Royals' Depth Leads To Rough Roster Battles

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Just a couple of years ago, getting a spot on a Royals' farm team was one of the easiest opportunities in baseball. With few prospects of their own, the Triple-A, and sometimes the Double-A rosters, were filled with castoffs, six-year free agents and other veterans.

If you've picked up a Baseball America magazine or perused our Website in the past year, you may have figured out that is no longer the case. Right now, getting onto a Royals' farm club is truly a survival of the fittest.

When the Royals traded away a six-year free agent they had signed during the final days of spring training this spring, he wasn't surprised. When he looked around at the roster battles going on, he pretty quickly realized he might not be around for long.

So the Triple-A club will feature Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. The Double-A Northwest Arkansas squad will feature a rotation that includes John Lamb and Chris Dwyer and a lineup that is led by Wil Myers, Christian Colon and Salvador Perez.

And in high Class A Wilmington, it doesn't matter which night you come to the ballpark, you're likely to see a prospect pitching.

Righthander Tim Melville, one of the club's Top 10 prospects heading into 2009 and 2010, will attempt to get his career back on track after a rough 2010 season, as the Blue Rocks' No. 1 starter. He'll be followed by righthanders Tyler Sample (piggybacking with trade acquisition Justin Marks) and Jake Odorizzi (another Top 100 Prospect), lefthander Noel Arguelles (who received $6.9 million as a Cuban defector in 2009) and righthander Elisaul Pimentel.

"Our pitching staff in Wilmington got a lot better this offseason when we added Odorizzi and Marks," said farm director Scott Sharp. "Tim Melville has thrown exceptionally well this spring, really ever since instructional league last year. We expect him to do really well."

Arguelles was quickly shut down after signing with a shoulder problem. He'll be on a tight pitch limit when the season begins, but the Royals are encouraged that he's back on the mound.

"He's thrown the ball really well," Sharp said. "He's got a really good angle to his fastball. When he's down in the zone it gets on hitters really quick."

In Arguelles' first outing this spring, Sharp said he threw 19 of 21 pitches for strikes.

The low Class A Kane County rotation does not look as impressive. But that is in part due to the cold Aprils of the Midwest League. In past years, Kansas City has held Mike Montgomery and Tim Melville back from the Midwest League until the weather warmed up in May. Righthander Jason Adam appears to be on a similar timetable this year, and there is a chance that righthanders Robinson Yambati and Yordano Ventura could also go from extended spring to Kane County eventually.

"Jason threw the ball really well," Sharp said. "We have a plan for him. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't in the Midwest League sooner or later."

The Royals are also holding back third baseman Cheslor Cutbert for similar reasons. A minor back injury bothered him late in the 2010 season, so they are keeping him in the Arizona sun for the next several weeks at least.

In other Royals news:

• Kansas City appears to have been quite fortunate when it comes to staying healthy. Sharp said he couldn't think of any significant players who would be held back in extended spring because of injuries.

• It's not like the Royals need much more pitching, but keep an eye on righthander Kelvin Herrera. Herrera, the No. 30 prospect in the system, has been moved to the bullpen with high Class A Wilmington. Injuries have always been an issue for the small righthander—he's never thrown more than 51 innings in a season—but the Royals hope a move to the pen will help him stay healthy. If he can, his stuff is exceptional.

This spring, Herrera has sat at 92-95 mph, touching 99 mph at times.

"We think that will help him health wise. He'll have less innings and more outings," Sharp said. "He's throwing the ball as well as I've seen Kelvin throw it."

• Myers' move to the outfield seems to be going smoothly. He got a stern test when he camped under a towering, wind-battered Hosmer fly ball during the Northwest Arkansas-Omaha "Futures" Game at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday.

"It was probably the most difficult fly ball he'll get this year," Sharp said. "After the game he said, 'I looked at the flags, so I knew the wind was blowing at my back.' He gets the preparation that is involved out there."

• Perez seems to have embraced his role as the team's catcher of the future now that Myers is an outfielder.

"He improved leaps and bounds. Every time you see him he does something better or more athletically," Sharp said. "He's made a believer out of me.

"Two or three years ago I wouldn't believe what I'm seeing now from him. He's a tremendous athlete for being that big. He really gets it."