Weekend update

Well, in light of consecutive losses against two of the best pitchers in the National League, I don't have a whole lot to say about the Royals. J.P. Howell on Friday looked fairly good again, suffering a bad first inning but recovering nicely, and D.J. Carrasco tonight had some of the same control problems that have plagued him in the past, but he still registered a quality start. I haven't been able to watch tonight's game, as I was at a minor league game in Frederick, MD, and was relegated to following the Royals on the Official RC portable XM radio (the greatest invention ever). However, I recorded the game, and I hope to take a look sometime before the weekend is over.

Of course, one thing in particular stood out while listening to the game: some folks will probably conclude that RC was a bit premature in our praise of Buddy Bell the other day when we wrote the following:

Bell's brief Royals career is already littered with evidence of how he is a better fit for this team than his predecessor. The latest example of this occurred tonight in the lineup: Tony Graffanino did not play. Graf is the Royal's hottest hitter, and as hot as he is, there's no doubt that Pena would have started him every night until he cooled off. Of course, those starts would come at the expense of Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay...Graffanino's absence, while a seemingly minor event, speaks volumes about Bell's ultimate understanding of what it's going to take to build a winner in Kansas City.

As I'm sure you know, Graffanino got the start at 3B tonight, and of course he flubbed two plays in the same inning that Teahen probably would have made, which ultimately cost us a run. But I know Teahen can't play EVERY day, and I'm not too terribly upset about giving him the day off. I just figured I'd address it, because it seems to directly contradict our praise of Bell last week.

It doesn't. As long as Graffanino isn't playing every day, the praise stands. Hey, he has to play sometime, right? OK, on to more exciting things...

  • I found a neat article about RC #2 Royals prospect Billy Butler. Since High Desert's new website is nearly as inept at providing news as its old one, I still have to resort to local California newspapers to get any real news about the Mavs. Anyhow, Butler was expected to rejoin the lineup last Wednesday, but High Desert decided to withold him for a few more games to allow the stress fracture in his hand more time to heal. But the real kicker is that the paper has confirmed that when Butler comes back into the lineup, he will be doing so as a left fielder.

    Butler's thoughts on the matter?

    "He's all for it," said Mavs manager Billy Gardner. "We've done some work out there ... but about the only way we'll really be able to evaluate and judge is by putting him in game situations."

    Gardner also said that Butler will join Bernard Stephens, Alan Moye, and Chris Lubanski in the High Desert outfield, with the four also rotating at DH.

  • RC #1 Royals prospect Alex Gordon continues to rake in the awards. This past week, Gordon won both the Baseball America Player of the Year Award and the Dick Howser Trophy. He's also the heavy favorite to win the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annualy to the best amateur player in baseball. Part of me is happy about Gordon winning all these awards -- it's cool to be able to brag about our new player. But the other part of me sees Gordon's signing bonus escalating with every new award he wins. CHA-CHING!

    Anyway, I found a fascinating column about Gordon's rock star status in Nebraska. It must be tough being him. RC has heard that Gordon is now cruising around Nebraska in a brand new Cadillac Escalade. That's much nicer than the RC Official Vehicle, a 2002 VW Jetta.

  • Adam Keim and Chris Lubanski are both taking advantage of the California League's "hitter-friendliness." Keim has hit 19 HR this year between High Desert and Wichita, and Lubanski has 16 HR for the Mavs after smacking two tonight.

    Keim is an interesting case. RC didn't pay much attention to him last year, even though we saw him play several times for Wilmington last season. He did a nice job there , hitting .288 while slugging .480 in 198 at bats, which are very good numbers for the Carolina League. However, as a 12th round draft pick, Keim has never been much of a prospect, and a 24-year-old in A ball doesn't excite a whole lot of people. Nevertheless, we hope that Keim is starting to force his way into the picture with his numbers this season -- a middle infielder with power is a hell of a commodity. Even though both the Texas and California leagues are offensive leagues, Keim's .596 SLG pct this season ought to raise some eyebrows.

    Lubanski is still striking out too much and failing to draw walks (69 K vs. 19 BB), but he's starting to develop some serious power. His minor league career has been a disappointment thus far, but we must remember that he's still only 20 years old. It's definitely too early to give up on him, and if he can improve his K/BB ratio, he can still turn into a solid player. We'll be watching him closely in the months ahead.

  • A week from today, RC will be in Colorado watching the Royals separate themselves from the Rockies in the race for MLB's worst record. As such, we'll be unable to post next weekend, but be sure to check back as we'll provide a detailed report of that series -- in addition to the California/Carolina League All-Star game -- upon our return on Tuesday evening. But that's still a week away, so we'll continue with our daily updates this week.
  • Thursday

    Royals SWEEP! Greinke better, but still not very good

    "Alberto call the pitch. Zack throw the pitch."

    That was Zack Greinke's philosophy tonight, which he revealed in his post-game interview. So did it work?

    Ehhh, not so much. Greinke was definitely better tonight (which was probably inevitable in the wake of what might be the worst performance ever by a Royals starter), but he still was not very good. And he sure looked different. Rather than mixing speeds, as he did so effectively last year, Greinke consistently worked in the low 90s today, even dialing his fastball up to 95 mph at one point, which we believe was the hardest pitch he's thrown in the majors.

    The increased velocity certainly made his fastball more effective tonight, but it came at the expense of his control. Though Zack "only" walked two in his five innings of work, he was still consistently missing his catcher's target, and leaving pitches out over the plate. Once again, his only consistently effective pitch was his slow curve, which he threw with greater frequency than we've ever seen before. If he continues to throw that pitch as often as he has been, it will eventually lose its effectiveness, as hitters will be able to anticipate it.

    I don't know. Perhaps we're being too negative. If you had told us prior to the game that Greinke's line would be 5.0 IP and 3 ER, we would have gladly taken it. There may be no quick solution to Greinke's problems, so perhaps we shouldn't expect one and instead acknowledge and be happy about the fact that he was indeed better. But we're still just waiting for last year's Greinke to show up...the one who worked the corners with precision while masterfully changing speeds like a veteran.

  • OK, enough of the negativity. Allow us to make up for it by pointing this out -- when Buddy Bell took over the Royals, our boys had lost 10 of their previous 12 games. Since he has taken over, not only have we won 11 of 15, but the list of pitchers we've beaten is extremely impressive. Check this out:

    Pitchers KC has beaten in the last 15 games:

    Kevin Brown
    Randy Johnson
    Carl Pavano
    Pedro Astacio
    Kirk Rueter
    Jeff Fassero
    Brad Halsey
    Brandon Webb
    Jeff Weaver
    Brad Penny
    Derek Lowe

    You know, that's a pretty impressive list, a list that represents pretty much every type of pitcher that exists in baseball. The Royals have beaten sinkerballers, hard throwers, crafty lefties, and everything in between, all without missing a beat. Buddy Bell now stands at 11-4 as Royals skipper, and the Royals are playing great baseball. If you can't get excited about that, then there's definitely something wrong with you.

  • We heard on the radio that the Royals tonight became the first team in history to sweep both the Yankees and Dodgers in the same month. On its face, that sounds pretty impressive, but we wonder how many teams have actually faced both of those teams in the same month. Seeing how interleague play is a relatively new phenomena, we wouldn't be surprised if the class of teams who have actually played both in the same month is nearly as small as the class that has swept them. But it's still a pretty cool statistic.

  • Billy Butler has still not returned to the High Desert lineup, but there's still some encouraging news from the minors. Justin Huber went 3-for-5 tonight with a double, raising his average to .335, and Mike Aviles hit his ninth HR of the season. Folks, RC got a good look at Aviles last season in Wilmington, and we determined then that the only thing truly holding him back was his power. At the time, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to us, as Aviles is built like a brick -- the man has forearms like Popeye. Sure, he hit a lot of doubles, but he had yet to turn an acceptable proportion of those doubles into homers -- he hit only six all year last season.

    Well, it appears that the power has arrived. Aviles is really mashing the ball right now, and it's going to force the Royals to take notice. Yes, the Texas League is much more of a hitter's league than the Carolina League, but the progress Aviles has made cannot be ignored, nor can it be explained away by park or league factors. Aviles has continued to improve, and right now RC projects that he will be in KC as soon as Tony Graffanino is traded.

  • Tomorrow's pitching matchup is one of the most exciting of the season. J.P. Howell in 2004 broke Roger Clemens' two year UT strikeout record, and we're sure that Clemens will be looking for some revenge. RC will be glued to the Official Royals Corner television at RC Headquarters.
  • Wednesday

    Lima Time finally picks up win. Sweeney injured

    Allow me to apologize in advance for the short post. Believe it or not, I have to do some work at home tonight before I go into the office tomorrow. Nevertheless, I just wanted to chime in with a couple notes...

  • This Jose Lima could win some ballgames. He had everything working tonight, and he finally drew an umpire who called pitches on the corner. In what seems to be a developing trend among our starters, Lima was throwing harder than usual tonight, topping out at 91-92 mph. That's a HUGE improvement over his 86 mph heater earlier this season, and he was able to work effectively off his fastball tonight. Lima was charged up for this start, and his whole arsenal was outstanding -- his changeup, slider, and splitter were all dancing all over the place.

    I also noticed something else. Lima usually demands that his catcher set up far on the outside or inside corner, to the point that the catcher often has one full leg in the batter's box on whichever side of the plate Lima is throwing to. Tonight, John Buck seemed to set up much more conventionally throughout the game, even when setting up on the corner. It could be something, or it could be nothing, but I found it pretty interesting.

    As for Lima, *IF* he can continue throwing like he did tonight, he's not going to go another two and a half months between victories. Nor will he be on the Royals much longer. If he can string a half a dozen or so good starts together, the Royals won't have any problem moving him to a contending team in search of another starter. I'm not going to get overexcited just yet, but I'm definitely encouraged.

  • Today's most important issue, however, isn't Lima's start or KC's fourth win in a row. It's Mike Sweeney's health. In the top of the fourth inning, Jayson Werth bunted the ball down the third base line and collided with Sweeney when Mark Teahen's throw sailed into the runner. Sweeney went down like a sack of potatoes, clutching his arm against his stomach. It was a scary sight, and the preliminary reports are that Sweeney has suffered a sprained wrist and a sprained elbow. During the post game report on 810 WHB, Buddy Bell said that Sweeney would undergo an MRI or X-Ray tomorrow.

    I don't want to speculate too wildly before Sweeney's diagnosis comes back, but if he's going to be out for an extended period of time, the Royals are going to have an important decision to make about his replacement. At this point, it is clear to everyone except maybe Dick Kaegel that Ken Harvey is not part of the future of this club. Meanwhile, Justin Huber continues to play well at Wichita as he learns the ropes at first base.

    Is Huber ready? It will be very interesting to see what happens. But in the meantime, let's all hope Sweeney will be OK.
  • Tuesday

    Royals beat the punk. Bell improves to 9-4

    Shane Costa paced the offense with a 3-for-3 night, including his first Major League homer, and Runelvys Hernandez had his third straight quality start as the Royals topped Jeff Weaver and the Dodgers, 3-2. There were some anxious moments in the ninth -- as there usually are when Mike MacDougal enters a close ballgame -- but in the end, the Royals bullpen delivered three scoreless innings to secure the victory. A few things stand out...

  • Elvys was throwing HARD. He got several pitches up to the 94-95 mph range, and his splitter had really nice sinking movement. His control was stellar tonight, as he walked nobody while throwing 60 of his 92 pitches for strikes. Of the eight hits he surrendered, only a few (including the two home runs) were actually hit hard -- the rest were on broken bat bloopers or seeing-eye singles. Manager Buddy Bell made the right call to pull him after six innings, as the Dodgers were due to send up a couple lefties in the seventh, including the red hot Hee-Seop Choi, who hit his seventh homer in four games off of Hernandez in the first. Jeremy Affeldt came in and dispatched the Dodgers in order with a 1-2-3 seventh. Hernandez is looking really good right now, and he managed to get his ERA under 5 for the first time in a while.

  • RC had the pleasure of watching Costa over half a dozen times as he was developing in the Carolina League last season, but we never imagined he could contribute at the Major League level so quickly. Costa is locked in right now, and he's starting to spray line drives all over the field. He's certain to go through some rough stretches, but right now he doesn't look overwhelmed at all.

  • Ambiorix Burgos was throwing some serious heat tonight. He came into the game after Affeldt walked J.D. Drew to lead off the eighth inning, and he struck out the side. He got Jeff Kent swinging on a beautiful split fingered fastball, and after plunking Olmedo Saenz with a misguided splitter, he worked the ladder to strike out Jayson Werth on three blazing fastballs. Jason Grabowski followed, but he didn't even have a chance. Burgos is just nasty, and RC doesn't understand how anyone manages to put the ball in play against him.

  • This was the type of game that the Royals had no chance of winning earlier in the season. Something is most definitely different, and we're getting closer to the point that we can begin to suggest that Buddy Bell's influence has been the difference maker. It could be that the Royals have just been lucky for the past 13 games, and they will regress as quickly as they have improved. But there's no looking past this interesting footnote:

    Tony Pena's 2005 record: 8-25
    Buddy Bell's 2005 record: 9-4

    Bell's brief Royals career is already littered with evidence of how he is a better fit for this team than his predecessor. The latest example of this occurred tonight in the lineup: Tony Graffanino did not play. Graf is the Royal's hottest hitter, and as hot as he is, there's no doubt that Pena would have started him every night until he cooled off. Of course, those starts would come at the expense of Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay. In a season such as this, the most important determinant of success is not measured in wins. Rather, it's measured in the development of our younger players. Graffanino's absence, while a seemingly minor event, speaks volumes about Bell's ultimate understanding of what it's going to take to build a winner in Kansas City. I don't think Pena ever got that memo.

    Of course, it's also nice to win. I don't know what it is, but this team has been incredibly fun to watch for the past few weeks. Here's hoping they keep it up.
  • RC's Top 25 Royals Prospects

    Well, it's finally here. RC has spent weeks crunching the numbers on our gigantic calculator, and we'veexpanded our prospect list to the top 25. We argued amongst ourselves about what constitutes a "prospect," and we developed a standard that determines eligibility for the list. To be eligible, position players must not have played in 50 games or had 300 plate appearances. Pitchers are broken down into two categories. The threshold for starting pitchers is 100 innings or 20 starts, while relief pitchers must not have reached 20 appearances or 50 innings pitched. In addition, anyone with over one year of Major League service time is ineligible, even if the majority of that time was spent on the DL. The critieria eliminates a few players who would have otherwise made the list, such as Leo Nunez, Denny Bautista, and Ruben Gotay, but most of the key youngsters who finished the season in Kansas City are still eligible.

    When looking at the list, there is much to be optimistic about. While the pitching ranks are admittedly thin, the Royals have done a nice job accumulating offensive talent that should pay dividends in the coming years.

    Without further delay, we present the Top 25 Royals prospects:

    1) Alex Gordon
    Gordon ended months of doubts and speculation by signing for a KC record $4 million in late September. He's presently taking his first professional cuts in the Instructional League, and if all goes well, the Royals hope to have him assigned to their Arizona Fall League club. It is also possible that Gordon could make up for lost time by playing in the Puerto Rican winter league, so we'll be sure to keep on the lookout for updates.

    Despite his long layoff, Gordon arrives at the top of RC's prospect list, narrowly beating out Billy Butler because of his superior athleticism. We expect Gordon to start next season at High Desert or Wichita, and we anticipate he will move very quickly through the system. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: August 2006.

    2) Billy Butler
    Since being drafted by the Royals in the first round of the 2004 draft, Butler has done nothing but hit. In his professional debut, Butler led the Pioneer League in hitting and was second in extra-base hits, earning Baseball America's designation as the Royals' top prospect.

    This season was no letdown, as Butler appeared to get even better. The youngest player in advanced A ball, he was named the starting third baseman for the California League All-Stars, and RC was in attendance as he took second place in the Carolina/California League All-Star Game Homerun Derby. Butler put on the Derby's most impressive power display, sending a number of balls completely out of the stadium at the deepest parts of the park, shots that certainly must have traveled over 450 feet.

    Butler's electric performance in the California League necessitated a promotion to Wichita, where he immediately continued his hot pace. For his efforts this season, Butler was named the California League's fifth-best prospect by Baseball America, and he was named by the Royals as High Desert's co-player of the year. We expect to see him start next season back in Wichita, and the only thing that might slow him down is his defense in left field. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2006.

    3) Justin Huber
    Justin Huber checks in at number three after leading the Texas League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His efforts there resulted in promotions to both Omaha and Kansas City, where he finished the season. RC was frustrated that Huber didn't receive more playing time while in KC, and we expect him to see more action in Omaha to start next season. Perhaps it's for the best, as he did not look very comfortable in the big leagues, both at the plate and in the field.

    Huber was listed by Baseball America as the Royals' fifth-best prospect prior to the season, and he did nothing dispell that notion during the season. He was named to play in the Futures Game, where he took home MVP honors after hitting a key three-run double, and he was named the Royals' 2005 Minor League Player of the Year. Anticipated arrival (for good) in Kansas City: May 2006.

    4) J.P. Howell
    J.P. Howell, a 2004 draftee, zoomed through the Royals minor league system in 2005, making brief stops at High Desert, Wichita, and Omaha before debuting for the Royals in Arizona on June 11. Howell showed flashes of brilliance, as well as flashes of serious control problems, but he finished the season strong. His fastball is well below league average, topping out in the mid to upper 80s, but his curveball and change both profile to be above average pitches, provided he can pinpoint them. RC even heard one scout refer to Howell's curveball as "the heaviest curveball you'll ever see."

    We expect Howell to seriously compete for a big league rotation spot next season, where we expect him to improve even more as he continues to get a feel about how to get Major Leaguers out. If the Royals land a couple free agent starting pitchers in the offseason, it's possible Howell will start at Omaha, which also couldn't hurt. Anticipated arrival (for good) in Kansas City: April 2006.

    5) Chris Lubanski
    Chris Lubanski started the season very poorly, hovering around .200 for most of April and May, and RC was nearly ready to cast him onto the scrap heap of failed Royals #1 picks. But then something happened...something clicked for Lubes, and the result was a miraculous turnaround that carried him through the end of the season and into the California League playoffs, where he went 13-for-15.

    Lubanski's final numbers are likely quite inflated by High Desert's extreme hitter-friendliness, but it's clear that he has returned himself to legitimate prospect status. In fact, Baseball America even rated him as the California League's 20th-best prospect, a designation that would have been inconceivable in May. Defensively, Lubanski has drawn some criticism for the poor routes he takes to fly balls, as well as a below-average arm, but his skills should play better at a corner, if he can hit enough to stay there. The Royals scout we spoke with is convinced that Lubanski's power is real, and he'll get a chance to prove it in Wichita next season. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2007.

    6) Luis Cota
    For his efforts this season, Luis Cota was named as the Royals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. His command still needs fine tuning, but Midwest League managers rated Cota's fastball as the best in the league in Baseball America's 2005 Best Tools Survey. Rated the Royals #7 prospect prior to the season, Baseball America named him as the 13th-best prospect in the Midwest League.

    Next season, Cota will most likely start at High Desert, where he will have to work on his secondary pitches. His changeup reportedly needs a lot of work, and while many think he could develop a dynamite slider, he will need to improve his command for it to become an effective pitch. Baird thinks Cota could move quickly through the system. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2007.

    7) Jeff Bianchi
    Drafted by the Royals in the second round of the 2005 draft, Bianchi went to Arizona and immediately made fools of the scouts who had scoffed when the Royals snatched him two rounds higher than most had him slotted. Before a back injury sidelined him, Bianchi was on pace to win the Arizona League's triple crown, and he earned a reputation as a blue collar type player who maximizes all the ability his six-foot, 175 pound frame can muster. For his efforts, Baseball America named Bianchi as the League's best position player prospect, and the fourth-best prospect overall.

    Bianchi showed better than expected speed in Arizona, and while he handled himself well at shortstop, some scouts suspect an eventual move to second base might be in the cards. Regardless, Bianchi is a strong kid who will only get stronger as he matures, and he currently projects into a 15-20 HR hitter in the Major Leagues. It will be interesting to see where he begins next season, but don't be surprised if he skips two levels to start at High Desert. If not, then Burlington is his most likely destination. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: April 2008.

    8) Andres Blanco
    Blanco had a whirlwind tour of the Royals' minor league affiliates, but it was his performance in Kansas City over the last month of the season that vaulted him into RC's top 10. He's clearly moved ahead of Donnie Murphy on the organization's depth chart at second base, as his defense has been nothing short of spectacular.

    It is not often that a player's defensive value fully compensates for dismal offensive production, but with Blanco, we think that is precisely the case. With a developing young pitching staff, Blanco can provide immense value to the big league club, whether he plays shortstop or second base (preferably SS). Offensively, Blanco did take a step forward this season, hitting .263/.328/.382 with his first four professional homeruns in 54 minor league games. He didn't fare quite so well at the Major League level, but he certainly didn't look overwhelmed. Barring the acquisition of a free agent second baseman, we expect to see Blanco starting at second base in Kansas City on April 3, 2006.

    9) Donnie Murphy
    While some people might be disappointed with Donnie Murphy because of his poor finish to the season in KC, we prefer to look at his year as "two steps forward, one step back." Either way, he's making progress, and we haven't yet written him off as a significant Royals prospect.

    Murphy put together a very nice campaign in Wichita before his promotion to KC, posting an OPS of .885 while slamming 10 home runs in 50 games. Due to an injury and managerial impatience, Murphy never got in a groove in Kansas City, and he was a virtual ghost on the roster for the last month of the season. We expect Murphy to begin next season in Omaha, where we wouldn't be surprised to see him get regular duty at 2B, 3B, and SS. We think the Royals will probably give him a full season at AAA before exposing him again to Major League pitching. His future may be as a utility man, but RC is still convinced that Murphy will become a quality Major League ballplayer. Anticipated arrival (for good) in Kansas City: September 2006.

    10) Chris McConnell
    Chris McConnell rounds out our top 10 list after putting together a great season for the Idaho Falls Chukars, both defensively and offensively. Scouts rave about his plus range at shortstop, and he reportedly has good instincts, a solid arm, and nice footwork around the bag. His offense was a bit of a surprise, as he posted a very respectable .919 OPS, marking an unexpected improvement upon the .872 OPS he posted in the Arizona League last summer.

    Baseball America rated McConnell as the Pioneer League's third-best shortstop and 15th-best prospect overall, while reporting that he draws favorable comparisons to Greg Gagne. It will be interesting to see where he plays next year, although Burlington seems to be a safe bet. It all depends on whether or not Bianchi leaps over McConnell on the minor league depth chart. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2008.

    11) Chris Nicoll
    The 82nd overall pick in the draft (third round), Nicoll signed with the Royals for $445,000 after a brief holdout. One scout explained to RC that the Royals were in no rush to sign him, as he had thrown a lot of innings in college and would only throw limited innings once he did sign.

    Nicoll signed in July and made his debut in the Pioneer League. In 27.1 innings, he struck out 34 batters and walked only nine while compiling a very respectable ERA of 3.62. His fastball tops out in the low 90s, but scouts expect him to add some velocity, and his slider is reported to have good deception while being a tad inconsistent. In his first stint of professional baseball, Nicoll's G/F ratio of 0.88 tends to suggest he'll be more of a fly ball pitcher, but that could change if he improves his slider. Look for Nicoll to start in Burlington next year, although High Desert is a possibility if he shows good command in the spring. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2008.

    12) Shane Costa
    Shane Costa had a decent 2005 season, earning a surprising promotion to Kansas City in early June. He got off to a fast start in KC, becoming a bit of a fan favorite before pitchers adjusted and Costa started struggling. After 27 games he was shipped back to Wichita, where he continued to put up solid but unspectacular numbers.

    Costa is a very strong kid -- his father is a former national bodybuilding champion -- and he possesses a very quick bat and good contact ability. However, his plate discipline leaves something to be desired, and he still hasn't turned his strength into power. If the power never comes, Costa will never be more than a marginal fourth outfielder, because his arm pretty much limits him to left field. Nevertheless, RC does believe Costa still has time to figure it out, and we like just about everything else about him. He'll begin next season in Omaha. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: He'll be up and down starting in mid-2006.

    13) Kila Kaaihue
    We first took notice of Kila Kaaihue this season, as he propelled himself onto our radar by exhibiting stellar plate discipline and decent power in the California League. We may have over-ranked him a bit, as this was his third full season of A-ball after having to repeat Burlington, but we still really like him.

    Kaaihue, a 15th round pick by the Royals in 2002, led the entire organization and the California League with 97 walks and a .428 on base percentage. His 20 homers were almost certainly a product of High Desert's hitter-friendliness, but he does square up on the ball pretty nicely. He has a smooth swing and a funny stance, and he was described by a KC scout we spoke with as being very streaky. Expect Kaaihue to start at Wichita next season, and if he does well, he could begin drawing notice as a Scott Hatteberg type of player. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2008.

    14) Mike Aviles
    Mike Aviles is a very strong kid who should continue developing more power as he matures, but his defensive woes are hurting his chances of ever seeing regular duty in the Major Leagues. He has a very strong arm and average range, but he made over 40 errors this season for Wichita, mostly at shortstop. His bat, however, keeps him moving through the system, albeit slowly.

    A scout we spoke with described Aviles as the type of guy who keeps proving himself at every level, and before you know it, you run out of places to send him. His path through the minors should continue next season in Omaha, where we expect he'll split time at third base and short. The Royals think of Aviles as a future utility player, and RC loves the idea because if he improves his defense to an acceptable level, he could become one of the better-hitting utility players in baseball. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2006.

    15) Brent Fisher
    Brent Fisher was still only 17 years old when he began blowing away Arizona League hitters after being drafted by the Royals in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. In 50.1 innings, Fisher struck out a very impressive 69 batters, while only walking an equally impressive 13. His ERA was 3.04, and for his efforts Baseball America named Fisher as the second-best LHP in the Arizona League, and the 18th-best prospect overall.

    Fisher isn't overpowering, but reports are that he has an excellent idea of how to pitch. He has command of a sinking fastball, a 12-to-6 curveball, and a solid changeup. We expect Fisher to skip the Pioneer League and start the season in Burlington, where he should continue to blow hitters away. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2009.

    16) Mitch Maier
    After getting off to a blistering start in High Desert, Maier hit a wall after his promotion to Wichita. He did improve his power numbers, and he hit 47 doubles between the two levels, but he'll be 24 next season and his AA performance was a big disappointment. RC has never been all that impressed with Maier, after seeing him play in at least half a dozen games while he was in Wilmington.

    The encouraging thing about Maier is that his defensive move to the outfield has yielded unexpected results, as he improved so much that he was manning center field in Wichita. In fact, Allard Baird has said that he believes Maier is the best defensive outfielder in the entire system. He will have to repeat Wichita to start next season, but if he does well, he may earn a promotion to Omaha -- or a cup of coffee in KC -- by mid-season. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: September 2006.

    17) Joe Dickerson
    When the Royals took Dickerson in the fourth round of this year's draft, most people saw it as nothing more than a pure signability pick. Indeed, Dickerson signed for $250,000, which put him in the lower-half of fourth round bonuses despite being the second pick in the round. However, his performance in his debut season shut up a lot of critics, as he led the Arizona League in RBIs and triples while hitting .294/.371/.491. For his efforts, Baseball America named Dickerson as the Arizona League's second-best outfielder and ninth-best prospect overall.

    His game draws comparison's to Mark Kotsay's, as he possesses a good bat, has above average speed, and plays a very good center field. We're still cautiously optimistic about Dickerson, but we're looking forward to seeing what he can do next season. He could start the season in Idaho Falls, although Burlington might be a better bet. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2009/2010.

    18) Gary Perez
    RC had heard all about Perez while he was still playing in the Dominican Summer League, but we really got excited when he began mashing Pioneer League pitching in his first American season to the tune of a 1.024 OPS. After 36 games, he earned a promotion to Burlington, where he didn't fare quite so well. Once in Burlington, he played almost exclusively at second base, with a few appearances at shortstop.

    At 22 years old, Perez is getting a bit old for the low minors, so if he can handle it, the Royals will continue moving him quickly. We expect him to open next season in High Desert, where he'll probably put up some inflated numbers. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2008.

    19) Jonah Bayliss
    Jonah Bayliss moved to the bullpen this season, and the result was his reemergence as a prospect. He was outstanding at Wichita, striking out 63 batters in 57.0 innings pitched while walking 26 and holding opposing hitters to a .203 BA. His efforts earned him a promotion to Kansas City in June, where he held his own in 11.2 IP.

    Bayliss throws a mid-90s fastball with good movement, an above average slider, a quality curveball, and a mediocre changeup. He'll start next season in Omaha, but he's likely to be one of the first pitchers called up if the need for bullpen help arises. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: Early 2006.

    20) Chad Blackwell
    Chad Blackwell, a sixth round pick in 2004, was outstanding out of the bullpen for Burlington, which followed a very good 2004 season in Idaho Falls. In 68.2 innings for the Bees, Blackwell struck out 74, walked 27, and held hitters to a .241 BA while compiling an excellent 2.23 ERA.

    Blackwell has a funky, low three quarters delivery that is very deceptive to hitters, and it helps him throw a lot of grounders (1.65 G/F ratio in 2005). The Royals weren't worried about Blackwell's mechanics, because he's never had a history of injury, but RC has heard rumors that Blackwell underwent an MRI for a possible torn rotator cuff last week. No news has yet surfaced of this in the KC media, but our source seems to be pretty reliable. If he isn't injured, Blackwell will start in High Desert next season, where his ERA is almost certain to climb. However, a sidearm groundball pitcher figures to fare better than most in the California League, and it will be a good test. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: late 2007/early 2008.

    21) Billy Buckner
    Billy Buckner got off to a decent start in Burlington, but he struggled -- as most pitchers do -- once he was promoted to High Desert. However, Buckner continued to display his best weapon, his devastating curveball, and he posted pretty solid strikeout numbers. In 154.1 IP this season between the two levels, Buckner struck out 152 and walked 63.

    His control tumbled a bit after his promotion, as he might have been trying to be too fine, and it may have been harder for him to control his breaking stuff in the high altitudes of the California League. He did, however, turn into quite a worm-killer, posting an G/F ratio of 2.13. His prospect status is still in tact, and he will probably get a promotion to Wichita to start next season. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2008.

    22) Rayner Oliveros
    Oliveros is as intriguing a pitcher as the Royals have. Signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Oliveros was the Dominican Summer League Royals' Pitcher of the Year in 2004, after exhibiting absurd control -- THREE walks in 55.0 innings pitched to go along with 48 Ks and a 2.62 ERA.

    We figured those numbers were most likely the result of what is probably a bigger Dominican strike zone, so we took a "wait and see" approach. Well, the 20-year-old Oliveros did not disappoint. In 75.1 IP for the Arizona Royals, he struck out 48 batters while walking FIVE and posting a 2.39 ERA. That means that prior to his late season promotion to Burlington -- where he did poorly in seven IP -- Oliveros had a 130 inning stretch over two years in which he had walked just eight batters while striking out 96. That's a 12/1 K to BB ratio! We expect Oliveros to begin next season at Burlington. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: 2008/2009.

    23) Chris Demaria
    We first noticed Demaria in mid-April, when we noticed he had the only High Desert ERA under 3 to go along with a great K/BB ratio, and we went about trying to figure out how in the hell the Royals acquired him. What we found was a pitcher with a great minor league track record who was picked up by the Royals in the triple-A portion of the 2004 Rule 5 draft.

    In 76 innings between High Desert and Wichita in 2005, Demaria used his plus changeup to compile a stellar 2.13 ERA while striking out 92 and walking just 12. In fact, his performance out of the bullpen was so good, Demaria received a late season promotion to Kansas City, where he was greeted to the tune of a 9.00 ERA in 9.0 IP. We're not sure what to expect from Demaria, as we don't know if someone who throws as softly as he does could possibly succeed in the Majors, but his minor league stats are so good that he's worth keeping around. We expect him to start 2006 in Omaha, but he should see KC again at some point next season. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: mid 2006.

    24) Angel Sanchez
    Angel Sanchez just turned 22 years old, but he has already played five seasons of professional baseball after being drafted by the Royals in 2001. Allard Baird is very high on him, although 2005 was the first quality offensive season of Sanchez's career, and it came in hitter's paradise.

    The only scouting report we can find on Sanchez says that he's got fast hands, a lean body, and long legs with a scattershot, somewhat inconsistent arm. Sanchez should begin next season as Wichita's starting shortstop, but we expect him to be passed on the organization's depth chart soon by the more talented middle infielders who are above him on this list. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City: doubtful. (Editor's note: On second thought, we probably would add someone like Adam Donachie here if we could make this list over again -- our gigantic calculator failed us!!!)

    25) Alan Moye
    Acquired by the Royals in 2003 in the Jeff Austin trade, Alan Moye put together a fine season overall, hitting a combined .293/.339/.510 with 24 HR between High Desert and Burlington. As you might expect, most of his damage was done in the California League, so his numbers probably ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

    However, the Royals truly do like Moye's tools, despite his strikeouts (154 in 2005) and wretched plate discipline. The Royals are still hopeful that he acquires the discipline necessary to be a decent hitter, and if he does, Moye's power could carry him through the system. It's hard for us to picture Moye starting 2006 in Wichita, so we predict that he'll repeat High Desert for at least half the season. Anticipated arrival in Kansas City (if at all): 2009.



    There is not a single player on this planet who RC dislikes more than Jeff Weaver. The man, quite simply, is a punk, which means he fits in well on a team with fellow punks Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew. RC took great joy several years ago when Mike Sweeney gave Weaver the beating of his life (pictured above), and the 10-game suspension Sweeney received was well worth it.

    After five games out with a mild oblique strain, Sweeney should finally be ready to play again tomorrow night, and greeting him on the mound will be his old punching bag, Mr. Weaver. The Royals will counter with the suddenly effective Runelvys Hernandez, so if Weaver can manage to stay in the game by not verbally assaulting any Royal players, we could be in store for a pretty good pitching matchup. The pitching matchups for the series are as follows:

    Tue -- Jeff Weaver vs. Runelvys Hernandez
    Wed -- Brad Penny vs. Jose Lima
    Thu -- Derek Lowe vs. Zack Greinke

    These matchups, unfortunately, do not point towards a Royals series victory. As we said last series (which turned out to be completely wrong, so there is hope), our best chance of victory is in the series opener. Expecting a win out of Lima on Wednesday night would be like expecting Michael Moore to shower more than once a week -- it's probably not going to happen. Thursday is intriguing because the Royals just beat a groundball pitcher who is similar to Lowe (Brandon Webb), but our chances are dependent upon whether or not Greinke can figure out how to miss some bats. One other note...

  • RC is happy to report that both Billy Butler and Kila Kaaihue have been named California League All-Stars, and they will take part in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game in Frederick, MD. In a normal season, we would just make a note of this and move on, but we're pleased to announce that RC is a season ticket holder to the Frederick Keys, and as such we have a sixth-row seat directly behind the plate for the All-Star game. RC promises to deliver photos and commentary from the event, where Butler is certain to win both the Home Run Derby and the MVP award.
  • Sunday

    The beauty of financial flexibility

    With the help of Cot's Baseball Contracts Page, I spent some time putting together the Royals fiscal data for this year and next. And as I have said in previous posts, the Royals' financial situation is looking great. After this season, the Royals will drop ALL of their dead weight contracts, and the majority of their remaining roster will consist of players making slightly above the Major League minimum. Without further delay, I present the table:

    Player2005 salary (in mil.$)2006 Royals commitment (in mil.$)Probable 25-man - 2006

    There are a few things about this table that I must explain. First, all salaries have been rounded to two decimal places, which will affect to a small degree the totals. Regardless, the difference is not all that significant. Second, the Royals financial commitment for 2006 only includes what the Royals are required to pay the players they bring back, and therefore does not include the small raises that they customarily give to their young players. Again, the difference should not be all that significant.

    Essentially what we're looking at -- once Affeldt's and Hernandez's contracts are hammered out -- is a base payroll of around $18-19 million. With the departures of Terrence Long, Eli Marrero, Jose Lima, Scott Sullivan, Tony Graffanino, Matt Stairs, Brian Anderson, and Alberto Castillo, the Royals will save $17.25 million. Of course, those departures also leave them with roughly 10 holes to fill on their 25-man roster.

    And here what I see as a possible 25-man roster for 2006, complete with salaries. I didn't fill a couple holes, and I refuse to speculate on what the two arbitration eligible players might receive.

    PositionPlayer2006 committed salary (approx in mil.$)
    Total------$19.16 million

    That roster includes some admittedly controversial selections. First, I'd like to see the Royals fill their backup catcher and utility infield spots with players from their minor league system. Matt Tupman turned some heads in spring training, and he's taken that into this season, performing pretty well at Wichita (.286/.388/.339). There's really no reason to keep a veteran like Castillo around when a younger, cheaper, better option is available within the system.

    As for the utility infield spots, I love the idea of having an infield triumvirate of Ruben Gotay, Donald Murphy, and Mike Aviles. Murphy is a great defensive 2B who can play any infield position, and Aviles can play either SS or 3B. I envision a Murphy/Gotay platoon at second base, with Aviles serving as the regular utility infielder. In addition, Murphy would be a fine defensive replacement for Gotay in the late innings. Aviles has done nothing but hit during his minor league career, and there's no reason to suspect that he couldn't put up numbers at least on par with what our current utility infielders, Joe McEwing and Tony Graffanino, have done during their careers.

    The rest of the roster is fairly self-explanatory. Justin Huber will split time with Mike Sweeney at 1B and DH, and the pitching rotation will be young but talented. The remaining two holes to be filled are both in the outfield, and it may be possible for the Royals to fill one of them with Mitch Maier. Nevertheless, I'm not going to pencil him in just yet, although I do anticipate he'll be in KC before the 2005 season is over.

    Ultimately, it would be possible for the Royals to fill all but two outfield spots and their two arbitration cases for under $20 million. And the funniest thing about all of that is that this 2006 team would actually be better than the current version. If the Royals chose to do so, they could use that money to sign a free agent power-hitting outfielder, or a quality innings-eating starter. But really, I don't think there's any need to do so before the 2006 season, unless the Royals think they'll be ready to compete next year. I think they still will probably need one more year of development.

    And finally, to show that this financial flexibility extends beyond 2006, take a look at the current projected Opening Day 2007 lineup:

    PositionPlayer2007 salary (approx in mil.$)
    Total-----$16.49 million

    Not only does that lineup look awesome, but it's also dirt cheap. And that, folks, is a formula for small market success. I'm excited.

    RC reaches conclusions: Howell is good. Baird is smart

    It was quite a night for the Royals, as they evened the series with the Diamondbacks with a nice 8-5 victory. J.P. Howell made his Major League debut as a batter, getting robbed by RC Official Enemy Troy Glaus in his bid for an RBI double in the top of the first, and he then proceeded to throw five plus beautiful innings to lock up his first Major League victory. Howell's line for the night was stellar:

    5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R (earned), 2 BB, 8 K

    The eight Ks tied a Royals record for strikeouts in a debut, and RC is convinced he would have broken that record had he not been on a 90-pitch limit. But regardless, the early returns on the decision by Royals GM Allard Baird to promote Howell for the start are very good. J.P. was simply masterful. His fastball was catching the corners, his changeup was on target, his splitter was nasty, and his slider enticed several veteran hitters to chase pitches out of the zone for strike three. In fact, Howell's pitches were so good tonight that we didn't even see much of his sweeping curve ball, the pitch that many people claim is his best.

    It's true that the book on Howell is not yet written, so he had an advantage over the D-backs tonight. Eventually, Major League hitters will adjust to J.P., and he will in turn have to make his own adjustments to be a successful pitcher. But there is no denying on this night that Howell's debut could not have gone any better. A few other notes:

  • Emil Brown continues to amaze us with his play. Brown has shown an ability to drive outside pitches the opposite way with power, pull inside pitches with authority, and play a mean RF with an above average arm. Prior to the season, we scoffed when we heard Baird proclaim that the Royals viewed Brown as a potential Raul Ibanez -- a career minor leaguer plucked from the scrap heap only to become a productive Major Leaguer. Well, RC is scoffing no more. Check out this comparison:

    PlayerBAOBPSLGHR2005 salary

    Yes, Ibanez's numbers are slightly better, but the important question is whether or not they are $3.2 million better. We think not. It's still early in the season, and Brown may cool off, but the early conclusion here is that Baird has once again has displayed his knack for finding cheap talent.

  • RC was right about the pathetic Matt Diaz at bat on Friday night. Diaz was indeed injured, and could not swing the bat. The Royals made two roster moves before today's game, sending both Diaz and Steve Stemle to the 15-day disabled list in order to make room for Howell and Ryan Jensen. This means that for the time being, Diaz will be removed from the Official RC Poop List.

  • RC was overjoyed today as we watched #1 prospect Alex Gordon hit a two-run HR in his first at bat of the second game in a best-of-three Super Regional series vs. the Miami Hurricanes. Gordon had three plate appearances (1 HR, 2 BB) before being ejected for arguing a poor call by the third base umpire in the sixth inning. As Gordon exited the field, RC got a chill as the Nebraska faithful gave him a standing ovation. Although the fans were all decked out in Red, RC had no problem fantasizing that they were wearing blue. Despite the absence of the best collegiate player in Nebraska history, the Cornhuskers held on to win the game and advance to the College World Series, where Gordon will no doubt take home MVP honors.

  • Clark Fosler has a very interesting piece on Zack Greinke today. Seems that Clark picked up on Greinke tipping his pitches during his disastrous outing yesterday. It's worth a look, because Guy Hansen also said that he suspected Greinke might have been tipping his pitches.

  • All indications are that Mike Sweeney should be back in the lineup for Sunday's rubber match vs. the D-backs. He took full fielding and batting practice prior to tonight's game, and it sounds as though he's ready to go. I'm sure Sweeney is eager to rejoin the offense that has collected 31 hits and 19 runs in the last two games.