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The Fruits of the System

I’m not going to talk much about the big league club today because I’m still a little miffed about the ridiculous call last night where Adam Jones and Felix Pie claimed to the umpire that the ball was wedged into the wall in the eighth inning last night. First of all, it was sort of a smart play by the Orioles outfielders because it worked, but if the umpires had not granted them the ground rule double, it would have been incredibly stupid as Mike Aviles would have had an inside-the-park homer that would have tied the game. The fact that they were able to pull the ball out so easily after the call was made just lent credence to the anger of the fans. It might have been the right call by the rulebook, but sometimes judgment has to play some role in umpiring.

But no, my point today is to discuss the Royals farm system. It’s something that we talked a lot about in the off-season, but haven’t gotten too much because of the Royals solid start in 2011. Maybe you didn’t hear, but Baseball America and just about everybody else ranked the Royals farm system as the very best in all of baseball. We talked before the season about how we were going to first see the fruits of the farm system on the pitching staff, and specifically in the bullpen. Well, that’s most certainly true as there are five rookie relievers out there, and that doesn’t include Blake Wood who has almost a full year of service time under his belt. Almost. They’ve been good, too, for the most part. Nate Adcock has pitched in 13 innings and given up just three earned runs. Louis Coleman has been impressive in his first few big league innings. Tim Collins has been a little up and down and walks way too many batters, but you have to like his strikeouts. Jeremy Jeffress is awfully fun to watch blaze fastballs by the hitters. Oh yeah, there’s one more. Aaron Crow has 15 plus scoreless innings. He’s only given up eight hits and struck out 15.

So now the question becomes this: who is in the next wave of talent to come up from this farm system? Well, if you had asked the question before the season, I think the common answer would have been Mike Moustakas and probably one of the top starters, probably Montgomery or Duffy. Well, something happened on the way to that. Mike Moustakas has struggled to start the season. There’s been speculation as to why he’s struggling and if it’s just a matter of him pressing to get to the big leagues, and there’s been some worry that last season was a bit of a fluke that was a hot start carrying through the entire season. Clearly Moose has serious power, but his lack of walks is something that was concerning even last year. It’s much easier to overlook that sort of thing, though, when you’re putting up the kind of numbers he did.

Mike Montgomery has been plenty good in AAA, but I wouldn’t bring him up until he gets some of his command issues straightened out. He’s walked 19 in 33 innings and only struck out 24. If he can knock the walks down by five and the strikeouts up by five, that’s a tough combination for hitters to have to face. He’s just 21, so it’s not like it’s some ridiculous setback for him. AAA was sort of an aggressive promotion for him, and I liked it, but he’s got a little more work to do there. Duffy, on the other hand, has a 33:6 strikeout to walk ratio in 26 innings. When you’re striking out hitters at that rate and walking them (or not walking them) at that rate, then you’re just about ready for the show. I think Duffy is the first of the lefty starters to make it to the show. This is just a prediction, but I think Francis ends up on the DL sometime in the next three to four weeks and Duffy takes his place. Will Francis really be injured? Now that’s tough to say.

In this scenario, Duffy is called up as an injury replacement, and theoretically doesn’t give up his hold on his role. Now, before I get into anything else, I should say that Duffy is definitely in the process of earning his promotion, it’s not just going to be because of an injury, or at least a DL stint from a big leaguer. While Duffy is absolutely earning the call-up, there’s another player who is blowing by earning it and is damn near close to completely forcing the Royals hand. There’s only so long the Royals can keep Eric Hosmer in the minor leagues. In 26 games, he’s hitting .439/.525/.582. Yes, that’s right. He has 43 hits in 98 at bats. The one knock on him is that he’s not hitting for a ton of power right now, but I’m not at all worried about that.

It’s an unfortunate consequence of playing the position where the organization’s best prospect plays, but Kila Ka’aihue is going to be out of a job soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kila, and I wish he would have gotten more at bats last year and in 2009, but he didn’t, and now the future of the franchise is knocking on the door. I think Ka’aihue turns things around if given the chance, but I just don’t see how the Royals can afford to give him that chance when you’ve got a guy coming through the system who has an opportunity to be a truly great hitter. I’ve said it before, but this very situation is why the Royals should have given Ka’aihue his opportunity much sooner. We still have no real idea what Ka’aihue is, and they’re about to have to give up on him because of the phenom on the way. I just don’t see a way that Ka’aihue stays on the roster when Hosmer makes it to the big leagues. It’d be great to have that kind of power on the bench, but it’s a luxury the Royals probably can’t afford with a guy like Billy Butler on the roster.

Amazingly, for a team going as well as the Storm Chasers are, there’s just not that many players knocking on the door. Clint Robinson is the other name that comes to mind, but I’m not sure the Royals need another first base/DH type. They could move Hosmer to the outfield as has been discussed many times, but I don’t think you move your best prospect out of position to make way for Clint Robinson, no matter how good his numbers have been everywhere. This is where Dayton Moore needs to turn Robinson into an asset and pick something up that is of value to the team. As for other players in Omaha, I wouldn’t mind seeing David Lough come up to patrol center for the Royals for a couple of months, though Lorenzo Cain now has a .368 OBP in Omaha, so he might surpass Lough pretty quickly.

It’s good to have the best farm system in baseball. It’s nice to be able to look in the minors and see replacements for almost anyone on the field if they need it. I’m not saying the Royals need to replace a guy like Billy Butler or anything like that, but if he went down with an injury, they’re stockpiled. Aviles and Getz collide and both get hurt or something, and Johnny Giavotella can be here and be very good. Hopefully we start to see a steady stream of talent invading Kansas City and turning the Royals into a great team.

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