Tag Archive | "Midway Point"

What Went Wrong In Kansas City Royals Sweep?

A hot start after the All Star break had Royals fans dreaming of the postseason. The problem was that the Tigers and Indians matched the Royals’ early success after the midway point. Now, the luster of that hot streak has faded and the Royals have dropped five straight games, including a sweep at the hands of the lowly White Sox. So what happened in the three-game series against the Chicago south-siders? Here is a look at what went wrong:

JustinMaxwell

John Danks continues mastery of Royals
Danks shut out Kansas City over eight innings in the series opener (a 2-0 White Sox win). He scattered seven hits and struck out two Royals. Danks has really struggled this year, with a 2-10 record entering his start against the Royals. But the blue and white of the Royals was a welcome sight for the veteran left-hander. Danks improved to 6-0 in his career against Kansas City over 13 starts. His ERA in those 13 starts is 2.47 and his WHIP is 1.17.

The Royals bats went silent
In the three game series, the Royals scored a total of five runs, with a high of three runs in the series finale. Justin Maxwell‘s double in the opener was the only extra base hit in the series for the Royals, who posted an OPS of .465. Kansas City had a three-game total of 20 hits and hit for a terrible .198 average with 23 strikeouts. They also squandered scoring opportunities, leaving 18 on base.

Good starts were wasted
The Royals starters were solid in the series, but ended up recording a loss in two of the three games. Ervin Santana opened the three-game set with a good performance. He scattered four hits over six impressive innings of two-run ball. Jeremy Guthrie had one bad inning in game two, when he allowed a Dayan Viciedo grand slam as part of a five-run frame. Shields allowed three earned runs over seven innings, with eight strikeouts in a no-decision, before Luke Hochevar gave up a game-winning home run to Conor Gillaspie in the 12th inning.

Addison Reed notches a tri-fecta
In three tight wins, Reed slammed the door on the Royals, with three saves in three games. The talented young closer allowed one hit and one walk over his three flawless innings and struck out three Royals. The three straight saves give Reed 34 on the season on a team with only 52 wins.

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Top Seven Baby Birds

At the midway point through September, our brethren of Untied Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) band together to determine who the top seven prospects are in the franchise. A special hat tip goes out to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Derrick asked the UCB to help him compile this list a few years back and it has since become a staple around these parts.

When it comes to my list of prospects, and I admit that I am not a card carrying member of the Hyperventilating Prospect Geek Fraternity (#HPGF), I fear it may read just a little differently than some of the others. If you would like to keep track of everyone weighing in on the subject, simply click here and you will find links to all of these similar articles.

Here is my top seven prospects, listed here in reverse order to build the suspense (it works for Letterman):

Number Seven: Matt Adams, First Base

I think the easiest way a prospect ends up on my countdown is when I can say “I really didn’t see this guy coming a year ago”. I may not be a huge prospect geek, but I do keep tabs on the baby birds and Matt Adams has been impressive.

The Cardinals drafted Adams in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft. Adams came out of Slippery Rock University, a Division II school. He is what Cards announcer Mike Shannon would describe as a “big boy”, standing in at six foot three inches tall and weighing 230 pounds.

The athletic first baseman has shown that his size does not have a large impact on his glove, which raised his stock above that of just a hitter this season. What kind of hitter is he, you ask? In a word…impressive. Adams finished second in the Texas League with 32 home runs and led the league in runs batted in with 101. A .300 batting average to go along with 40 walks and 90 strikeouts projects a pure power hitter in the making. The rest of the world will take notice of Adams for a few reasons: 1 – should Albert Pujols resign, he is a blocked prospect for the team and 2 – he was named Texas League Player of the Year today.

Do not get your hopes up too high, fans, just because he comes in at number seven does not mean that everyone above him is better than the impressive young man at the entry point of this countdown. Adams ranks seventh due to being blocked at the Major League level and my belief that he will help this club more from the player they get in return for him in a trade then he will by reaching the majors with the birds on the bat across his chest.

Number Six: Zach Cox, Third Base

I think I rank Cox lower than most of my fellow UCB members. A lot of this has to do with the position he is still playing despite the fact that no one in baseball, let alone the organization, feels that he can and will be playing that position at the major league level.

Cox was the first round pick of the Cardinals just last season out of Arkansas and, despite his college playing days being at the hot corner, was projected as a major league second baseman from the start. Cox is a small frame guy who tips the scales at 215 pounds and stretches to a six foot even height.

Cox did what he needed to do in 2011: he played average defense, hit for a decent average, found ways to get on base, and kept his head down and learned from the staff at Palm Beach and Springfield. He will need to work on his patience at the plate, however, if he expects to be around at the major league level. He has some pop in his bat, driving 13 home runs out of the park this year to go with 27 doubles, but with 98 strikeouts he either needs to be hitting for a lot more power or learning to draw a few more walks.

Cox comes in at number six due to the fact that he is still playing a position that the team feels he will not contribute at, and he’s not playing it overly well on the defensive side of things. Cox will most likely make his impact felt with another major league team, possibly as early as 2013 as I have to agree with Daniel Shoptaw in the thought that Cox may not wear a Cardinal uniform of any kind by the time Spring rolls around.

Number Five: Kolten Wong, Second Base

Wong is a player in the organization that is playing the position he should be, playing it well, and squeezing fellow prospect Zach Cox out of the picture because of it.

The talented Second Baseman was the first round pick of the organization this season and went right to work at Class A Quad Cities. A prototype figure at middle infield, Wong stands five foot nine inches tall and weighs 190 pounds. At the ripe old age of 20, Wong seems virtually ready to be at the major league level sooner rather than later.

Wong has a few things going for him in his young career: he is a patient hitter, a solid base runner, does not hurt himself in the field, and finds himself playing his natural position for a team that needs someone to step up at that position. By no means do I think Wong will see major league action in 2012, but he will have the Cardinals looking for a bridge type player at second instead of looking for someone long term. The goal of the organization at second base this offseason will be to acquire someone to hold the position down until Wong arrives. In a 47 game sample this season, Wong was able to produce five home runs, 25 runs batted in, 15 doubles and nine stolen bases. All of this while hitting for a .335 batting average and posting a .401 on base percentage. He would strike out 24 times but he would also draw 22 walks, showing patience, a good eye, and an ability to potentially be the catalyst at the top of the Cardinals order that they so desperately desire.

Wong is my first ranking that projects to be a strong part of the organization by staying in the organization. Look for the young man to get some playing time in Spring Training next year and head off to Springfield for some seasoning immediately afterwards. I would anticipate him arriving in Memphis around the midway point of 2012 and in St. Louis as they break camp in 2013.

Number Four: Ryan Jackson, Shortstop

Jackson makes this list as another one of those players that opened my eyes this year without previous knowledge of him coming into 2011. He ranks high on the list due to his position because it has been a while since the Cardinals have developed a shortstop within the organization worth getting excited about.

The tall and lanky Jackson finds himself at six foot three inches tall and an mere 180 pounds, but finds a way to turn that small frame into a combustible element at the plate.

Our friend over at Diamond Diaries, Erika Lynn, might keep a close eye on Jackson as he has been described as “Brendan Ryan with a bat” by many scribes. While Jackson has made his share of errors this season at 19, that number is influenced by the sheer number of balls the young man can get to. His defensive ability has been that of a highlight reel player that you never take your eyes off of for the fear of missing that “Holy Cow” moment. While his defense has been impressive, his stroke at the plate has suddenly pushed him onto the scene. With 34 doubles, 3 triples, 11 home runs and 73 runs batted in, Jackson has become a respected bat at the plate in a potent Springfield (AA) lineup this season. If he can draw a few more walks above this year’s 44 and cut down on the 91 strikeouts a bit, his numbers will improve and St. Louis will find their shortstop of the future.

Jackson is the reason the team is looking at players like Rafael Furcal currently. The franchise has seemingly lost faith in Tyler Greene and will look for a player that can contribute through 2012 in order to get to the arrival of Jackson in 2013. Expect Jackson to open the season at Memphis next year if the organization either promotes or trades Greene. Otherwise, he may remain at Springfield until the team can find an appropriate home for Greene.

Number Three: Carlos Martinez, Pitcher

Projecting minor league pitchers is one of the most tedious processes any scout or pundit can find himself in. Arms come and go, control is erratic and pitchers can seem dominate in one league and less than impressive in another. Martinez seems to have all the stuff to be effective and impressive at the major league level but he has a few levels to go through first.

At six feet tall and only 165 pounds, you would not expect Martinez to be striking fear into opposing hitters very often. With an array of pitches, impressive control, and a keen sense of the game, the Dominican right hander is doing just that, however, and doing it all at 19 years of age.

Martinez signed with the Cardinals last season and went to work in the Dominican league before coming to the United States and playing at Quad Cities and Palm Beach this season. In 11 starts this season, Martinez posted a 5-2 record with a minuscule 2.14 earned run average. Our stat heads will tell you neither of those stats matter much, especially at the minor league level, but there are a few stats that show the maturity of this young man. In 54 2/3 innings pitched this season, Martinez struck out 66 hitters while only walking 17 and allowing only 43 hits. That equates to a 1.098 Walks/Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP), 2.8 walks per nine innings, 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.88 strikeout to walk ratio. Add into all of that the fact that he surrendered just two home runs and you can see that he is both dominant and effective at the lower levels. His array of pitches suggest he will remain a starter, though his style may see him end up as a swing man/reliever early on in his career.

Expect the team to handle Martinez with a little bit of care (see: Rick Ankiel) but push him just a bit. He will see some action in the Spring next season and most likely start his year at Springfield (AA).

Number Two: Shelby Miller, Pitcher

Here is where I break rank from most every other list I have seen. Shelby is the highest ranked prospect in the Cardinal organization by many, but has slid down my list a spot due to recent developments in the youngster’s career.

The six foot three, 195 pound lefty from Texas is truly one of the baby birds at age 20. His fastball clocks mid to high 90′s and has movement. His curveball buckles batters and he relies on his defense when he does not have his best stuff.

Miller’s ability on the field shows that of a mature ball players that knows how to get out of trouble on the mound in multiple ways. His 2011 season opened at Palm Beach but he quickly found his way to Springfield and the AA Cardinals. Dominant would be the best way to describe Miller on the mound, posting 140 strikeouts to 33 walks over 139 2/3 innings pitched shows that he has hitters figured out beyond what any 20 year old should. He limits his damage and is learning to pitch to contact, which will have fans drooling over his arrival in the very near future.

Miller slides to number two for me due to off the field issues this past season. While rumors have circulated that the issues are alcohol related, those rumors have not been officially confirmed by the club despite a suspension of the young man this season for a second offense. A pitcher who shows maturity on the field will need to ensure maturity off of it or he will simply become known as a dominant minor league player. Should he get these issues under control, look for Shelby to see time at Memphis in 2012 and most likely make his major league debut next year as well.

Number One: Adron Chambers, Outfield

Another Junior College product (Pensacola State), Chambers is the player on this list most likely to be in the majors when Spring Training closes next year.

He is five foot ten inches tall and 185 pounds and is a more typical prospect age of 24 years old. His speed on the base paths is something to marvel at and his patience at the plate may be just what the Cardinals need. If the team wants a prototype lead-off hitter for the first time in decades, they need look no further.

Chambers showed some pop this season at Memphis, driving 10 home runs when his previous career high was six. Beyond that, it was more of the same from the young center fielder. Strong defense, a good arm, a good batting eye and flat out speed have led the young man to a September call up for a cup of coffee at the major league level. Chambers set career highs in stolen bases (22), walks (53), slugging percentage (.415), runs (73), home runs(10) and doubles (19). He projects as a lead off hitter and center fielder in an organization that is transitioning in the outfield and the top of the lineup.

Chambers is in a position to control his destiny and take advantage of a situation with a team that needs someone to step into the roles that he can fill. Expect Chambers to get a long look at Spring Training next season and break camp with the club. Chambers will get every chance to be a part of this team for the immediate future.

There you have it, I-70 Baseball’s look at the top seven prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals organziation. Let us know how you think they rank in the comments below.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Cardinals Battered “A-Team” May Finally Be Reunited

Albert Pujols’ is rumored to be ready to return to the Cardinals’ lineup as soon as Wednesday night, but whenever it happens (barring another injury) it will be a sight for sore eyes… and wrists… and elbows… and hands… and even appendices.

That’s because when Pujols returns to the Cardinals’ lineup, it will be the first time since April 15th in Los Angeles that the team will feature its 2011 opening day lineup… their “A-team” if you will.

  1. Theriot
  2. Rasmus
  3. Pujols
  4. Holliday
  5. Berkman
  6. Freese
  7. Molina
  8. Schumaker

If that lineup card looks a little strange to you, that’s because it is. The Cardinals have only featured it four times all season: Opening day, and April 11th, 12th, and 15th. That’s it. And yes… the Cardinals are in first place despite just about as much adversity as you can have injury-wise.

It’s truly been a remarkable run for the Cardinals thus far in the 2011 season, now 5 games beyond its midway point. The Red Birds came into the year as decided underdogs to the Reds and Brewers (and that was before the Adam Wainwright injury). I hate to keep beating a dead horse about the injuries, but what the Cardinals have been able to do this season is perhaps only slightly shy of miraculous.

Despite the injuries, the Cards have found a way to bang out 399 runs, averaging 4.64 a game: 2nd best in the National League. They’ve found diamonds in the rough in Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso. They’ve been able to give Jon Jay a ton of playing time, and he’s met the challenge head-on and flourished both at the plate and in the outfield.

Now that the lineup is (almost) healthy again, it should make Cardinals fans eager to see how the 2nd half playoff push is going to unfold. Right now, it’s a 4-horse race in the Central Division between the Cards, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates (say what?!). The Reds have experience. The Pirates have young guns who are playing their hearts out and don’t know any better. The Brewers have a ton of talent, and a desire to win now. The Red Birds are running on shear desire and heart. It’s truly anyone’s division at this point (ok, I’m going to spoil the ending for you a little, the Pirates don’t win it).

But if the Cardinals continue to fight for wins like they’ve got a hand tied behind their back, then this pennant race is already over.

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Evaluating the Minors at the Midway Point: The Position Players

Ask Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas how easy it is to make the jump from the minor leagues to the big show.

A month ago, everyone thought calling up Hosmer and Moustakas was the kick-start the Royals needed to hang in the race for the AL Central Division. Now, mired in last place, those promotions look more like an admission that 2011 is over and we’re beginning extended spring training for 2012.

Hosmer and Moustakas haven’t been flops. But they haven’t been rookie sensations either. They simply have shown that no matter how great you are in the minors, the major leagues are a whole different ballgame.

Look no further than the numbers Kila Ka’aihue and Mike Aviles are posting at Omaha to see evidence of that truth. Does anyone think those numbers indicate Kila and Aviles are now equipped to succeed against big league pitching?

Two previous articles checked the mid-season progress of the Royals’ minor league teams and minor league pitching prospects. This article will do the same for the Royals’ position prospects, with a full admission that greatness at the minor league level does not necessarily point to brighter days ahead for the big league club.

Baseball America’s #8 and #9 ranked players – Hosmer and Moustakas – are now in KC. Beyond those two, the highest hopes were pinned on catcher-turned-outfielder Wil Myers. While KC is in desperate need of catching help, it was decided that Myers bat was just too far ahead of his glove.

Myers has heated up at the plate since returning from a serious cut on his knee (suffered in an off-the-field incident), raising his average to .288. His power numbers are not great, but the 21 year old will press for a promotion to Omaha before the season is up. Though he hasn’t set any worlds on fire this year, no one is questioning Myers’ ability.

A lot of people thought KC reached when they took Christian Colon with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft. Looks now like those people might be right. He was called a college version of Derek Jeter, and it turns out that might not be a compliment. His leadership, maturity and consistency may have overshadowed his limited physical tools. Colon got off to a very slow start at Wilmington last year and hasn’t really sped up since.

Colon is hitting just .253 with just four homers in the hitter-friendly Texas League. A bigger problem could be that he may not have the defensive skills to stay at shortstop. If he’s going to be relegated to second base, he’d better be special at the plate to merit the #4 pick. So far, he hasn’t been.

One other player received recognition in MLB.com’s list of top 50 prospects – Johnny Giavotella is currently rated the #7 second baseman in the minors. Taken out of the University of New Orleans in the second round in 2008, Giavotella is soon to be 24 years old. He’s moved through the minors one level per season, but has hit well at every stop. Currently batting .324 with 53 RBIs at Omaha, Giavotella’s problem may be that he’ll never be more than adequate defensively.

If Chris Getz doesn’t firmly grasp the second base job in KC, Giavotella may be given a chance. But the fact that he’s limited defensively, coupled with the fact he can’t play short or third, may keep him from making it to KC permanently.

The guy who is probably closest to getting the call to the big leagues is Lorenzo Cain, an athletic centerfielder acquired in the Zack Greinke trade. Melky Cabrera blocked Cain from making the big-league squad in spring training, but it may be just a matter of a mid-season trade before Cain patrols center in KC.

Cain is hitting .295 with some power at Omaha, but he has not been used in the leadoff spot, which is troubling because he was seen as a possible table setter at the big league level. His on-base percentage is .360, but he has stolen a mere seven bags thus far.

Myers and Colon have had somewhat disappointing seasons. But another highly-touted prospect has been even more of a letdown thus far – Kane County centerfielder Brett Eibner. Eibner didn’t sign early enough to see any action in 2010. Now injuries have slowed the five-tool Arkansas Razorback draftee from making much headway in 2011.

Having played in just 15 games, Eibner is currently hitting a paltry .182. He’s already 22 years old, and is still several stops away from KC. The second half of this season will be crucial for his chances.

The long wait continues for two other older players – David Lough and Clint Robinson. Time is ticking for both former collegians. Lough is 25, Robinson 26.

If Cain is slated to play center in KC, then Lough may finally squeeze out Mitch Maier as the fourth outfielder. He brings a gritty combination of speed and power and is hitting .308 at Omaha.

Robinson may never get a shot at the big leagues, but its not because he can’t hit. After winning the triple crown at Northwest Arkansas last year, he’s posting unbelievable numbers once again. He’s currently hitting .327 with 17 homers through 75 games. His on-base percentage is .402 and his OPS is .973. With Billy Butler and Hosmer already in KC, the Royals will have to get creative for Robinson to have a chance.

One of the gems deep in the Royals system is Cheslor Cuthbert, a slugging 18-year-old third baseman. The Royals have brought him along slowly, but Cuthbert is hitting .302 with four homers in 28 games at Kane County. He will be one to watch closely over the next few seasons.

Catching has been one of the great black holes in the Royals system. The best current hope in the system is Northwest Arkansas’ 21-year-old Salvador Perez. Big (230) and tall (6’3”) for a catching prospect, Perez has been with the Royals since he was 17, slowing making his way through the system. He’s currently hitting .262 with four homers and is thought to be solid defensively.

Wilmington – the Royals’ high A level team – plays in a pitcher-dominated league, and they have several hot pitching prospects. The only batter making a mark this season is 21-year-old second baseman Rey Navarro who is currently hitting .284 with a team-leading eight homers.

The development of Myers, Colon and Cain are of the utmost importance to the future of the Royals. Much less is invested in the older prospects – Giavotella, Robinson, and Lough, but they may yet receive a shot. Not all of the younger prospects will work out, but the Royals will watch anxiously what happens to Perez, Eibner and Cuthbert.

Developing prospects is a crapshoot, and numbers on the minor league level tell just a part of the story. With Ka’aihue and Aviles raking in Omaha, that fact was never more apparent.

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Evaluating the Minors at the Midway Point: The Pitchers

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.

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Evaluating The Minors At The Midway Point: The Teams

The purpose of a baseball team’s minor league system is to produce a winner at the highest level. Based on that criteria, the Royals’ farm system, ranked number one in the off-season, will have to wait to receive its final grade.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

But a preliminary evaluation at the mid-point of the season reveals mixed results.

The Royals farm system was so loaded with prospects in January that Baseball America actually called it the greatest accumulation of talent they had seen in 22 years of rankings.

With that kind of talent, you would think the Royals would dominate at every level of their farm system. But of course, it doesn’t work that way. Some of the prospects were certain to make the big league squad, while others would not live up to such lofty billing.

In Baseball America’s system, 100 points were given to a number 1 prospect, down to one point for a number 100 prospect, to accumulate a total ranking. The Royals tallied 574 points, the most ever by any team.

The Royals had nine players ranked in the top 100 – 8) Eric Hosmer, 9) Mike Moustakas, 10) Wil Myers, 18) John Lamb, 19) Mike Montgomery, 51) Christian Colon, 68) Danny Duffy, 69) Jake Odorizzi, 83) Chris Dwyer.

Three of the players who factored into that ranking – Hosmer, Duffy and Moustakas – have since been promoted to the big league squad. So in that sense, the farm system is paying dividends.

Several top farm hands who didn’t make the top 100 have contributed at the big-league level as well, particularly in the bullpen. The youth movement is well underway.

But as the minor league teams reach the halfway point in their season, the system is due for a check-up.

In this article, each of the top four teams will be reviewed. In two subsequent articles, the pitchers and position players will be scrutinized.

Kansas City Royals:

First, a quick look at the big league club to see the impact of the farm system at the highest level. While the Royals will not threaten for a playoff spot, rookies are gaining valuable exposure.

While Hosmer, Duffy and Moustakas have received the most attention, Aaron Crow may have achieved the most success. Shutting down teams in the late innings and even spelling Joakim Soria, Crow is living up to his potential. Crow was left out of Baseball America’s top 100 because he struggled mightily as a starter in 2010.

Crow, Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, and Everett Teaford are all seeing their first action as big leaguers, with generally positive results. Throw in Greg Holland, Jeremy Jeffress and Blake Wood and you have a bevy of young guns for the Royals to build a dominant bullpen.

Hosmer and Moustakas were promoted in the first half of the season to join youngsters Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz in an all-under-27 infield. Jerrod Dyson got some experience in his second partial season in the outfield.

Omaha Storm Chasers:

The Triple-A affiliate benefits from not only up-and-coming prospects but also big leaguers who are sent down, either due to failure in KC or to injury rehab. The Storm Chasers leads their four-team division with a 36-28 record.

Promotions have left the team with few young prospects. Montgomery has struggled thus far, while Jeffress has been tried as a starter. Johnny Giavotella has risen to the top as a second base prospect, while Clint Robinson continues to rake minor league pitching. Dyson’s ship may have sailed, but fellow outfielders Lorenzo Cain and David Lough are forced to wait for their chance.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals:

The Double-A squad is loaded with top prospects, yet has struggled to a 29-30 mark, particularly due to injuries. Myers missed nearly a month, while Lamb is headed for Tommy John surgery.

Meanwhile, other top prospects have struggled. Dwyer has been a complete disappointment, while 2010 first rounder Colon is headed for bust status. The franchise’s top catching prospect, Salvador Perez, is struggling at the plate.

On the bright side, Kelvin Herrera and Kevin Chapman are relievers on the way up.

Wilmington Blue Rocks:

The high-A squad is 32-30 and in second place in its four-team division. If Lamb and Dwyer falter, Blue Rocks 21-year-old hurlers Jake Odorizzi and Noel Arguelles may step into the void. Pitching is ahead of hitting at the high-A level, with other prospects including pitchers Tyler Sample, Tim Melville, Justin Marks and Michael Mariot.

Kane County Cougars:

The lower level of the farm system needs a boost. The Royals addressed the need by drafting high schoolers with their first five picks last week. Kane County is just 27-36 and sits in seventh place in its eight-team division.

The biggest disappointment of the Cougars’ season is five-tool outfielder Brett Eibner. Due to protracted contract negotiations and injuries, the 22-year-old former Arkansas Razorback has played in just a handful of games as a pro.

Jason Adam, a 2010 draftee from Blue Valley Northwest High School in Kansas City, has been impressive on the hill. He heads a staff of several other pitching prospects who are experiencing the ups and downs of development.

Keep an eye on Chelsor Cuthbert, who is being brought along slowly as a third-base prospect. Just 18, Cuthbert has already played in more than 50 games at three levels and is viewed as an advanced hitting talent.

While it was easy to get excited about Baseball America’s preseason ranking of the farm system, it has often been said that having potential just means you haven’t done anything yet.

Until the big-league Royals begin competing for championships, a number one ranking of farm systems is merely a consolation prize. While there will always be injuries, flops and attrition at the minor league level, the poor performance of several key prospects takes the shine off the ranking. Five months after the ranking was announced, the reality is that the big league team is still bad, and the success of prospects is never guaranteed.

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All-Stars At The All-Star Break

The All-Star game gives a chance for baseball’s best players to get together on one field and showcase their talent. This year, the Cardinals are sending five players to the All-Star game: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Matt Holliday. All of these players have had very different first halves this year, ranging anywhere from completely dominant to slightly disappointing. Let’s take a look and see what we can find…

Albert Pujols: This will be Albert’s ninth appearance in the All-Star game in only ten seasons. So far this season he’s hitting a solid .305/.413/.567 (batting, on base, slugging), which is actually low for him when looking at his numbers spread out over his career. His average line for the first half is .325/.422/.617. I would in fact venture to say that these are the lowest his numbers have been at the midway point in the last five years. That’s on the surface. Digging in a little deeper, with runners on base, Albert is hitting .341/.482/.611. That looks significantly more like numbers we are used to seeing. Pull down another level – batting with runners in scoring position. Here we see a slash line of .356/.533/.630, and you can attach 26 hits in 73 at bats to those numbers, as well as tacking on 31 walks. This man really is a machine.

As far as the second half goes, things are actually looking up in terms of what we can hope to see for our MVP first baseman. His two best months over the course of his career are August and September, and overall he has averaged a line of .342/.432/.634 for the second half. Now, Albert has already declined to participate in the Home Run Derby, and after being the face of St. Louis during last year’s break, having his only responsibility being the actual playing in the game might be a welcome relief for him.

Yadier Molina: This is Yadi’s second appearance in six full seasons. He is having a rough year at the plate, however his line of .229/.309/.302 is deceiving, as Yadi has hit into some bad luck. Many have pointed out that he is making solid contact at the plate, but hitting it right at people. His June and July numbers do, however, show a rather prolonged slump. Like Albert, Yadi is coming up much better when batting with runners in scoring position, putting up a much more respectable .265/.370.426 line.

For his career, Yadi doesn’t do a lot of up and down as the season goes on. There is the slightest increase from his first to second half numbers, so slight it’s hardly worth mentioning. Month by month, nothing much changes, with exception to starting slowly in April, then staying on an even keel from May through the end of the season. I expect that some of those hits that have been finding gloves will eventually start finding holes again, and we will see a more consistent hitter to go along with Yadi’s Gold Glove defense in the second half.

Adam Wainwright: This is Adam’s first appearance in five full seasons (four as a starter). Literally every statistic you look at will tell you that this is his best year yet, and last year he was third for the Cy Young award! His ERA of 2.24 is third in the NL, he has four complete games, is second in innings pitched, first in strikeouts, and is giving up fewer hits and walks than in years past. That’s impressive!

Are you ready for the best news? Things get better for Adam in the second half! His ERA goes down, his walk rate goes down, and his strikeouts go up. That’s including the fact that his best first half ever is padding the first half numbers tremendously! This is the first one that really surprised me, because I was not prepared to think that his first half numbers would get any better in the second half. It is going to be an absolute dog fight for the Cy Young this season, and it would be a mistake to think that Adam’s name will not be near the top of the list.

Chris Carpenter: This is Chris’ third appearance in thirteen full seasons. What a deceptive sentence. It is very difficult to look at his career statistics and not cringe, thinking ‘What if?’ It is not easy even trying to compare his career statistics, since he was a very different pitcher in his years with Toronto. What I will say is that in his healthy years in St. Louis, this is a slightly abnormal year. His home run rate is very obviously up (1.1 HR per 9 innings), as are his ERA (3.16) and walks (2.7 per 9). Another number that is elevated is his strikeout rate. This is the highest his strikeout rate has been since his Cy Young winning 2005 season, but the similarities between the two seasons start and end there.

Make no mistake – Chris Carpenter is still having a good year. However, due to his sporadic history, I am struggling to come up with a solid comparison on first and second half statistics. Looking at things year by year did not help either, as his second half in 2009 was better, but his first half in both 2005 and 2006 was the stronger half. For Chris, the safest thing to say might be that as long as he stays healthy, things should look at least as good in the second half as they were in the first.

Matt Holliday: This is Matt’s fourth appearance in seven seasons. A lot has been made of his ‘slow’ start this season. Whether Matt is feeling pressure due to the fact that he signed a record contract with the Cardinals over the winter, he has hit into some bad luck, of he is just having a bad year, it is probably one of the most talked about ‘issues’ of the first half for the team. Truth be told, Matt’s .326 batting average on balls in play is the lowest this year than it has been at any other point in his career. If that corrects itself, his .298/.374/.493 line will move more towards the mean as well.

Do not live under the assumption that Matt Holliday is a second half player, because the splits do not agree with that. It looks more like Matt gets consistently better throughout the months of April through July. He has been getting better this season, while his numbers are still under the ‘normal’ range for Matt by far. Look for things to keep improving as the year goes on, due to the weather continuing to warm up and his continuing to become more comfortable in the grass of Busch.

If I had to make the call, I would say that between the pitchers and hitters listed here, it is more important for the hitters to step up in the second half. It would be ridiculous to ask too much more of either Wainwright or Carpenter to do more than they already have been doing this season. They have both gone out and very rarely left the game without giving the team a strong chance to win. Thinking about how many games the Cardinals have been shut out of this year by pitchers that are getting ripped to shreds by the rest of the league (Looking at you Bud Norris. You started this.), my head starts to hurt. Your ace pitchers should not lose games with 1-0 scores.

I mentioned this on Baseball Digest on Tuesday, but the team has been hit with the injury bug. Combine this with the fact that our hitters have failed to all figure out how to hit at the same time, and things should eventually get better. It will depend on how the bats respond to the heat to see if the Cardinals push for the NL Central crown this year.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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