2006 was a trying season for the Omaha Royals, as Kansas City's Triple-A affiliate finished in last place in the Pacific Coast League's American North division with a 53-91 record, 23 games behind division champion Nashville. RC's Kevin Agee today takes a look at the O-Royals' disappointing season.
(FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM CONTENT)
With few exceptions, Omaha's roster was littered more with veteran journeymen than prospects, leaving manager Mike Jirschele at a competitive disadvantage for much of the season, as the PCL's talent level was at its highest point in years. Despite opening the season by winning three out of four games from Nashville and posting a 12-10 April, the O-Royals wouldn't have another winning month, bottoming out in losing 14 of their first 15 contests in August.
As a team, Omaha for the season hit .261/.325/.390, placing them next-to-last in the 16-team PCL in runs scored (578), runs batted in (539), doubles (225), walks (420), and stolen bases (65). Their team OPS of .715 placed 13th in the league, and was 64 points below their output in 2005. Interestingly, however, the entire league suffered an offensive meltdown compared to the previous season. In 2005, the average team had an OPS of .792, whereas in 2006, the average team OPS was .756.
Needless to say, the pitching accounted for the difference. In a vacuum, Omaha's team ERA of 4.58 appears to be rather decent, but was only good for 11th in a league in which Nashville sat on top with a 3.62 ERA. The O-Royals displayed solid control, walking the second-fewest number of batters (424) and hitting a league-low 40, but struck out a league-worst 843 in 1235.1 innings of work. Using 34 pitchers, they allowed 792 runs, the defense not helping matters any, as 106 unearned runs crossed the plate, easily the highest number in the PCL.
So what went right for the Royals? Omaha fans did get to see the grassroots of Mark Teahen's rise to stardom, outfielder Chad Allen's team-high .861 OPS among players with at least 400 at-bats, solid years from players like Justin Huber, Shane Costa, Ryan Braun, and good abbreviated stints from Luke Hudson (2.80 ERA in 35.1 innings) and Joe Nelson (1.97 ERA in 32 innings). However, the team's lack of talent showed throughout the year, and the Royals are hoping for better things in 2007.
Top Prospect Performances
Justin Huber: One season after he posted a stellar .343/.432/.570 line for Double-A Wichita and held his own in Triple-A (.274/.374/.531), hitting a combined 23 home runs with 97 runs batted in, Justin Huber returned to Omaha in 2006, seeking to strengthen his position as one of Kansas City's top offensive prospects. However, despite providing the O-Royals with a well above-average .838 OPS, it was a trying year for the 24-year-old Huber. Called up to Kansas City on May 3, Huber strangely saw action in only five games before being returned to Omaha on May 19, an experience Huber described as one that made him "a lot more mature." A strained right hamstring placed him on the disabled list in mid July, and despite struggling some in the early summer months, he was outstanding in 36 games after the All-Star break, batting .302/.377/.496 with five home runs and 20 RBI. At season's end, Huber was playing left field on a daily basis, and while he still has some work to do defensively, he's more comfortable in the outfield.
Huber had a rough season, and his future is uncertain
Shane Costa: Shane Costa surprisingly made the Royals' 25-man roster out of spring training in 2006, but a hamstring injury and a crowded outfield picture prompted the Royals to send the 24-year-old to Omaha in June. Optioned to Triple-A on June 17, Costa wasted no time, hitting .342/.398/.593 for the O-Royals, blasting ten home runs, 12 doubles, and four triples in only 199 at-bats. He was especially hot in 48 June at-bats (.354/.415/.729) and in July (.400/.442/.657 in 70 at-bats). Well-built at 6'0" and 200 lbs., Costa is a sleeper in Kansas City's outfield picture going forward. Another strong spring could land him in a platoon role with Kansas City in 2007, although the Royals would like him to improve his defense, which he struggled with in 2006. If not, he'll likely go back to Omaha and look to build on his breakout 2006.
Despite limited action in Omaha, Costa was the O-Royals' "Player of the Year"
Andres Blanco: Never one viewed as being proficient at the plate, 22-year-old Andres Blanco in April showed signs of life offensively, hitting .319/.372/.431 in 72 at-bats for Omaha in the season's first month. Despite the fact he cooled off significantly in May, the Royals called him to the Major Leagues on May 19, and he played 15 games in Kansas City before being sent back to Triple-A in June. He bounced back and forth between Omaha and KC, and after his strong April, he saw his offense suffer greatly. He put up a .615 OPS in May, and he failed to top that in any month thereafter. All told, Blanco continued to struggle with his offense 2006, and he finished with a paltry line of .237/.309/.318 in 283 at-bats. Unfortunately, his highly-regarded defensive capabilities also failed him: in 88 games, he committed 21 errors. It's far too early for the Royals to give up on Blanco, but Angel Sanchez is clearly ahead of him on the depth chart. A return trip to Omaha is in the cards, where he could play to Sanchez's left at second base.
Blanco still had troubles at the plate in 2006
Leo Nunez: Nunez spent time in 2006 in Kansas City and Double-A Wichita, but the majority of his season came pitching at Rosenblatt Stadium. Nunez was one of manager Mike Jirschele's most reliable options out of the bullpen, posting a 2.13 ERA with 33 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 38 innings of work. Allowing opposing hitters a overall .255 batting average, Nunez was especially effective when it mattered most. He threw 24.2 innings in "close and late" situations, and permitted batters a line of only .247/.307/.387. He was even better with runners in scoring position, allowing a miniscule .435 OPS in 12.2 innings. Sporting a plus fastball, the 23-year-old Nunez will again compete for – and have a good chance of winning – a spot in the Kansas City bullpen in 2007.
Don't forget about Leo Nunez
Ryan Braun: Optioned to Omaha on July 12, Ryan Braun picked up right where he left off with the Wranglers, striking out hitters left and right, and keeping the ball in the park. In 25 innings with the O-Royals, Braun had a 2.16 ERA, struck out 22 and allowed no home runs, and picked up three saves. Facing smarter hitters, Braun struggled somewhat with his command, walking 13, but still only allowed those hitters a .685 OPS. At 26, Braun is ready for the Major Leagues, and will get a chance to win a bullpen job out of spring training.
Braun had an outstanding 2006 season between Wichita and Omaha
Subscribe to RoyalsCorner.com
today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all
premium content on RoyalsCorner.com, Scout™ Player and Roster Database (including the 'Hot News' at the top of the site), Breaking News and Information, Total Access to all Scout.com Websites, and Player Pages, detailing the progress and careers of players from high school, the minors, and the pro ranks.
Sample the RoyalsCorner.com Total Access Pass™
at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 or $21.95. If you want to save 2 months off the monthly subscription price, simply choose the annual RoyalsCorner.com Total Access Pass™ at $79.95.