RC Mailbag: What about Bannister?

RC returns to answer readers' questions about the Royals' draft strategy, how the club intends to fill the roster of a seventh minor league affiliate, and what we should expect from Brian Bannister, among other questions. Additionally, we unveil the results of our message board community's collective prediction on what we should expect from Alex Gordon this season.

Before we delve into this week's mailbag, we'd like to take a moment to unveil the Royals Corner Message Board's collective prediction of what readers expect Alex Gordon to do this year. Readers were told to assume that Gordon would play an entire season on the Royals' roster, and they were asked to provide specific predictions in several key statistical categories. Below are the mean results:

Games: 139
At bats: 497
Hits: 142
Doubles: 32
Triples: 3
Home Runs: 22
RBI: 86
BB: 59
K: 101
SB: 12
BA: .286
OBP: ~.364
SLG: .495
OPS: .859

We compiled the OBP and SLG pct. based upon the numbers provided, and we took some liberty in the compilation of the OBP by assuming an average number of sacrifice flies and HBP.

Up next for the Royals Corner Message Board is a collective prediction on what fans should expect to see from Ryan Shealy in 2007. If interested in participating, please visit the appropriate thread by clicking here. Anyway, on to the mail…

How are the Royals going to find the players to fill another minor league affiliate, now that they added their seventh team in Burlingon, NC? – Paul, Olathe, KS

We are likely to see a couple of new trends this year, as the Royals add more players to their system to fill out the rosters of seven minor league teams. First, the Royals plan to be much more aggressive with international signings, making full use of their beautiful new academy in the Dominican Republic. The Royals intend to be one of the top players in the international market in the coming years, and the result will be a steady flow of young talent from the Caribbean into the organization.

The other new trend we're likely to see is the Royals using more of their late draft picks on players they expect to sign, such as college seniors, who are usually much easier to sign than high school players and college juniors selected on the second day of the draft. Doing so will allow the club to add more players to the system through its draft, and most of those players will go directly to one of the three rookie ball affiliates.

Ultimately, we can probably expect to see some talent dilution as the organizations best players will be more spread out, and a consequence is that the overall won/loss record among the Royals' minor league affiliates may fall a bit. However, the Royals believe that if they are able to add one or two impact prospects per year because of the new affiliate, it will be well worth the investment.

With Dayton Moore now entering his first full season as our GM, do you see us drafting more high school players and allowing players to see the AAA level on a regular basis? The Braves are famous for drafting high school players. – Royalsin07, from the message board

Don't forget that Royals' scouting director Deric Ladnier is actually a product of the Braves organization. In fact, the Royals under Ladnier significantly increased the number of high school players they selected in the draft, and that's not something that's likely to change in the near future.

As for whether or not we'll see an increase in the early rounds, it's tough to say. Actually, it probably depends most on the talent available each year, and what the strengths of the draft are. For instance, the Royals believe that the high school pitching crop in this year's draft is very strong, so we may see the Royals grab a high school arm or two early in the draft this June. However, as we mentioned above, the Royals need to fill out an additional farm club roster this season, so the overall total of high school players selected by the Royals this June figures to decline.

One thing that seems certain, however, is that the Royals will utilize their Triple-A affiliate much more than they have in past years. Moore views Triple-A as a vital step in a player's development, so the days of frequent jumps from Double-A to the Majors are likely over.

We seem to have quite a few people on here that are interested in the amateur side of the game, and with the college season rolling around, can you give us a few series that we should be looking at? Also, and I know it's a stretch, but are there any good series/players that you know of up in Big Ten country? – Phil, Lansing, MI

There are big series almost every weekend nationwide, but we can outline a few that we've got our eye on. Fans in the Kansas City area and surrounding region have the benefit of being able to see a lot of Big 12 action, along with some very good teams in the strong Missouri Valley Conference.

The University of Kansas offers the closest venue to the Kansas City area for watching good Division I baseball. Indeed, fans that are willing to make the 40-minute drive to Lawrence this season can see KU take on Wichita State (March 14), Oklahoma State (March 23-25), the always strong Texas Longhorns (April 5-7), small conference power Oral Roberts (April 10), a rapidly improving Baylor squad (April 13-15), and Nebraska (May 18-20). In addition, Kansas will play arch-rival Mizzou at Kauffman Stadium on April 25.

Fans willing to venture out a little farther can see some very strong teams in the region, such as Arkansas, Wichita State, and Missouri State. Arkansas and Missouri State both boast pitchers – Nick Schmidt and Ross Detwiler – who could be first round picks this June, and Wichita State has a trio of players – Damon Sublett, Matt Brown, and Travis Banwart – who could all go in the first five rounds of the draft, in addition to sophomore ace Aaron Schafer, who is one of the 2008 draft's best prospects.

Of course, Phil, that information probably doesn't do you much good. As for the Michigan area, it's a little tougher. The Big 10 just isn't a powerhouse conference in baseball, due primarily to the cold weather and a focus on the other big sports. However, the Michigan Wolverines figure to do well in the Big 10, and at this point are probably favored to win the conference. The biggest series for the Wolverines this year will probably be a four-game set against rival Ohio State beginning on April 13, as those two teams finished 1-2 in the Big 10 standings last season.

I am very interested about your opinion regarding Brian Bannister. I read all of your stuff about him when we made the trade, but that was a while back. Do you think that Bannister, Grienke, Hochevar, Meche, Lumsden, and possibly this year's first rounder can become can become something very special? - J.T., Wichita

The one thing that's come through very clearly, in both our interview with Bannister and his subsequent media appearances this offseason, is that he's an incredibly intelligent pitcher. It could be that his time in New York taught him how to deal with the media, but Bannister really sounds like a guy who has an excellent knowledge of both his abilities and his weaknesses, and he concentrates on the former while striving to improve the latter.

Bannister isn't going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but if he has as good an understanding of pitching as we've been led to believe, he could indeed be a very solid starting pitcher for the club this year. He's one of a trio of Royals, along with Zack Greinke and Jorge De la Rosa, who are the leading contenders for the rotation's final two spots. At this point it looks like a toss-up, but regardless of who wins the two spots this spring, the laws of attrition dictate that all three will likely see significant time in the Majors this season. Bannister spent the fall in Mexico refining his change-up, and he told us that it has improved to the point that it's now one of his primary pitches. If that proves to be the case this spring, we really like Bannister's odds of starting the spring in the Royals' rotation.

As for whether or not the pitchers you identified can turn into "something very special," only time will tell. In a perfect world, Luke Hochevar in the next two seasons would emerge as the Royals' ace, Gil Meche would live up to the Royals' expectations, Zack Greinke would regain his pre-2005 form, and both Bannister and Tyler Lumsden would emerge as solid starters at the back of the Royals' rotation. Each of those scenarios is certainly possible, but taken together, the Royals would have to be awfully lucky to see all become reality. That is precisely why Dayton Moore hasn't concluded his search for pitching, and why the Royals will continue looking for pitching depth in anticipation of the likelihood that even some of their top prospects are likely to fail somewhere down the road.

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