Pre-Draft Royals Report

Checking up on the Royals

WRITTEN BY GREG

Okay, so it’s been about 2 months since I last posted anything here and I can offer legitimate excuses (work, laptops crashing, internet access shoddy), but that’s all water under the bridge.  It’s time to talk baseball, the MLB draft, and check in on how the Royals have fared over the first 2+ months, but more specifically, how they have played since the disastrous 12 game losing streak back in April.

Briefly, the big baseball picture sees a couple of surprises in division contenders.  The AL East for one has seen the Baltimore Orioles lead a good chunk of the season, but are 2nd behind Tampa right now, who I had selected as the preseason favorite.  The Indians have also led in the AL Central, but now trail the surging Chicago White Sox.  That all means the Detroit Tigers are third (most shocking of the entire MLB landscape), and are only 1 game in front of KC.

Out west, the Rangers still lead the Angels, who have been playing better.  I could see Detroit figuring it out and play well enough down the stretch to overtake the White Sox and Indians.  I could also see the Angels playing their way into the Wild Card.

As I see it 2 months in:  Tampa (East), Chicago (Central), Texas (West), New York (WC #1), and Los Angeles (WC #2) are your playoff teams come October.

In the NL, the East is a bastion of good baseball.  Each team could win the division, but I think the Nationals will pull it out, ever so slightly in front of Miami.  The NL Central sees the Reds and Cardinals having a good duel, one to likely continue until the end, and the Dodgers holding onto first in the West.

Matt Kemp’s balky hammy and the Dodgers’ shaky rotation gives me pause, but I think they will hang on and win out there.  The Cards will take the Central, and with the Nats winning the East, that leaves the wild card projections yet.  I could see both coming from the East, or one from there and the Giants.   Let’s go with the Marlins and the Giants.

Now, to the Royals, where the conversation must revolve around “The Streak”.  For those not in the know, my boys lost 12 games in a row for the 2nd time in 5 seasons.  The first streak was in 2008 when Jon Lester of the Red Sox no-hit us on my wife’s birthday, as we watched from a crowded booth at Old Chicago.  That demoralizing loss is a common theme, as this edition of KC baseball saw much the same gut punch to begin the skid.

In a rubber match in Oakland in the season’s 2nd series, the A’s and Royals found themselves in an extra inning battle with the Royals bullpen flexing their mighty muscles:  6 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 BB.  When Billy Butler drove in Eric Hosmer with a double in the 12th, it seemed the game was over.  Enter Jonathan Broxton.

The S.S. Broxton towers over Tiny Tim Collins.

The SS Broxton struck the first batter out, but then otherwise sure-handed Alcides Escobar booted a routine grounder to allow the first baserunner.  Two walks later and the bases were loaded.  A grounder to the second baseman’s left forced in a run and tied the contest, but still gave us two outs and runners at 2nd and 3rd to deal with.

Then, in a matter of two pitches, Broxton forced in the winning run with back-to-back hit batsmen.  Game over.  Instead of returning to KC for the home opener 4-2, they were a dejected 3-3.

10 losses at home where several of the games were pitching struggles followed, and the losing spilled over to the first game of the ensuing road trip, a loss to the Indians.  As I was watching an Orioles-Blue Jays game in Baltimore, I anxiously followed the next day’s game on the in-stadium scoreboard at Camden Yards (which any baseball fan needs to go see.  What a beaut).  The Royals powered their way to a victory in Cleveland behind 4 homers and shook the cobwebs off finally.

Since that time, Kansas City fans have been treated to much better baseball, something akin to what we were all expecting when Spring Training began.  In the 6 weeks that have followed the end of “The Streak”, the Royals have compiled the 4th best road record in all of baseball.  They had their first winning month of May since 2000.  And they have gone 20-15, good enough for the 3rd best winning percentage in the AL and 6th best overall.  Take the streak out, and they are 23-17.

Young teams are susceptible to blown saves like you wouldn’t believe, and even the 20-15 mark lately saw a mini-slide at home during the last homestand.  Leading the Orioles 3-1, Broxton once again coughed up a lead and then Nate Adcock pitched 5 great innings in extras until Adam Jones ended it with a bomb to left.

Following this, KC lost 3 out of the 4 remaining games at home, then lost 2 out of 3 to the Yankees in New York and another in Baltimore, for a disappointing 2-7 mark following a nice 9-4 stretch.  Since the team lost that first game in Baltimore, they have gone 6-2.

Again, the impact of a blown save is enormous, particularly to a team as young as Kansas City.  Keeping the wins in the win column is so important.  And it is unfortunate that Broxton appears to be the scapegoat when all he has done since filling in for Joakim Soria while he’s out with Tommy John surgery is go 13 out of 15 in saves with a 1.66 ERA.

The rotation has been a jumbled up mess for the entire season and losing promising lefty Danny Duffy to TJ surgery is frustrating.  He showed flashes of dominance in a couple of his starts, with the best fastball AND breaking ball on the whole staff.  But as soon as Duffy was lost for the season, Felipe Paulino made his return from the disabled list and has gone 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 6 starts.

The bullpen has made up for the shoddiness in the rotation, but they have been used for far more appearances and innings than any other ‘pen in the majors.  Despite this, they have a collective 2.97 ERA and a K/9 of 7.8.

Compared to this time a year ago, when the Royals were an identical 23-29, this year’s bunch has scored 30 fewer runs, but has given up 34 fewer runs as well.  The decline in offense was predictable with the loss of hitting machine Melky Cabrera to the Giants and the loss of Lorenzo Cain (his replacement) in the 5th game of the year.  Also, every Royal has experienced an extended slump at the plate and never, not once, has the offense been clicking on all cylinders in 2012.

It’s the runs allowed that is most surprising.  The rotation has not had a routine trip through it since “The Streak”, as long relievers have been burned through regularly and the shuttle between KC and Omaha has enough miles on it to retire.  The 4.16 ERA is a great deal better than the 4.44 registered last year, any way you slice it.  If this team can get some consistent starting pitching, get healthy, and get hot, they very well could compete for the division now.

Speaking of starting pitching, help could be coming in the long term from the MLB Draft, which is being held tonight through Wednesday.  While this is a weak draft class (at least at the top), it should afford the Royals plenty of opportunity to cash in on a need while also taking a high potential player.

College arms thought to go in the top 10 include Stanford’s Mark Appel, LSU’s Kevin Gausman,  and San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer.  Interspersed in the Top 5 are high school position players Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa.  This is a weak group of high school pitchers compared to recent years, with a pair of teammates from Southern California, Lucas Giolito (RHP) and Max Fried (LHP) mentioned as the best.  The lone college position player at the top of most clubs’ draft boards is Florida Gators catcher Mike Zunino.

Appel has been linked to Houston and Buxton to the Twins, and if the Astros choose Buxton, the Twins will select Appel.  Let’s assume that plays out.  With the Royals selecting 5th (and once again right after the Orioles who have stepped on our toes the last 2 drafts), they will still have a great chance at getting that near-major-league-ready arm.

Zunino has been projected to go to the Mariners, leaving Gausman and Zimmer for the O’s and Royals to quibble over.  I see Zimmer landing in KC, but would be just as happy with Gausman.  Zimmer has the most unknowns, but also never pitched in high school and thus has a relatively fresh arm and a whole lot to learn yet.

However, should the Mariners screw things up again this year (and they did last year by selecting LHP Danny Hultzen 2nd instead of Anthony Rendon, a 3B from Rice) and pick one of Gausman/Zimmer and the Orioles choose the other, the Royals are once again in a bind.

I could see them doing 1 of 3 things at that juncture:  1) Select the best position player available, which could be Correa at SS, a 17 year old out of Puerto Rico and theoretically would be waiting in the wings once Escobar’s long term deal expires, 2) They select Giolito or Fried as the first HS players taken (Giolito will have signability issues under the new draft rules since his daddy is a Hollywood producer), or 3) Reach and take another college pitcher like Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha, Oklahoma State’s Andrew Heaney, or any number of others.

The last is not sound strategy.  The 5th pick, while not all that great, is still best utilized on the 5th best talent, not the 5th best college arm who might be the 17th best talent.  I have trust in the way Dayton Moore and his scouting department operate, so I will put in their capable hands to decide the direction the franchise will go.

UPDATE:  The Royals selected University of San Francisco right hander Kyle Zimmer with the 5th overall pick.  The 20 year old junior was a converted third baseman who has a tremendous fastball and a great curveball already, also has limited pitching experience and thus a fresh arm and can be molded the way the organization wants to mold him.

His ETA is probably at the earliest next year mid-season and probably as late as the same time in 2014.  His pitching prowess can not come any faster for a franchise in desperate need of a frontline starter.

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~ by goetgre on June 5, 2012.

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