most headlines. Christian Colon was named the Puerto Rican League Rookie of the Year. The Royals first round pick (fourth overall) in 2010, Colon led the league with 13 stolen bases in 39 games for the Leones de Ponce (Ponce Lions). While at the plate, Colon batted .301 with eight doubles and 26 runs scored. In 2012, Colon played in 73 games with the Naturals, batting .289 with nine doubles and 13 stolen bases and five home runs. A Texas League Mid-Season All-Star, Colon finished the season with Triple-A Omaha. Colon has earned a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the Royals.

Infielder Rey Navarro finished second in the league with a .333 batting average in 114 at-bats and 18 RBI for league champion Criollos de Caguas (Caguas Creoles).  In 2012, Navarro appeared in 109 games for the Naturals before being promoted to Omaha on August 18.

Infielder Irving Falu led the league with 30 runs scored and four triples while playing for Indios de Mayaguez (Mayaguez Indians). Falu batted .324 with eight doubles and 16 RBI in 36 games.  A member of the 2008 Naturals squad, Falu spent 2012 with both Kansas City and Omaha and is on the Royals 40-man roster.

Outfielder Geraldo Valentin, another member of the Naturals’ inaugural team, drove in 10 runs while batting .277 for Cangrejeros de Santurce (Santurce Crabbers). Valentin batted .250 with 10 doubles and 19 RBI in 70 games during his lone season with the Naturals.

Pitcher Kelvin Villa went 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine games for Criollos de Caguas. Villa was also named a Post-Season All-Star. Villa was 1-0 in nine appearances during his time with the Naturals in 2010.

Venezuelan League Wrap-up

2011 Naturals catcher Salvador Perez earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League as a member of Tiburones de La Guaira (La Guaira Sharks). Perez batted .371 in 32 games with eight home runs, 10 doubles and 39 RBI with a .412 On Base Percentage. As a Natural, Perez was named to the 2011 Texas League Mid and Post-Season All-Star teams. Perez, who missed the early part of the 2012 season due to injury, batted .301 in 76 games for Kansas City and is the projected starting catcher for the Royals for 2013.

Perez wasn’t the only former Natural to end the Venezuelan League campaign with an award, as Juan Gutierrez was named the Venezuelan League Relief Pitcher of the Year. Gutierrez was 1-1 with a 0.81 ERA, 14 saves and 21 strikeouts in 24 appearances for Leones del Caracas (Caracas Lions).  Gutierrez recorded three saves in five games with the Naturals in 2012 after reporting to the team in July following rehab outings in the Arizona League. Gutierrez has also spent parts of three seasons in the Major Leagues, each with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Outfielder Mario Lisson batted .262 with four doubles, five home runs and 26 RBI in 43 games with Navegantes del Magallanes (Magellen’s Navigators).  Lisson has worn the Naturals uniform in every season except 2010, and is the franchise leader in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI.

Paulo Orlando hit seven doubles and drove in 16 runs in 32 games with Cardenales de Lara (Lara Cardinals). Orlando’s .346 batting average would have finished second in the Venezuelan League, but Orlando didn’t have the required number of plate appearances. Orlando has spent the last three seasons with the Naturals and is the franchise leader with 18 triples.

Ernesto Mejia was named the Most Valuable Player for the Venezuelan League, batting .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI in 62 games as a member of Cardenales de Lara. An Opening Day starter and member of the 2010 Texas League Champion Naturals, Mejia spent 2012 in the Atlanta Braves organization at Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Pitcher Victor Marte was 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 games for Navegantes del Magallanes (Magellen’s Navigators). Marte was 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 games with the Naturals in 2009. Marte made his Royals debut that season, winning three of his 22 relief appearances.

Pitcher Dusty Hughes was 1-0 in 12 games for Navegantes del Magallanes. Hughes didn’t surrender a run in 9 1/3 innings pitched. Hughes was 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 20 games for the Naturals in 2008.

Dominican League Wrap-up

Catcher Julio Rodriguez appeared in one game for Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants), striking out in his lone plate appearance. Rodriguez spent his first full AA season with the Naturals in 2012, with a .234 average and 17 RBI in 67 games.

Pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon pitched in two games with Leones del Escogido (Escogido Lions). In five innings of work, Marimon struck out two batters and surrendered one run. Marimon made 12 starts for the Naturals last season, posting a 3-6 record with a 4.59 ERA. Marimon was named a Carolina League Mid-Season All-Star in 2012.

Pitcher Carlos Rosa appeared in three games for league champion Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants), giving up three earned runs in nine innings. Rosa went 4-2 with a 1.20 ERA in eight starts with the Naturals in 2008. Rosa pitched in two games for the Royals that season, giving up a run in 3 1/3 innings of work. Rosa’s last appearance in the Royals organization was with Triple-A Omaha in 2010.

Pitcher Roman Colon spent time in the Dominican League as a member of Gigantes as well as in the Mexican Pacific League with Yaquis de Obregon. Colon was 0-2 in 10 games with Gigantes and concluded the season with a 0-0 record in two appearances with three-time defending Mexican Pacific League champion Yaquis. Colon was 2-0 with a save in 10 games with the Naturals in 2008.

Pitcher Willy Lebron was 1-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 16 games for Estrellas de Oriente. Lebron was 3-1 with a 3.83 ERA in 23 games for the Naturals in 2011.

Outfielder Jamie Romak hit .280 in six games with Toros del Este (Este Bulls). Romak spent part of the 2010 season and all of the 2011 season with the Naturals, playing in 168 games with the franchise while hitting 29 home runs and driving in 87 runs. Romak spent the 2012 season with Triple-A Omaha and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Australian League Wrap-up

Outfielder Carlo Testa was the lone player with Naturals ties in the Land Down Under this winter. Testa played in 46 games for the Melbourne Aces, batting .294 with seven doubles and six home runs with 19 RBI. Testa also stole 10 bases for the Aces. In 2012, Testa completed his first season at the Double-A level with 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 113 games.

Mexican Pacific League Wrap-up

Outfielder Cory Aldridge batted .268 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI in 61 games for Tomateros de Culican (Culican Tomato Growers). A member of the inaugural Naturals team, Aldridge batted .269 with six doubles and 10 home runs and 40 RBI in 49 games for the Naturals in 2008 and was named the Texas League Player of the Week for August 25.

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.

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Royals fall flat on their face at home

Well, the Kansas City Royals aren’t making it easy to be a fan, are they? With a 3-8 record through Tuesday and losing to the Detroit Tigers 4-3 while I’m writing this Wednesday night, the Royals are digging themselves into the American League Central cellar. Again.

In 2004, the Royals and former manager Tony Pena came up with the slogan, “Together We Can,” after a surprising 83-79 2003 season. It showed the optimism of a promising 2004 season. However, by mid season “Together We Can” became a punchline and the Royals ended up with a 58-104 record.

This year, the slogan is “Our Time.” But after a six game losing streak, it appears it’s “our time” for the Royals to be the same old Royals. Let’s look at the good (it’s Our Time) and the bad (same old Royals) of the 2012 season.

It’s Our Time: Danny Duffy is pretty good. In two starts, the Royals fifth starter is pitching like a, well, at least a number two or three starter. In two starts, Duffy has a 2.13 ERA with a team leading 15 strikeouts and 12.2 innings pitched. Sure, he gave up two home runs in a loss to the Detroit Tigers and he’s issued five walks. Besides Bruce Chen, he’s doing something the other starters are not: pitching effectively every start.

Same old Royals: Uh, what’s up with Greg Holland? In six games, Holland pitched 6.1 innings, giving up five runs and 10 hits. In 2011, Holland pitched 60 innings and gave up just 13 runs and 37 hits. And he’s giving up these runs when the Royals can’t afford to give up runs. The bright side is he has 10 strikeouts, two walks and hasn’t give up any home runs yet. But so far he’s not the Greg Holland of 2011.

It’s Our Time: Billy is being Billy. As of Tuesday, Butler has a .356/.370/.622 line, leading the team with 16 hits, eight of them for extra bases. He also leads the team with nine RBI. Sure, Butler is a slow runner and he needs to hit more home runs, but he’s a bright spot in a lineup that’s looking a little dim.

Same old Royals: Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are under the Mario Mendoza line. As of Tuesday, Gordon is hitting .140/.245/.233 and Hosmer is at .182/.280/.364. They’re also striking out a lot, with Gordon at 16 and Hosmer at eight. They are leading the team in taking walks, each with six free passes. But they need to start hitting, especially with runners on base.

It’s Our Time: Alex Gordon is doing well in left field. Where Gordon is struggling at the plate, he’s making it up for his play in left field. He’s made some spectacular catches, including one where he bounced his face on the turf, holding on to the ball. He also leads the outfielders with 23 putouts.

Same old Royals: The Royals sure miss Lorenzo Cain‘s defense. When Cain was playing, he wasn’t hitting well, with only a .133/.176/.133 line. But his play in center was good, getting balls Melky Cabrera probably wouldn’t get. And there was the great catch in Oakland that resulted in a double play and a stint on the DL with a groin injury.

The Royals called up Jarrod Dyson from AAA Omaha and with his speed the Royals started him in center. Well, he was fast, but speed doesn’t matter when you misjudge fly balls and they sail over your head. After two games, the Royals sent Dyson back to Omaha. Now Mitch Maier is starting in center field, who should have been starting there in the first place.

It’s Our Time: It’s early in the season. They have time to figure it out. Over a 162 game season, the Royals have played about ten percent of their games. And if a few things had gone differently in their losses, they might have a chance to win those games, except last Sunday’s game against the Indians. When the Royals pitching is good, the offense struggles. If the offense is good, the pitching struggles. If the Royals get the pitching and offense working together, they will win more games.

Same old Royals: The Royals have no problem losing several games in a row, and they usually play bad in April. Since 2007, the Royals are 55-70 in April. However, except in 2007 (8-18) and 2010 (9-14), the Royals have been around .500 in the other years. Of course the team does have a knack of losing several games in a row and maybe win a few games in a row here and there. When the losing happens early in the season, it magnifies the Royals struggles and gets fans thinking about the Chiefs upcoming season.

The Royals aren’t doing themselves any favors losing six games in a row, with five of them against A.L. Central opponents. If the Royals want to make 2012 their time and not be the same old Royals, they need to get their offense going, stay away from big innings and get Lorenzo Cain back in center field.

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Royals minor league placements: position players

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.

Take a look at the Royals top pitching prospects

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

With Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas entrenched in the corners of the Royals infield, most of the Royals’ top rated prospects are pitchers.  Only three position players were ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America this off-season, and only those three were rated among the Royals’ top 10 prospects.

Wil Myers has been touted as one of baseball’s top prospects for a couple of years now, and he headlines the Royals farm system. Myers was rated the #10 prospect by Baseball America a year ago, and even after an injury-plagued, mildly disappointing 2011, he still is rated #28. Myers will start this season in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but will look to move up mid-season.

Without having done anything on the field yet, outfielder Bubba Starling is Baseball America’s #24 prospect. Starling has every tool known to man, but will take time converting to baseball full-time after devoting little time to low-level Kansas high school competition.

Rising star Cheslor Cuthbert, a third baseman who will begin the season in Wilmington, is rated #84.

It’s time for some new position prospects to move to the fore.

Three of the Royals’ most prime prospects are not on rosters as of the beginning of the season. Starling, Brett Eibner and Elier Hernandez have yet to find their home for the start of 2012.

Hernandez signed the largest contract ever given to a Latin American amateur in KC history, and he will be brought along slowly. Eibner has been a frustrating talent since being drafted out of college. His days as an elite prospect are about up.

Omaha:
The Omaha roster is full of mid-to-late-20s players who aren’t exactly prospects anymore, minus the exception of second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella will turn 25 mid-season, and has a good chance of returning to KC sometime this season.

Minor league veterans Kevin Kouzmanoff, Clint Robinson and Jarrod Dyson will provide insurance, should any injuries occur in KC. Outfielders David Lough (26) and Derrick Robinson (24) are talented, but see their windows of opportunity closing.

No catcher in the Omaha roster is truly big-league caliber, which is why the Royals were forced to trade for Humberto Quintero after Salvador Perez went down. Minor leaguer Manny Pina may go to Omaha after he returns from the disabled list.

Northwest Arkansas:
In Christian Colon and Rey Navarro, Northwest Arkansas has two top prospects in its middle infield. Former number one draft pick Colon (23 years old) is still struggling to put it all together at shortstop. Last season he batted just .257 with eight homers at Northwest Arkansas.

Colon has been given some chances at second base, but that’s also Navarro’s territory. Navarro (22) put up a .280 average with nine homers and 11 stolen bases between Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas.

Myers will hope to improve on his .254 average and eight homers posted in Double-A last season. He looks to be just a year away from a shot at the big league roster.

Wilmington:
Third baseman Cuthbert will start the year in Wilmington, and he won’t be rushed. After all, he is just 19. He’s two years younger than any other position player on the Wilmington roster. Cuthbert’s numbers don’t wow anyone, but his physical talents and maturity have impressed ever since he was signed as a 16-year-old.

Kane County:
Outfielder Jorge Bonifacio is considered an elite prospect out of the Dominican Republic. Just 18 years old, and like Hernandez, he has lots of tools, but just needs to grow into them.

2010 Third-rounder Michael Antonio gives the Royals a shortstop to watch for down the road. He hit well in the rookie leagues last year.

Idaho Falls:
Salvador Perez is the Royals catcher of the future, but catcher of the future-future might be big 19-year-old Cameron Gallagher, a second-round pick who got in 28 games of rookie ball last season. There aren’t many catching prospects in the farm system, so Gallagher will be watched closely.

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A look ahead to June 23, 2012

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver preview the much anticipated nationally-televised mid-season match-up between the NL Central leading St. Louis Cardinals and the AL Central leading Kansas City Royals

Joe Buck: It gives us great pleasure to welcome the entire country to beautiful Kauffman Stadium for this week’s featured matchup between, currently, the best team in each league.  And in the case of the American League, the separation between the Kansas City Royals and every other team in the league is far and wide.  After last night’s win, this incredibly exciting young Royals ballclub sits at 48 wins and just 28 losses, putting them 10 games in front of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.  And they have done it on the backs of their young stars.  We are still a few weeks away from the All-Star Break, and 3B Mike Moustakas leads the entire major leagues with 22 home runs.  1B Eric Hosmer has a batting average of .365 which also leads the entire major leagues.  Left-fielder Alex Gordon picked up exactly where he left off last season, and Catcher Salvador Perez has caught the attention of the baseball world not only with his defense behind the plate, but also with his bat, carrying a .321 average with 10 home runs and 40 RBI into today’s game.

Tim McCarver: You know, coming into this season, everyone in the game was acknowledging that these young Royals had some great hitters.  But the question was pitching.  Nobody on this staff had really established himself as a front-line starter, and the young pitchers were not quite ready to make the leap.  Next  year was supposed to be the year.  But as we sit here today, Joe, you would have to say that under new pitching coach Dave Eiland, the Royals may be sporting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.  The big right-hander we will see today, Felipe Paulino, has to be considered one of the front-runners to start the All-Star Game for the American League, which by the way, will take place here in Kansas City in just a few weeks.

Joe Buck: And if Paulino makes the all-star team, he most certainly will not be alone.  The left-hander Danny Duffy, a kid who the team wasn’t even sure was going to make the team out of spring training, has absolutely electrified since the beginning of the season.  The staff leads the American League in strikeouts, something that manager Ned Yost told us earlier was even a surprise to him.

Tim McCarver: You know, Joe…it doesn’t seem like that long ago when this team was only winning 48 games in a whole season.  Now they have 48 wins and we still have more than 3 months to play.

Joe Buck: When General Manager Dayton Moore arrived in Kansas City 6 years ago, the organization was in shambles.  The major league club was losing, every time they would develop anything resembling a star they would be traded away, and the minor league system had nothing in it to offer any hope for the future.  Moore arrived and stated that his primary objective was to rebuild the farm system.  And he said it would take time.  It has taken time, but Tim, it looks like we might finally be seeing the patience of the Kansas City Royals’ fans beginning to pay off.

Tim McCarver: You got that right, Joe.  This is a deserving fan base that has waited far too long to have something to get excited about.  It’s great a great thing to see.

Joe Buck: This team is taking this city for a ride, and it’s been a long time coming.  Kauffman Stadium is a sea of blue, on a balmy June afternoon, and it’s almost time for baseball.  We will be back for the first pitch, after these messages…

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Naturals Sweep Weekly Awards

Naturals sweep weekly awards
Lisson, Smith, Odorizzi honored as team wins division title

Texas League President Tom Kayser announced Monday that three Naturals combined to earn the Texas League’s weekly individual awards for the period of August 29-September 4, as Mario Lisson and Tim Smith shared Player of the Week honors and Jake Odorizzi was named Pitcher of the Week.

Mario Lisson

Lisson’ led the Naturals’ playoff-clinching surge last week, going 11-22 (.500) at the plate with five doubles and two home runs, including a game-tying blast in the seventh inning of the team’s clinching game on Sep. 3. Those two home runs also made Lisson the Naturals’ all-time leader in that category (31). Lisson ended the regular season on an eight-game hitting streak and overall, the 27-year-old native of Caracas, Ven. hit .293 with a .372 on-base percentage, 21 doubles, 15 home runs and 45 RBI.

Smith also finished the regular season with an eight-game hitting streak, as he was 14-30 (.467) with three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI in the final week. A 25-year-old from Toronto, Ont., Smith played in 69 games for the Naturals in 2011, hitting .311 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs and 49 RBI.

Taking the mound against the Arkansas Travelers on Sep. 2, Odorizzi turned in his best pitching performance at the Double-A level. He held the Travelers hitless until the seventh, allowing just one hit over seven scoreless innings while striking out six and walking two. A 21-year-old resident of Highland, Ill., Odorizzi has made 12 starts for the Naturals since a mid-season promotion from Advanced-A Wilmington, going 5-3 with a 4.72 ERA. In 68 2/3 innings pitched, the right-hander recorded 54 strikeouts against 22 walks, holding the Texas League to a .254 batting average.

These three players become the fifth, sixth, and seventh Naturals to earn a weekly Texas League honor in 2011. Buddy Baumann was named as Pitcher of the Week for May 23rd-29th, the team swept the awards given for the week of May 9th-15th, as Nick Van Stratten earned Player of the Week and Will Smith was named Pitcher of the Week, and Salvador Perez was named Player of the Week for July 18-24.

The Naturals will look for those contributions to continue as they have named Odorizzi their game one starter for Wednesday night’s playoff opener in North Little Rock.

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.

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You Got To Know When To Hold ‘Em

Dayton Moore and the Royals management need to pay heed to the advice of The Gambler as the mid-season trade deadline draws near. For as there is a time to fold ‘em, there also comes a time to hold ‘em.

The Royals have perennially been a seller at the deadline, trading off players as they approached free agency. Often the moves were necessary, and occasionally the Royals improved their franchise in the dealings.

But this is a new era in KC, in spite of the team’s dismal record. “The process” isn’t just beginning. It has begun. It’s no longer time to abandon decent major league players for the sake of acquiring cheaper, younger prospects.

Last year the Royals dumped David DeJesus, partly clearing the way for prospects, but also in part simply because they didn’t expect to resign him. The loss of DeJesus, it turns out, hasn’t hurt the team. The current outfield has proven to be the strength of the big league team, while DeJesus has struggled.

The situation with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur is different.

Cabrera, eligible for arbitration after this season, has been a spark plug both offensively and defensively. He might draw some interest from a contending club needing an outfielder.

Francoeur, under a contract with mutual options through next season, has some pop and plays solid defense as well. He could also fetch something on the trade market.

But this revolving door has got to stop, and now is the time. The young players coming up in the system can’t succeed if there is no stability around them.

At some point, the Royals have to start keeping good players, even if they aren’t great players.

So Lorenzo Cain is ready. Can’t the team find him some playing time without dumping Cabrera? Do the Royals really have to clear a path a mile wide just for David Lough to have a shot at the big leagues? So Wil Myers has shown great potential? Does that mean he should be handed a job he’s not even nearly ready for?

Not everyone likes Cabrera and Francoeur. But the fact is, they are still young, talented, experienced players with team-friendly contracts. They are hungry to show they belong in the big leagues. In terms of proven big league players, they came to the Royals as a bargain.

They could both certainly be dumped for pitching prospects, which the team desperately needs. But DeJesus brought a couple of pitching prospects, and look how that turned out. Alberto Callaspo was dealt for pitching prospects. Same result.

It could be argued that Callaspo was blocking Mike Moustakas’ rise to the big club. But what’s wrong with letting Moustakas earn a spot in the show, rather than having the way paved for him?

It would seem that the way to develop a winning team wouldn’t be to have too few good players, but to have too many. Imagine if in two years, the Royals had an outfield rotation of Gordon, Francoeur and Myers on the corners and Cabrera and Cain in center, all under team-friendly contracts. Not only could they have solid defense and speed, with options for platoon, but then they could really trade from a position of strength.

Francoeur recently stated publicly that he would like to stay in KC and help the team develop. A decision on his status isn’t as pressing, as he is under contract for next year. Cabrera might not fetch as much via trade as he is worth in a Royals uniform. He shouldn’t be given away, like DeJesus and Callaspo were.

Should some team come with proven big league starting pitching in return for either of the two outfielders, of course the team should jump without hesitation. But anything short of that, and the Royals should take the old gambler’s advice and hold ‘em.

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Mid-season Checkup

Going into this season, Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak discussed some of the off-season moves the club had made. He said at the time, and has since reiterated, that the team was aware of the defensive sacrifices they’d made (see: Ryan, Brendan, UZR), but felt that in order to better compete in the 2011 National League Central division, a more potent offense was critical.

Despite starting the season off slowly at the plate, and, according to at least one account, carrying a batting average lower than the weight of Mozeliak’s 12 year-old daughter, Ryan Theriot is the Cardinals’ shortstop. This is one area where the “we chose offense over defense” decision has been clear, as Theriot has committed 15 errors so far this season. He’s also batting .290 with 32 RBI, and has 17 doubles, tying him with Molina, 2nd to Holliday’s 18.

But this isn’t about Ryan Theriot. This is about the St. Louis Cardinals, and their run at the franchise’s 24th playoff appearance. I’ve said before that, when it comes to making a run at the postseason, what matters most is how a team stacks up against their division. Being that we’re halfway through the season, I’d like to take a look at four offensive categories in the National League. More specifically, I want to see the team for which these leaders in these offensive categories play, and which division that team is in. From there, I’ll let you decide whether or not pursuing offense over defense in the offseason was a factor in the Cardinals being at the top of the division (55 days in 1st place).

NL Batting Average Leaders: 3 of the top 5 are National League Central players (HOU, MIL, CIN)
NL Runs Scored Leaders: 4 of the top 5 are NL Central players (MIL, HOU, MIL, CIN)
NL Home Runs Leaders: 4 of the top 5 are NL Central players (STL, MIL, CIN, CHC)
NL Runs Batted In Leaders: 3 of the top 5 are NL Central players (MIL, STL, MIL)

You may be wondering about pitching categories, well, let me say this: Looking at Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, ERA, & WHIP, the aforementioned NLC teams are represented in the following manner:

NL leaders in Wins: 2 of the top 5 (PIT, MIL)
NL leaders in Saves: 1 of the top 5 (PIT)
NL leaders in Strikeouts: 0 of the top 5
NL leaders in ERA: 1 of the top 5 (PIT)
NL leaders in WHIP: 1 of the top 5 (STL, Lohse)

A marked difference! Pittsburgh is represented nowhere offensively, yet are also still contending in the division. Gallardo (MIL) and Lohse (STL) are the only two non-Pirates in the NLC that appear on the pitching leaderboard at all.

So, I ask you: Where would this Cardinals team be right now if not for the offensive production in the lineup? Don’t tell me that with the McClellan we’ve seen lately, the Carpenter we saw until recently, and the Westbrook we’ve seen all year that we’d be anywhere near the top of the division. And spare me any arguments that contain “if” and “Wainwright”–he’s a stud, we all know it, but he’s not around, period. I have to believe the reason the Cardinals are enjoying the success they’re having in the division is a direct result of the conscious decision to go after offense, even if it meant sacrificing defense. The biggest problem I see with that? Offense wins games, it may be true, but pitching & defense win championships.

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