One of the least covered disadvantages of being a small payroll team is that they can develop a great player, and it means nothing in the larger scheme of things. If a competitive team like the Red Sox develops a young player, that player is a contributor to a winning team. If the Royals develop a young player, he’s just another guy on a 100-loss ball club. Which is a shame, because the Royals have some success stories.
The most obvious is the play of third baseman Mark Teahen. Teahen surprised everyone last year when he replaced Chris Truby as the regular third baseman as a 23-year-old. He surprised the opposite way when he struggled early this season due to a shoulder injury. He was demoted back to Omaha in May, recalled in June, and hasn’t stopped hitting. Since his recall, he’s hitting .323 with 17 home runs in just 284 at-bats. He’s exactly what the Royals need – a solid hitting youngster who won’t be expensive for another couple of years.
Except that that he plays third base, which is also the position of their top prospect, Alex Gordon. Gordon is one of the top offensive prospects in baseball, and was just drafted last year, as the second overall pick. The 22-year-old is currently beating up AA pitchers, hitting .323 with 27 home runs an a 1018 On-base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS). Maybe most surprising is that he won’t receive a September callup, and won’t skip AAA next year. That’s a bit of a departure from the previous regime’s tendency to rush players to the majors.
As you'll see tomorrow, the Royals have exactly one long-term contract that isn't a loadstone. It belongs to David DeJesus, the 26-year-old center fielder who continues to be productive in his third year in the majors, hitting .303 with a .379 on-base percentage (OBP) and an 824 OPS. The Royals still try to hide him occasionally versus southpaws, but he’ll have some time to work on that. He’s signed through 2010 for a little more than $3 million per year, and the team has an option on 2011, too.
Over the past few years, the Royals have had their success stories offensively, but have had precious few for their pitching staff. There still aren’t many, but there are some positive signs to build on. Luke Hudson seems to be overcoming his traditional control issues with a new sinker, and has been very solid for the Royals the second half of the season. Zach Greinke seems to have overcome his personal issues and had pitched well enough in AA to warrant a September call-up. And 2006 #1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar is signed and pitching in Low A ball. It wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to see time in the Royals rotation in 2008. They’re mild success stories, but this franchise will take them.
On the Hill
Wednesday: Luke Hudson (6-5, 5.94 ERA)
Twins: Boof Bonser (3-4, 5.18 ERA)
- ‘05 (AAA):11-9, 160.1 IP, 168 K, 3.99 ERA
- ‘06 (AAA):49.1 IP, 33 H, 47 K, 20 BB, 3 HR
- ‘06: 57.1 IP, 66 H, 46 K, 17 BB, 13 HR
- On the one hand, he’s improved in each start since his recall, and he’s faced some very good offenses.
- On the other hand, he’s still giving up way too many home runs, especially as he starts to tire and the ball starts to elevate. It would be nice if I could say that he’s surviving because he’s keeping people off the bases, but that isn’t true either. They just haven’t been on base when he’s giving up the home runs.
- Keep the ball down. Keep the ball down. Keep the ball….
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A couple of note on last night's game which I was lucky enough to attend (Happy Birthday Dave!):
- Just four days ago I woke up after a critical win realizing that the rest of the season was in question because a starting pitcher looked done. Today I woke up after a critical loss realizing the rest of the season was promising because a starting pitcher looked wonderful. And I gotta say, I liked the other way better.
- That said, Matt Garza DID look wonderful last night, or at least he did from down the first base line. Early on we were watching the radar gun to see if his offspeed stuff was being called for strikes, and it was, and we knew we were in for a treat. He lived up to expectations.
But about midway through the game, I started to wonder if the umpire's strike zone didn't have something to do with that. Not because I could actually see the umpire's strike zone, but because Mark Redman, who has struggled with his control, looked like he was nibbling the corners perfectly. (By the way, kudos to La Velle E. Neal III for pointing out that Redman didn’t walk a batter last night, and addressing the question with Ron Gardenhire.)
Which led to another realization last in the game, which is that the Win statistic which we’re so fond of ridiculing might have made a lot more sense fifty or seventy years ago, when strike zones likely were a little more variable. In fact, it might just make a lot more sense as a statistic for a single game, and our mistake is trying to make them mean something when we aggregate them.
None of which means that they should be the biggest single factor in awarding the Cy Young Award. But still, maybe we should lighten up on that poor stat a bit.
- While we’re on the subject of pitching, it’s worth noting that the Garza’s two runs were given up on a long line shot to center field that Torii Hunter couldn’t reach, but 60% or center fielders could. Is there any pitcher who has been hurt more by Hunter’s lack of range than poor Garza? Jason Tyner, unless he’s playing extraordinarily shallow, catches that ball and Garza carries his own shutout into the eighth inning.
It is absolutely stunning that this point has not been made a single time in a daily here, but Hunter should NOT be playing center field until he’s healed. If Tyner is going to be out there anyway, why the hell isn’t he playing center field? It is maddening that Gardenhire hasn’t figured out a way to tactfully handle this kind of situation.
- Which brings us to the next situation he isn’t handling, which is having an obviously hurting Joe Mauer batting third in this lineup. The only reason Mauer didn’t ground into four double plays yesterday is because three of the times there was either nobody on first or there were two outs. It’s gotten to the point where he should consider changing his uniform number to 4-3.
Let’s be clear: there is a reason this goofy lineup of “piranhas” and sluggers works, and it’s because the bridge between them is so damn good, and that bridge has been Mauer in the #3 spot. And right now, because of something physical, that bridge is broken. There is no shame in moving an obviously hurting player to a different part of the order until they regain their health. There are at least four guys hitting better than Mauer right now, and maybe more, and until he gets healthy, he needs to switch spots with one of them.
- Like I said, we were pretty in touch with radar readings last night, so maybe I just never noticed before, but does Pat Neshek’s fastball really top out at 87 mph? The way a couple of Royals tagged the ball last night, I’m afraid that isn't supposed to be the case.
Huh. Lotta negativity in this post. So be it, I guess. Anyone leaving the Metrodome last night must’ve felt a little empty, unless they were a Royal. Shake it off boys, and I will, too. See you tomorrow.