This year we decided as a staff to preview each of the team’s preliminary assignments to the 2012 AFL and our goal is to tackle each of the 30 organizations over the next 7-10 days. We hope you will follow along with us, check in several times each day and enjoy reading what we come up with. If you’re not familiar with the eligibility rules or how the rosters are constructed just click here to brush up.
The Kansas City Royals are sending eight players to the Arizona Fall League this year. Their contingent will join prospects from the Braves, Marlins, Rays and Rangers to comprise the Surprise Saguaros roster. In recent years, Kansas City has sent some big name prospects but this year’s group lacks that headline player. There is no one on the level of Mike Moustakas (2009), Eric Hosmer (2010) or Wil Myers heading to Surprise. You can also make the argument that the organization isn’t even sending a player on par with the likes of Christian Colon (2011) or Johnny Giavotella (2010). However, one player in particular out of this 2012 group could very easily be at the top of the organizational rankings in a season or two so read on and find out who I’m talking about (hint he plays SS and he’s 20-years old).
RHP – Edwin Carl (24) – Signed by the Royals as a NDFA on July 20th, 2010
2012 – Kane County: 1.92 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 60 H, 13 BB and 46 SO in 61.0 IP
2012 – Wilmington: 4.00 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 53 H, 14 BB and 56 SO in 54.0 IP
Carl kicked off his career racking up 99 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched as a reliever with Idaho Falls. If you’re trying to do the math at home, that works out to an oh-my-god absurd 17.9 SO/9. If you want more statistical craziness, in 2011 he allowed 24 hits and a meager 5 walks while striking out 76 in 36.0 innings with the Chukars and brief stint with Kane County. It doesn’t matter the level or age of the player, anyone who can strike out not one but two hitters per inning deserves a little notice. While he didn’t crack Baseball America’s Royals Top-30 heading into 2012, he was surely in the conversation in what is an extremely deep and talented farm system. This season he started 11 of his 12 games with Kane County and even though his strikeout rate dropped to 6.8 SO/9, he kept his BB/9 under 2.0 and was consistently solid. In fact he got roughed up in only one of his starts. With the Blue Rocks, Carl moved back to the bullpen and his strikeouts predictably jumped back up to result in a 9.3 SO/9. His ERA with Wilmington wasn’t spectacular but he closed the season out strong with a 2.11 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 21-3 SO-to-BB in his last 10 appearances.
Obviously as a NDFA who came out of nowhere to put up video game numbers in 2011, Carl was viewed with skepticism and more as a curiosity than a prospect. After this season the skepticism surely remains but given that he held his own in both the Midwest and Carolina Leagues, he’s no longer a curiosity.
LHP – Jon Keck (24) – Royals 2009 42nd Round Pick
2012 – Wilmington: 1.61 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 15 H, 12 BB and 15 SO in 22.1 IP
2012 – NW Arkansas: 4.04 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 38 H, 27 BB and 42 SO in 42.1 IP
Over the course of his four seasons in the minors Keck has allowed less than a hit per inning (8.8 H/9) and struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.1 SO/9). Those aren’t great numbers for a reliever just getting to Double-A but it’s at least a place to start. Unfortunately his 5.1 career BB/9 – and 5.7 in AA – conjures up images of Robinson Tejada. His AFL assignment seems a little peculiar as he strikes me as an – at best – organizational bullpen arm.
LHP – Justin Marks (24) – Athletics 2009 3rd Round Pick
2012 – AZL Royals: 1.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4 H, 3 BB and 8 SO in 5.0 IP
2012 – NW Arkansas: 3.80 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 79 H, 38 BB and 73 SO in 85.1 IP
2012 – Omaha: 48.60 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 7 H, 3 BB and 0 SO in 1.2 IP
When David DeJesus was dealt to Oakland on November 10th, 2010, it was Justin Marks that joined Vin Mazzaro on the trek to Kansas City. Marks reached and spent most of the season in Double-A while putting essentially the same hit rate that he had at lower levels. His strikeout rate has dropped as he’s advanced through the minors from 9.5 SO/9 in 2010 to 7.7 SO/9 with the Naturals. His walk rate jumped to a career high 4.3 BB/9 after improving it marginally from 3.4 to 3.0 between 2010 and 2011. He features four average pitches – fastball, curve, slider and changeup – with average velocity making him your typical back of the rotation starter candidate. The fact that he’s a lefty gives him a little extra value but he needs to get his walk rate back down to the low threes. His single start in Omaha at the end of the year was dreadful so the AFL will at least give him a chance to get that taste out of his mouth.
RHP – Tim Melville (22) – Royals 2008 4th Round Pick
2012 – NW Arkansas: 7.71 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 27 H, 15 BB and 19 SO in 23.1 IP
2012 – AZL Royals: 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 2 H, 1 BB and 7 SO in 5.0 IP
2012 – Kane County: 4.50 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 7 H, 3 BB and 4 SO in 6.0 IP
Melville has been one of the Royals Top-30 prospects from the time he was drafted but he’s moved down in Baseball America’s rankings each year. He started out at #5 heading into 2009, slipped to #6 prior to 2010, #14 prior to 2011 and #19 coming into this season. Based on his performance on the field this season he figures to slip once again, and may even fall out of the Top-30 completely. For all the hoopla and disappointment surrounding Melville, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he is still just 22-years old and that the Royals have at times prevented him from throwing certain pitches.
He’s still 6’5″, still throws in the mid-90s with an easy delivery still has a curveball that flashes plus and has a changeup and slider that could be at least serviceable. One of the biggest knocks on Melville is that he tries to be too fine with his pitching and likes to nibble instead of attacking hitters with his stuff. He’s certainly not the first pitcher to have this problem early in their minor league career and Royals fans witnessed the major league version of this affliction for many years every time Kyle Davies took the mound. The bottom line here is that all the ability and stuff is still there for Melville to be a major league starter. Even though he has frustrated and underperformed to date, he’s the type of player that could “flip the switch” at any moment and reestablish himself as a top prospect. While the AFL is generally tough on pitchers, his assignment might be a blessing as he gets a change of scenery and gets to play “outside” the Royals organization for a while. As a Missouri native, Royals fans are definitely pulling for Melville to find himself and take a step forward.
SS – Orlando Calixte (20) – Signed by the Royals out of the Dominican Republic on August 28th, 2010
2012 – Kane County: 0.241/.303/.465, 13 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 2 SB, 21 BB and 44 SO in 254 PA
2012 – Wilmington: 0.281/.326/.426, 17 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 8 SB, 15 BB and 65 SO in 278 PA
The Royals signed Calixte to a $1 million bonus and had him play in 20 DSL games after signing. The following year they aggressively pushed the 19-year old to Kane County and he predictably struggled while playing over his head and trying to adjust to life in the states. They again aggressively pushed him from Kane County, where he was two years younger than the average player, to Wilmington where he was three years younger than the average player. He not only held his own this time around, he took a step forward given his youth and the environment. Calixte has already started to show off his above average power in games and his plus bat speed bodes well for his overall performance at the plate, especially as he hones his approach. Defensively he has the tools to stick at shortstop and if he does, his bat will stand out from the bulk of his positional peers. Assigning him to the AFL continues Kansas City’s trend of challenging Calixte. He will be the 3rd youngest player assigned to the Saguaros and one of the youngest players in the AFL as a whole once games get underway next month.
SS – Alex McClure (23) – Royals 2010 11th Round Pick
2012 – Wilmington: 0.222/.286/.247, 5 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 5 SB, 15 BB and 51 SO in 217 PA
2012 – NW Arkansas: 0.212/.250/.275, 5 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 6 SB, 7 BB and 60 SO in 210 PA
Coming out of Middle Tennessee State, McClure’s arm strength and overall defensive ability were his biggest assets. Three seasons into his pro career, his glove continues to lead the way and he’s still looking to break 0.300 in any single slash stat. Yes, you read that correctly, McClure has failed to hit better than 0.300, get on base at a 0.300 or better clip or slug better than 0.300 in three years. While McClure may project to be an above-average defensive shortstop, he’s not some sort of hybrid of Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel in the field. Even if he were the product of that bizarre experiment, there is no way a position player can justify hitting 0.216/.272/.265 in 253 minor league games no matter how brilliant they happen to be defensively. To make matters worse, he strikes out like a power hitter whiffing in 26.0% of his plate appearances in 2012 and 24.2% for his career. If you’re looking for some positive in his offensive game, he did go 8-28 with 2 BB in 30 PA against LHP while with the Naturals.
OF – Brian Fletcher (23) – Royals 2010 18th Round Pick
2012 – Wilmington: 0.289/.353/.411, 15 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 5 SB, 19 BB and 51 SO in 272 PA
2012 – NW Arkansas: 0.256/.318/.433, 11 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 6 SB, 15 SB and 96 SO in 280 PA
Fletcher had a standout season for Kane County (A) in 2011 hitting 0.326/.386/.560 with 31 2B and 14 HR in 91 games. He followed that up with a strong performance in Wilmington, especially when you factor in the context of the League and Frawley Stadium. Things, however came off the tracks a bit in Double-A as he struck out in 34.3% of his plate appearances and that bloated number really didn’t come a surprise. One of the knocks on Fletcher coming out of Auburn was that his “unconventional” approach at the plate would only carry him so far as a professional. It seems, that at least in his first taste against more advanced pitching, the scouting report was spot on as Texas League pitchers were able to take advantage of his aggressiveness and approach. The Royals have been largely hands off since his methods were working for him, but it may be time for the organization to start working with him on some tweaks. The AFL is a perfect place to start overhauling things and I fully expect that we will see a much more consistent and productive Texas League performance in 2013.
OF – Whit Merrifield (23) – Royals 2010 9th Round Pick
2012 – Wilmington: 0.258/.333/.389, 20 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 25 SB, 41 BB and 69 SO in 440 PA
2012 – NW Arkansas: 0.260/.314/.333, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 SB, 8 BB and 19 SO in 106 PA
Another draftee from an SEC school (South Carolina), Merrifield followed Fletcher’s path from the Blue Rocks to the Naturals though it took him a bit longer to make the jump during the season. Compared to Ryan Freel – by Baseball America and others – prior to the 2010 draft, Merrifield has taken a rather similar track and is proving that comp to be fairly accurate. Both players reached Double-A in their 2nd full professional season and both players did so without having standout statistical performances. Both players flashed their speed and plate discipline during that span and while Freel had a better SO-to-BB, Merrifield has shown much better pop with 60 2B, 10 3B and 19 HR – counting stats that took Freel 4-5 years to reach. The big difference of course is that Freel started his pro career at 19 while Merrifield kicked his off at 21.
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