Royals Think Young Talent May Rival Moustakas/Hosmer Group
For the Royals' front office, it's been a pretty disheartening spring training. Between catcher Salvador Perez's knee injury and Joakim Soria's elbow injury, the big league clubhouse has been reeling with bad news after bad news.
But when they need a pick-me-up, Royals' officials can wander back to the complex's back fields.
"Every day we have four fields going, but everyday going back to our youngest field with Bubba Starling, Elier Hernandez, Adalberto Mondesi, Michael Antonio, Jack Lopez, Patrick Leonard . . . Cam Gallagher. Every group in BP there is someone you want to see hit. It's been rejuvenating. It's kind of like when we had Moustakas and Hosmer coming up. Now we have a young group again," said Royals' assistant general manager/scouting and player development J.J. Picollo.
"That part of spring training has been outstanding. I think we are as deep as we've been in position players in the past six years."
Starling and Hernandez can both turn batting practice into must-see BP. Starling has shown the power that the Royals' expected when they took him fifth overall last year. He's also shown that he's raw like they expected, but one who adjusts quickly.
"The first week we played some intersquads with a lot of Double-A and Triple-A pitchers in those games," Picollo said. "He got it handed to him pretty good. We told him 'Bubba, you won't see sliders like this in A-ball. We don't expect you to react to things that quickly.' After five or six games he started figuring it out."
For all his potential, Starling's post-spring training destination has yet to be set. Some in the organization think he should head straight to low Class A Kane County. Others believe he would be better served spending time in extended spring training before either joining Kane County in-season or heading to Rookie-level Idaho Falls when the short-season schedules begin. In a similar situation last year, the Royals held Cheslor Cuthbert back in extended spring for April before sending him to the Cougars in May.
"With Cheslor we had it all planned out," Picollo said. "That's not the case this time. I don't think we'll go in saying 'On May 15, he'll be in Kane County.' When he figures it out, it will be obvious. It will be a weekly discussion."
Hernandez, one of the top prospects among last year's July 2 crop, knows he won't be heading to full-season ball this year. But he has shown an advanced approach for a player who will still be a teenager when the 2014 season ends.
"He's very advanced for a young Latin player," Picollo said. "(In a recent game) there was a man on second with no outs. You wonder 'Can he hit the ball the other way?' He gets a breaking ball up and hits a line drive right at the second baseman. It's a pretty clear indication he's not your typical 17-year-old Latin kid. His pitch selection is good. If this is not a pitch he's looking for, he's not afraid of not swinging."
• If there has been a star of Royals spring training on the back fields, it has been outfielder Brian Fletcher. The son of Scott Fletcher had a solid season for low Class A Kane County last year, but he's been significantly better than that this spring.
"No one can get a fastball by him," Picollo said. "He'll be in (high Class A) Wilmington to start, but he's a guy that the staff brought it up, do we need to send him to Double-A? We thought his bat was good last year. But he looks like a better hitter right now. He's not missing anything."
Fletcher will play some first base this year in addition to time in the corner outfield spots as he's expected to team with Cuthbert.
• Two of Cuthbert's teammates in Kane County last year appear ticketed to return to the Cougars to start the season. Righthanders Jason Adam and Yordano Ventura will get to build on up and down 2011 seasons with a return to the Midwest League.
Adam's velocity has consistently sat between 92-94 mph this spring after dipping last summer. According to Picollo, Adam's breaking ball is sharper as well. For Ventura, the fact that he's throwing a little slower is actually a good thing.
"With his delivery he's now under control," Picollo said. "He's not trying to throw 100 mph every pitch. He's starting to understand the importance of being under control. Today it was an easy 96-97 mph where it looked like he was playing catch."
Neither may be in Kane County for long.
"When they show they can put together five to seven good starts in a row it's time to move them to Wilmington," Picollo said.
• Shortstop has been a problem for the Royals for decades. But now they have their big league shortstop Alcides Escobar signed to a long-term contract extension. And they have a solid shortstop prospects from low Class A on down. Orlando Calixte is expected to return to Kane County, while Mike Antonio will primarily play third base while sliding over to shortstop a day or two a week. Below them the Royals will have Lopez, Mondesi and Humberto Arteaga to send to Idaho Falls, Rookie-level Burlington and the club's AZL squad.
• Center fielder Brett Eibner will likely have to stay back in Arizona when camp breaks, but he should head to Wilmington a week or 10 days after the season begins. Eibner injured his left shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield, sidelining him for a couple of weeks. He's back in action now, but he's still working to get his timing back.
• Lefthander John Lamb will take significantly more time to get into an official game. After having Tommy John surgery last summer, Lamb is throwing off flat ground right now. He's expected to make his official return to the mound around July.
"We want him to make six to eight legit starts this year," Picollo said. "Because of that, there is no need to have him ready June 1. He'll likely start out by pitching in the AZL a couple of times. He may make it as high as High-A this year."