Royals on the Farm: Malcolm Culver emerging as top closer for Omaha

Class A Lexington Legends catcher Chase Vallot.
Class A Lexington Legends catcher Chase Vallot. cbertram@herald-leader.com

It’s time for another Royals On The Farm report, a weekly look at each level of Kansas City’s minor-league system.

(Statistics through Wednesday’s games.)

Class AAA Omaha

Malcolm Culver is a work in progress.

Shortly after the Royals used their eighth-round draft pick in 2008 on the lanky pitcher from Palmdale, Calif., he made seven pitches in an Arizona Rookie League game and didn’t step on the mound for another three years.

He toiled away as an infielder, hitting just .218 with the Royals’ three rookie-level teams from 2008-10. When Culver returned to Burlington in 2011 as a pitcher, opponents greeted the right-hander to an 8.03 ERA in 37 innings. It’s been a slow climb up the ladder since then.

But at age 26, he might be figuring everything out, emerging as the Storm Chasers top closer in the process.

In his last 10 games, Culver has a 0.69 ERA with four saves and 14 base runners allowed in 13 innings.

His 3.77 ERA this season is hindered by a disastrous April and May (5.55 ERA).

First baseman Balbino Fuenmayor is hitting .361 in his last 10 games but has not scored a run in that stretch.

Jake Junis pitched seven splendid innings in his debut Monday against Colorado Springs, allowing one run and three hits with seven strikeouts. A 23-year-old right-hander, Junis went 9-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 21 starts at Class AA this season.

Former first-round draft pick Bubba Starling is hitting .194 with 13 strikeouts in his last 10 games and 31 at-bats. A center fielder, Starling is hitting .190 overall in 94 games this season in the minor leagues.

Class AA Northwest Arkansas

The strikeouts and walks come in bunches with right-hander Josh Staumont. He cut down on the walks in his last outing Saturday against Tulsa, allowing two in five innings. He struck out eight and allowed three runs but didn’t factor in the decision. A former second-round pick, he has a 3.80 ERA in five starts with the Naturals.

Righty Yender Caramo allowed one run in six innings Tuesday against Corpus Christi to improve to 3-6 with a 2.72 ERA.

Outfielder Carlos Garcia is hitting .333 in his last 10 games.

Class A Wilmington (Advanced)

Center fielder Brandon Downes has four home runs, 14 RBIs and a .333 average in August.

First baseman Samir Duenez is hitting .342 with five RBIs in his last 10 games.

Class A Lexington

Top catching prospect Chase Vallot hit a game-ending homer Monday in the first game of a doubleheader against Asheville and followed it up with another in the nightcap. He is hitting .265 in his last 10 games.

Second baseman D.J. Burt is hitting .333 in his last 10 games, including a 4-for-4 outing Wednesday in which he hit a grand slam.

Rookie Idaho Falls

It finally happened. Meibrys Viloria is in a slump. The Chukars catcher’s batting average has dropped more than 30 points in the last 10 games — and yet he still leads the Pioneer League with a .420 average after 36 games. Viloria is hitting .325 with eight RBIs over that stretch.

Outfielder Luke Willis is hitting .406 in his last 10 games to raise his average to .336 this season.

Right fielder Yeison Melo is hitting .351 with a homer and six RBIs in his last 10 games.

The Royals and Chukars announced on Wednesday an agreement to extend the affiliation through the 2018 season.

Rookie Burlington

The Royals have a bumper crop of catchers performing well in the low minors. Nathan Esposito, a 33rd-round draft pick in 2015, is hitting .405 in his last 10 games and .366 overall.

In his first outing since pitching the Appalachian League’s first complete-game shutout since 2013, lefty Cristian Castillo lasted just five innings on Aug. 5 at Kingsport. He allowed three earned runs and seven hits with five strikeouts.

Arizona Rookie League Royals

Left-hander Rex Hill has a 2.50 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 18 innings of relief.

In his last 10 games, 17-year-old shortstop Jeison Guzman is hitting .295 with 14 runs scored.

Jeff Patterson: 816-234-4767, @jeffpatt_KC