SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lets start with the good news from The Kansas City Stars annual assessment of the Royals farm system: Homegrown help is on the way for the clubs troubled rotation. Now the bad news: Probably not much in time for next season.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Sure, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, the organizations most advanced pitching prospect, made two late-season starts, but the prevailing view among club officials is that he still needs time at Class AAA Omaha to polish his skills.
Hopefully, one top club official said, Odorizzi and (Will) Smith and (Nate) Adcock are all pitching at Omaha when the season starts.
Translation: General manager Dayton Moore needs to find, with owner David Glass financial backing, at least two starters this winter, through free agency or trades, to bridge the gap between next season and what the Royals see on the horizon.
Otherwise 2013 figures to be another long summer in the Heartland.
Were going to try to upgrade over everybody (in this seasons rotation), Moore acknowledged. Weve got to have seven or eight guys who we feel comfortable with throughout the organization. Were going to look to do that.
Doing so without crimping the pipeline adds an extra challenge; the Royals have a wave of rotation candidates on track to arrive between mid-2013 and the end of 2015 plus the return of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from elbow surgeries.
Moore is quick to point to those in-house options as the key to the franchises future.
Theres no doubt, he said. You do it with starting pitching. Starting pitching tilts the field in your favor every night. In our situation, like most teams, the best way to get that starting pitching is to develop it yourself.
Club officials see no reason that, by 2014, Duffy and Odorizzi cant be part of an impact rotation. Perhaps Smith and Adcock are in the mix at that point, too, but the Royals hope to have several other options.
The Stars annual rankings cite Odorizzi and 11 other starting pitchers among the organizations top 25 prospects. The rankings were compiled after consultation with club officials and scouts from rival organizations.
Those conversations, particularly with rival scouts, were largely off the record in an effort to solicit frank appraisals. Even so, there is plenty of room for debate; disagreements were common.
The rankings are a combination of upside ceiling along with the players likelihood of playing in the big leagues. The only qualifier is the player had to qualify in 2013 as a rookie. Surprisingly, perhaps, the highest-rated pitcher isnt Odorizzi.
It is left-hander John Lamb, who missed much of the last two seasons because of elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery. Lamb, 22, placed third in the rankings behind outfielders Wil Myers and Bubba Starling.
Many viewed Lamb as the Royals top pitching prospect before the 2011 season, and he appears poised, after two frustrating years, to reclaim that status. A foot injury delayed his on-field return this summer when his elbow was deemed sufficiently recovered.
He had to be in a boot, said assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, who directs the organizations scouting and player-development programs. He couldnt condition to build his pitches up. Hes was on the bike, and that was about it.
That all seems in the past. Lamb is currently here on an offseason-conditioning program, but he isnt throwing because the Royals want to rest his arm.
We dont like them to throw more than 15 months in a row, Picollo said, but hes on pace to break with his normal spring training group. There are no limitations on him.
Lamb is likely to start next season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. Its not impossible that he could perform well enough for a late look next year, but 2014 is a better possibility.
Right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the clubs first-round pick in this years draft, should also return next season to the fast track after undergoing minor elbow surgery in late August. He also is here for offseason conditioning.
Hes got all of his range of motion back, Picollo said. It was a minor procedure, so the timing of it was as good as it could be. Hell be in the regular early throwing group come January. Hell be ready to go for spring training.
Zimmer, 21, ended this season at Lo-A Kane County, but he could easily progress to Northwest Arkansas by the end of next season and be in line for a big-league look in 2014.
Right-hander Yordano Ventura, 21, could reach the majors next season if he builds on a breakthrough year that saw him start the All-Star Futures Game for the World team. He became far more effective when he stopped trying to overpower every hitter.
The Royals view Ventura (naturally nicknamed Ace) as a starter despite his diminutive size: He struggles to stay above 160 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame.
I get that question all of the time, Picollo said. Starter or reliever? Hes got an 80 fastball with a 70 curveball (on the 20-80 scouting scale). Hes a starter because of his feel for his curveball. Hes also got a good changeup. Hes just got to use it more.
There are no health or size concerns with left-hander Mike Montgomery; just the need to rebuild the shattered confidence of a pitcher with front-of-the-rotation potential after two enormously disappointing (and puzzling) seasons.
Montgomery entered 2012 ranked by Baseball America as the organizations top prospect ahead of Myers and everyone else because of a plus fastball, a plus changeup and 12-6 curve with potential and desirable size at 6-4 and 200 pounds.
The year couldnt have gone worse and concluded, after a demotion from Omaha, with Montgomery getting whacked around in the Texas League.
Its hard to explain with Montgomery just because you still see it, Picollo said. Weve got to be patient with him. This is looking at the glass as half-full, but if he gets rolling again look out. Because we know what he can do. But hes got to do it.
The emphasis next year will be getting Montgomery to return to his air-it-out power roots after spending much of the last two seasons pushing him to ease off in an effort to improve his command.
Hes lost a little bit of that swagger, Picollo conceded, that competitiveness and the belief that he can just throw the ball by you or make you look bad (with off-speed pitches). Its a big year for him.
Montgomery is still just 23 and has the necessary tools to make an impact next season with the big-league club. A strong start in the minors could prompt a quick summons. Hell be watched closely.
Similar scrutiny applies to lefty Noel Arguelles, the Cuban defector who began battling shoulder problems virtually from the moment he put down the pen after signing a five-year deal for $6.9 million as a free agent in January 2010.
Arguelles, 22, posted dreadful numbers last season at Northwest Arkansas: 4-14 with a 6.41 ERA in 25 starts while allowing a whopping 146 hits and 66 walks in 1191/3 innings.
But the shoulder now seems strong, and he closed with a rush: a 2.61 ERA over his last five starts. The Royals, with fingers crossed, believe he is ready to reclaim his potential. As Picollo said: Theres still a lot of promise there.
Right-hander Jason Adam, a 21-year-old from Blue Valley Northwest, could also be poised for a breakout year after pitching through tough luck for much of this season for a Class A Wilmington club that struggled to score.
An example: Adam won four of his last five decisions, but only because he permitted just one earned run over 25 innings in those four victories.
I consider that adversity to be a plus, Picollo said. A young pitcher could easily have gotten frustrated hes big, strong and durable. Theres still ceiling and, with his work ethic, hes going to reach that ceiling.
Lefty Sam Selman, a second-round pick last June, produced a strong first pro season by compiling a 2.09 ERA in 13 games at short-season Idaho Falls while striking out 89 in 601/3 innings. Command remains a bit of a concern.
Most teams saw him as a reliever down the road, Picollo said, but I just think you have to develop starters. The difference for him is the development of his changeup; thats the missing piece for determining, long-term, whether hell be a starter.
Four others to watch: Right-hander Kyle Smith, 20, and lefty Colin Rodgers, 18, draw strong marks for poise and pitchability beyond their age.
Right-hander Miguel Almonte, 19, is a Dominican signee with three pitches who made a big jump last season. Power right-hander Bryan Brickhouse, 20, battled shoulder soreness but needs to show more. All four are likely two or more years away.
Royals Top 25 Prospects
1. OF Wil Myers: It wont be long now even if he opens next year in minors.
2. OF Bubba Starling: Only question is how much of his upside he reaches.
3. LHP John Lamb: Was clubs top pitching prospect before 2011 elbow surgery.
4. RHP Jake Odorizzi: Still maturing but no reason he cant be reliable contributor.
5. RHP Kyle Zimmer: Will return next year to fast-track status after minor surgery.
6. RHP Yordano Ventura: A plus-plus fastball, a plus curve; could be special.
7. SS Adalberto Mondesi: Viewed as the best of clubs young shortstop prospects.
8. OF Jorge Bonifacio: Could be good enough to force Myers out of right field.
9. RHP Jason Adam: Conditioned to chiseled look and poised for major jump.
10. 3B Cheslor Cuthbert: Had disappointing year but still has tools to be special.
11. OF Elier Hernandez: Only Starling has higher potential upside.
12. LHP Mike Montgomery: Confidence shot after two rough years, but that arm
13. RHP Kyle Smith: Command and poise elevates repertoire that doesnt dazzle.
14. INF Christian Colón: Could get a chance to win big-league job at 2B before long.
15. SS Orlando Calixte: Power potential prompts comparisons to Alfonso Soriano.
16. LHP Sam Selman: Hes a changeup away from making major leap.
17. SS Humberto Arteaga: Is most fundamentally sound of clubs shortstop prospects.
18. C Cameron Gallagher: Has all the tools to be an impact big-league catcher.
19. LHP Donnie Joseph: Killer slider could lead to big-league job as lefty specialist.
20. RHP Miguel Almonte: A comer with 92-96 fastball, curve, change and good feel.
21. LHP Colin Rodgers: Merges pitchability with an assassins emotionless approach.
22. SS Jack Lopez: A plus-glove SS but needs to rein in swing-for-fences approach.
23. 3B Patrick Leonard: A legit power righty bat, which are increasingly hard to find.
24. LHP Noel Arguelles: Velocity has returned; big year ahead for Cuban defector.
25. RHP Bryan Brickhouse: Power arm needs to show more in second pro season.
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.