Pitching hasn’t been a bright spot in the Royals system for quite sometimeÂ with the team strugglingÂ to develop theÂ homegrown arms needed to compete in the AL Central.Â While things haven’t been good the current crop of right-handed arms in the system are looking deeper than they have in quite sometime.Â One of things you may notice with this group of twelve is that many of them are from Latin America which is another example that Rene Francisco is doing fantastic things outside of the country.
1. Kyle Zimmer – The Royals 1st round pick has the widest array of useable pitches from what I’ve seen in the organization. Â The former third baseman came packing with a 2 seam, 4 seam, change up, slider and curveball in his first start in Kane County which is much more than pitchers in the Midwest league had been allowed to toss. Â While his offspeed stuff needs some refinement the two seam fastball he is throwing is a dynamic pitch that darts in on right-handers and away from lefties making it a absolutely brutal pitch for hitters to deal with. Â On the night that I saw him Zimmer’s curve was solid, the change and slider were so so and he was struggling to spot his four seam.
The Royals in past toss the slider out of the mix with their starters but they should let Kyle toss the slider as the opposite movements could leave hitters on their heals trying to figure out the movement. Â Besides the pitches Zimmer’s bulldog mentality and big athletic body lead one to believe he will be a top of the rotation starter while the bone chips in the elbow gives some pause to that thinking. Â Regardless of the bone chips and the Royals poor track record it easy to see why Zimmer was taken with the Royals pick and is one of only a couple pitchers who have a chance someday to work the front of the KC rotation.
2. Jake Odorizzi – While Kyle has a bigger ceiling Jake has gone down the path further which in an organization that has seen major pitfalls for their pitchers is hugely important. Â While Zimemr has the makings of four or even five average or better pitches Odorizzi works with a typical Royals arsenal (FB, CB, CH) with a mixing of a cutter/slider. Â From the couple of times I’ve seen Jake his fastball is by far and away his best pitch as he’s able to toss it in and out of the zone to take advantage of hitters. Â The curve appears to be average or better pitch down the road while the change needs to come along.
Odorizzi’s lack of velo (91-93) and average offspeed stuff will probably limit his ceiling to no more than a #3 but his control combined with his intelligence likely gives him an above average chance to reach it. Â A younger version of Jeremy Guthrie is likely what Odorizzi could become.
3. Yordano Ventura – No pitcher in the Royals minor league system has the two pitch combo that Ventura has with his 100 mph fastball and darting wicked curve. Â In fact if you tossed those two pitches into Jason Adam or Christian Binford’s body they would likely be the top ranked pitcher in the org and likely a Top 20 overall baseball prospect but since those pitches are in a 6′ 160 lbs frame he lands at #3 and likely the back half of most Top 100 list that will be unveiled this offseason. Â The lower ranking for Yordano is with good reason of course as any pitcher with his arsenal and body type is at risk of injury. Â Toss out injury, if you could do that and Yordano is the most likely pitcher in the org to have a long career in the majors considering he could be a high quality back end reliever right now.
The right-handers change up from what I saw online at AA was getting better prior to his hand injury, a good sign for the future. Â The makings of an average change up would mean the Royals would have a front of the rotation starter for as long as his arm could hang in there.
4. Miguel Almonte – I’m gonna jump on the wagon early with this one after Almonte has earned praise from Jason Parks, Keith Law and Bill Mitchell after his performance in the AZL and during instructs. Â The arsenal that is earning praise for Almonte is a low to mid 90’s fastball, an advanced change up he tosses in the low 80’s and a curveball that Parks said was looking good during instructs.Â All of those come out of a 6’3 wiry frame that over time should mature, add weight and help him pick up some more velocity.Â The feel for a change up at just 19 years old is encouraging as is the performance he gave Burlington during the playoffs tossing 6 innings ofÂ three hit, one runÂ relief while striking out 7.Â The performance and the Royals use of him reminded me of another Burlington (IA) playoff performance in 2008 when Kelvin Herrera who had pitched in the lower levels during the season stepped in for the playoff run to help give the Bees a championship hand.Â
An advanced arm explosive arm with the ability to develop more is an easy reason to put Almonte into this position.
5. Jason Adam – There is no pitcher in the organization that I could envision giving the Royals 230+ innings more than Jason. Â His big frame allowed him to shoulder the load for 160+ innings this season in Wilmington in just his second year where he increased his K% rate and bettered his walk rate. Â The local boy brings a low 90’s fastball, tight curveball and developing change to the mound that combine to give him the appearance of a middle of the rotation future starter. Â That curve was his best pitch when I saw him in Kane County, it featured late darting movement similar to a slider in the low 80s range. Â The pitch started to transform into a typical Royals big curve in the low 70’s until midseason last year when the old form started to comeback showing a tad more velo and tight downward movement. Â That pitch in its current form can be an above average pitch at the major league level. Â Big and sturdy Jason was good for 5-7 innings most nights in Wilmington he had more than a few starts where his curve lagged and his fastball was getting too much of the plate leading to a few big hit nights by opponents. Â It is on those nights where his mostly straight fastball gets too much of the fat part of the zone leading to 18 HR allowed which in Wilmington is far too large of a number and will translate to a fireworks show at the upper levels if he can’t figure it out. Â On top of the home run concern the right-hander needs to concentrate on getting quicker to the plate to control the run game.
One will be hard pressed to find a harder worker in the Royals org which leads one to believe Jason can figure out what he needs to fix. Â If he finds his way to Kansas City then he may have the largest following a Royal has had in sometime after being so open to his time with the Royals blogosphere and media in general.
6. Kyle Smith – Another extremely hard worker in the Royals org Smith joins Ventura as a diminutive starter who outperforms his physical appearance. Â The Royals 4th round pick in 2011 features a low 90’s fastball, one of the best curveballs in the org and a change up that is coming along. Â That combo of fastball and curve was too much for Single A hitters helping Kyle tie Ambrioux Burgos for the best K/9 (11.6) rate by a Royals starter in the Midwest league the last ten years.
If the Royals send Smith to the Carolina league to start the season then he’ll likely dominate and reach AA sometime in 2013 where he’ll need his change up more to keep more advanced hitters off his low 90’s fastball.
I’m very tempted to bump Smith over Adam as I believe he has a tad more explosive stuff but I’ll leave it as is currently.
7. Christian Binford – At 6’7 215+ lbs Binford joins Jason as a starter that has the appearance of a 200+ innings eater. Â The appearance can be a tad deceiving as he has already encountered Tommy John surgery in high school and was held out of a few starts with some elbow soreness to start his season in Burlington. Â Once healthy Binford’s numbers stood out with a ridiculously low walk rate (2.4%), HR rate (0.23 per 9) and LD%(8.5). Â Those numbers speak to a low 90’s fastball that can sneak into the mid 90’s at times, good downward plane that has a heavy feel to it. Â He combines that pitch with the typical Royals arsenal (curve, change) both of which appear to have the chance to be average pitches in the future all of which come out of a 3/4 angle that doesn’t maximize his length.
The size, velo and solid control (29 consecutive innings without a walk) are a great package to work from for the Royals
8. Andrew Triggs – One of the most impressive Royals pitchers I saw this season was Triggs.Â He isn’t going to be a starter like the guys on this list in front of him but for a reliever he hasÂ a nice repertoire of three pitches that all have plenty of movement from a 3/4 angle.Â The most similar Royals pitcher in the system to Triggs would be Louis Coleman although Andrew does his work with far less effort and a release point that isn’t in the third base dugout. Â Despite that 3/4 arm angle Triggs change up showed solid arm side movement the night that I saw it and could be a a usable pitch versus lefties. Â On top of the change Triggs has a fastball that works in the low 90s with plenty of sinking action and a slurve in the mid to low 70’s that he is able to work outside a righties hip and back in to the inside corner or outside corner versus a lefty. Â He spotted very well on the night I saw him cutting it in on lefties over their bat or on the outside edge. Â The three pitch mix has more movement than any pitcher I’ve seen in the Royals org and should be the quickest mover of the 2012 draft class.
9. Robinson Yambati – The hard throwing right-hander found his way in 2012 when the Royals moved him to the bullpen on a full time basis, finishing his last five outings scoreless at Kane County before his promotion and strong finish in Wilmington. Â Overall his last 22 games the 6’4 Dominican tossed 40 strikeouts in 31 innings against 25 hits and just 10 walks. Â With his fastball back into the upper 90’s Yambati should be able to join Ventura at the AA ranks very quickly in 2013.
Bryan Brickhouse – The Woodlands Texas kid has as much raw talent as most in the Royals system meaning he could be be ranked by some prospect analyst in the top 20 of the Royals system this offseason. Â I won’t make that leap with the Royals poor track record of pitching development and Bryan’s poor control and hittable stuff last season. Â The raw stuff is there as the right-hander can throw in the mid 90’s with some reports that he reached upper 90’s in Arizona during instructs in 2011 while also tossing a hard breaking ball but his consistency from pitch to pitch just isn’t there yet.
Sugar Ray Marimon – Marimon zoomed up my charts early last season before getting knocked around in his last few AA starts.Â Â The righthander doesn’t have a dynamic pitch but he does well to control the zone while using his heavy 91-93 mph fastball.Â His intro to AA saw his BB% and LD% spike higher than league starter average for the first time in his young career.Â All three of his pitches (curve, change)Â profile as average meaning he’ll need to find his previous control levels to remain on the path to the majors, if he can do that he has a shot as a long reliever/bullpen arm with an above expection level as a 4/5 starter.Â As a flyball pitcher the AA/AAA levels will be big test for the Columbian born pitcher.
Andy Ferguson – A lower round pick from 2011 who saw his status rise with a solid season.Â The Arkansas State alum brings a different arsenal to the mound tossing a fastball in the low 90’s to go along with his slider and splitter.Â That splitter was his best pitch coming out of college and has proven itself useful the lower levels helping him generate a 48% groundball rate in 2012 while keeping the ball in the park (sub 1 HR per 9).Â It was a solid season from Ferguson but we’ve heard this song before out of Royals prospects in the Midwest and Carolina leagues, lets take a waitÂ toÂ hear what he does at AA before buying the record.
Angel Baez – An unexpected season from the Dominican bornÂ hurler in 2012 after being in the Royals system since 2008 for Baez.Â At 6’3 withÂ long arms Baez comesÂ at hitters from a low 3/4 arm slot that he delivers from an upright delivery. Â The arm action is a sling motion that he generates plenty of velocity from, throwing his fastball in the mid 90s while running it as high as 98. Â The thick legged starter uses the typical Royal repertoire getting some decent armside run on his change up which is slightly ahead of his curveball that can flatten out at times. Â His velocity, arm angle and below average secondary pitches probably mean Baez is destined to a spot in the bullpen where he could max out his fastball and use his change up as a solid one inning reliever.
Video via mrkupebaseball