So, here we are. All Star Break. The Royals were contenders three days ago. Then they got swept by the White Sox and the writing seems to be on the wall concerning this ball club. I'm going to try my best to break down each facet of the ballclub in this post. If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you probably know what I think about the roster and the likes of Scott Podsednik and Jose Guillen. But I'll also take a look at the minor leagues, specifically Northwest Arkansas.
So I'll start off with what the Royals want the fans to believe is their biggest strong suit. Sure the Royals are among the league leaders in batting average, but they're bringing up the back end when it comes to slugging percentage and home runs. This team lacks the ability to blow teams out. We saw it in the Chicago series last weekend, the Royals simply don't have the horses to match up with the Carlos Quentins and Paul Konerkos of the AL Central. Our best "power" hitter is Jose Guillen. But you look closely at his stats, they aren't that impressive. He has 14 homers, yes, but he also has only hit 12 doubles. Jose has been a doubles hitter throughout his career and suddenly he has more homeruns than doubles. Meanwhile, our "cleanup" hitter, Billy Butler, who is holding steady with a whopping NINE homeruns at the All Star Break (which is making my preseason prediction of 30+ look absolutely ridiculous). Wilson Betemit has been a nice fill-in for Rick Ankiel. No wait, he's been 20x better and about $3 million dollars cheaper than Rick Ankiel.
The Royals have no problems clogging the bases with singles hitters, our problem is getting them home. The offense needs an injection of power. Maybe there are two hitters in Omaha that can do that for us? Nah, too simple...
State of the Royals offense: C+
Any rotation that has Bruce Chen in it deserves criticism. Of course, Chen has made Dayton Moore look like a genius and posted a sub-4.00 ERA in his replacement of Gil Meche. But outside of Chen's unlikely success, this rotation is bad. Brian Bannister's SABR-magic has worn off. The Kyle Davies Project looks like it is on its last legs. Seriously, Kyle Davies should pitch like he's about to be DFA'ed in each of his starts. Just when I'm ready to write him off, he pitches well. Zack Greinke is getting back on track after a rocky start.
Anthony Lerew is holding down Hoch's spot well, despite getting rocked in his last start. Hopefully nothing is terribly wrong with Luke Hochevar. I was really enjoying watching him pitch. He's worked very well with Kendall this year. His problem seems to be that he'll either pitch a gem or look like Scott Elarton.
Gil Meche needs surgery. I'm convinced. If he goes under the knife this season, he may be able to return mid-season next year and try to salvage what is left of his career.
State of the Royals starting rotation: D
These guys have been great. After an AWFUL start to the year, the bullpen has come together really well. From Kyle Farnsworth to Dusty Hughes to Blake Wood, these guys have really turned it around. Very few blown saves around this team. The bullpen has been a huge part of the Royals Yost-era success. Apparently, Ned has every bullpen pitcher throwing off the mound every day. Whereas Trey had players take a day or two off after pitching. Joakim Soria has been dominant, not quite 2008 dominant, but about as good as he'll be for the rest of his career. Blake Wood may be getting lucky with pitching-to-contact. He can't strike anybody out. His fastball is phenomenal. I'm not so sure he's the setup savior that this front office is labeling him as.
Kyle Farnsworth has been outstanding this year. Well worth his salary. He's even getting the job done in high leverage situations. Add him to the list of must-trade players.
State of the Royals bullpen: B+
Wow. What can I say that already hasn't been said by every minor league guru on the internet? I mentioned to Greg Schaum earlier this year that the Royals may have a farm system that is becoming the envy of Major League Baseball. Schaum was quick to slow my roll, but agreed that there are some positives surrounding the Royals farm system. Now, in July, I can confidently say that the Royals absolutely have a farm system that has many executives drooling.
Let's start at the top: Mike Moustakas has become the Mike Schmidt of the Texas League. Leading the league in most offensive categories, while playing 17 less games than most players. Eric Hosmer is driving the ball in the Carolina League, something that Moustakas couldn't do last year. Some people are concerned about his lack of homeruns, but in the C-League, doubles are just as good as homeruns and Hosmer has 27 of 'em. Mike Montgomery is continuing his dominance of the minors. But the real treat of the Royals farm system to emerge this year is 20 year old LHP John Lamb. He's averaging over 10 K's per 9 IP. He's got a 1.41 ERA. His stock is rising quickly and for damn good reason.
Not only are the Royals seeing individual success at the minor league level, but also team success. A thing minor league purists will tell you is more important than stats and scouting reports. The Naturals already clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half championship in the Texas League's Northern division. Meanwhile, up in the PCL, the O-Royals are in a heated pennant chase with the Iowa Cubs and Memphis Redbirds, led by the Kila Whale and a resurgent, but currently slumping, Alex Gordon.
A diamond in the rough in the Royals pipeline is 1B/DH Clint Robinson at AA NW Arkansas, who is hitting .318/.396/.591/.987. If Kila Ka'aihue turns out to be a bust, then we've got C-Rob right on his heels, who will likely join Mike Moustakas in Omaha before the season is over. Also add LHP Edgar Osuna to the mix. A guy who likely pans out as a lefty set up man or lefty starter in the future. Posting a 2.59 ERA and 1.100 WHIP, Osuna could be another Rule 5 gem picked by Dayton Moore.
Then throw in Wil Myers, Chris Dwyer, Kila Ka'aihue, Alex Gordon (not a prospect anymore, but who cares), Louis Coleman, Tim Melville, Aaron Crow, Brandon Sisk and Derrick Robinson and you have a minor league system that is stocked better than a Y2K-believer's basement.
To put it bluntly: our minor leagues are STACKED. Stacked, baby. Even if 50% of these guys bust, we've still got a hell of a lot of contributors who are under Kansas City Royal control through the better part of this decade. It's a beautiful thing.
State of the Royals minor leagues: A+
Look, this team is at a serious crossroads right now. I've been saying that for weeks now, but it is the truth. We can wear the rose colored glasses and think that we're "contenders" and do the organization as a whole a disservice. Or we can get back on the wagon and start building this thing for next year. I say next year because, well, this division is going to be just as winnable in 2011 as it was this year. The possibility of making a division run with homegrown talent is very exciting. That's something that everyone can get behind.
State of the Royals: C+