Pitching Development Problems: Ego and Injury
Pitching Development; we have all heard those words and we have also, as Royals fans, heard about how bad the Royals are at it. Â For whatever reason GMDM and his crew have yet to develop an impact starter through seven amateur drafts and international signing periods. We’ve heard a couple reasons for this from other writers, even some of our own here at PTP as to why the Royals have fared so poorly at this. We’ve heard quite a bit of suggestions as to why that is, whether it be injuries, which some pined was due to a lack of a long-toss routine, a cookie cutter approach to all pitchers in the system and incorrect scouting/draft decisions. These seem like plausible conclusions, but in the next couple of pieces I’ll try to lay out for you, the reader, enough information for you to make your own conclusion about whether or not the Royals are doing things correctly.
While we can’t argue with the draft-scouting decision of Christian Colon over Chris Sale, it should be noted that many teams make poor drafting decisions every year, and sometimes it is just a crap shoot. I was a blogger in favor of Sale in that draft but if you had watched Colon at Cal State, I doubt you would have vehemently said the Royals made the wrong choice at that time. It should be notedÂ college baseball had yet to switch to the new bat that has given scouts a more true feel for how power is going to translate to the wood bat, and for Colon that lack of pretty much any pop has been his biggest weakness through four minor league seasons. It’s easy to pile on Colon but the Royals could have just as easily picked Drew Pomeranz, Barrett Loux (the first two pitchers taken after Colon in that draft) or the rumored Yasmani Grandal and be pretty much in the same spot as they are currently. Perhaps that was just a weak draft as Sale and Matt Harvey are the only players taken in the 1st round after the first three picks to accumulate a significant real rWAR (Grandal’s is built on his position) amount.
It’s not to say that they shouldn’t take any fault, they should. As Soren Petro likes to say, “GM’s are in the get it right business” but before we start lighting our torches and sharpening our pitchforks lets examine the successes they have had versus the picks they made.
Greg Holland: 10th Round pick 2007 Draft Signed for $50K – Compiled 73 saves and 7.4 rWAR since arriving in 2010.
Kelvin Herrera: 2006 International free agent signed for unknown – 134 ERA+ and 2 rWAR since 2011
Louis Coleman: 5th Round pick 2009 Draft signed for $100K – 151 ERA+ and 3.1 rWAR since 2011
Yordano Ventura: 2008 International free agent signed for $28k – 7 GS off to a solid start in 2014
Will Smith:Â Acquired in trade for Alberto Callaspo has established himself as a major league reliever after multiple years in Royals system. Acquired Nori Aoki for his rights.
Aaron Crow:Â 1st Round pick 2009 signed for $1.5MÂ some may not classify this as a success but Crow has accumulated the 9th highest rWAR amount from that 2009 1st round which includes supplemental picks (49 total). 3.1 rWAR
On the way?Â Michael Mariot not yet deemed a success; was drafted in 8th round and signed for $100K; has looked good this year so far.
There have been just six pitching success stories since the 2007 draft and international signing period with four of the players becoming successes after signing with the club at $100K or less. That type of turn isn’t too bad especially considering the most valuable player in that group, Yordano Ventura, could offer the Royals a huge dividend if he could continue to pitch like he has through 7 major league starts. The return from Greg Holland has been outstanding as well after signing for just $50k and providing the Royals with one of their greatest bullpen seasons ever.
That type of turn around on money invested in those six players is very good and something I’m sure the front office and ownership would like to continue but how about the money pitchers? By that, I mean those guys selected in the top 5 rounds and/or invested $500K in. Where are they?
1. Sean Manaea – $3.55M 1st Supplemental Rd 2013 – High A; first season
2. Kyle Zimmer – $3M 1st Rd 5th Pick 2012 – Extended spring; heading to AA at some point
3. Aaron CrowÂ – $1.5M 1st Rd 12th Pick 2009 – Listed above
4. Bryan Brickhouse – $1.5M 3rd Rd 2011 – Rehab
5. Chris Dwyer – $1.45M 4th Rd 2009 – AAA
6. Tim Melville – $1.25M 4th Rd 2008 – AA
7. Cody Reed – $1.199M 2nd Rd 2013 – Full season single A; made first start Sunday
8. Mike Montgomery – $988K 1st Supplemental 2008 – AAA Tampa Bay; threw no hitter Saturday
9. Jason Adam – $800K 5th Rd 2010 – AA
10. Sam Selman – $750K 2nd Rd 2012 – AA
11. Colin Rodgers – $700K 3rd Rd 2012 – Rehab?
12. Kyle Smith – $695K 4th Rd 2011 – High A; Houston Astros
13. Jake Junis – $675K 29th Rd 2011 – A
14. Carter Hope – $581K 3rd Rd 2013 – Extended spring
15. Christian Binford – $575K 30th Rd 2011- High A
16. Sam Runion – $504K 2nd Rd 2007 – AA Tampa Bay
17. Tyler Sample – $500K 3rd Rd 2008 – AA Pittsburgh
18. Danny Duffy - $365K 3rd Rd 2007 – ML KC
19. Mitch Hodge – $225K 4th Rd 2007 – out of baseball; last known to have pitched in 2011
20. John LambÂ – $165K 5th Rd 2008 – AAA
Just Missed Crawford SimmonsÂ – $450K 14th Rd 2009
As you can see I have listed 20 pitchers that the Royals drafted in the Top 5 rounds of the major league draft and/or gave $500K or more. Of those 20 pitchers listed seven have encountered some form of injury, mostly resulting in needing Tommy John Surgery. Prior to the last couple years we could have blamed the Royals lack of a committed long-toss program to these injuries but after the rash of Tommy John Surgery to long-tossers and non-tossers alike, I think we can say we just don’t know. The Royals are pretty strict on pitch count and innings limitations and track all innings including spring training and fall programs which is something most writers don’t mention when talking about limitations. It seems to this writer that these injuries are hard to prevent at the current and can be classified as bad luck to the pitcher and organization both. Are they doing something else wrong? Lets examine a few of the big names to see if the Royals are the main problem here.
Mike Montgomery – No pitcher is aÂ bigger poster boy for the Royals lack of pitching development than Mike Montgomery. Â The tall, left-handed, former 36th overall pick whipped through the lower levels of the Royals system in just two seasons prior to starting 2011 in Omaha. Â Along the way, the lefty got into Baseball America’s Top 20 prospects while also getting to #21 in Baseball Prospectus list and being named the Royals top prospect in a couple different publications. Â What went wrong? Â It is easy to look from afar and say the Royals were the problem with Mike and why in 2014 he still isn’t in the major leagues. We heard about the dispute over long-toss with Montgomery and how he was sneaking it on off days without the organization’s knowledge.
When I asked a member of the Royals front office about this he had a simple response. “We had no problem with Mike doing long-toss but we didn’t want him doing it along with our throwing program. We felt that was too much throwing.”
There is no Royals pitching prospect I saw personally more than Montgomery and to say he was an enigma in his time with the Royals is an understatement. During spring, he would make Jay Bruce look silly on a curve, dominate the entire organization in a Royals Prospect showcase with just his fastball and get through multiple AAA innings untouched. Then at other times he’d just lose it. In the 20+ AAA starts I saw from him he rarely had a usable curveball, and on most occasions he’d lose location on his fastball in bursts. The change was his best pitch most nights but even it was just slightly above average and not something he felt comfortable using against lefties who absolutely smashed him in his time in AAA. The pitches weren’t there consistently but neither was his head. That’s the same head that has come under question to me by members of both the Royals and Rays organizations. I’ve been told he’s just too headstrong to listen. Is that a Royals problem?
Many of these players above come equipped with a long-toss coaches, pitching instructors, agents, advisers and parents with opinions. I asked that member of the Royals staff how do you get through all of that?”It’s a 50/50 proposition, we ask players to meet us half way.
“It’s a 50/50 proposition, we ask players to meet us half way.”
I find it amazing that a team that investsÂ hundreds of thousands in a player (and sometimes millions) can expect so little but that sure does seem to be the game nowadays withÂ advisers and multiple coaches around players. Many of these advisers are chosen by the families of theseÂ kids when they were teens and have gained their trust in a way the teams likely could never reach. Getting through that wall could prove difficult. In Montgomery’s case, it was likely too great of a challenge and seems to have even taken the Rays more than a season to get through, but if Saturday’s AAA no hitter is any indication he may have finally gotten the picture. We’ll see if he gets that big league call up soon.
John Lamb – Tommy John surgery has sent this left-hander’s career path out of whack. The Royals and Lamb have differed in terms of a workout routine and weight program. On top of that, Lamb openly admitted to not working hard prior to the spring the year he had to have Tommy John and when he returned from it. The Royals can set up a program for a player, but ultimately it is his job whether or not they want to follow it. In this case it appears Lamb decided he knew better and it hasn’t worked out. He’s on board currently but it maybe too late. Listen to Lamb’s interview with me and Hunter Samuel talking about things he’s learned throughout his career.
Danny Duffy – The Lompoc Lefty slowed his path by quitting baseball for a short time before falling back in love with the game and jumping back on the horse. It was a little over two years later thatÂ Duffy was having Tommy John surgery, once again slowing his development at the major league level. When healthy, Duffy’s major problem at the MLB level is not getting quick outs and struggling to show control of the zone which raises his pitch count and pushes him out of a starts sooner rather than later. He has been outstanding out of the bullpen this year, but continues to lack that quick out ability even when he is getting major league outs. One would have to classify him as a success if he stays in the pen and performs but we as fans would like to see Duffy succeed in the rotation as he is genuinely a great guy and easy to root for on top of being more valuable as a starter.
Chris DwyerÂ – Thyroid problem? The Royals watched Dwyer lose a large amount of weight and see his velocity drop while watching his status as a “fringe” Top 100 prospect drop as well since joining the franchise in 2009. Now he and the team must monitor his health daily and watch him throw with less velocity than when he was drafted and in the organization his first couple of seasons. On the bright side of things, Dwyer’s changeup has developed, and his curveball remains the solid offering that it was when he was taken. The control is still iffy like it was coming out of Clemson, but the sickness sent him back and the velocity drop has hurt his potential as a starter. He was probably the biggest long shot of the big four prospects to become a part of the starting rotation due to control problems but it’s bad luck for him to run into a health problem that sapped his velocity. Considering his change development and curve, the Royals could have easily had a back of the rotation starter or another bullpen arm had the velocity been there with those developments.
It’s too early to make full conclusions on many of the 2011 or later draft classes but things haven’t looked great for the ’11 class so far. Despite investing nearly $3.5M in four pitchers that draft’s best picks could be Aaron Brooks and Spencer Patton who have both reached AAA despite signing for less than $100k in bonuses. Patton is another reliever who appears to be nearly major league ready considering the K rates he has mounted in the past two seasons between various levels of baseball. As for the high school arms in that group, Christian Binford appears to be the best of the bunch as the only one who has reached High A while still in the Royals organization. Righty Bryan Brickhouse is rehabbing, Smith was traded for Justin Maxwell but has performed well at High A this season and Jake Junis is struggling at Single A Lexington.
Jake Odorizzi -Â A quote from Odorizzi to Fangraphs writer David Laurila sent Royals fans into a bit of a tizzy this offseason.
â€œThe organizations [havenâ€™t had] especially strong opinions on what I do on the mound. Kansas City had a few things at the higher levels and told us things they like to do. For instance, I had to work on my changeup, and had to throw it in games at least 10% to 15% of my pitches.
â€œIâ€™m now in a different situation in my career â€” here in Tampa â€” than I was then. Everything here works around you. If you need adjustments, itâ€™s on you to ask for help. If not, you stick with whatâ€™s going well. If you want to work on something, you speak up and someone is willing to help.â€ checkout the entire interview at Fangraphs link here
When I brought that up with the Royals staff member about that quote this was his response.
We don’t have a cookie cutter approach. We realize every player is unique in their skills that’s why we may take a Louis Coleman or other players that are different. Â Some pitchers long-toss 280 feet or some do various different lengths. There is no one way to do things in our system that’s why we have pitchers throw sliders, curves and pitch from a variety of arm angles and locations on the mound like Louis Coleman.
During the spring I interviewed J.J. Picollo about Danny Duffy’s use of a slider in spring training and I asked Danny that question as well. While PicolloÂ told me that this was Dave Eiland‘s decision to add the slider for Duffy, I believe that the Royals didn’t allow him to use it during his development through the minors. This quote by Odorizzi reflects much of the same things that the Royals employed through their development process. The Royals wanted him to improve his changeup, to do that they asked him to throw it more. I don’t find this to be an egregious error in any way. Much like an additional pitch for Duffy, now Odorizzi has reached the point of refining and finding new things with the Rays, it sounds like a different part of Odorizzi’s development more than the Royals doing something wrong.
As for Duffy, he has yet to employ that slider from the bullpen this season but it has long been my belief that the slider could help him get weaker contact and quicker outs as opposed to his big moving curve, which, while impressive, is harder to locate. The Royals, in my belief, have softened their stance on the slider for young pitchers and have allowed Miguel Almonte and others to use it at lower levels. Again I don’t think that was the case when this front office group took over a few years back and while college arms were allowed to use it (Crow, Coleman) I hadn’t heard of much prior use at the low levels. For years, it was a stock starting pitching arsenal of fastball, curve and change. Today we see a variety of pitches from their high school drafted starters.
Tim Melville – Tommy John and difficulty with control remain problems with Melville. He’s walked 12 in just 25 IP this year and is still working his way back at AA but a 1.08 Whip is at least a bright spot early this season. He’s had a loud fastball and flashes of breaking stuff in the past, but there’s no recent scouting report.
Jason Adam – The big KC-native righty added a slider to his repertoire last season and put up his most effective start this year on Saturday. Last year, April derailed an otherwise decent season in regard to his numbers, so perhaps this is a repeat of 2013. Time will tell, but the Royals have definitely taken things slowly for Jason allowing him time at each level. A big kid who threw 170+ innings last year, the great news is that he’s encountered no injuries to date.
Tyler Sample – Control remains a problem for Sample with 16 walks in 18 IP in the Pittsburgh AA system.
Perhaps the Royals were just a victim of bad luck and ego of the players involved or maybe they have softened their stance on development and will see success with the group coming forward now (Zimmer, Manaea, Almonte, Adam). One can’t ignore theÂ success of the inexpensive players, however, and it doesn’t stop on the mound. If you look at Salvador Perez in comparison to Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Perhaps a conclusion could be made that these less expensive players are more open to Royals coaching as they don’t have the additional advisers in their ear telling them what they should or should not be doing or listening to. It’s still too early to know as we don’t know if Yordano Ventura is going to be a star or if Mike Montgomery could turn it around in the Rays system but it is at least a plausible conclusion one could make at the current time with the information I’ve presentedÂ today.
Next up in this series, I will breakdown the success of other teams in regards to developing starting pitching to see where the Royals stand in terms ofÂ the major league development hierarchy.
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