While the company line out of Kaufmann Stadium these days is 'trust the process', I put that sentiment in roughly the same category as:
- David DeJesus is hurting the team because he smiles too much
- Alex Gordon would be better if he showed more emotion
- Willie Bloomquist is a gamer who helps the team despite his sub .700 OPS
- Mike Jacobs is 'coming around'
- Mark Teahen is a good defender
However, all that aside, our opinions really do not matter when it comes to the direction of the Kansas City Royals. Those who control the future of this organization currently believe in 'the process'.
Had it not been for numerous injuries and some bad luck, the powers that be truly think this team would be in the hunt for the AL Central. They also point to an ever improving farm system ready to push the Royals to the next level.
Well, if we trust the process, or are at least are curious about said process, then it probably is time to look at that farm system and see just where and when the help will come.
This will be a rough and tumble look at each position, who is the closest to helping and how much help they might bring.
The "help" is already on hand with switchhitting Brayan Pena on the major league roster and playing on a regular basis.
He has some limits defensively
If the answer is not Pena, then you are looking a long, long ways down the line: past J.R. House and John Suomi in AAA, past Cody Clark and Vance Wilson in AA and Ryan Eigsti in High A.
You are banking on Sean McCauley or Jose Bonilla or Salvador Perez in Low A ball. All three have "upside," none of the three is showing much this year after promising stints in rookie ball in 2008.
Bottom line, it's Brayan Pena or outside the organization until at least 2012.
While Brayan will never be an All-Star, he has a chance to be at least an average everyday catcher and maybe even better if he really can hit .300 over the course of a full season.
I am putting these two positions together simply because Billy Butler has established himself as being one or the other for as far out in the future as you want to go.
He has gone from a singles hitter to ranking second in the league in doubles and beginning to turn some of that power potential into actual power.
Of course the obvious "help" is currently in AAA in the person of one Kila Kaaihue.
After a breakout 2008, Kila has not lit up the world, but still has a very good .261/.398/.453/.851 line.
Sure, we would like to see more power than his current 14 homers, but with more walks than strikeouts, I like the odds on Kila being able to post a major league on-base percentage north of .380.
If the Royals are willing to actually give him a chance, your help could be here, right now, or at least to start 2010.
I am split on whether Kila can hit with enough power in the majors to be a long term answer at this spot.
Right now, he falls into that "better than what the Royals have right now" trap, but, I think it's worth a shot for at least part of 2010.
After Kaaihue, the big name is Eric Hosmer now in High A, who is all potential and little results right now.
I have combined these two simply because the primary prospect at both positions is Jeff Bianchi.
After some pretty unimpressive years in A ball, a finally healthy Bianchi has stepped forward with a line of .315/.366/.442/.808 split between Wilmington and AA Northwest Arkansas.
That has been impressive enough to jump the former second round pick in front of Mario Lisson (currently in AAA hitting some homers, but not much else) as most likely to succeed in the middle infield in the majors.
While it is hard to project Bianchi as a star, it is rather easy to see him becoming a young 'Mark Grudzielanek' type player with a touch more power.
The Royals are committed to Yunieksy Betancourt for better or worse and have an on-base machine who cannot field in Alberto Callaspo.
With Bianchi's major league arrival probably not coming any time before September of 2010, one of those will surely have worn out his welcome by then.
Behind Bianchi is Johnny Giavotella.
Giavotella, who started slowly in Wilmington, has steadily pushed his numbers north as the season has worn on (currently has a .741 OPS). A pure second baseman who is just okay defensively, Johnny is a good two years away from pushing onto the major league roster.
The discussion pretty much begins and ends with Mike Moustakas.
It comes to an end permanently if Alex Gordon ever realizes his number two overall pick potential.
Moustakas is having a "just okay" year at the plate, but Wilmington is an awful place to be a big time hitter. Mike is also struggling in the field and, still, in my mind at least, projects more at a corner outfield spot or even first base.
At minimum, Moustakas is looking at a late 2011 arrival in the bigs.
Like Hosmer, you hope for star potential, but projecting the type of major leaguer he will turn into is really a shot in the dark at this point.
Jordan Parraz has posted a combined .973 OPS between AA and AAA this year.
He is a swing first ask questions later kind of guy, which is okay when you are striking out just 43 times in 81 games. Those types of hitters sometimes become Mike Jacobs once you get to the majors (I don't mean that in a good way, either), but Parraz will be in position to give it a shot at the beginning of 2010.
He could become a Raul Ibanez type (albeit without quite as much power) or a Matt Diaz type or be a bust, ala Shane Costa.
Your next outfield help comes in the form of David Lough in AA. (No, I don't believe in Chris Lubanski and Jose Duarte crashed and burned in a limited AA stint earlier this year.)
Lough has a robust .321/.369/.479 line split between A and AA and, in a perfect world, could develop into an above average regular (think DeJesus with more pop).
You will most likely have to wait until late 2010 or early 2011 to find out.
After those two, you are looking at a whole bunch of speed, potential and youth, none of whom can even begin to be thought about until 2012...if then.
Everyone loves the Royals' pitching depth.
The problem is that depth is really deep in the minors.
With Dan Cortes gone to Seattle, the next truly impact help is in High A Wilmington.
No, Lenny DiNardo does not count as help under the definition of this article. Rowdy Hardy? C'mon. Blake Johnson? Doubtful. Julio Pimental? Hurt.
Wilmington currently boasts a staff that includes Mike Montgomery (2.19 ERA in 15 starts, both low and high A), Danny Duffy (3.51 ERA in 19 starts) and Danny Gutierrez (0 runs, 10K in 8 innings).
Gutierrez had a run-in with the organization over agents and rehab training, and essentially bought himself another summer in Delaware instead of basking in the Texas League sun.
If he gets back to form and in the right frame of mind, Gutierrez could shoot all the way to AAA by late 2010 and conceivably get a look at the majors sometime in 2011.
He could be a very good middle of the rotation starter.
Montgomery and Duffy, thus far, have all the looks of top of the rotation type starters who will likely get full years in both AA and AAA. That points those two towards major league debuts in late 2011 or early 2012.
Of course, the wild card is this year's number one pick Aaron Crow.
Without the hammer of the August 17th signing deadline (Crow and Tanner Scheppers of the Rangers are exempt from this deadline), negotiations might conclude later rather than sooner.
If Crow signs at some point this summer or early fall, he could spend one season in the minors and be ready to become a major league starter in 2011.
Anywhere from a number two to a number four. If he's ready in April of 2011, I'll take either one.
The Royals seem stocked in this area.
Carlos Rosa has come around after a slow start and should get a call to unveil his 97 mile per hour fastball in the majors any day now.
Also in AAA is submarining Chris Hayes who will certainly get a shot at the bullpen next spring.
The fastest mover in the 2007 draft class?
That would be Greg Holland, already in AAA after blowing through the lower levels in impressive fashion. He is another power reliever who might well get a look early next season, too.
Chris Nicoll also just got the callup to AAA and, given his age, will get a look next spring, too.
Frankly, all four of these guys might be a better bullpen arm than any of the four pitching in front of Joakim Soria for the Royals right now.
Keep in mind, that after this group, the organization has Henry Barrera, who was good enough to be protected from the Rule 5 draft last winter.
Barrera, who averaged over twelve strikeouts per nine innings in 2008, is just getting going this year after injury problems this spring.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
While writing each individual section, I found myself moderately encouraged by the help that might be arriving in the majors.
Once I stepped back and took a birds eye view, however, it is not really that exciting.
Between now and early 2011, there is not a single star player that would seem ready to emerge at the major league level.
The Royals might well be able to count on a solid everyday catcher in Brayan Pena and an upgrade at designated hitter (Kaaihue over Jacobs/Olivo).
They could get good everyday players in Bianchi and either Parraz or Lough, but then I consider David DeJesus a "good everyday player" and Mark Teahen an "acceptable everyday player."
Having five or six "good" or "solid" everyday players is fine if you have a couple of stars.
The Royals have zero "stars" right now and find themselves in the same position they were in 2005: waiting for Billy Butler and Alex Gordon to emerge as offensive forces.
Given that the GM back then was Allard Baird, you kind of wonder exactly what progress has been made, don't you?
While the relief corps seems on the verge of getting in-house reinforcements, the only near-term starting rotation help is a guy who is not even under contract and has thrown less than seventy competitive innings since June of 2008.
Stay the course, trust the process? Put me in the skeptical category.