Tag Archive | "Minor League"

Now is the time for Kansas City Royals’ Duffy

After missing much of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, it appears that Danny Duffy is ready to claim a spot in the Kansas City Royals’ rotation for the rest of this season and possibly next season as well.

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Duffy, who has replaced the struggling Wade Davis in the starting rotation, shut down the Twins in his latest start. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just five hits and no runs, while striking out seven. Perhaps the most important stat from that start, however, was that Duffy did not allow a walk. It was the first start in his career that he didn’t issue a free pass.

The knock on Duffy has always been his lack of control. And pitchers that come back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle finding a feel for the strike zone initially. In his only other two starts this season, Duffy walked two batters in 3.2 innings and three batters in 6 innings.

In Duffy’s three years pitching in the majors, he has a walk rate of 4.5/9. While the walks tend to pile up for the talented southpaw, he has always shown strike out potential, with a strike out rate of 8.0/9 for his career.

Duffy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and coming into the 2011 season, he was ranked as the 68th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. So the potential has always been there.

The 6-foot-3 lefty spent six years in the minor leagues, earning 30-16 record, with an impressive 2.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His minor league K/9 is 10.6 and his BB/9 is 3.0, considerably less than his 4.5 mark in the majors.

Duffy debuted in 2011, starting 20 games and finishing with a 4-8 record and a 5.64 ERA. He showed improvement in 2012 before his injury. He started six games and recorded a 3.90 ERA.

While the Tommy John injury delayed his development, Duffy appears to be back on track. He has a chance to show that he is a big part of the Royals’ future. If he can finish this season strong and continue to improve with his control, he should lock up a spot in next year’s starting five and perhaps beyond.

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With Wong Promotion, Cardinals Go All In

After Thursday’s thrilling walk off win, the Cardinals continued to make the future the present, by promoting second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis. The latest pull from the club’s minor league talent pool is sure to spark an immediate debate about who should be in the daily starting lineup (a la Matt Adams), but what’s for certain is that the club is completely committed to putting its absolute best talent into this pennant chase much sooner than later.

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It has not been John Mozeliak’s style to pull prospects into up and to have them not contribute. But already this week, the club has promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha to bolster the bullpen, and has already flirted with Carlos Martinez in a similar role, and he’ll most likely return to that capacity when the rosters expand in a few weeks. On the heels of the team’s non-involvement in recent trade deadline, it has become clear that the team is going all in on using its system to add what’s needed, and will be pulling as much of its top talent as possible to the 25-man roster.

No matter how it is viewed, there are not 25 better players in the organization than Wong. The 2011 first round pick hit .303 in 412 at-bats in his first season in Triple A and made his second consecutive MLB Futures Game at the All-Star Game, all while clearly being in a holding pattern due to the success of Matt Carpenter at second base.

And while he is clearly qualified and ready to be with the Cardinals, the timing is curious for a variety of reasons, mainly because there still isn’t a clear route to him regularly contributing to the team…or is there? While Carpenter has not relented, David Freese has continued to yield more and more grasp on his everyday value to the team. In 391 plate appearances, Freese has hit six home runs on the season, which is just one more than Daniel Descalso has managed in 150 less opportunities in a utility role. Run in the fact that he is also due for an arbitration-mandated raise this winter, and it suddenly makes a lot of sense why Wong is here now.

Wong’s presence on the roster also adds a much needed boost to the depth of the team. While Adams has been a constant impact presence from the bench all year, the team has struggled to find identity and consistent impact outside of its regulars mostly. Wong will give Mike Matheny a similar flexibility that Wacha can bring to the bullpen: a flex option that can put higher level of available talent at all times.

A regular bench of Adams, Descalso, Wong, the backup catcher (Johnson or Cruz) and the returning Shane Robinson makes for much better strategic usage of the full roster throughout later games. The fact that Yadier Molina will be on a managed time schedule for the remainder of the regular season will also factor into the caliber of lineup options that are available, further the need to have as much impact possible spread around the rest of the lineup as well. The less than thrilling 7-8-9 combination of Johnson, Kozma and the pitcher spot showed that having more offense punch available is a must. And as this week’s matchups with the Pirates have proven, the entire roster maybe needed to win on a day-to-day basis, let alone series and season.

While the long-term implications of the presence of Wong on the roster are clear and unavoidable, in an immediate sense, his presence is just as strategic as it is symbolic. Time will tell, in an immediate sense, just how that strategy plays out.

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Dyson stealing his way into fans’ hearts

Speed kills and Jarrod Dyson has speed to burn.

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In the third inning of Tuesday’s game against the Braves, this was on full display. Dyson bunted down the third base line for a single to lead off the inning. He wasted no time stealing second base. He ended up being stranded on third base, but he showed how dangerous his speed can be for opposing teams. Without hitting the ball out of the infield, he had himself in scoring position.

This is what Dyson brings to the table for the Royals. His elite speed gives the team an added weapon that they were missing while Dyson was on the DL (he missed over a month with a high ankle sprain).

The Royals are currently fourth in the majors with 60 steals and Dyson’s return from the DL should only help add to that number. In his first three games back, Dyson had three steals. In 102 games last season, Dyson swiped 30 bases and he stole over 30 bases in four different minor league seasons.

Dyson isn’t the only threat on the bases for the Royals. Alcides Escobar and Elliot Johnson have 11 steals each and Lorenzo Cain has nine. Even first baseman Eric Hosmer has seven steals.

The Royals now have a log jam in the outfield with five players more than capable of manning the position. Alex Gordon should stick in left field. Dyson, Cain, and David Lough can all play center field and Jeff Francoeur is still around to play right field. On Wednesday, Cain played in center with Francouer in right against left-hander Mike Minor. In the previous two games, Dyson played in center with Lough in right, while Cain and Francoeur sat.

With Dyson in the lineup, the Royals are one of the fastest teams in the majors, especially if Dyson, Cain, Escobar and Johnson are all on the field at the same time.

Dyson currently sports a slash line of .292/.320/.604. If he continues to hit and get on base, he should force his way into the lineup, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Because the outfield is so crowded, Dyson may not see everyday at-bats. But even in limited plate appearances, Dyson could threaten the 30 steals mark on the season, which will only help the speedy Royals push the envelope on the base paths.

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Are These The Final Days Of Jeff Francoeur For The Kansas City Royals?

The Kansas City Royals are playing solid baseball and winning games, bringing them closer to the division leading Detroit Tigers.  The team is hitting well and is about to get a punch in the arm from rehabbing speedster Jarrod Dyson when he returns from his minor league rehab assignment.

Jarrod_Dyson

That leaves the Royals with a roster choice to make at the big league level and the choice may be simple: it’s time to release Jeff Francoeur.

Francoeur, known as “Frenchy” to many fans, has been a very likable and fan-friendly player in Kansas City.  The team has capitalized on his popularity with ticket specials, the “Frenchy Quarter” section in the ballpark, and many items bearing his name in the gift shops.  His popularity, however, has not transferred to solid play on the field.

He has been used sparingly in the month of June, yielding playing time to David Lough in right field.  Meanwhile, Lough has played well enough to deserve his spot on the big league roster, showing flashes of power and speed that may make him a solid option off the bench as the Royals enter a playoff run that has been a long time coming.

Dyson has not been a massive success during his rehab in Omaha, posting a paltry batting average just over .200.  He has, however, been getting on base, showing patience at the plate, and doing what he does best: running.  His place on the major league roster has always been speed off the bench, solid defense, and an occasional start.  A platoon situation in right field that features Lough sharing time with Dyson would be a huge upgrade from what Francoeur has provided the last few seasons.

The Royals are primed to make a run at a playoff spot this year.  To do so, they will need the best 25 men they can find to put on the field on an everyday basis.

When Dyson is activated, it will be time to say goodbye to Jeff Francoeur.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

Posted in Minors, RoyalsComments (0)

St. Louis Cardinals give nod to future by sending Michael Wacha back to minors

Major League Baseball teams typically generate significant interest in which minor-league player they are about to bring up to the big leagues, but the St. Louis Cardinals had similar intrigue related to which player they sent down to the minor leagues Friday.

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So goes life as the best team in the game.

Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook returned from the disabled list Friday to go five innings while allowing three earned runs to the Miami Marlins in a 5-4 loss, but his return forced the Cardinals to send one of their rookie starters back to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons and right-handed starter Michael Wacha were the two pitchers on the bubble, along with right-handed reliever Keith Butler, and the Cardinals decided to send the Wacha back to Memphis while the Lyons remained with the team and will start Sunday against the Marlins.

The move was somewhat surprising since Cardinals management had previously said the 21-year-old phenom would not be a player they wanted to shuffle between Memphis and St. Louis and that he would be in the big leagues for good once he first came up.

Wacha even proclaimed, “I’m here to stay,” when he first arrived at Busch Stadium after the Cardinals called him up to start May 30 against the Kansas City Royals.

But reality intersected everybody’s dreams. The Cardinals brought Wacha to the majors before they really wanted to after starters Westbrook, Jaime Garcia and John Gast all suffered injuries in May, and he then didn’t excel as much as people expected/hoped.

Wacha pitched great in his first start, striking out six while allowing one run on two hits in seven innings against the Royals, but in every other start he looked more similar to a 21-year-old rookie who was barely a full year removed from college.

He gave up six runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings June 4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks and allowed two runs in the first inning Wednesday against the New York Mets before settling in for six innings to get his first career victory as the Cardinals won 9-2.

Lyons, meanwhile, won his first two career starts, giving up one run in each, and then lost his next two as he allowed four runs each to two 2012 playoff teams, the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds.

However, Lyons doesn’t career the immense Wacha-type expectations with him. Lyons throws in the low-90s rather than Wacha’s 97 mph fastball, and he doesn’t have Wacha’s devastating change-up. Lyons was drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB draft while the Cardinals took Wacha 19th overall in the 2012 draft.

All of that means Wacha is a prized prospect, and Lyons is just another pitcher the team hopes will contribute solid innings for years, rather than a top-of-the-rotation ace.

So the top-rated prospect went back to the minors to continue to develop. The Cardinals have a lot of pitching depth, but no team can afford to mess up the development of its first-round picks, and Wacha ran into some obstacles in two of his three starts.

Perhaps those experiences will benefit him in the long run. He now knows what to expect at the big-league level, but the Cardinals have also seen the ugly side of rushing prospects to the majors as much as any team when Rick Ankiel exploded with five wild pitches against the Atlanta Braves in the 2000 playoffs as a 20-year-old.

Ankiel, of course, ran into numerous other issues that ultimately derailed his pitching career, but he remains the prime example of what can happen when rushing a player to the big leagues goes bad.

The Cardinals also have plenty of cushion right now. They have the best record in baseball and plenty of other lesser prospects that can fill temporary voids.

Lyons could certainly develop into a solid pitcher who has a long career with the Cardinals, but the team has pinned its long-term hopes to Wacha.

Although Wacha wasn’t “here to stay,” he will be soon enough.

The restraint the Cardinals show in pushing Wacha now will pay off in the future, and that’s why he was the correct choice to send to the minors to open a spot for Westbrook.

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Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational First Base

Of all positions in the Cardinals system, first base is perhaps the one that developed the most unexpectedly. While there was no need for a real succession plan due the long-term presence of Albert Pujols, and then Lance Berkman on the roster as well, it was a spot that could have left the team sorely in need of help. However, Allen Craig stepped up in both the wake of the departure of Pujols and injury issues of Berkman a year ago, and claimed it for his own. Fast forward a year later, and the position has both a long-term answer and yet another blooming talent at the MLB level in Matt Adams. But how will the future play out overall at the position? And will the surplus of talent lead to moves being made at spot, or will other issues make the team gun shy about jumping to any conclusions still?

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St. Louis: Craig came into his own as a full-time player last season. In his second full season, he played in 119 games and hit .307. He entered the season as a sort of utility man to support Berkman, as well as Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran in the outfield, but due to the repeated injuries to Berkman, he made 83 starts at first base and the position was his permanently by late summer. The 29-year old finished third on the team in runs batted in, helped in part by a National League-best .400 batting average with runners in scoring position. The team made a 5-year $31 million dollar commitment to him in response to his 2012, which presented another interesting situation in what to do with prospect Matt Adams.

Adams, who has averaged 20 homers a year in his minor league career and was the organization’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2011, found himself on the big league roster coming out of the spring. He has shown prodigious power, but is a fish out of water due to first base being his only position with Craig blocking him there. For now, the 24-year old will continue to be a potential big impact bat and spot starter in case of rest or a trip to the outfield for Craig, but of any of the organization’s top prospect, he is the one with a future that seems most likely to be spent elsewhere.

High Minors: With Adams with the big club, there is nothing of particular emphasis at Memphis currently regarding first base. Brock Peterson is manning it currently, but career minor leaguer is more his path. Xavier Scruggs will return to Springfield as a 25 year old for a second consecutive year, and while he has shown consistent power during his five year rise through the system (20+ homers the past three years), he still hasn’t put much pressure on breaking into even Triple A yet.

Low Minors: There’s not a particularly emergent player at the lower levels of the minors at first currently either. Danny Steinstra (24) and Jonathan Rodriguez (23) are in a time split at the position at Palm Beach, while David Washington (22) is manning the corner the next step down in Peoria. None of the trio profiles as a solution much further along the minors based on past performance and advanced age for the level. Among the more developmental prospects in the lower level is Jeremy Schaffer, who hit 10 home runs and 20 doubles at Rookie level Johnson City in 2012 after being an 18th round pick last June. He will open at Low-A Peoria, but if the 20-year old continues along with the same production as his pro debut began with, he’ll quickly rise to be the best prospect at the position in the organization.

Synopsis: First base is a top heavy position for the Cardinals, where the best talent is already on display at the Major League-level. Craig and Adams are both the future, simultaneously, so something will have to give eventually. But neither is making it easy, Craig with his fresh long-term deal and penchant for driving in runs, and Adams with his epically long drives. Yet a decision will have to be made, and once it is, the system as it currently stands does not offer much follow up promise behind either. The positive thing is that neither HAS to go anywhere anytime soon, and that is a good for staying strong at the top, while building in the system.

 

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Kozmamania T-Shirts Available

The St. Louis Cardinals have seen their share of injuries this off-season.  The one that appears to have the most impact currently will be at shortstop.

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Rafael Furcal, the Cardinals starting shortstop, is out for the season after requiring Tommy John surgery to repair an elbow injury that dates back to late last season.  An offseason and Spring of market investigation for a replacement has yielded no results to date, leaving general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny to react the same way they did last season, with Pete Kozma.

Kozma, an enigma of a ballplayer, had all but been given up on due to his (lack of) performance at the minor league level.  A first round draft pick that seemed to be a bust, Kozma was the reason that Furcal arrived in St. Louis in the first place.  But when Furcal went down last season, the Cardinals were left with very little choice and handed the position to the struggling prospect.

What happened was something no one expected: he succeeded.  Kozma found a glimpse of his potential on the biggest stage possible and performed well during the final month of the season and in the post-season for the Cardinals.  As the Cardinals prepare to break camp, Kozma is prepared to be the starting shortstop once again.

Friend of the site Sam Feldman helped i70baseball immortalize Kozma and the feelings surrounding him with a t-shirt that is now available on TeeSpring.com.  The shirt, which embodies both the spirit of the fans that have an extreme feeling of support for the young shortstop as well as a sarcastic feel for those that feel the hype is a bit too high, is available for a limited time at the price of $15 per shirt.

Kozmamania has hit St. Louis.  Get your shirt today.

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Oh, So Now Pete Kozma Is Good Enough For St. Louis

Pete Kozma might have gotten sudden public support along with the St. Louis Cardinals starting shortstop job after Rafael Furcal announced Thursday he would have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2013 season, but Kozma has deserved some of that respect long before now.

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Kozma hit .333 in 26 games for the Cardinals at the end of last season after Furcal injured his elbow Aug. 30 against the Washington Nationals, and he was a big key to the team’s late-season success that got it within one game of the World Series.

But the Cardinals have rarely viewed Kozma in a positive light.

The organization considered releasing Kozma four times while he was in the minor leagues. Granted, the former first-round pick did put up dismal numbers much of his minor-league career, but the Cardinals have continued to treat Kozma as if he is that same minor-league player even after his big-league success.

The club openly solicited trade proposals to find a different shortstop during the offseason. And when a trade never developed because the Cardinals were unwilling to part with their young pitching prospects, they signed Ronny Cedeno as an option in case Furcal wouldn’t be healthy.

“We were looking at just making sure we have protection (and), in essence, if Pete continues to do what he did, he’ll likely be in the big leagues,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “We didn’t want to just go into the season and find out that Furcal couldn’t go and find out Kozma was not (going to build on) the six-week period. We had a lot of optimism. It was just shoring up the position.”

But Cedeno has hit just .167 in spring training and played poor defense, at times. That’s probably not where the Cardinals will shore up the shortstop position whether Kozma got the job or not.

Kozma also hasn’t gotten much more respect from Cardinals fans. A forum on stltoday.com Thursday was titled “Is there a worse middle infield in baseball right now?”

There certainly are worse middle infields. Can anyone name the middle infielders for the Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres or Houston Astros?

Plus, Kozma and whoever wins the second base job (Daniel Descalso or Matt Carpenter) are solid fielders who won’t embarrass themselves in the field. Cedeno, on the other hand, might be a liability in the field and at the plate.

Overall, that short period of success is likely a large factor in why people have yet to believe Kozma can handle the Cardinals shortstop position full time in 2013 and beyond. They hadn’t seen that sort of success previously in his career, and they were unwilling to get their hopes up in case Kozma was a one-hit wonder.

Instead, Kozma has excelled during spring training, hitting .429 with five RBIs and two homeruns, and the Cardinals have suddenly started talking him up as someone they really want to have as their starting shortstop this year.

“There’s no doubt given what Kozma did for us in the last six weeks of the season last year we do have a high level of confidence that he can continue to add that energy and be that type of player we saw last year,” Mozeliak said Thursday after the Furcal news broke.

It’s funny how circumstances tend to change those types of feelings.

Kozma would be a huge help to the Cardinals if he can hit for a good batting average and get on base fairly consistently. The Cardinals have enough power in their lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Allen Craig likely to fill the middle of the order, but they’ll need someone on base when they come up.

Kozma would most likely hit in the seventh or eighth spot in the Cardinals lineup, so he won’t face a ton of pressure to be a star at the plate. The Cardinals just need someone who can get on base and hold their own defensively at shortstop this year, and Kozma is a good candidate to fill all of those needs.

He might get his chance this year, but he’ll have done so by overcoming a strong perception by his team that he wasn’t good enough.

For Kozma, that motivation could make 2013 all the more fun.

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Cardinals Rotation In The Spotlight

The St. Louis Cardinals entered spring training with the fifth starter position in the rotation up for grabs.  It appears that the spotlight on that competition will shine bright over the next few days.

Trevor Rosenthal - photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Trevor Rosenthal – photo from FoxSportsMidwest

As the spring air was pierced by the sounds of pitchers and catchers warming up and early batting practice taking place, the Cardinals settled in for a competition for the final spot in the rotation.  The guys gearing up for that competition were Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly.

It did not take long for plans to change.  Veteran ace Chris Carpenter broke the news that he would not be able to compete this year and Lance Lynn was all but assured his spot as the number four starter.

Then there were three.

Miller appeared to be the favorite early on based on his performance last year, his off season work, and the perception that the top pitching prospect in the organization was ready to take the next step.  The trio of right handers have seen very little time to this point in the spring and, despite much speculation, the team has not been forthcoming with any news.

Meanwhile, Kelly and Rosenthal had proven that they could handle the pressure of the big leagues down the stretch and repeatedly in the post season last year.  Kelly specifically showed over and over again that he could pitch in the rotation after taking over for Jaime Garcia last season due to injury.

Rumors began swirling on Thursday morning, while the team was dealing with news about shortstop Rafael Furcal, that there had been progress in making a decision in the starter competition.  One report surfaced saying that the Cardinals held a meeting for their starting pitchers, a meeting that Rosenthal did not attend.

Possibly the most telling and interesting part of that case is that minor league starters were in the same meeting.  Signs are pointing to Rosenthal’s fate being decided and he may very well open the season in the bullpen for St. Louis.

Now there are two.

The two pitchers left in the competition will take their cases to the mound on Thursday and Friday with Kelly starting Thursday afternoon and Miller toeing the rubber on Friday.  While it would be surprising if these two starts formed the firm decision in the mind of the Cardinals management, it would seem that the spotlight is shining on the next few games to showcase the talent the Cardinals have available.

The decision could come as soon as this weekend.  It will most likely come sometime around March 15.  Ultimately, the decision is coming soon and it’s down to two young pitchers that have shown they can be successful at the major league level.

Soon, there will be one…

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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Is Donnie Joseph for real, or a spring mirage?

You can’t take too much stock in Spring Training performances. For instance, there’s left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph. In two one-inning relief appearances, Joseph faced and struck out six batters, which is impressive. Of course the batters he faced were AAA level players and five of them were left-handed. But if a pitcher is going to make a good impression in Spring Training, Joseph is doing a good job of it.

John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star

Last July, the Royals got Joseph when they sent veteran reliever Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati. In four Minor League seasons, Joseph pitched in 193 games over 225.1 innings with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.01 SO/BB ratio, all in relief.

Joseph struggled when he went to AAA Omaha. In 11 games over 17.1 innings, his ERA was 4.15. He struck out 19 batters and gave up 13 walks, ending up with a 1.46 SO/BB ratio.

Despite the two good outings striking out the side, Joseph is a long shot to make the team. His command of the strike zone is inconsistent, and he’s only pitched 29 games in AAA. And there’s the current makeup of the bullpen. The Royals plan to carry seven relievers and for now Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow are locks. And who doesn’t get the fifth starter job between Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza will join the bullpen as long relievers. That leaves one spot and 14 pitchers are vying for that spot, including Joseph.

As a lefty, Joseph could be the left-handed specialist if he makes the team. He’s on the on 40-man roster and has options remaining, so even with a great spring, Joseph might end up in Omaha, especially with the strength of the Royals bullpen. If he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, it wouldn’t hurt Joseph to get more experience facing AAA batters and improving his command. Even if he starts the season in Omaha, it’s likely he’ll be with the Royals sometime this year.

Donnie Joseph isn’t for real yet, but he’s not a mirage either.

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