Harvesting Opinion: Kansas City Royals - Pitching Panic or Patience?

Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, six of FanSided’s team blogs send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as these go on a five-week cycle. 

Please note that any statistics used may be a day or two out of date, as we prepare our answers over the course of a week.

In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Kansas City Royals site Kings of Kauffman:

The Royals have had less than stellar starting pitching at the big league level in 2011 and prospect Mike Montgomery has struggled, John Lamb had Tommy John surgery and Chris Dwyer is only now starting to turn it around.  Panic?

Nathaniel says: Depends what you’re panicking about. Am I worried about the futures of Montgomery and Dwyer more than I was a year ago? Undoubtedly. I’m less concerned about Lamb, since he’s the sort of smooth, command-oriented guy who could still hold down an innings-eating mid-rotation job even if he doesn’t regain his absolute peak velocity–not to mention that Tommy John recovery rate is good and that he’s young enough to not really worry too much about lost development time.

As far as the Royals’ organization and grand future plans go, I’m less concerned. After all, they’ve got Eric Hosmer installed, and that’s working well. Alex Gordon has turned into an excellent player, Johnny Giavotella’s getting his shot at second base, Salvador Perez looks like he might turn into a really nice big league catcher, and the future offense seems to be starting to come together, save for Mike Moustakas’ to-be-expected MLB growing pains.

As far as pitching goes, Jake Odorizzi has really broken out this season, and it looks like the rotation could be built around him in the future. Danny Duffy’s also ascended to the majors somewhat ahead of schedule and held his own, striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings. Yordano Ventura is another high-upside arm who’s transitioned to full-season ball nicely this year.

If Odorizzi and Duffy become a 1-2 punch long-term, the Royals have about 20 potential candidates for the last three slots in the rotation of the future. Obviously, Montgomery, Lamb, and Dwyer are three of the preferred ones, but there’s also Ventura, Robinson Yambati, Buddy Baumann, Tyler Sample, Tim Melville, Noel Arguelles, Elisaul Pimentel, Justin Marks, Greg Billo, Leonel Santiago, etc. etc. etc. around in the minors. And that’s not to mention the fine pitching of Felipe Paulino in the majors—he could well hold down a #3 slot behind Odorizzi and Duffy. Luke Hochevar looks capable of being a fifth starter, too, and the Royals’ bullpen is already overflowing with depth and will be even more when some of the starters have to be shifted to relief.

So while it’s a disappointment that three of the Royals’ “Big Five” have taken clear steps back this season, the depth in the system is so tremendous that, from a long-term perspective, the trio’s struggles hardly put much of a dent in the organization’s future even if we assume the worst possible eventual outcomes for the pitchers in question. And that assumption is, in itself, far from a given.

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Wally Says:

I think all the doom and gloom is overblown. If the Royals, or any other organization, get even 2 of their 5 best pitching prospects to the majors things went fairly well. Duffy has already cemented himself as a legit major league starter and he’s just 15 starts in. Anyone who watches him pitch can see there is a lot more upside and potential that I am confident will be realized as he continues to gain experience in the majors.

John Lamb having to go under the knife was a temporary setback for me and part of me is happy it happened this season as I think it slows down what was starting to feel like an overly aggressive time frame for him to reach the majors.

Dwyer for me has always been a wildcard so while I want him to succeed, he was the guy I felt was the most likely to stumble and/or implode in the minors. The breakout seasons of Odorizzi and Billo as well as the successful return to the mound from Arguelles easily offset Dwyer’s struggles. I should also mention the recent performance of 2010 5th round selection Jason Adam here as another guy to watch. In his last 3 starts for Kane County he’s allowed just 8 H, 2 BB and 1 ER in 16.1 IP.

As far as Montgomery is concerned, I think people are overreacting to what he’s going through this season and the prospect shine hasn’t lost any of it’s luster, at least for me. He’s certainly had his share of struggles but I think he will be a better pitcher for it in the long run. It’s hard to see in the numbers right now but he’s slowly started to put together more consistent starts while his BB/9 is slowly dropping and his SO/9 is trending up. As with Aaron Crow last season, the stuff is there, it’s just the results that are falling short of expectations. I’d much rather that be the case than the opposite at this stage of his career.

Bottom line, there is no reason to panic. What we are seeing in the Royals farm system is the natural ebb and flow of development, but what sets Kansas City apart is the depth when it come to talking about middle and upper-tier prospects. Some guys have faltered, but others have started to break out under the surface and the 2nd wave of pitching prospects is starting to take shape and find success as professionals.

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For more FanSided coverage of the Royals, check out Kings of Kauffman.

If you are a fan of Twitter you can follow Nathaniel (@Stoltz_Baseball) and Wally (@thebaseballfish) and also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Tags: Aaron Crow Alex Gordon Buddy Baumann Chris Dwyer Danny Duffy Elisaul Pimentel Eric Hosmer Felipe Paulino Greg Billo Jake Odorizzi Jason Adam John Lamb Johnny Giavotella Justin Marks Kansas City Royals Leonel Santiago Luke Hochevar Mike Montgomery Mike Moustakas Noel Arguelles Robinson Yambati Salvador Perez Tim Melville Tyler Sample Yordano Ventura

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