06 April 2011

Royals on the Farm 2011 preview

The 2011 minor league season kinda snuck up on me somewhat. I've been so busy in other facets of life the blog, obviously, has had to take a backseat. Tough game for the Royals today, mainly for Joakim Soria, but I think any Royals fan would settle for a 4-2 start to the season. And, if you're keeping track, that's 2 for 2 in good starts for Jeff Francis. Things are looking up, from my perspective, in terms of vibe if nothing else. It's not all washed-up vets and never-weres anymore. It's pretty good that Alex Gordon is the guy you have some of the least expectations for based on past experience. Whatever you get from him (so far, so good) is what you'll take. I'm looking at Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue to help lead the way offensively with Alcides Escobar hopefully establishing himself as the shortstop for the coming future. Mike Aviles has been a weak point thus far, and I think Wilson Betemit has been shorted thus far. The problem, obviously, is gonna be the rotation as the bullpen is loaded with youth and Soria (today's outing aside). When the rotation doesn't go deeper than Francis and Bruce Chen, it's not a good situation. And I don't see them bringing up any of the young guys until at least June, and probably September. That goes for the offense too. I'm excited to see how Tim Collins does over the course of the season, but I'm not convinced on Aaron Crow yet. He's been good so far but keep in mind he did have a 5.50 ERA in AA and high-A last season. Let's see him do this through June, then I'll reconsider.

So....the 2011 season dawns with the Royals boasting the top farm system in all of baseball according to several outlets. I can tout the negatives of Dayton Moore all I want, but the fact is he has been at the forefront of a huge turnaround in the organization from the bottom up over the last few years. He may not be able to build a major league roster (up to this season) but there's no denying his work in the minors. I'm sure he's had help from others but when the day is done it's Dayton who'll take the blame if it's not good. He deserves a good chunk of the credit if it's top notch, as it is. The big hurdle is making it translate to MLB. The jury is still out on that front.

AAA - Omaha: The Storm Chasers make their debut in a new ballpark coming off an 81-63 2010 season in their last run as the O-Royals. I'm calling an 85-59 mark for Omaha this season as the rotation is led by Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, Everett Teaford, Vin Mazzaro and recently signed Jeff Suppan (blast from Royals' past). Blaine Hardy should be the top 'pen arm with Blake Wood, Jesse Chavez, Greg Holland, and Louis Coleman also seeing time. Kevin Pucetas, Luis Mendoza and Steven Shell will fit in that mix somewhere as well. The big names offensively are 3B Mike Moustakas, 1B Eric Hosmer, 1B/DH Clint Robinson, OF Lorenzo Cain and OF David Lough, with Cain being my pick as the first of that bunch to be called up to KC. I see Moustakas coming up mid-season if everything goes as expected with Hosmer maybe getting a September look. They didn't give Moustakas a deserved September cup of coffee last season, so I don't see why they would give Hosmer that shot this season. Especially if Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue are both around and still hitting well. Lucas May, Manny Pina and Cody Clark are the catching trio, Johnny Giavotella makes his AAA debut at 2B and other IFs are Irving Falu, Marc Maddox and Lance Zawadzki. Gregor Blanco and Paulo Orlando will cycle in the OF, probably trading off in the spot left after Cain and Lough. Simply put, it comprises the best Omaha season-opening roster in a long time, definitely since I started these reports in 2005. It's night and day, basically, when it comes to that. Montgomery starts Thursday's opener at Albuquerque.

AA - NW Arkansas: The Naturals will try to defend their 2010 Texas League crown and 86-54 record with another good lineup, top to bottom. I'm calling an 84-56 record in 2011 as I see the Naturals staying on top. The rotation features opening day starter Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Will Smith, Eduardo Paulino and Mario Santiago, which has to be one of the best top 3s in AA. Patrick Keating is the top arm out of the bullpen and is joined by Eric Basurto, Buddy Baumann (could start too), Blake Johnson, Harold Mozingo, Edgar Osuna, Heath Rollins and Brandon Sisk. Top bats for NWA are C Salvador Perez, OF Wil Myers, making the biggest position change in the organization this season, SS Christian Colon, and IF Jeff Bianchi making his comeback from an injury that cost him the 2010 campaign. Ryan Eigsti and Ben Theriot will backup Perez at C, Derrick Robinson, Tim Smith and Nick Van Stratten (sleeper, but he turns 26 next month) round out the OF crew, and Mario Lisson, Kurt Mertins, Jamie Romak and Anthony Seratelli fill out the IF. The lineup and rotation are a little shakier than Omaha's but that's tough competition. The Nats open the season at home versus San Antonio Thursday.

A-Adv. - Wilmington: The Blue Rocks had a down 2010 at 68-70 but feature a great Carolina League rotation (in one of the best pitcher's parks in the minors, by the way) that should buoy a lineup with something to prove. Tim Melville gets to be the man with the opening day start Friday, but the names to watch on the mound at Wilmington are Cuban Noel Arguelles, making his organizational debut, and Jake Odorizzi, the big get in the Zack Greinke deal. That trio should combine to make yet another big 3 in the rotation for an organizational squad. Throw in Bryan Paukovits and Tyler Sample and I'm calling a 74-64 record for the Rocks in 2010. Brendan Lafferty is the big pen arm along with Elisaul Pimentel (may start too), Julio Cesar Pimentel (still coming back from arm surgery), Manauris Baez, Kevin Chapman (could close), Ryan Dennick, Glenn Gibson, Kelvin Herrera, Mike Mariot, and Justin Marks. A few of those guys (Mariot, Baez) could also see some starts. Offensively the guys to watch are OF Carlo Testa, 1B Joey Lewis and OF Whit Merrifield. I figure Brett Eibner will see time here as well as the season progresses. Jose Bonilla and Juan Graterol will split catcher duties, Adrian Ortiz, Nick Francis and Tim Ferguson will join the OF corps, and Deivy Batista, Adam Frost, Alex McClure, Rey Navarro and John Whittleman round out the infield. The lineup has something to prove in Wilmington and I think the Rocks will live and die by the pitching outing each night. The season opens Friday at Myrtle Beach.

A - Kane County: Gone are the Burlington Bees to the A's organization after a 46-90 finale that's gonna be hard to top (in a bad sense) by the Kane County Cougars, who have some of the best attendance numbers traditionally of any MWL team. Looking at the roster I don't see a huge improvement for the team in 2011 but I see it being more respectable, perhaps 65-71. The two guys to watch in Kane County are P Crawford Simmons and OF Brett Eibner, who was one of the Royals' top picks in 2010. Simmons will be joined in the rotation by Leonel Santiago, Leondy Perez, Greg Billo and Keaton Hayenga. The bullpen includes Nick Wooley, Dusty Odenbach, Matt Mitchell, Sugar Ray Marimon (could start), Jon Keck, Mitch Hodge, Chas Byrne and Chase Boruff. Travis Jones and Ryan Jenkins are the catchers. Brian Fletcher, Alex Llanos and Geulin Beltre join Eibner in the OF, and Yowill Espinal, Murray Watts (could be one to watch), Gerard Hall, Angel Franco, Fernando Cruz, and Ryan Stovall fill out the infield. The Cougars' season starts Thursday at Wisconsin.

Expectations are high at the top 3 sites and we'll see who the organization brings along from the rookie ranks as the season progresses in Kane County. Still, we're light years away from where the organization was in 2005, which is good to see at The Pipeline.

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