In the first of a series of recaps for each Royals affiliate, RC today begins with a look at the Arizona Royals. Playing in the Rookie-level Arizona League (AZL), the AZ Royals tied for the league lead in victories but fell just short of the playoffs. Nevertheless, it was a highly successful season for the rookie Royals, and several players from the 2006 draft began to establish themselves.
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When the Arizona Royals look back upon their season, they'll probably identify their loss on August 27 to the AZ Angels as the key game to their dashed playoff hopes. With just three games remaining on their schedule, the Royals entered the game with a 17-9 record, trailing the Angels (17-8) by just half a game, and they could have taken command of the second-half race with a win. However, starting pitcher Henry Arias lasted just 1.2 innings while surrendering six runs, and the Royals couldn't rebound en route to a devastating 8-4 loss. The Angels took a 1.5 game lead with two games remaining on the schedule, and even though the Royals won their final two contests, they fell a half game short of reaching the title game.
Nevertheless, the Royals can only look back upon their Arizona affiliate's season with a positive spin. Though they missed the playoffs, the Arizona Royals finished the season with a 36-20 record, which tied both the league lead in victories and the club record set in 2003. The strong showing is a solid indicator of the talent acquired in the 2006 draft, and several players distinguished themselves as legitimate prospects.
Top prospect performances:
Brent Fisher: In his second tour of the Arizona League, Fisher was arguably the league's most dominant pitcher. Prior to his late-season promotion to Idaho Falls, the 19-year-old lefty pitched 68.1 innings for the AZ Royals while compiling an ERA of 2.11 and striking out 98 batters, which was 34 more punchouts than anyone else in the league. He allowed just 41 hits and walked only 19 for a league-leading WHIP of 0.88, and he was third in the AZL in both ERA and innings pitched.
His success built upon an impressive 2005 debut (5-2, 3.04, 69 K in 50 IP), and although his return to Arizona this season had to be a personal disappointment, Fisher responded with a performance that places him among the best pitching prospects in the entire Royals' organization.
Nick Van Stratten: The Royals were very impressed with Van Stratten in a pre-draft workout, and in June they drafted him in the 10th round out of St. Louis Community College at Meramec. Van Stratten had an excellent debut, hitting .292/.386/.440 with 3 home runs while displaying an impressive range of tools. He stroked seven triples and stole 14 bases while being caught only once, and he possesses both a strong throwing arm and a reputation as a gamer.
Paul Raglione: Like Fisher, Raglione was a 19-year-old 2005 draftee repeating the AZL, and he put up some solid numbers before an elbow injury shut him down for the season in early August. Raglione told RC shortly before his injury that he felt as though he'd made the transition from thrower to pitcher, an opinion to which his numbers – 3.11 ERA, 48 strikeouts, and only 10 walks in 46.1 IP – can certainly attest.
At 6'-5", Raglione is a big kid who throws four pitches – a two-seamer, four-seamer, curve and change-up – and although his velocity dropped a bit this season, the Royals are hopeful that he will regain the low-90s heat that he flashed as an amateur once his rehab from elbow surgery is complete.
Nick Francis: A physically-gifted athlete with solid tools across the board, Francis was selected by the Royals in the 15th round of the 2006 draft. He signed quickly and headed for Arizona, where he put up quality numbers in his first exposure to professional baseball. Francis was primarily an infielder in college, but he made the transition to full-time outfielder this season, sharing duties in left field with Van Stratten.
After a slow start, the 20-year-old outfielder hit .303/.366/.426 with one homer, four triples, and eight doubles in 155 at bats. He was hitting just .233 on August 1, but he finished the season with a flurry, putting up a .347/.382/.505 line in 95 August at bats.
Jeff Bianchi played in only 12 games before a shoulder injury put him on the shelf, but in 42 at bats, he terrorized AZL pitching to the tune of .429/.537/.667. He's currently rehabbing in instructs, and although he isn't throwing yet, he's reportedly making excellent progress. Word is that his range of motion is back, and he's taking ground balls daily.
2006 second- and fourth-rounders Jason Taylor and Derrick Robinson, respectively, had some difficulties adjusting to pro ball, but both remain solid prospects. Taylor hit .258/.374/.325 with zero home runs, but reports are that he began hitting the ball harder as the season wore on. The speedy Robinson hit just .233/.335/.318, and even though he stole a team-leading 20 bases, he was also caught stealing 14 times.
Though he's still raw, Robinson is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues
The Arizona Royals also got good production out of some surprising sources. The Royals' final pick of the 2006 draft – 50th-rounder Jarrod Dyson – had a solid debut, hitting .273/.358/.373 with 19 stolen bases while being caught only four times. Undrafted free agent Michael Hauff was arguably the club's best reliever, limiting opposing hitters to a miniscule .169 batting average while compiling an ERA of 1.35 in 20 innings pitched. The 22-year-old righty was also part of club history on July 19, when he and Brent Fisher combined to no-hit the AZ Cubs in a 1-0 loss.
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