The big news out of baseball yesterday, at least in my mind, was David Price heading to get an MRI on his elbow and the Red Sox not being optimistic about it. One minute you think you have this fantastic top of the rotation. And the next, poof. Of course, the Red Sox still do with Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, but it really underscores the need for depth, no matter how good you think you are. I do like the Royals depth in their rotation, but I also was optimistic about their depth last season and we saw how well that worked out. The top end talent isn’t really there outside of Duffy, but at least there’s what seems like quality big leaguers behind him.
- Let’s start with the pitching side and talk about Nate Karns and his performance on Wednesday against the Cubs. Now, spring training stats just don’t matter a lick, but getting through two innings, striking out three and walking nobody on 19 pitches is still something you like to see. When the Royals signed Travis Wood and said they were going to give him an opportunity to win a starting job, I mentioned that it would be in the best interest of the team if Wood did not win that job. It’s just that Karns actually has the ability to be a middle of the rotation starter while Wood is likely nothing more than back-end guy. There’s nothing wrong with back-end guys. Every team needs solid starters in the four and five spots, but Karns can be more than that and he showed it in his spring debut. Of course, the knock on Karns is that he can’t get deep into games, which isn’t on display in the early part of spring (or the late part really, but a little bit more then), so we don’t know, but it would behoove the Royals if Karns kept pitching like that this spring and made it so they couldn’t take him out of the rotation.
- We all know about the second base competition in camp this spring, but there’s a lot of numbers thrown at the competition out of the bullpen. I think we know pretty well that Kelvin Herrera, Matt Strahm, Joakim Soria, Chris Young and either Karns or Wood will be out there, but that leaves two spots. If he’s healthy, the sixth spot is going to go to Mike Minor. Of course, he mentioned the other day that he doesn’t really know how to pitch out of the bullpen, so that might cause a minor problem there. I guess stay tuned on that. Anyway, that leaves one spot for one of the 278 pitchers vying for it. I think that number is right, but I might be off by a bit. I advocated for Kyle Zimmer to take that last spot if he’s healthy and I still believe that. My guess is that even if he is healthy, he’ll end up in Triple-A to start the season unless he just has an unbelievable spring. To me, the favorite for the role has to be Peter Moylan who took a minor league deal to come back after posting a 3.43 ERA in 50 appearances for the Royals last year. Moylan isn’t flashy, but he earned Ned Yost’s trust in 2016, which I think gives him a leg up on the competition.
- Over at the main site, all 30 teams were ranked based on their farm systems (subscription required), and the rankings were almost as unkind to the Royals as PECOTA. The Royals rank 27th in the organizational rankings, which is pretty well on par with where everyone ranks them. On the surface, that’s not good. Beneath the surface, that’s not good. But Keith Law did make a good point in his rankings that there is actually upside in this system. I’ve been thinking a lot about that and I’m wondering if this might be one of the better bad farm systems you’ll see. Part of why I say that is that a guy like Raul Mondesi would be a legitimate top 100 prospect and probably the top organizational prospect if he had a few less big league at bats. Because he lost his rookie eligibility, he can’t be ranked on prospect lists. But for all intents and purposes, he is still part of the Royals farm system. So that helps boost things a little bit. But in addition, there actually is quite a bit of upside throughout the system. A guy like Khalil Lee could be a top three organizational prospect by the midseason rankings. Someone like Josh Staumont could get his control under, well, control and become a legit top-100 prospect rather than a fringe guy. If Zimmer is healthy and not in the big leagues, he’s immediately actually a top prospect again. So yes, the Royals system is down drastically, but it’s nice that there’s at least some upside and even beyond just those three I mentioned.
- I guess I should bring him up because he’s the talk of camp so far. Peter O’Brien is a very powerful man. He probably has the most power the Royals organization has ever seen, which is pretty darn cool considering got him for a low-level reliever without much in the way of a strikeout pitch. O’Brien does two things prolifically. He hits the ball a long way and he strikes out. He doesn’t walk. He’s not especially good defensively. But he does hit the ball a long way. I’m not saying he can’t become something. Mark Trumbo is an example of a player who used to swing at everything and has slowly become more and more patient. You’ll never confuse Trumbo with peak Barry Bonds, but he doesn’t get himself out nearly as much as he used to and he will work a walk. O’Brien gets himself out too much, plus there’s no spot on the big league roster for him. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great acquisition by Dayton Moore to see what they can get out of him. And, worst case scenario, he’s a great September toy for Yost to have on his bench. People rave about what the speed of Terrance Gore can do, well O’Brien is a one-tool guy right now as well, with a skill that can be just as beneficial. Obviously you can’t just call for a HR from him like you can a stolen base when you pinch run with Gore, but if the Royals are down by two in the ninth and have two on and one out, O’Brien is a hell of a guy to call to the plate. Who knows? Maybe his ability to hit the ball a long way could lead to a playoff spot in that final month.