Royals Corner Blog

RC Blog is our newest feature on Royals Corner, providing updates throughout the week on the Royals, the minor league system, and the 2008 draft.

MARCH 10, 2008 – COLLEGE PROSPECT DRAFT UPDATE

Here's an update on how the Top 10 collegiate pitchers and hitters (according to the Scout.com Top 100 Draft Prospects) are doing after this weekend's games.

Rank Name School IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Brian Matusz SAN D. 19.2 2 1 3.66 1.37 29 9
2 Aaron Crow MIZ 17 3 0 2.12 1.18 26 4
3 Brett Hunter PEP 13 1 0 2.77 0.85 13 3
4 Christian Friedrich E. KY 17.2 1 1 2.55 0.96 25 6
5 Scott Green KY 18 2 0 1.50 0.67 28 0
6 Ryan Perry AZ 15 1 0 4.20 1.07 11 2
7 Tyson Ross CAL 5 1 0 1.80 0.40 7 1
8 Luke Burnett LA Tech 14 0 1 10.29 2.07 11 7
9 Jacob Thompson VA 18.1 2 0 0.98 1.09 24 7
10 Brett Jacobson VAND 7.1 0 2 12.28 2.59 7 5


Rank Name School Pos. AVG OBP SLG AB HR RBI SB-ATT
1 Pedro Alvarez VAND 3b 0.000 0.600 0.000 2 0 0 0-0
2 Justin Smoak S.CAR 1b 0.381 0.526 0.714 42 3 11 0-0
3 Dennis Raben MIA RF 0.000 0.000 0.000 2 0 0 0-0
4 Yonder Alonso MIA 1b 0.394 0.533 0.727 33 3 12 3-4
5 Allan Dykstra WAKE 1b 0.390 0.576 0.732 41 4 8 2-3
6 Conor Gillaspie WCH ST 3b 0.476 0.522 0.667 42 0 10 1-2
7 Buster Posey FSU C 0.395 0.500 0.721 43 3 14 1-1
8 Gordon Beckham GA SS 0.543 0.571 1.065 46 6 12 4-4
9 Reese Havens S.CAR SS 0.429 0.517 0.735 49 4 22 1-1
10 David Adams VA MI 0.373 0.441 0.529 51 2 13 4-5


Interesting Notes

-A few of the hitters had outstanding weeks, including Yonder Alonso, Allan Dykstra, and Buster Posey. The best performance, however, seems to have been turned in by Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham, who has been raking all season.

-Dennis Raben and Pedro Alvarez continued to miss time due to injury. Alvarez is out for at least five more weeks, while I haven't seen any updates on Raben's back condition.

-On the mound, the top two pitching prospects, Aaron Crow and Brian Matusz, had excellent outings. You can read about Crow's weekend start below, while Brian Matusz shut down a tough Oklahoma State squad on Friday, striking out 12 batters in eight innings while yielding just 1 unearned run and four hits.

-The news isn't as good for some other pitchers on the list. It appears that Louisiana Tech's Luke Burnett has been bumped from the weekend rotation, and the same might be true of Vanderbilt's Brett Jacobson. I'm not sure why Cal's Tyson Ross hasn't pitched since February 22.



MARCH 8, 2008 – SCOUTING AARON CROW

Despite the disgustingly cold weather, I braved the elements on Saturday afternoon and made my way to Taylor Stadium in Columbia to get my first look at Missouri ace Aaron Crow. The game was the Tigers' home opener, the first of a weather-shortened series with Indiana State, and Mizzou prevailed, 5-1.

Of course Crow, who is a strong candidate to be the first player selected in this June's draft, was the main attraction for RC, and he did not disappoint. Crow went seven innings, yielding just two hits and no runs while striking out nine batters and walking two. With the effort, he picked up his third win of the season in as many starts, and clearly left a positive impression on the band of scouts in attendance. On the season, Crow is now 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched (13.76 K/9 IP).



In the first inning, Crow came out firing, pushing his fastball (which reached 98 mph last summer in the Cape) into the mid-90s. He cruised through the first two frames, striking out four batters while yielding just one hit, a two-out single to right in the first.

Crow did run into some trouble in the third inning. He plunked the leadoff man, and after a sac bunt moved the runner to second, Crow struck out the next batter on a slider that got past Mizzou's catcher, allowing the hitter to reach first base. To add to the mounting danger, Crow then hit the following batter, loading the bases with just one out. However, he bore down and retired the next two batters on a shallow fly to right and a harmless grounder to second, ending the threat.

By the way, both of those HBP's by Crow were of the "college" variety. You know what I'm talking about. For whatever reason, collegiate hitters are pretty adept at dropping their elbows onto inside pitches to collect free bases. Either one of those hit batsmen could have easily been called back to the plate by the umpire, but he chickened out on both. Regardless, the point made here is that Crow's command on the day was better than the two hit batsmen in the box score might otherwise suggest.



After their failure to score in the third inning, Indiana State never came close to touching Crow again. Crow struck out the side in the fourth and breezed through his final three innings, facing just one batter over the minimum. He recorded his ninth strikeout of the day in the seventh inning against the final batter he faced, and was greeted enthusiastically by his teammates as he walked to the dugout.

All told, it was an impressive performance, even though Indiana State doesn't exactly have what you would call a "high caliber" offense. I don't know if it's just that as a Mizzou alum and grad student, I want to like Crow, but the truth is that over the past few years, I've seen many of the best collegiate pitchers in the country, and Crow already might be one of my favorites. I'm pretty used to being disappointed by hyped collegiate pitchers, but Crow really seemed to deliver everything I'd heard about him. He certainly did nothing to dissuade me that his preseason hype was legitimate.

As for his stuff, Crow was primarily working with three pitches: a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. His fastball sat at 91-93 for most of the afternoon, occasionally reaching 94 mph. Even though it was a four-seamer, Crow's throwing motion creates a natural tailing action, so the pitch moves a bit, and he located it very well on both sides of the plate while keeping the ball down.

He's also armed with a pretty special slider, which I saw him throw consistently between 81-84 mph. However, in a somewhat interesting contrast to some of the other collegiate pitchers I've seen with dynamite off-speed stuff, like Andrew Miller and David Price, Crow didn't overuse the pitch. Rather, he worked off his fastball and used the slider primarily as his two-strike pitch, getting hitters to chase at balls in the dirt.



Too often you'll see guys with good breaking balls relying too heavily on them to overwhelm younger collegiate hitters, only to get a rude awakening upon their arrival in the professional ranks. Crow seems to have a pretty advanced approach that could serve him well at the next level, where many of his peers will get a crash course in fastball command that he won't need. He did seem to go to his slider a little more often when he got into trouble in the third inning, but he changed things up in the fourth, throwing fastballs almost exclusively before recording the third strikeout of the inning on a hard slider.

Crow's changeup looked pretty good as well. He threw it a little harder than I'd prefer to see, around 84-85 mph, but that would probably become a nonexistent concern once the weather heats up and Crow's fastball velocity rises a tick or two. He got the pitch over the plate consistently, and nobody got a good swing on it. He used it most often against lefties on the outside of the plate.

Here's something you may or may not find useful. Because this was an afternoon game, the light was good and I was able to take photos at a higher speed than normal. I got lucky and captured Crow's different pitch grips, compiled in the graphic below.



I plan to interview Crow soon, maybe even Sunday, and I'm planning to ask him if he also throws a two-seam fastball. A couple of the photos I shot suggest he might, but they didn't come out clear enough to tell. It's probably just the case that his four-seamer moves like many others' two-seamers.

Anyway, that's it for today. I'll be unable to attend any more collegiate games until I'm in Arizona in a couple of weeks, but stay tuned for our weekly collegiate draft prospect update, in which you'll see how the top college players did over the past week.



MARCH 6, 2008 – POTENTIAL BREAKOUT PROSPECTS

On the message board this morning, Keith (a.k.a. firesticks) posed an interesting pair of questions soliciting opinions on which Royals' prospects could make major strides this year on prospect ranking lists. Specifically, he asked:

  • Question #1: Who will be those prospects this year that really rise up [to become elite prospects like Dan Cortes and Julio Pimentel did last year]?

  • Question #2: Which prospect will come out of nowhere or unexpectedly become a somewhat legitimate prospect (i.e. Dusty Hughes this year)?"


  • Message board posters rattled off several interesting names to answer both questions: Blake Johnson, Mario Lisson, Jeff Bianchi, Kila Kaaihue, Carlos Rosa (who I would argue is already something of an "elite" prospect), Fernando Cruz, Daniel Duffy, etc. Good answers all, but I'll take my shot here with some different names.

    With regard to question #1, a couple of names immediately jumped to my mind. First and foremost is outfielder Patrick Norris, the Royals' 2007 16th round pick out of Oklahoma City University. Norris debuted last summer with the Burlington Royals, for whom he hit .294/.397/.338 with 30 steals in 35 attempts. The consensus in the organization seems to be that Norris has supplanted Derrick Robinson for the title "fastest man in the organization," and that doesn't come as a big shock to me. I saw Norris play during the first week of his professional career, and I was fortunate to get a really good look at his tools during the four games I watched him play.


    Norris drew four walks in the first three games I saw him

    Sometimes it doesn't work out that way. For instance, despite seeing Robinson play in over half a dozen games, only once or twice have I really gotten to see him turn on the jets. I've heard all about his speed, so I know it's there, but I always seem to catch him on the wrong day.

    I saw Norris during a four-game stretch in which he was always on base and was tested several times in the outfield. In the first game I saw, which I believe was the B-Royals' second game of the season, Norris walked in his second at bat (his first of several walks while I was in town) and scored easily from first on a double down the left field line, prompting me to write in my notebook:

    "Norris real fast!"

    And the show got better from there. Later in the game, Norris (playing LF) was shaded toward centerfield when a batter hit a fly ball deep down the left field line. Norris zoomed over and made a great running catch in foul territory, covering an incredible amount of ground.

    Over the next few days, Norris' speed – and the effect that speed had on the opposing defense – continued to shine. I saw him beat out a perfectly routine ground ball to the first baseman, and the opposing shortstop later misplayed a routine chopper when he was trying to rush a throw to retire Norris.


    Norris is built for speed

    Anyway, if you're keeping score at home, here's a quick breakdown. Norris is a switch hitter (who is better from the left side, which is what you want) with plus-plus speed and has shown outstanding plate discipline thus far. He's got good size, he's still just 21 (for two more weeks), and his incredible speed can be a truly disruptive force on opposing defenses. Despite this, he's received very little love from some well-known prospect publications, which makes him a perfect candidate to…ahem…"come out of nowhere." We ranked him at #25, but I think a solid full season debut this year could go a long way toward vaulting him into elite company. He's good at the things leadoff hitters ought to be good at, and he knows how to use his great speed. Needless to say, I like him quite a bit.

    Beyond Norris, here's a quick list of some other guys who I could see reaching the RC Top 10 with truly dominant 2008 full season campaigns. It's not comprehensive by any means, nor would I go as far as saying I expect to see any of the players below reach the Top 10 next year, but rather it's just a list of some players who could be overlooked in the message board discussion:

    David Lough – Very athletic, good gap power, reminds me a lot of DeJesus

    Daniel Gutierrez – Everyone raves about his stuff, while some rant about his head

    Ed Cegarra – Made full season debut at 18 last year; could have a big 2008

    Juan Abreu – Will it come together for him this year? He's got one of the organization's best arms.


    David Lough is one of RC's personal favorites

    The answer to Keith's second question depends on how closely you want to stick to the Dusty Hughes model. Remember, Hughes didn't exactly "come out of nowhere," as the question suggests. He was a solid prospect entering the 2005 season, but he got cuffed around a bit in the California League that year before missing the entire 2006 season with Tommy John surgery.

    The player whose career path most closely resembles Hughes' is Matt Campbell, who also was a solid prospect before elbow surgery, and who also returned to action last year after missing 2006. Campbell's return wasn't nearly as impressive as Hughes', but he could feasibly put himself legitimately back on the prospect map with a strong campaign this year.


    Campbell still has a nice curveball

    The same is true for a couple of pitchers who missed significant time in 2007 while recovering from injuries. Paul Raglione, a tall right hander who made some noise in 2006, will be back in action this season after spending last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. Matt Kniginyzky successfully returned from shoulder surgery late last season, and I've always liked him quite a bit. He could be an interesting guy to watch this year, although I haven't yet heard anything about how well his stuff came back after surgery. I imagine he'll probably open the season with the Blue Rocks.


    Kniginyzky hails from Canada

    If you want to deviate from the Hughes model a bit, there are some position players who I'll be watching with some interest this year as potential Top 50 prospects. Two players I mentioned in my recent Burlington Bees video who could open the season at full season ball are David Wood and Antonio Jimenez. Wood is a 23-year-old first baseman who raked in the AZL last season. Obviously, the fact that he was a 22-year-old in a league full of high school draftees tempers my enthusiasm quite a bit, but he has a sweet stroke and hits the ball hard. Additionally, I've heard some folks in the organization sing his praises, so it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him put up good numbers in full season ball this year.


    I saw David Wood take lots of nice swings in Arizona, but unfortunately I didn't get a photo of any of them

    When I saw Jimenez, a third baseman, in North Carolina at the beginning of the B-Royals' season, I was absolutely convinced he was a stud. He put on a great show while I was in town, and then fell into the tank for the remainder of the season immediately after I left. Nevertheless, from what I saw, I'm comfortable saying that he has five-tool potential and room to grow, and I'd really like to see him put up some good numbers this year, wherever he winds up.


    This was the first of two Jimenez home runs I saw

    Wilson Tucker, the Royals' 33rd rounder in 2007, is another player who looked impressive while I was in North Carolina. And in contrast to Jimenez, he continued to hit after I left, earning a late season promotion to Idaho Falls after posting a final line of .298/.341/.488 with the B-Royals. I'm not sure that Tucker offers a whole lot of projection, particularly for a corner outfielder, but he came pretty close to cracking our Top 50 list, and he could easily land there this year with a strong full season debut.


    What will Tucker do in 2008?

    And finally, there are at least a few relievers who could make some noise this year after being snubbed by our 2007 Top 50. I'll throw out a couple of names (which are both fun to pronounce): Ben Swaggerty and Russ Haltiwanger. Swaggerty, a 25-year-old lefty, was signed prior to the 2007 draft as a fifth-year senior, and he went on to post excellent stats for the Chukars – 36 IP, 51 K, .225 Opp. BA. He's got a low-90s fastball, a solid breaking ball, and I've heard some good reports on him.


    Swaggerty pitched collegiately at Tusculum

    Haltiwanger was acquired by the Royals in the frequently maligned Jeff Keppinger trade. Keppinger, as you know, went on to hit .332 for the Reds in 2007, but the good news is that Haltiwanger, 23, still has at least a shot at making the trade less of a stinker for the Royals. His thin frame generates one of the hardest fastballs in the system, and with improved command he could be a legitimate big league prospect.


    I saw Haltiwanger wing it up to 96 mph for the Blue Rocks



    MARCH 4, 2008 - LOOKING AHEAD TO THE DRAFT

    While the Royals and their full season minor league affiliates don't officially get underway for another month, the collegiate baseball season is in full swing. With an eye toward this summer's draft, I've plotted an ambitious schedule of college games in the region to attend this spring. This past weekend, I hopped into the RC Official Jetta to make my first trip of the year. I traveled to Marion, IL, to see the Southern Illinois Salukis take on the Huskies of Northern Illinois. Of particular interest was the Saluki's Friday starter, junior Cody Adams, a 6-foot-2 right hander who reportedly can dial his fastball up to 96 mph.

    Adams finished last season with an 11-5 record and 3.01 ERA, and he is widely considered to be one of the Missouri Valley Conference's (MVC) best pitchers. Early projections are for him to be selected in the draft's first five rounds, so a bevy of professional scouts were on hand on Saturday to see him face the Huskies in game one of a doubleheader.


    Plenty of scouts were on hand to see Adams

    It's hard to tell if Adams improved his stock on Saturday. While his numbers on the day – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 10 K – were certainly very good (despite being tagged with the loss), his fastball velocity on the day simply wasn't impressive. He was consistently in the mid- to upper-80s with the pitch (only occasionally breaking 90-91), and several were left up in the zone and tattooed by NIU hitters, including the first pitch of the game, which landed somewhere near the Missouri border.


    Adams topped out around 91 mph on Saturday

    Of course, you can't put too much stock into a pitcher's fastball velocity this early in the season, particularly in cold weather. The temperature in Marion on Saturday afternoon was in the low-50s, but the howling wind made it seem much chillier than that.

    In addition to the fastball, Adams throws a mid-70s to low-80s slider and a change. The slider had a decent two-plane break, and Adams used it frequently to backdoor left handed hitters. His changeup was pretty inconsistent, but it shows really good potential. He bounced several well in front of the plate, but the times he got it over, it had excellent downward action and was primarily responsible for setting up his high strikeout numbers on the day. With work it could definitely become a plus offering at the next level.


    Adams' changeup looked like it could be a good pitch

    He was a bit wild in the zone with all of his stuff, but Adams still managed to throw 61 of his 91 pitches for strikes. Indeed, Adams yielded only 22 walks in 107.2 innings pitched last season (vs. 89 strikeouts), so he's pretty adept at avoiding free passes.

    All told, Adams will be an interesting pitcher to follow this season. The MVC has some tough teams that will test him throughout the year, and he'll have plenty of clubs watching him with interest at every game.

    Up next: I've decided to stay at RC Eastern Command this weekend, where I'll be able to get my first look at Mizzou's Aaron Crow as he takes on Indiana State. Crow, who was named the Cape Cod League's best prospect last summer, is a strong candidate to be drafted within the first five picks this June. Stay tuned for our report.

  • Speaking of the 2008 draft, here's a look at how the top 10 collegiate hitters and pitchers are faring this season, according to the Scout.com Top 100.

    Rank Name School
    Pos.
    AVG
    OBP
    SLG
    AB
    HR
    RBI
    SB/ATT
    1 Pedro Alvarez VAND
    3B
    0.000
    0.600
    0.000
    2
    0
    0
    0-0
    2 Justin Smoak S.CAR
    1B
    0.400
    0.531
    0.840
    25
    3
    8
    0-0
    3 Dennis Raben MIA
    RF
    0.000
    0.000
    0.000
    2
    0
    0
    0-0
    4 Yonder Alonso MIA
    1B
    0.286
    0.407
    0.381
    21
    0
    4
    1-1
    5 Allan Dykstra WAKE
    1B
    0.333
    0.579
    0.583
    24
    2
    4
    1-1
    6 Conor Gillaspie WCH ST
    3B
    0.400
    0.423
    0.640
    25
    0
    5
    0-0
    7 Buster Posey FSU
    C
    0.333
    0.400
    0.667
    27
    2
    7
    1-1
    8 Gordon Beckham GA
    SS
    0.519
    0.536
    1.000
    27
    3
    4
    2-2
    9 Reese Havens S.CAR
    SS
    0.500
    0.606
    1.000
    24
    4
    15
    0-0
    10 David Adams VA
    MI
    0.395
    0.478
    0.605
    38
    2
    13
    4-5

     

    Rank Name School Throws IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
    1 Brian Matusz SD LHP 11.2 1 1 6.17 1.80 17 7
    2 Aaron Crow MIZ RHP 10    2 0 3.60 1.60 17 2
    3 Brett Hunter PEP RHP 12    0 1 3.75 1.33 12 5
    4 Christian Friedrich E. KY LHP 11    1 0 2.45 0.91 20 4
    5 Scott Green KY RHP 12    2 0 2.25 0.67 19 0
    6 Ryan Perry AZ RHP 8    0 0 7.88 1.75 4 2
    7 Tyson Ross CAL RHP 5    1 0 1.80 0.40 7 1
    8 Luke Burnett LA TECH RHP 10    0 0 8.10 2.10 8 6
    9 Jacob Thompson VA RHP 12    2 0 0.00 1.08 16 5
    10 Brett Jacobson VAND RHP 9    0 2 9.00 2.00 8 7


    Interesting Notes:

    -Pedro Alvarez is out at least six weeks with a broken hand. Listed by most observers at the top position prospect available in this year's draft, Alvarez suffered the injury in Vanderbilt's season opener.

    -Miami right fielder Dennis Raben missed the first weekend with a back injury, and he left the lineup last weekend when his back flared up again.

    -Eastern Kentucky pitcher Christian Friedrich went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 20 strikeouts in his first two games of the season, against Bradley and Bucknell. There is no word if the Kansas City Chapter of the KU Alumni Association is planning to endorse his candidacy for the #3 overall pick.

    -For more complete statistics, click here




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