Heading into this off-season with Dayton Moore’s promise of ‘big changes’, we can all expect a lot of talk about free agent signings and blockbuster trades. With the Royals desperate for a potent outfield bat and with the outfield bat market predominately populated by players deep into their thirties almost every visitor to this site has an opinion on the likes of 35 year old Bobby Abreu and 37 year old Raul Ibanez.
In discussing those players and really any other potential signees or trade targets, it would be wise to keep track of what sort of help will be forthcoming from the minor league system and, of course, when that help will arrive. For example, do we care that Abreu might be a shell of the player he currently is in the third year of a three year deal if, say, a Mike Moustakas is ready to start in that third year? I don’t know, maybe we do care, but that is not the point of this column.
Today, I’m going to give you my take on who in the system will be an impact player and when they will arrive. Keep in mind, this is not a comprehensive list of every minor leaguer that might sniff the majors, but instead will focus only on players who will make the majors, stay there at least for a while and be, at worst, a contributing bench player. Yes, I know that stretches the definition of ‘impact player’, but one can argue that any player who spends more than a year on your big league roster has some sort of impact.
CARLOS ROSA, RHP - There is a chance that Rosa might make the Royals as a reliever out of spring training, but I think the organization will opt to keep the 23 year old fireballer a starter for now. As such, look for Rosa no later than mid-June to replace whomever among Bannister, Hochevar and Davies is struggling. In the alternative, Carlos could also get the call to replace a Nunez, Ramon Ramirez or Mahay if one of those three struggles early on out of the bullpen. Unlike his brief 2008 debut, Rosa will be up to stay in 2009.
KILA KA’AIHUE, 1B - Short of hitting .750 next spring, Kila will start the season in Omaha. After little action in September, we still have no real idea what the big guy can do, but he will easily be the most watched minor leaguer in the system next April. If the Royals do go with Ryan Shealy at first to start 2009, he will certainly be on a short leash - ditto for Billy Butler as the DH. If either falters early, Ka’aihue will get the call. I don’t know, could Kila be a Paul Konerko type guy? If so, he’ll be in KC for years.
BRAYAN PENA, C - There are two pretty easy assumptions to make in this area: Miguel Olivo will not be back and the Royals are unlikely to pick up that young stud catcher we all dream about. Given that, Pena should make the club out of spring training and could easily become the regular catcher by mid-year if he gets on base at the rate he did in Omaha. An All-Star? No, but he ought to be around for a while as a backup if nothing else.
CHRIS NICOLL, RHP - A former 3rd round pick rebounded from a dismal 2007 with a very good 2008 that was split between Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. Nicoll will turn 25 next year and might have a chance to make the club in the spring. If not then, look for Chris to be coming out of the Royals’ pen by mid-season at the latest to begin a David Riske/Ron Mahayish sort of career.
Names you might be looking for here include Dusty Hughes (who I think will be picked in the Rule 5 draft), Devon Lowery (who probably does not throw enough strikes), Yash Yabuta (who isn’t good enough), Ryan Braun (injured and simply a huge unknown at this point) and Neal Musser (who has played enough in the majors that I didn’t feel like writing about him anymore).
This date is a little misleading as some of these guys might get September callups, but I don’t really call that ‘arriving’.
DANIEL CORTES, RHP - Although his 2008 stats in AA were not ‘knock your socks off’ type numbers, they were still very good and by year’s end Cortes was dominant more often than not. The kid will be just 22 years old next year and likely to spend it all in AAA. Barring disaster or an un-Royal like string of luck that has Bannister, Hochevar and Davies all being solid major league starters, Cortes WILL be the number five starter as a rookie out of spring camp in 2010. Not sure that Daniel is an ace, but he certainly has the look of a number two starter.
CHRIS HAYES, RHP - It would not be a total suprise for the submarining reliever to get a shot in 2009, but my guess is he makes the bullpen to start 2010 or gets there early in that season.
BLAKE WOOD, RHP - The 2006 3rd round pick destroyed High A ball in 2008, threw a complete game shutout in his second AA start and then struggled in Arkansas from there on. Still, here is another hard thrower from a major college with a ton of ability. Probably looking at a AA-AAA split year in 2009 with a debut in mid 2010 as a power reliever. The kind of guy who just might be the closer who pushed Soria to the rotation.
MIKE MOUSTAKAS, 3B/OF? - Too fast? Maybe, but let’s have some fun with this. Mike put up ‘notice me’ power numbers in Low-A ball last season and I would be shocked if he doesn’t end up 2009 up in AA. Assuming that, he will either start or reach AAA in early 2010 and, with any luck at all, hit the majors sometime after the All-Star break in 2010.
GREG HOLLAND, RHP - Another power reliever. Holland was very good in Wilmington and should be more than ready to take Ramon Ramirez’s role by the start of 2011.
PAULO ORLANDO, OF - The bounty for signing Horacio Ramirez off the scrap heap, this fleet outfielder with decent pop might have it all figured out by 2011. If this guy can conquer the strikeout bug, he could be really special. If not, we’ll never see Orlando in Kansas City. If I had to wager, Orlando if the 2011 opening day centerfielder.
DANIEL GUTIERREZ, RHP - He was kind of old for Low-A ball in 2008, but still was impressive. Possessing arguably the best control in the entire system, that attribute will get him to Kansas City as a solid back of the rotation guy by 2011. Perhaps he will never be a star, but it is pretty easy to project this guy as back of the rotation guy for several years, if not more.
JOHNNY GIAVOTELLA, 2B - Frankly, 2010 would not suprise me, but I would be shocked if the 2nd round pick of last summer’s draft if not the opening day second baseman in 2011.
ERIC HOSMER, 1B - Yeah, this is pretty much like throwing darts given that Hosmer has less than 15 professional plate appearances under his belt. Look for Eric to start in Burlington in 2009 and be no lower than AA by the end of 2010. Probably not going to make the team out of spring training in 2011, but likely to get to Kansas City at some point that season and anchor first base until late in the decade.
Okay, we are way out into never-never land by now and won’t bother going any further than this year.
DANIEL DUFFY, LHP - Seems like a long ways away for a pitcher who has been nothing but dominant, but Daniel will be just 23 years old by 2012 and ready to step in to the middle of the rotation. How does a Greinke, Soria, Cortes, Duffy, Gutierrez rotation sound in 2012?
MIKE MONTGOMERY, LHP - Not sure about his role, but I think the Royals have a real pitcher with their 2008 supplemental first rounder.
JASON TAYLOR, 1B/3B - Postionally, I’m not sure where Taylor ends up, but he is a base stealer with power and the ability to get on-base. Not completely out of the question that Taylor could put up Bobby Abreu type numbers (yeah, I have Abreu on my mind).
Okay, that’s a stab in the dark and you can certainly plug in at least two or three different or additional names for each of the above years. Frankly, if I waited a day and wrote this column again, it might like drastically different. As it stands, however, it is at least a discussion piece as we look into the future.