February 2012

Royals Shock Kansas City, Extend Sal Perez

According to their official Twitter account, the Royals have agreed to extend 21 year old catcher Salvador Perez through the 2019 season.  The deal guarantees him $7 million over the life of the contract, but he could earn as much as $26.75 million if he maxes out all of the deal’s incentives and the Royals pick up all three of their options.

This definitely was a shock to me, as I’m sure it was to the rest of you. I was expecting the Royals to extend one or both of Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer. Both deserving, and both had shown they can produce over a full big league season. So, needless to say, this was a surprise. Pleasant, yet unexpected.

In 39 games with the Royals last season, Perez produced an impressive slash line of .331/.361/.473 while flashing a little bit of pop (8 2B, 3 HR, 21 RBI). But it’s Perez’s defensive ability that brought him to the bigs last season, and it might be the main reason he got this extension.

In 5 minor league seasons, Perez has caught an astonishing 42% of would be base stealers. Those numbers didn’t show up to that degree last season in KC (21% CS). But his quick catch-and-release ability can not be taken for granted. Once he gets a complete handle on the big leagues, he’ll be one of the most feared defensive catchers in all of baseball. And if his offense sticks around like it has in the minors (.285/.328/.397), think Sandy Alomar, Jr.

Roy Oswalt: Mercenary

Over the entire offseason, Royals fans have been clamoring for Dayton Moore to sign a top-tier starting pitcher, and rightfully so. After all, Kansas City really only got one great season out of Zack Greinke. Other than that, our list of “ace” pitchers includes the likes of Luke Hochevar, Gil Meche, Scott Elarton, Runelvys Hernandez, Jeff Suppan, etc.; a list that just about every other team could top.

And with starting pitchers like Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, and Roy Oswalt available this past offseason, one would have figured that the Royals would try to make a push for at least one of them.

The cold(ish) days of December came and went, and with them went Mark Buehrle (Marlins 4yr/$58mil) and C.J. Wilson (Angels 5yr/$77mil). Thus, the Royals’ targets for a potential number one starter dwindled to Jackson vs. Oswalt.

Royals nation was basically begging for Dayton to sign Edwin Jackson, but he eventually inked a 1yr/$12mil. deal with the Nationals, and all eyes turned to Roy Oswalt.

Now, before we move on to Oswalt, let’s look at the deal E-Jax got from the Nationals. The 28-year old entered the offseason as one of the top FA pitchers, yet nobody wanted to meet his price tag, including KC. He even turned down a multi-year offer from Pittsburgh to sign a one-year deal with the Nats. So clearly, Jackson’s goal in 2012 is to turn in another solid season in hopes he can land a mulit-year contract elsewhere with a contract north of $50 mil. If the Royals management really thought E-Jax was worth it, they could have shelled out Gil Meche-type money (5yr/$55mil) to get him.

Back to Roy.

Oswalt has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball over the last decade, compiling a 159-93 record (.631 W-L%), a 3.21 career ERA, a 3.52 K/BB ratio, an average of 220 innings pitched and 33 starts per season, and a season WAR average of 4.2. But 2011 was a little different for him.

He left the Phillies in late April to tend to family matters in Mississippi and returned in mid May. He was then placed on the DL in June due to lingering back issues. He was able to come back from the DL in early August and remained fairly effective throughout the rest of the season.

Given Oswalt’s size (6’0″, 190), age (34), his quick pace on the mound, and the fact that he averages 200+ innings per year, a back injury, even though he has no real injury history at all, could be more serious than it seems. And that’s exactly why nobody has taken a flyer on him this offseason.

There have also been questions of Oswalt’s motivation. Some feel that he’s going to be in the same boat as Roger Clemens: a “Pitcher for Hire”. Clemens’ case was notable for the fact that he would only be at the ballpark on the days that his name was on the lineup card. Oh yeah and that he was raking in $1 million+ per start.

And today came the news that Oswalt will most likely wait until mid-season to sign with which ever team he deems worthy of his services. Very Clemens-esque.

I may be in the minority of Royals fans here, but I’m great with the fact that the Royals didn’t sign either one of Jackson or Oswalt. Their one-year deals wouldn’t have necessarily blocked any of our young pitching prospects. But with a young team in the process of learning how to play together and win together, would you really want to bring in a veteran on an expensive one-year deal who could possibly mess with that chemistry?

Absolutely not.

2013′s free agent class seems to be much, much better than this past offseason’s, with names like Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum, Anibal Sanchez, and possibly James Shields and Ervin Santana(expensive Team Options). So wouldn’t you rather have the extra $10 million or so it would have taken to sign Oswalt to potentially spend on one of these guys?

Yep.

Five Royals Find Themselves on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List

Baseball America released its long-awaited list of their version of 2012′s Top 100 Prospects. Here is where the Royals stand on their list, their position, age, and projected ETA:

23. Mike Montgomery  LHP  22  2012

24. Bubba Starling  OF  19  2015

28. Wil Myers  OF  21  2013

68. Jake Odorizzi  RHP  22  2013

84. Cheslor Cuthbert  3B  19  2014

The Royals joined the Mariners and D-Backs as the only two teams to place three prospects in Baseball America’s top 30.

Last season, the Royals placed a record 9 prospects on this list. But with Hosmer, Moose, and Duffy all making their way to the K last summer, the number was sure to be smaller this year. Placing five prospects on the list is nothing to scoff at though. Only the Padres, Cardinals, Rangers, and A’s had more than the Royals this year at six.

In similar lists, the Royals prospects ranked as follows:

Baseball Prospectus (Kevin Goldstein):

19. Wil Myers

27. Bubba Starling

47. Jake Odorizzi

82. John Lamb

83. Cheslor Cuthbert

You’ll notice on his list, Goldstein left Mike Montgomery off, most likely due to his command issues last season in Omaha. He also has John Lamb on his list, who missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery and subsequently fell off many of the Top 100′s.

ESPN (Keith Law – Insider Only):

13. Wil Myers

15. Bubba Starling

43. Cheslor Cuthbert

52. Mike Montgomery

71. Jake Odorizzi

Keith also ranked the Royals as the 5th best farm system in all of baseball.

MLB.com

MLB.com included four Royals prospects in their Top 100. For more on that, you can look here and here.

The 10 From the ‘Pen

In order to make this process a little easier on me (which didn’t really help at all), my reliever rankings are based on who I project could be potential 8th and/or 9th inning guys.

10. Tyler Sample RHP (Wilmington) age 22

As of right now, Tyler Sample is trying to work his way through the Royals’ system as a starter. After a good showing in 2009, he’s been dipping ever since; and 2011 was his worst season yet. He went 7-12 in 27 games (22 starts), averaging less than 6 innings per start, serving up a 5.25 ERA and 10.1 H/9.

Once a top 20 organizational prospect, control issues have caused Sample’s stock to fall a bit. His career 1.42 K:BB ratio (289:204 incase you were wondering) as a starter has lead me, along with fellow Royals blogger Landon Keefer at Royal Revival, to believe that Tyler would greatly benefit from a shift to the bullpen.

Sample has a huge frame, standing tall at 6’7″ and weighs in at a cool 245-250. Not many guys with similar frames find long-term success as a starter simply due to the fact that the size of a starter’s workload takes a bigger tole on bigger pitchers. So with Sample coming out of the bullpen, he’ll be able to hone in on just a few batters and really let his arm do the talking.

Grade: C+. Tyler is still young and learning how to pitch, so I’m sure he’ll get more reps as a starter. But if he begins to struggle early on this season, I fully expect the Royals to make the switch. He should start the season in Kane County.

9. Jeremy Jeffress RHP (Kansas City/Omaha/Northwest Arkansas) age 24

Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

I’ll admit that I was pretty excited to see Jeremy Jeffress’ name included in the Royals’ haul of the Zack Greinke trade. After all, the guy was a Top 50 prospect who could throw upwards of 100 mph and had the capabilities of one day being a part of the KC rotation. He had been racking up K after K in the Brewers system and had all the potential in the world.

But Jeffress came to the Royals with some baggage.

Back in 2007, he was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for marijuana. But that wasn’t his first failed test. Apparently he had failed before, but the MLB doesn’t suspend first-time failures if they tested positive for marijuana. In June of 2009, Jeremy again failed a drug test, technically his third offense, and was served with a 100 game suspension. If he fails one more test, he will be banned for life, no questions asked.

Jeremy also suffers from another problem: control. Although he does have a career 10 K/9 in the minors, he also averages 5.7 BB/9. The ability to be consistent has been his kryptonite. He made the Royals bullpen out of Spring Training last season. But in 15.1 IP for the Royals, he gave up 11 BBs to 13 Ks, which averages out to 7.6 K/9 to 6.5 BB/9. He was then demoted to Omaha, and it didn’t get any prettier from there. He was sent to Omaha to be transitioned back into a starter, but only managed to get in 3 starts before being shifted back to the bullpen. His 7.12 ERA and 6.8 BB/9 in only 24 IP earned him another demotion; this time to NW Arkansas.

He was inserted into the Natural’s rotation, going 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in 31 IP (9 games 8 starts). Yet he still could not figure out the strike zone, and his BB numbers finally eclipsed his Ks (22 BB, 20 K). No doubt, a discouraging sign.

Grade: C-. Jeffress has the potential to grade as high as a B+ reliever in my opinion. He just has to somehow figure out what the hell is going on out there. Right now, he’s just a thrower. He wants to go to the mound and throw every single pitch at 99-100 mph, hoping he’ll gas every batter he faces. He needs to learn how to pitch, bottom line (very similar in stuff and inconsistencies to Edwin Jackson). Once he does that, he has the stuff of a potential closer. But until then, he’s just a guy moving in the wrong direction.

8. Brandon Sisk LHP (Northwest Arkansas/Omaha) age 25

Photo Credit: MiLB.com

Despite all of the famed lefties in the Royals’ glowing farm system, Brandon Sisk is the lone lefty on this list. Sisk split last season between AA NW Arkansas and AAA Omaha and put up fairly good numbers at both levels. In Arkansas, he had a 3.77 ERA in  28.2 IP with a 4:1 K:BB ratio and a 1.047 WHIP (BB+H/IP) (which is exactly what you would want out of any pitcher). He earned a promotion to Omaha and threw even better. In 32 IP, he had a 1.41 ERA, a WHIP of 1.0, and 2 Saves. His K:BB ratio struggled, as he had 30K’s to 16 BB’s (1.88:1 ratio).  But other than that, he had a solid season.

That solid season earned Sisk a non-roster invite to Spring Training 2012. He has an outside shot of making the Opening Day roster this season. I expect him to start the year in Omaha and could make his big league debut this summer.

Grade: C. He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Affeldt. He’ll never have a “true” role in the bullpen, meaning he could serve as sort of a Utility reliever.

7. Patrick Keating RHP (Northwest Arkansas) age 24

Photo Credit: Royal Revival

At 6’0″, 220 lbs., Patrick Keating is built like a stocky-power reliever a la Greg Holland. His fastball consistently sits in the mid-90′s and possesses an above-average slider- a great complimentary pitch that every reliever needs.

After being drafted by the Royals out of the U of Florida in 2009, Patrick has been used exclusively as a reliever. Keating had a solid 2010 campaign in Wilmington and NW Arkansas with 101 Ks in 71 IP and a 2.28 ERA, and has a minor league career average of 12.2 K/9 to 3.2 BB/9.

2011 was a rough season for Pat, as he got knocked around a bit in his first full season at the Double A level. In 38 IP, he had an ERA of 6.16 and a WHIP of 1.421. His strikeout numbers fell a bit to 10.4 K/9, but he was able to lower his number of free passes to 2.8 BB/9. He suffered a shoulder injury in mid-June which consequently lead to a stint on the DL. The injury no doubt had a role to play in Keating’s numbers last season.

Grade: C+. I think Keating, barring anymore injuries, could open up the season in Omaha. He looks the part of a serviceable major league reliever who could possibly come in late/close games (31 career saves). He’s been a K machine this far, so he has that going for him.

6. Louis Coleman RHP (Omaha/Kansas City) age 25

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Out off all of the rookies that made their Royals debut last season, Louis Coleman’s rookie season appears to be the one that is most commonly overlooked. In 59 2/3 innings in 48 appearances in 2011, he struck out 64 while walking 26, had an ERA of 2.87, and had the 5th best Inherited Runners Scored% in the MLB at 12.8%.

Coleman doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball. But given his sidearm angle, his slider is just vicious. His Swinging Strike rate was 22%, compared to the league average of 15%. Most of that can be contributed to Coleman’s extreme release point, as he’s able to hide the ball longer more than most pitchers and seems way too far in on right-handed hitters and way too far outside on left-handed hitters.

Grade: C+. Although I doubt Sweet Lou will ever become a closer, he has the ability to shutdown opposing hitters. Down the road he may be more of a specialist pitcher, entering the game in situations that call for a righty-righty matchup. But he shows a great ability to make hitters miss, and that can never be overlooked.

5. Yordano Ventura RHP (Kane County) age 20

Photo Credit: MiLB.com

Yordano Ventura is a 5’11″, 150 lbs. (when wet) starter right now in the Royals system. In his first full season as a starter in 2011, he made 19 starts, went 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA, giving up 82 hits in 84.1 innings pitched, with 88Ks and 24BBs. While this was no make or break season, given it was his first one as a full-time starter, I think Ventura is destined for a future in the bullpen.

Ventura is a max effort pitcher, often able to get his fastball in the 95-99 mph range. Given his body and delivery type, he would have an extremely hard time making it to the bigs as a starter. Being in the bullpen would allow him to pitch to his true style, dialing up fastballs for one inning 3-4 times a week, thus allowing his arm to last as long as it possibly can. He needs to develop a quality second pitch if he wants to move up quickly though.

Grade: C+. Ventura has drawn many comparisons to Pedro Martinez, given their similar size and arm strength. But odds are he’ll be a bullpen fixture sometime soon. If that does happen, he could be this year’s Kelvin Herrera.

4. Kelvin Herrera RHP (Wilmington/Northwest Arkansas/Omaha/Kansas City) age 22

Up until 2011, Herrera had been used exclusively as a starter and spent 3 straight seasons in Single A (2008-10). He was shifted to the bullpen this past season, and what a difference it made. He skyrocketed through the entire system, making stops at all of the Royals’ upper-level minor league teams, and eventually made it all the way to Kauffman for a few cups of coffee at the big league level.

Given his time as a starter, he has the ability to throw 3 pitches that are at or around the major league level, including a fastball that consistently flirts with 100 mph, an above average change-up, and a curveball that could one day be another plus-pitch.

Herrera will get a shot to make the Royals 25-man roster out of Spring Training as a middle-relief/set-up reliever.

Grade: B. It’s extremely hard to judge any reliever’s potential. But given how fast he rose through the Royals’ system, I have little doubt that he’ll be successful. He definitely has the stuff of a future closer.

3. Jonathan Broxton RHP (Los Angeles Dodgers/Albuquerque) age 27

Even though he’s only 27, it seems like Broxton has been around forever. The 6’4″, nearly 300 lbs. hurler had a rough 2011 season as a member of the Dodgers. He began the season as the closer for LA, but was placed on the DL due to pain in his right elbow. Before being placed on the DL in May, Brox racked up a 5.68 ERA and only 7 Saves. He made a few rehab starts in Triple-A before being shut down again. Hopeful to return to the team in September, Broxton tested his elbow by throwing from a mound. When it was clear his arm wasn’t ready, he was shutdown again for the remainder of the season and became a free agent after the season ended.

Brox has pretty decent career numbers thus far, compiling 84 Saves in 117 official chances (roughly 72% Saves converted) in 2+ seasons as the Dodgers full-time closer. Not a great conversion rate by any means. Just decent. But his career ERA of 3.19 is a plus, and along with that comes 503 K’s in 392 innings and the fact that he’s only given up 25 HRs in 7 pro seasons. Before 2011, it seemed like Broxton was in line for a big payday as he was heading into free agency for the first time, but his elbow derailed that dream for at least another season.

After a hunting trip with Ned Yost, Jeff Francoeur, and Jeff Foxworthy in his native Georgia, Broxton was convinced to sign a one-year, $4 mil. deal with the Royals. He’s in line to be a 7th/8th inning guy, along with Greg Holland, setting the table for Joakim Soria.

Grade: B. Broxton is a 2-time All-Star and a pure-power pitcher. His fastball has consistently sat in the upper-90′s throughout his career, but also possesses a power slider to complement it. This, to me, looks like a show-case season for Broxton, who’s looking to prove he can still effectively close games. If the Royals are out of contention by the trade deadline, expect to see him in a different uniform to end the season.

2. Greg Holland RHP (Omaha/Kansas City) age 26

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Greg Holland was one of the most effective relievers in all of baseball last season. Over 60 innings, Greg had an ERA of 1.80, 74 K’s to 19 BB’s, and had an MLB best 6.1 Inherited Runners Scored % in his first full season in Kansas City.

Holland has been a K’s machine throughout his baseball career, so that number never caught anyone off guard. But the fact that he allowed just 37 hits in 60 innings (.175 AVG) and only 2 of 33 inherited runners to score leads many to believe, myself included, that the Royals could shift him into the Closer role if something were to happen to Soria (converted 4 of 6 save opportunities and recorded 18 holds in 2011).

Grade: B. Holland definitely has closer potential, given his ability to locate his high-90′s fastball, an 11.1 K/9 ratio, and the ice water that apparently runs through his veins.

1. Joakim Soria RHP (Kansas City) age 27

Joakim Soria has been arguably one of the best Royals relievers of the last 20 years outside of Jeff Montgomery and the late Dan Quisenberry. Over his 5 year career, Soria has compiled a 13-15 record, 160 Saves, a 2.40 ERA, and 341 K’s (3.92:1 K:BB ratio) in 315 Innings Pitched.

Although he has been a top-tier, lights out closer thus far in his career, 2011 was undoubtedly his worst season to date. He blew 5 of his first 12 save opportunities, and was eventually replaced by Aaron Crow as the team’s closer for a few games. During that stretch however, the Royals didn’t play a single game that required a closer, and Soria resumed his familiar role about a week later.

There have been rumors and talk about the Royals shifting Soria to the rotation ever since he came to KC. Soria definitely has the skill-set to be a quality starter, as he possess 3 plus-picthes (FB, Curve, Change) and the cool, calm, and collected demeanor necessary to be a starter. Just after he was selected by the Royals in the Rule V draft in 2006, he threw a perfect game in the Winter League. So it goes without saying, he’s more than capable of making the switch.

But for now, Joakim is the team’s closer for 2012 and beyond.

Grade: B+. If he didn’t basically implode last season, I would have given him at least an A-. Given the shelf life of closers anymore and how they’re not as big of a commodity as they once were, Soria needs to come back in a big way in 2012 and re-prove himself to the Royals Faithful.

Other names to watch: Tim Collins, Ryan Verdugo, Kendal Volz, Blaine Hardy, Buddy Baumann, Michel Mariot, Bryan Paukovitz

Why Picking Up Yost’s Option is a Really, Really Good Thing

After 1+ seasons as their manager, the Royals brass decided to go ahead and pick up Ned Yost’s option for the 2013 season.

Under Ned, the Royals have gathered up a record of 126-163. Now, the casual fan might look at that and think “WTF! Why would they want to keep around a loser?!” So for you casual fans, I suggest you take a look at Yost’s managerial career so you can see just exactly WTF the Royals management was thinking.

Before coming to Kansas City, Ned was the manager for the Brewers from 2003-08, compiling another losing record of 457-502. His team never won the NL Central (which featured the 2004, 2005, and 2006 St. Louis Cards and the 2005 Astros). Respectively, his teams finished like this:

2003: 68-94  6th place

2004: 67-94  6th place

2005: 81-81  3rd place

2006: 75-87  4th place

2007: 83-79  2nd place

*2008: 83-67  (team finished 90-72) 2nd place, Wild Card

*was fired with 12 games to go

The Brewers that Ned took over in 2003 were just atrocious. As was the 2004 team.

2005 is where Yost’s reputation really started to take it’s shape. In May of that season, the Brew Crew called up a young, thick 1B named Prince Fielder; a quick, powerful 2B named Rickie Weeks; a sure-handed SS with some pop named J.J. Hardy; and a tall, lanky OF with potential by the name of Corey Hart. In that same summer, they drafted Ryan Braun: a pure-hitting 3B out of the U of Miami. The team finished at .500 for the season, but showed a remarkable 14 game improvement from 2004.

Milwaukee slipped a little bit in 2006, finishing 6 games worse than the year before at 75-87.

On May 24, 2007, Milwaukee called up it’s top prospect, Ryan Braun, to take over at 3B and placed him in the 3-hole, ahead of Prince Fielder. Together, Braun and Fielder combined for a .304 AVG, 84 HR, 61 2B, 216 RBI, and 200 R. Not to mention the rest of the lineup was pretty jacked, too. They managed to finish the season at 83-79, just 2 games behind the Cubs for the division title. But the Brewers accomplished something they hadn’t done since the days of Yount by finishing with a winning record for the first time since 1992.

2008 was the year the Brewers were supposed to take it all the way, featuring a young nucleus of Braun, Fielder, Hart, Weeks, and Hardy and veterans like Jason Kendall, Ben Sheets, and Jeff Suppan. In an all-in move at the trade deadline of 2008, the Brewers acquired Cy Young-er C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia provided the Milwaukee the fuel it needed to make it to the post-season as the NL Wild Card. However, Ned was relieved of his managerial duties with 12 games left in the regular season due to the team’s nearly fatal slump (3-10 from Sept. 1-16), nearly knocking them out of contention.

Skip ahead to May of 2010, when Yost was hired by Dayton Moore to take over for Wyatt Earp Trey Hillman. He took the reigns of another struggling team, mixed with young potential (Butler, Gordon, Greinke, Soria, Hochevar, Aviles, DeJesus), slowing vets (Meche, Guillen, Kendall), one-year contracts/trade pieces (Ankiel, Podsednik, Farnsworth), role players (Bloomquist, Callaspo, Betemit) and bad-attitudes (Guillen, Greinke). Ned had to play with the hand he was dealt, going 55-72 the rest of the way.

In 2011, the Royals prized prospects were given the chance to make an impact at the big league level, as 12 rookies made their big league debuts (Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella, Perez, Pina, Adcock, Collins, Coleman, Crow, Duffy, Teaford, and Herrera). Ned allowed these guys to take their lumps at the big league level (i.e. Moose, Gio, Collins, Duff), because he wanted them to learn how to adjust in the pros. If he sat them for any extended period, he would risk stunting their potential growth. Thus, Moose and Gio went through their respective slumps, while Collins and Duffy struggled with their command. The Royals went an unimpressive 71-91, but their Pythagorean Winning Percentage shows the team should have gone 78-84, a truly positive sign that the “Process” was working.

If you’ve made it all the way here, I congratulate you! You should have deciphered by now why extending Ned Yost through 2013 was a great decision. Yost has been given teams that needed to be reshaped and remolded, by both obtaining/dealing valuable veterans for younger, future pieces and by promoting and playing young talent. He’s been through this before, and the Brew Crew have him to thank for helping shape the core players they have today. The Royals are in a similar position now that the small-market Brewers were in just a few years ago. If all goes according to plan, the Royals will improve upon last season’s exciting finish and prove that championship dreams are nearer now than they have been in a log, long time.

Gordon and the Royals Agree to a One-Year Deal

Happy early birthday, Gordo!

Photo Credit: AP/Charlie Riedel

The Royals avoided an arbitration hearing with Alex Gordon today by signing him to a one-year, $4.775 mil. contract with up to $25K in performance bonuses (kudos to the Star’s Bob Dutton).

Alex initially filed for $5.45 mil, and the Royals came back at him with an offer of $4.15mil. In the end, they pretty much settled for a figure smack dab in between the two figures.

The two parties have been exploring a multi-year deal this offseason, and most of us were hoping they would have settled on a 3-5 year deal by now. They’ll continue to attempt to negotiate a new deal. Officially, Gordo can’t become a free agent until after the 2013 season, so any new deal with him will have to at least buy out two of his free agent years.

KC has officially signed all of it’s arb. eligible players, and Dayton has kept his squeaky clean arbitration record.

The Royals 10 Best Outfielders Right Now

Even though the real strength of the Royals minor league system lies within it’s pitching ranks, the OF isn’t far behind it in terms of potential. And given the Royals major league outfielder’s performances last season, this talented list becomes that much better. Here’s my top 10 OFers for 2012. Enjoy with a healthy side enthusiasm!

10. David Lough (Omaha) age 26

Photo Credit: Gage Matthews / Kings of Kauffman

Up until now, some of you may have never heard of David Lough. For those of you who fall into that category, here is a glimpse at what David Lough is:

-11th round selection in 2007 draft, Mercyhurst College

-5 Minor League seasons, career .299/.354/.468, 52 HR, 38 3B, 65 SB, 1.93:1 K:BB ratio, .980 Fld%, all the while logging significant innings at all 3 OF positions.

David has spent the past two seasons in Triple A Omaha, biding his time until his name is called. He’s been nothing but consistent, both in the field and in the batter’s box. So why hasn’t Lough seen any time in Kansas City?

Mitch Maier.

Grade: C+. I actually really like Lough. He draws a lot of comparisons to David DeJesus but with much better speed. As a Royals fan, that’s great news to me. Now if he could only pry that 4th OF spot away from the likes of Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson. This guy will get his shot sometime soon, but not necessarily in Kansas City.

9. Jorge Bonifacio (Burlington-Rookie) age 18

Photo Credit: Clint Scoles / Pine Tar Press

Jorge Bonifacio is still extremely young and a relatively unpolished prospect. But from what scouts have seen from him so far, they have no doubt that he will be an impact bat in the middle of the Royals’ lineup one day. He is projected to have terrific power and will play above-average defense while possessing good speed. He still needs to work on his pitch recognition, as he often finds himself out ahead of breaking pitches. But he’s got quick hands and a projectable body that will add mass in time, and mass+quick hands= power.

Grade: B. I can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season of work under his belt. His position isn’t set as of now, but he’ll be either a LF or a RF.

8. Jarrod Dyson (Omaha/Kansas City) age 27

Dyson doing what he does best

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

We all know what Jarrod Dyson is: speed. If he makes the opening day roster, it will be for that reason, and for that reason only. His speed literally changes the game. He can turn a sac bunt into a single, a walk into a double, and a lazily played double into a triple.

He won’t ever really hit for average in the majors without consistent playing time due to the fact the he generally enters the game in low-success situations (sacrifices/bunt single attempts), or he enters as a pinch runner. He doesn’t get relatively great jumps on fly balls, nor does he run great routes. And his arm has never and will never be there. But his speed more than makes up for it.

Grade: C. Dyson is “Juan Pierre-lite” at his best, and “Joey Gathright-lite” at his worst. His speed will keep him in/around the majors for years to come, whether it be in Kansas City or anywhere else. There’s no denying the fact the he simply changes games.

7. Elier Hernandez (Instructional) age 17

Photo Credit: Pine Tar Press

The Royals signed Elier Hernandez this past summer out of the Dominican for a $3.05 mil. bonus, setting a club record for the International signing period. As of now, Hernandez is still relatively unknown. But at 6’4″ and 200 lbs at the tender age of 17, he’s already got the body of a big leaguer. At that size, scouts project him to be a corner OF, most likely RF due to the fact that he will probably slow a bit as he adds on weight and muscle mass. Because that’s all 17 year olds do. He’s described as a “quick-twitch athlete” and “a high-risk, high-reward type”.

Grade: B. Note- I’m handing out this grade without Hernandez ever playing in a professional game. His power potential is though the roof, and he could work his way into the Royals’ list of top 10 prospects by season’s end. Keep this in mind: Hernandez is just 17 years old. The Royals are going to give him as much time as he needs to fully develop on and off the field, so don’t expect to see him in Kansas City until at least 2016-2017.

6. Brett Eibner (Kane County) age 23

Photo Credit: royals.scout.com

Eibner, now primarily a CF, was a two-way player at the University of Arkansas, leading many to believe that he could have been drafted as either an OF or a pitcher. If he were to enter the draft as a pitcher, he would have most likely gone in the 1st round, mostly due to his 97 mph fastball. But luckily for the Royals, he chose to hit, and fell right into their lap in the 2nd round.

Thus far, Eibner has been bitten by the injury bug, hampering his ability to really show the plus-power that he possesses at the plate. He’s known as a bit of a free swinger, and that may never go away. But he does show the ability to take a walk, evidenced by his 90:48 K:BB ratio and his .340 OBP in 2011, despite his .213 AVG in 76 games. He did manage to flash some of his God given power by sailing 12 balls over the fence. He also has a solid glove (.994 Fld% / 1 error) to go with the gun attached to his right shoulder.

Grade: B. He needs to evade the DL this coming season if he wants to progress quickly through the ranks. He’s a great athlete who has the ability to stick at CF, but may be more likely to end up in RF because of his extremely strong arm. If he sticks at CF though, he could be on the fast track to supplant Lorenzo Cain within 2 years.

5. Lorenzo Cain (Omaha/Kansas City) age 25

Photo Credit: Rob Tringali / Getty Images

Another piece of the Zack Greinke/Yunibomber trade, Cain may have outperformed all of the former Brewers that came along with him to the Royals, with an inspiring slash line of .312/.380/.497, with 16 HR, 28 2B, 7 3B, 81 RBI, 16 SB, 40 BB, 102 K in 128 games in Omaha, all the while hitting for the cycle and leading the Storm Chasers to the PCL championship. So why was Lorenzo just another September call-up?

Because the Royals’ outfield last year was just that damn good.

Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy all revitalized their careers. Many saw Melky and Frenchy as guys whom Dayton should have flipped at the July 31 trade deadline, and he very well could have. Just dealing one of them would have paved the way for Cain to Kauffman. But GMDM decided to keep the record setting group together for the rest of the season. So save for a cup of coffee at the big league level as a September call-up, Lorenzo was just plain old blocked. But with the trade of the Melkman to San Francisco, the way has been cleared for Cain.

Grade: B-. Cain is probably a better athlete than he is a baseball player. But he has the potential to be a Gold Glove-caliber CF who can steal 25+ bases and eventually become the leadoff hitter, moving Alex to the middle of the lineup where he belongs. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Cain can do at the K this summer.

4. Jeff Francoeur (Kansas City) age 28

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga / AP Photo

I couldn’t wait to put this picture up…

To say Fenchy surpassed all of our expectations last season is an understatement. He blew them out of the freaking water.

Nobody was surprised last winter when GMDM inked the former Atlanta Brave to a one-year deal. We all, Dayton included, believed this to be another one-year, low-risk signings that the Royals would flip at the deadline for future puzzle pieces a la Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. Afterall, Frenchy’s career appeared to be on a downward slope at the ripe age of 26. He was traded from his hometown Braves in 2009 to the Mets for Ryan Church, a career backup OF. He was with the Mets through the first half of 2010 before they shipped him off to Texas in exchange for Joaquin Arias, another underachieving former top prospect. He platooned while with the Rangers, getting most of his playing time against lefties, earning him 6 AB’s in the World Series.

Dayton Moore snatched him up that winter, and the rest is history.

Frenchy tore it up last season, hitting .285/.329/.476, 20 HR, 47 2B(career high), 87 RBI, 22 SB (career high), becoming the Royals first 20/20 player since Carlos Beltran. He also formed 1/3 of arguably the best OF in all of baseball last season, contributing 16 OF assists (and a handful of ridiculous plays – see bottom) while only committing 5 errors. Not to mention, the guy is a bonafide leader in the clubhouse as well as a total media darling.

Grade: B-. Frenchy is just an all-around great guy. He’ll always be a hard-hacking, homerun-hitting, low-walks kind of guy who will give his team everything he’s got on any given day. His 3 year extension this offseason came as a surprise, given he could regress to his old ways. But with Wil Myers presumably waiting in the wings in Omaha (just like Hosmer did last year), be assured that Jeff will be on his game in 2012.

Frenchy’s ridiculouness:

Francoeur nails Peralta at third

Francoeur robs Ackley

Francoeur takes a single away from Taylor

3. Bubba Starling ( Instructional) age 19

Photo Credit: Lincoln Journal Star

Everyone in Kansas City already knows the name Bubba Starling. The local two-way high school super star took Royals Nation by storm last summer, when he dangled Kansas City by a string while he attended summer football workouts at Nebraska. In the end (a few seconds before the signing deadline, to be exact), Bubba decided to take his talents to Kansas City.

This kid is a freak athlete. He has all of the intangibles to become a top-tier major leaguer. And given the fact that he’s a CF, and projects to stay there, his stock is ever rising within baseball circles. He is a legitimate 5-tool guy and could become the face of the franchise before his first major league at-bat.

Grade: A. I really debated between him and Wil Myers for the number2 and 3 spots on this list. Ultimately, I put Starling at 3 just because he doesn’t have any professional experience yet. But ask me again tomorrow and I may flip these two. Think Matt Kemp-level talent. Can’t wait.

2. Wil Myers (Northwest Arkansas) age 21

Photo Credit: James Garner / MiLB.com

To me, Wil is the top prospect in the Royals system right now, and he’ll get a chance to show off his talents this coming season for the good folks of Omaha, Nebraska.

To accelerate Wil’s timetable to the bigs, the Royals converted Myers from catcher to RF. And with Sal Perez in Kansas City already, that decision looks like it will pay off. Possibly as soon as this summer.

Myers is one of the top hitting prospects in all of the minors given his ability to hit whatever is thrown at him with authority. He’ll hit for average and power and will get on base at an above-average clip. He has the arm strength and athleticism to stick in RF and become a potential star.

Grade: A-. Can you imagine this OF in 5 years? Gordon, Starling, Myers. That could be a lethal threesome. Combine them with Hosmer, Moose/Cuthbert, Butler, and Perez, and you have the best lineup in the AL in 2017. Screw the Yankees.

1. Alex Gordon (Kansas City) age 28

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel / AP Photo

Alex was arguably the best player in the entire Royals organization last season, breaking out to the tune of .303/23 HR/87 RBI. Oh yeah and he also won a Gold Glove. So there’s that. In his first 3+ seasons in Kansas City, to say Alex struggled would be putting it nicely. ’07 and ’08 were decent (.247/15/60, including a Royals rookie record of 34 2Bs, and .260/16/59). The 2008 season ended with Alex taking a groundball off the schnoz; and he was never the same at 3B after that.

His real struggles begain in 2009. He struggled to begin the season, then tore labral cartilage in his right hip, forcing him to spend 12 weeks on the DL. A month after he recovered, he was demoted to Omaha where he would stay until the annual September call-ups. Final: 49 games, .232 AVG, 6 HR

During Spring Training 2010, Gordo suffered another set back by breaking his thumb, causing him to miss the first few weeks of the season. In May, he was again demoted to Omaha. But this demotion was diferent. Alex was sent to Omaha to get work in LF. After mashing in Triple A, Gordon was reinstated to the big league roster in July to replace former Royals great David DeJesus. Alex seemed to be right at home in LF, thus making a seemless transition to the OF.

And in 2011, Alex just went off (see first sentence). On his way to winning the AL LF Gold Glove, he lead the lead the league with 20 outfield assists (which also broke the Royals’ highest single season marks set by Jermaine Dye and Mark Teahen). Now Alex is in the midst of the arbitration process. The Royals need to handle this situation by locking Gordo up for the next 3-5 years.

Grade: A-. Alex has become the complete player that the Royals hoped he would be after selecting him 2nd overall in 2005. He’s a legit 4 to 5 tool player who can hit anywhere in the lineup, given his ability to get on base, hit in the gaps, hit for power (both pull and oppo), and steal a base. Just as everyone in KC (myself included) was ready to cut their ties with him, he pulls himself together and has a terrific, and more importantly consistent, season. Bravo, Gordo.

Other names to consider: Mitch Maier, Terrance Gore, Yem Prades, Brian Fletcher, Whit Merrifield, Derrick Robinson, Tim Smith, D’Andre Toney

Royals Top 5 at the Hot Corner

The Royals have two of their top power hitting prospects at 3B, and just graduated perhaps it’s top power prospect last season. The organization is fairly deep at the hot corner, and it should be a good position to keep an eye on in 2012 and beyond.

5. Mario Lisson (Northwest Arkansas) age 27

Image

Photo Credit: John Owens/Naturals

At 27 years old, Mario Lisson is already a career minor leaguer. The Royals signed him out of Venezuela in 2002 as an athletic, raw infielder. He’s toolsy enough to play virtually any position. In his 9 minor league seasons, he’s logged 501 games at 3B, 207 at SS, 33 at 1B, and even 2 at C. His glove is average at best, but his ability to play all over the field disguises it. His bat isn’t anything to brag about either, but he has shown the ability to work walks at a decent pace (2:1 K:BB ratio), and he did hit 15 HRs and 21 2Bs in 89 games for the Naturals last season. He stole bases at a good clip in his first few minor league seasons (133 from 2004-2008), but has slowed down a little recently (26 from 2009-2011).

He’s never had a true “breakout” season to date, which is probably why he has yet to make it to the bigs.

Grade: C-. Lisson is a true baseball player. He can do anything you need him to, but likely not much better than most others. He’ll most likely never make it to KC, but could be a fit anywhere.

4. Patrick Leonard (Instructional) age 19

Photo Credit: kcscoliny16

Leonard is a 6’3″ 3B/OF prospect who played primarily SS/3B/P in high school who the Royals picked in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He had a strong commitment to the University of Georgia, but was lured away to the tune of a $600K signing bonus.

Due to his large size and raw power at the plate, Leonard was switched from SS (much like the Royals did with Moustakas) to 3B by the Royals. While some see him staying in the infield, others think he’ll eventually be moved to a corner OF position. His glove and arm are and will be good enough to do either.

Grade: B-. Patrick’s power swing will be good enough to help him advance rather quickly through the Royals’ farm system. So it all really depends on which position he sticks at.

3. Kevin Kouzmanoff (Colorado Rockies) age 30

Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America

Kouz was signed by the Royals last month as an insurance policy to Mike Moustakas. He possesses decent power and a great glove and would serve as a great bench player for Kansas City this season. For more on Kouzmanoff, check out this post: Royal Sign Kevin Kouzmanoff .

Grade: C. If he can make the team out of Spring Training, Kouz will be good for a start a week, pinch hit for Moose against tough lefties, as well as against tough lefties in tight games.

2. Cheslor Cuthbert (Kane County) age 19

Photo Credit: scout.com

Cheslor Cuthbert is ranked as the number 5 prospect in the Royals system for 2012 by Baseball America, as well having the best infield arm within the system. At only 19 years old, he looks the part of a big leaguer. In 2011, Cuthbert played the entire season at A-ball as an 18 year old, which is fairly young for that league. He had a line of .267/.345/.397, flashing some of the raw power that scouts claim he possesses (8 HR in 81 games), and displayed slick hands and a powerful arm.

Grade: B+. With his size, soft hands, and plus power potential, Cuthbert has drawn some comparisons to Adrian Beltre. And if he becomes anything like Beltre, he’ll have one hell of a career. No prospect in the system excites me right now more than Cuthbert. At just 19, he’s still got plenty of time to grow within the ranks and could possibly supplant Moustakas within the next 4-5 years.

1. Mike Moustakas (Royals) age 23

Photo Credit: Zimbio

Ever since the Royals selected Mike as the 2nd overall pick in 2007, the Kansas City fanbase has been in love with the power potential Moose would one day bring to the lineup. That day came last June in Los Angeles.. or Anaheim.. wherever it is the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim play. After the series against the Angels, Moose just seemed to lose his way at the plate, slumping all the way through June, July, and most of August, seeing his AVG fall all the way to .182, with only 1 HR to show for it all (which came in his second career game). But something started clicking, and his AVG began to creep its way back to respectability. He hit .283/.324/.343 in August and a terrific .352/.380/.580 with 4 HR in September and October.

Moose had a little trouble on defense, making an errant throw every now and then, but did pretty well for the most part (ranked 5th in the AL with a 2.57 range factor). But Mike’s true value comes from his bat, specifically his HR potential.

Grade: B+. I expect Mike to be a typical power hitter, with a line of around .260/25 HR/80 RBI. He’ll benefit by being placed behind Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Jeff Francoeur in the lineup for the next few seasons, allowing him to see better pitches. His bat is what brought him to KC, and with guys like Leonard and Cuthbert behind him on the organizational depth chart, it will have to be what keeps him here.

Other names to watch: Mark Threlkeld, Ryan Stovall

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