Sunday, June 28, 2009

Royals ink Nicaraguan prospect

Nicaraguan prospect Cheslor Cuthbert, a 16-year old star third baseman from the country, has signed a professional contract with the Royals worth an esitmated $1.5 million bonus. Several teams have been hot after Cuthbert since he was 14-years old, and many people around baseball suspected he would sign with the Pirates until the Royals swooped in and grabbed him up.

This should be a good sign for Royals fans. This move shows that they are making a serious effort to become movers and shakers internationally.

WARNING: Jeff Bianchi is the real deal

I have been going to a lot of minor league baseball games lately, trying to get an eye for players who may be available through trades, and to scout some of the Royals farmhands. We all know the Royals are in a desperate need for a shortstop right now, and I think the organization is getting a good idea who that player might be; Royals 2006 2nd-round pick Jeff Bianchi.

I have seen Bianchi on multiple occasions now this year, and let me tell you, the kid is putting things together in a big, BIG, way. Not only did he tear up pitching at Hi-A Wilmington this year (to the clip of .300 BA/4 HR/28 RBI/12 doubles/2 triples/12 stolen bases versus being caught only twice/and 6 errors: all of this in 60 games) but as you can see he also runs well and - considering he plays at a high-risk defensive position at shortstop - has played good defense.

After being slowed with injuries that have kept him trapped in A-ball the past three years, he's managed to stay healthy the past year and recently earned the call-up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas about a week ago. Impressingly, the jump hasn't slowed him a bit. I was at Saturday night's game in Springdale for another look at Bianchi and he was amazing. After smacking an RBI double in his first at-bat to right center, he followed that with three more hits before blasting a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to propel the Naturals to a 4-3 victory over the Arkansas Travelers.

Before the game I asked Bianchi if he'd noticed how desperate the Royals are for a competent shortstop who can hit. "Yeah, I've noticed they could use some help," he said with a big smile. Then he went out and went 5-for-5 with 3 RBI and the game-winning blast. Not a bad way to record your first Double-A homer.

Also, I am VERY impressed with his defense. He made several nifty plays and completed a couple of nice throws from short. Albeit, only one of the plays he made was particularly difficult - although he did make a pair of nice throws from deep in the hole to record outs. He is doing a tremendous job going with pitches and driving them to the opposite field. At the same time he's also pulling balls that need to be pulled. One of his singles skidded through the left side and the homer went to deep left center. Both balls were center-in on the plate and he wasted little time turning on them.

I'm not an irrational fan who can't grasp the importance of player development, but Bianchi looks ready for Triple-A. He's too good to even be at Double-A right now. Believe me, scouts were taking notice last night.

So far he's 19-for-34 since getting called up with 5 doubles and the homer. He has seven RBI in his first eight games and is hitting .583/.794/1.377. Now I realize that's a very small sample size, but it should open some eyes as the jump from Single-A to Double-A is a sizable leap - especially in the Texas League. He's already faced some of the best pitching the Texas League has to offer and he hasn't skipped a beat. And the Texas League is widely considered one of the best leagues in all the minors. The league is littered with the game's best prospects. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Keep your eyes on him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Royals moves avoiding the real problem

I was at Friday's debacle - you know, the one where Kyle Davies imploded on himself and was quickly shipped to Omaha aferwards - and believe me, it was worse than it looked on TV*.

By the way, I was on the field shooting pictures for the first five innings, so if you watched the game on Fox Midwest you can easily find me as the camera guy wearing the orange/blue striped shirt. At the start of the broadcast I walk right in front of the camera - can't miss me.

I only bring this up because I know I've gotten several e-mails from people wanting to know what I look like. And since I won't e-mail pictures of myself, you can see me if you DVR'd the game.

OK, back to my rant.

The Royals made the right move in sending Davies down. He clearly has not been able to harness his potentially outstanding stuff, and is just as inconsistent as he was when the Braves traded him to KC for Octavio Dotel. It's starting to get to the point where I seriously begin to doubt whether KD will ever figure it out up there.

He short arms his pitches, and doesn't repeat his delivery very well. Thus, he can't locate his fastball for crap. Clearly, his mechanics aren't the only issues though. He's got to harness his stuff mentally. That has been his biggest issue.

My gripe though is that the Royals organization is focusing too much on the pitching staff and hiding the real problem - the offense. At this point in the season it isn't going to matter much that the bullpen is razor sharp - in a bad way. I'm talking the kind of razor sharp that has the razor sliding across your neck - they're creating the bleeding when they should be the bandage that stops it.

Truth is, the pitching staff could give up two runs or twenty thousand runs and it wouldn't matter. The offense can't score enough runs to keep them winning. I've heard the arguments that the team is banged up, but I can easily counter that argument.

Allow me.

Alex Gordon? Well, he was batting .094 when he went down. Mike Aviles hovered around .183. Mike Jacobs, wait ... guess he isn't hurt but he's sucking bad enough you might think he is. Same goes to Jose Guillen. You see? They weren't helping much either.

Albert Pujols has 24 homers folks ... twenty-four. The top two in homers for the Royals, Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs, have 10 apiece. Do the math. David DeJesus hit his fourth dinger on Friday. So, basically what I'm saying is that Albert Pujols accounts for the home run total of THREE of the top Royals starters this year while his combined batting average is WAY higher than theirs.

So the losing streak isn't going to stop by the club shuffling the pitching staff around. Heck, Bruce Chen deserves to be in the big leagues right now. He's thrown shutouts in three of his past four starts at Omaha. But even Chen isn't going to help this team. He'll show up and start taking his losses and no-decisions right away. Doesn't matter how well he's throwing the ball right now, the offense can't score enough runs for the pitching to make a difference.

Oh yeah, the Royals defense has committed the 2nd-most errors in the AL. Whew.

It's sad to watch, really.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Royals thoughts through this horrible stretch

OK, this is going to be a totally random post with a lot of mix-and-matching going on.

1, It has been very hard to find the motivation to make any posts about the Royals right now. The term, "If you can't say anything nice..." applies here. So anyways, the Royals won a fantastic game Friday night thanks to a tremendous pitching performance from Luke Hochevar. Of course, the offense managed just six hits - big surprise.

2, Understand, I'm not a glass-half-empty guy. But from being around this team it's pretty obvious that the egos are keeping the Royals down. One guy is getting under my skin right now. Mike Jacobs, signed to boost the offense, is actually HURTING this team with his macho ego. Allow me to explain.

Jake is a guy who will adamantly tell you that he is what he is and WILL NOT change his approach at the plate. What that means on the bottom line is that Jake is more of a Jake player than a team player. Now that statement will ruffle some feathers, no doubt. Jake is a good guy and all, but the attitude that it's OK to hit .249 and strikeout a billion times in order to hit 20-25 homers is what's killing this lineup. No, I'm not singling Jacobs out, but I am attempting to rake him over the coals.

You see, teams put the shift on EVERY TIME Jacobs steps to the plate. You know, the same one teams put on for other lefty sluggers like Adam Dunn, Victor Martinez and Jim Thome. The problem is that Jake isn't nearly as dangerous as any of those guys and profiles better as a rally killer. He's a dead-pull hitter who has good power, but he's not in the class of Dunn, Martinez or Thome.

So the Royals are down 4-1 in the 9th inning and Jacobs steps to the plate. Instead of getting on base to start a meaningful rally he instead swings out of his spikes and whiffs on three pitches. The home run is meaningless at that point ... in cases like that a homer is actually a rally killer. It doesn't matter though, Jacobs is a glory hog. He would rather have the meaningless homer in the ninth.

We knew what to expect when we got Jacobs. It's no surprise that he strikes out this much, but at the same time you would like to think a guy would be willing to try a new approach now and then to win his team a game. I think even Dayton Moore has been a little surprised by how little he's been willing to change.

3, Trey Hillman has to be blamed for a great deal of the misfortunes this year. He's in his second year managing this club and has long since worn out his mulligans of a first year coach. He's certainly done enough to warrant being fired. I wouldn't complain one bit if Moore canned him tomorrow. Dayton isn't going to fire him anytime soon, however.

It is now understood that he has no clue how to manage late-game situations. In fact, I'm not sure what bench coach John Gibbons is contributing to this team either. Gibbons is supposed to be the little bird in Hillman's ear to help him along. Obviously, both guys have whiffed on several decisions this year (like bringing Kyle Farnsworth into ANY situation with the game on the line). They both warrant being FORMER Kansas City Royals, if you know what I mean.

A few nights ago the Royals lost to the Indians when a Shin-Soo Choo walk-off single took out a seagull in Cleveland. The real sad part of that game came well before the bird got flogged. Actually, the Royals set themselves up for a loss when Hillman chose to pinch hit for Tony Pena Jr. with the game tied 3-3 in the ninth inning with suspect Indians closer Kerry Wood on the hill.

The move to hit for Pena Jr. wasn't the problem. That was obviously the right decision. The problem was in Hillman's selection process.

On the bench were a pair of guys who are making more than $3 million this season to hit the baseball. All Hillman needed to do was pick one and go with him. Hell, rock-paper-scissors for the at-bat for all I care. Not to mention, both of those guys bat left handed versus Wood being a righty. Not to mention, both $3 million men homered off Wood in a Royals comeback victory a few weeks before. Hillman's tough decision should have been an easy one either way. It was OBVIOUS he would pick Mark Teahen or Jacobs either one in that situation.

He went with Luis Hernandez, a veteran of less than 200 major league games and a guy who can't hit his weight. WOW. I rest my case.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In surprising fashion Aaron Crow falls to Royals

From the Royals press release:

KANSAS CITY, MO (June 9, 2009) -- The Kansas City Royals have selected Aaron Crow, a right-handed pitcher, with the 12th overall pick of the June Free-Agent Draft. The 6'3", 195 lb. Crow was selected 10th overall by the Washington Nationals in 2008, but did not sign.
Crow, a native of Wakarusa, Kan., was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a Golden Spikes Award finalist in 2008 after going 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 15 starts for the University of Missouri. Crow has pitched in each of the last two seasons for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association.
This season, Crow posted a 1.06 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 17.0 IP with the Cats. He is the second Fort Worth pitcher to be selected by the Royals in the first round, following Luke Hochevar, the 1st overall selection in 2006.
- My take -
I'm pleasantly surprised that Crow fell to the Royals at No. 12. Dayton Moore seriously had to be doing backflips when Crow was sitting there for the taking. Many scouts and team executives had Crow pegged to go in the top 5 picks after having a stellar start to the season at Fort Worth - where he flashed major league caliber stuff.
Already a year into professional baseball, plus the fact he went through college, Crow is advanced enough that he will likely shoot through the minor leagues and contribute to the big league club soon. Royals fans should be excited.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The cupboard is bare at Double-A

Sorry for the long stretch in posts lately guys, but I've been busy going to games and such and wanted to take some time off to just reflect on what I've witnessed with this Royals team and its minor league affiliates.

The results aren't good. I'll make a post on the big league club in the next few days. It will be long and rambling - I'm warning you.

Just as I was planning this post, I noticed that Sam Mellinger wrote a story today about the farm system - quoting Dayton Moore saying how much better the system is now compared to when he arrived. He's absolutely right, but the top of the tree is stripped clean. And I'm not joking.

Having seen lots of minor league games throughout the past several years, I do have to say that I can't remember a time that I watched a team and had real doubts that ANY player would ever contribute at the big league level. That is until I started scouting the NW Arkansas Naturals this year.

The Texas League is certainly one of the most talented leagues in all of the minors. It's full of some of the top prospects in the game from Justin Smoak to Jhoulys Chacin. Yeah, pretty big prospects. The best power hitter the Naturals have is journeyman Corey Smith - a former 1st-round pick of the Indians - who has no real position and the body of a DH. He's been bouncing around the minors for quite some time after being released by the Indians and Angels after spending a couple years at Arkansas with each of them. He's a Juan Richardson type player (if you don't know him look him up) as bad as I hate to say it. Smith, at 27 years old, is batting .246 with 9 homers. He's seen little time above Double-A.

There are other players like John Suomi, Jordan Parraz, Cody Strait and Brian McFall who all are hitting well for the Naturals, but all of those players have their faults. Parraz, who was obtained from the Astros in the Tyler Lumsden trade, probably has the best chance of reaching the big leagues, but it would likely be in a reserve outfielder role as his bat doesn't play up to a corner outfield position (where he plays for the Naturals) in the power department. Suomi is going on 29 years old and is way too old to be considered a prospect. I would be more optimistic about him if his .329 average with 7 homers this year was being turned in at Triple-A Omaha. As it is now, he's splitting time behind the dish with Jeff Howell.

Strait is another guy like Parraz, only he plays center. He just turned 26 last week and is in his first year at the Double-A level. He still needs seasoning and isn't considered a prospect. As for McFall, the guy can rake. The problem he has is that when he actually does play the field he's a first baseman. Most of the time he's a DH. He won't hit with enough sock to warrant playing over Butler, Jacobs, Guillen or even Ka'aihue.

The pitching staff is loaded with just as many question marks.

Prospect Dan Cortes is spinning his wheels to the point that some scouts are saying he may need to move to the bullpen to reach the big leagues. That would be a blow to the Royals and their envisions for this kid when they traded for him in the Mike MacDougal deal in 2006. He's had horrendous control issues so far this year going 2-5 4.01 with 36 strikeouts and 32 walks. He's regressed poorly in his last two outings alone with 10 walks and seven strikeouts. Blake Wood (another highly touted prospect) is carrying a 6.31 ERA and has allowed 7 homers in 45 innings. He also is being tabbed as a future reliever by scouts.

As the scout told Mellinger, there is help for the Royals in the future, but it's two to three years away ... at least. There isn't much other than Ka'aihue, Hochevar and Carlos Rosa at Omaha. Rosa has been hit hard this year and may be demoted soon.

They club needs to make a trade to kick-start the offense, but they have next to nothing to deal that teams would want. I'll talk about that more in the coming days.