I continue my series on baseball's youngest and most interesting players with a look at the AL Central. Previous entries can be found here:
Going into last season, the Kansas City Royals farm system was quite disappointing. Former #3 pick and top prospect Eric Hosmer hit .241/.334/.361 in his first professional season and fell off of Baseball America's top 100. Former #2 pick Mike Moustakas fell from #13 to #80 after he hit .250/.297/.421 in his 2nd professional season. Upcoming pitching prospect Danny Duffy retired from baseball at the start of the year.
It was safe to say that the Royals were getting further and further from contention as "The Process" was a failure at the major league level and the prospects were flaming out in the minors.
Today, all three players are with the Royals and they solidified their status as potential future stars.
If you've paid any attention to minor league baseball over the past season, you know the story. The Royals didn't just have a good year from their farm system, they had some experts calling it the best system in the history of baseball's modern era. It got to the point where experts were arguing over 3 or 4 players as the best player in the best system in the game.
With the departure of Zack Grienke, the present did get worse for the Royals, but it only made their future stronger. Only time will tell if this is going to work out and when the Royals will actually make the playoffs for the first time since 1985, but at the very least it's going to be exciting to watch.
Let's get to the names....
The Kansas City Royals
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Eric Hosmer, 1B
Hosmer famously had Lasik eye surgery before the 2010 season and it seemed like an all-too-familiar "Best Shape of My Life" kind of story. We'll see if that means anything Eric, yada yada yada...
Well he hit .338/.406/.571, 20 HR, 86 RBI, 14 SB and 43 doubles across 2 levels including AA at age 20. Maybe we should all get Lasik eye surgery.
Hosmer was ranked #8 by BA going into the year and hit .439/.525/.582 in AAA Omaha for 26 games before the Royals simply could not hold him back anymore. I wouldn't say he's "lighting it up" quite yet with a .267/.316/.403, 5 HR, 25 RBI performance across 46 games but Hosmer is more than holding his own as a player who doesn't turn 22 until October. He's most like a future fantasy star, with the lineup built around him to consistently hit for high average, good power, and many runs driven in.
2nd Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Mike Moustakas, 3B
The reclamation project continues with Moustakas who rebounded to hit .322/.369/.630, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 41 doubles across AA and AAA last season. That got him one spot behind Hosmer on the top 100, at #9 going into the season. He was slower out of the gate hitting .287/.347/.498 in 55 games but is now in the majors.
It's been even slower for him to get going with the Royals as he's hit just .240/.333/.300 with 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0 doubles or triples in 14 games. It's far too early to make anything out of Moustakas's start other than "Oh darn, he hasn't had a good start" but eventually he should become one of the games most productive third baseman.
3rd Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Danny Duffy, SP
People are never amazed when a regular person quits their job. Maybe they are taken off-guard, or stunned, when a friend or family member calls them and says "Well, I just wasn't happy at the company so I decided to quit and try something new." The common response is probably "Well, you got to do what makes you happy and I support you." But when a baseball player or any very talented athlete decides to hang it up early in their career, the public reaction is "What the hell are you thinking?!"
That was the common consensus when Danny Duffy quit last year. He had never made the BA top 100, but Duffy was a lefty who had very good numbers in his young minor league career and the thought was that he could get better but it seemed he simply wasn't happy with the game. Before too long he did return to the Royals and after he went 5-3, 2.74 ERA, 62.1 innings, 69 K's, 17 BB's across 4 levels, most of which was a dominating 7 starts in AA, Duffy was shooting up the boards and entered the season as the #68 prospect. With pitching being a major problem on the Royals, Duffy was called up and he has thus far made 8 underwhelming but not-yet-terrible starts. On June 19th he struck out 9 Cardinals in 3.2 innings, but also allowed 6 hits and a walk. His overall line is a 4.61 ERA, 31:23 K:BB ratio in 41 innings, but he's just 22 years old. Duffy has a bright future as a potential #2 left-handed starter.
Actual Top Prospect in the System?: Wil Myers, OF
BA slotted Myers at #10 going into the year, just one spot behind Hosmer and Moustakas, but many people felt he was the top prospect in the entire talent-laden system. Some of the hype around him had to be somewhat considered on the fact that he was playing catcher, but he has since moved to the outfield in an effort to both expediate his trip to the majors, as well as not delay the inevitable as many people felt he wouldn't catch well-enough to do it full-time in the big leagues.
Myers was too good for the Midwest League last year, but then absolutely destroyed High-A at just 19 years old when he hit .346/.453/.512 in 58 games. He's been slower to get going this year in AA Northwest Arkansas and is hitting .288/.372/.419, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 12 doubles and 5 SB in 43 games. It should be noted he missed some time with injury, but nothing that should be considered as a long-term problem. The Royals would like to get Myers in the majors sometime next year I assume, but he'll need to probably pick it up a little bit. Nobody would be surprised if he did, and Myers looks like a future stud outfielder.
Next Big Thing: Jake Odorizzi, SP
The former first round draft pick and future building block acquired in the Grienke trade, Odorizzi is a known quantity and came into the season ranked #69 by BA, but he may force the issue to become a top 20 prospect after this season. He has struck out 97 and walked 22 in 72.1 high-A innings, posting a career high 12.1 strikeouts per 9 with just a 2.61 ERA. Struggles from Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, and John Lamb, could vault Odorizzi to the top spot amongst Royals pitching prospects.
Updates on All Those Lefties:
John Lamb was ranked 18th by BA headed into the year. He's gone back to AA where he struggled a bit in 33 innings with a 5.45 ERA. This year in 8 starts he is 1-2, 3.09 ERA, 22:13 K:BB ratio in 35 innings. His 5.7 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 aren't very good. He's only 20 years old and he's got a lot of time to improve and remain a potential #1 starter.
Mike Montgomery came in just behind Lamb at #19. Going into 2010 Montgomery was the prize of the Royals farm system and after all the other players around him got better, he got a little lost in the shuffle. He's taken a bit of a nose dive this year, but it can't be forgotten that he's in AAA at age 21. He's 2-4, 5.83 ERA, 65:46 K:BB ratio in 78.2 innings. Montgomery's shine has come off a bit, but far too early to get off the top 100, Montgomery still has at least a #2 starter upside.
Chris Dwyer was "only" #83 on BA's list. He'll probably be become an afterthought again as of right now: 2-7, 5.43 ERA, 64:39 K:BB ratio in 71.1 AA innings as a 23 year old.
Top Prospect in the System: Kyle Gibson, SP
Usually I will talk about a top rookie from this or the previous season, but even though they are a small market team that usually has no worse than a half-decent farm system, the Twins haven't debuted anybody exciting since maybe Matt Garza in 2007. Gibson was their first round pick in 2009, a pitcher who was selected at 22 but had the talent to go much higher. He didn't disappoint last season when he posted a 2.96 ERA over 26 starts and 3 levels, and he's continued that success in AAA this year: 3-7, 3.87 ERA in 15 starts with 83 K's and 21 walks in 81.1 innings.
The Twins went into the season with the belief that they were World Series contenders but Joe Mauer went down with injury very early, Justin Morneau hasn't bounced back to being Justin Morneau, and Delmon Young did go back to being Delmon Young. They recently won 15 of 18 to put themselves back in the conversation but have since lost 5 straight. I won't be surprised to see Gibson finish the 2nd half in Minnesota and that will be of significant interest to fantasy owners as he could be an excellent #2 starter.
Top Aussie Prospect to Join Gibson in the Rotation: Liam Hendriks, SP
Righty Liam Hendriks, a native of Perth, Australia, has not been on the top of any prospect lists mainly because scouts aren't impressed with any of pitches in particular. However, his 4-pitch repertoire has yielded superior results; last season he struck out 105 and walked 12 in 108.2 innings across single-A and high-A. This season in AA he's struck out 70 and walked 16 in 77 innings and will be representing the World in the Futures game. The entire world! (Outside of the US)
Hendriks is a guy you root for because it seems he hasn't gotten respect and yet continues to put up numbers. He's still just 22 years old and without any really impressive starters in Minny outside of maybe Scott Baker and the potential of Francisco Liriano, it won't be surprising to see Hendriks in the 2012 rotation with #3 starter potential.
The Twins Season in a Nutshell: Alex Wimmers, SP
Just a reminder in case you forgot, or just to tell you for the first time in case you missed it. Here's Wimmers first and only start of the season:
0.0 innings, 6 walks, 3 wild pitches.
The good news is that Wimmers hasn't allowed a hit yet this season. The bad news is that he couldn't throw a strike. He came into the season with high expectations as the #22 pick who pitched brilliantly in his short debut last year. Then immediately everything went to hell and he's still trying to put his brain back together in extended spring training and intrasquad games. There is still no word on when Wimmers will return, if ever?
Top Hitting Prospect: Aaron Hicks, OF
Hicks has been a top 50 prospect for 3 years running now, but he's like the opposite kind of prospect as Hendriks. All tools but still waiting for those outstanding results. His career line is .278/.389/.424 with 53 stolen bases in 288 career minor league games. The excellent walk rate could make him an ideal leadoff hitter but he's yet to show much power or have any one outstanding all-around season.
This year he is hitting .275/.390/.410 with 2 HR, 23 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 61 high-A games. Hicks could have a 2013 ETA but his usefulness to fantasy owners is still undetermined.
Top Hitting Prospect That's Far Away: Miguel Sano, 3B
I have to at least mention Sano, the #60 prospect heading into the year. With a farm system that looks very weak right now, the Twins are hoping Sano can breakout into the middle-of-the-order bat he can potentially be. Sano was one of the top international signees in 2009 and held his own in rookie leagues last year as a 17 year old when he hit .307/.379/.491 in 61 games. He's expected to become an elite power hitter in the big leagues, but his position is still in doubt (can he stick at 3B, will he move to OF or 1B?) and at just 18 years old he may not be ready until 2014 at the earliest. Sano just started play in rookie ball again this year, and is hitting .192 in 6 games.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Alex White, SP
White was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft and had an excellent debut in the minors last season going 10-10 with a 2.45 ERA. He was called up in May to help the Indians stay atop the division, but an injury to the fingers on his pitching hand put him on the 60-day DL. In 3 starts this year White struck out 13 and walked 9 in 15 innings with a 3.60 ERA. It's unknown if White will return to the bigs this season, which is too bad since the Indians have lost a 7 game lead while going 10-21 over their last 31 ballgames. It's almost as if the 2011 Indians are playing like how we expected them to!
Top Prospect to Debut in 2010: Carlos Santana, C
Truthfully, if 2011 is too soon for the Indians to compete, it doesn't mean that they don't have a very bright future. That future starts with Santana, who may be a future MVP candidate. It's well-known by now that the Dodgers ridiculously traded him for Casey Blake (I actually really like Blake, but c'mon) and he's a big part of why the Indians are a young team that's fun to watch.
The #10 prospect headed into last season, Santana hit .260/.401/.467 with 6 HR and 22 RBI in 46 games before a season-ending injury. He's "disappointed" fantasy owners this year by hitting .228/.359/.407 with 10 HR and 33 RBI in 72 games but truthfully that's not so bad for a catcher. The fact that he will probably get so much better is just exciting to think about. I have no doubts about his ability to be a top 5 fantasy catcher for a very long time. His inconsistency is frustrating but shows that the immense talent is still there. He recently hit .298/.392/.524 over a 24 game stretch, but has since gone 1 for his last 14. He's still walked 6 times during that stretch, and is one of the most disciplined hitters in the game.
Top Prospect in the System: Drew Pomeranz, LHP
Going into the year Pomeranz wasn't rated as the top prospect in the system by most people, but the 5th overall pick in last seasons draft has dominated in high-A this season, potentially vaulting all other Indians farmhands. The lefty is 2-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 64.2 innings with 81 strikeouts and 27 walks.
It would be nice for the walks to come down and to see how he'll do against more advanced competition. It's expected that he will be promoted within the next month to AA Akron. If all goes well there, it won't be surprising to see him in Cleveland in 2012 with #1 starter potential.
Top Hitting Prospect in the System #1: Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Chisenhall was rated as the #25 prospect in baseball headed into the season. He hit .278/.351/.450 in AA last year with 17 HR and 84 RBI. He's expected to hit for above average power at the major league level and with upstart Cleveland that could mean a lot of RBI opportunities. Teaming with Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt LaPorta, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Shin-Soo Choo should be good for any young player. The only problem is getting all of those players on the field at the same time and all of them hitting well at the same time. That happens about as often as a Juan Pierre home run.
Top Hitting Prospect in the System #2: Jason Kipnis, 2B
With Jack Hannahan "blocking" 3B and Orlando Cabrera "blocking 2B" the Indians top 2 hitting prospects couldn't come at better positions. Some people felt that Kipnis was a better second base prospect than Ackley, and while that makes me "teehee" he's still a very good player. He hit .311/.385/.502 with 10 HR and 43 RBI in 79 AA games last year and has followed that up with a .289/.373/.491 line in AAA this year. Kipnis is 24 years old, not young for a prospect and just about ready to see big league action. I won't be surprised to see him with the big club after the All-Star break at the latest. Orlando Cabrera currently has a .592 OPS.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2010: Austin Jackson, OF
Jackson finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting last year when he hit .293/.345/.400 with 34 doubles, 10 triples and 27 stolen bases. He also led the league in strikeouts with 170. He had many supporters saying that his numbers were sustainable and he'd be a great centerfielder. He had to have many supporters because he had so many haters thanks to his .398 BABIP and 27.5% strikeout rate. This season, the haters have won as Jackson is posting a .248/.311/.359 line as his BABIP is down to a more realistic .344 and his strikeout rate has gone up to 29.7%.
I wouldn't say Jackson is a detriment to his team, I'd just say that he's not going to carry a team either. As a capable defensive centerfielder with 25+ stolen bases he has some value, but even in fantasy you might be able to find 25 stolen bases somewhere else without a bad batting average. He will have to learn plate discipline however.
Future Closer: Chance Ruffin, RP
Ruffin was selected last season with the 48th overall selection out of Texas. Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen for AA Erie, he's picked up 9 saves in 33 innings with 41 strikeouts and 16 walks. The walks are high, but his 2.18 ERA is indicitive of his abilitiy to get strikeouts and limit hits. I won't be surprised to see him setting up for Valverde next season, who is a free agent after 2012 (if the team presumably picks up his $9 million option.)
Top Pitching Prospect: Jacob Turner, SP
If you don't follow farm systems very much, here's all you need to know about the Tigers philosophy. It's very simple: Top high school prospect who falls for signability reasons, Tigers throw a boatload of money at him, put him in the majors within 2-3 years. By these accounts, Turner is ancient at age 20 after being the 9th overall pick the 2009 draft.
Between this season and last season Turner has made 36 starts across 3 levels with a 3.16 ERA, 174:46 K:BB ratio in 202 innings with 176 hits allowed. In all seriousness, Turner (who is in AA right now) could be in the majors late this season and almost definitely by next season. He has #1 starter upside.
Top Hitting Prospect: Nick Castellanos, 3B
Same story here as Castellanos was considered by many to be the top high school bat in the draft that nobody thought they could sign. That didn't deter the Tigers and sure enough they got his signature on the dotted line and he's currently in single-A West Michigan. He's hitting .301/.341/.434 with 4 HR and 40 RBI in 70 games. It's expected that he could be a middle-of-the-order bat not unlike Miguel Cabrera, but those possibilities are still a long ways away. His ETA, even for the Tigers, shouldn't be before 2013.
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Chris Sale, RP
Sale was the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, not a draft position usually reserved for relievers. My basic understanding on him is this: Sale can hit the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball, but only in short bursts. He doesn't have great command of a third pitch. His mechanics are worrisome some think that he would get injured if his workload was too heavy.
What you can sum up from that is that a team could have been willing to take a gamble on him as a starter but so far that team is not the White Sox. He pitched all of 10.1 innings in the minors last year before being called to the big leagues where he was quite successful. He's struggled this season as his strikeouts are down, walks are up, and ERA has jumped from 1.93 to 4.11. Sergio Santos, a converted position player who pitched in the minors for just 28.2 innings himself, seems to have a firm grip on the closers job for the near and long-term future. Sales value (pun totally not intended, I'm as stunned as you are) will be a roller-coaster ride for fantasy owners depending on whether or not the Sox ever want to try him as a starter, or if something happens to Santos. As of now, he has very little.
Top Player to Debut in 2010, part two: Brent Morel, 3B
Morel's current batting line is .253/.263/.313, 1 HR and 15 RBI 54 games. He came into the year as the #85 prospect, but nearly all of his value is wrapped up in his glove. He hit .320/.348/.503 in AAA last year, but that seems like a pipe dream in terms of his major league future. I won't be surprised to see him end up as a AAAA player, or a defensive specialist that bounces around the league a bit. He's look absolutely over-matched in his time with the Sox.
Grasping for Straws to Find Good Prospects: Jacob Petricka, SP
The White Sox farm system is bad, and for years it just seems that GM Kenny Williams doesn't really care. It's the product on the major league field that he's worried about and I suppose in all fairness they've won the division in 2 of the last 6 years with 1 World Series championship. However the cupboard is very bare. They don't spend a lot in the draft, they trade away prospects with wreckless abandon, and they use most of their cash on free agents like Adam Dunn, acquiring high-priced players like Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, and re-signing Paul Konerko. They're 3 games under .500 right now, but in a division that's shaky at the top.
Petricka could find himself at the top of a weak farm system and the 2010 2nd rounder is 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 41.2 innings and a 48:13 K:BB ratio. He is however 23 years old in single-A ball. He'll need to show results at higher levels to be considered a legit major league starter.
Top International Signee: Dayan Viciedo, 3B? 1B? DH?
The White Sox, I suppose in some gesture to try and show like they care about prospects, gave Viciedo $10 million to join their organization. It was believed that he could develop "40-HR power" and become an excellent #3 hitter. He entered the 2009 season as the #61 prospect and responded by hitting .280/.317/.391 with 12 HR in 130 AA games. To be fair, he was 20 and this was AA, but it was a far cry from 40 homers. On that note, Viciedo did hit 20 HR in 86 AAA games last year and made an appearance with the big club. He hit .308/.321/.519 with 5 HR and 13 RBI in 38 games.
It would be nice if you could combine Viciedo's bat with Morel's glove, but the technology to do so simply doesn't exist yet. Right now he's being blocked by Konerko at first and Dunn at DH and even if Dunn has somehow gotten worse as the season goes on (.216/.343/.397 in his first 33 games, .130/.273/.235 in his last 34) they have 56 million reasons to keep playing Dunn until he rights the ship.
Viciedo is currently a man without a position, and while he's hitting .323/.361/.520 in AAA right now, it seems that the most Kenny Williams thing to do is to trade him for major league help at third or pitching, if they're not willing to replace Morel with him right now.