The Royals refer to left-hander John Lamb these days as their "extra daft pick" for 2012 - an extra draft pick that could be ready for the big leagues some time in 2013.
Lamb, actually a fifth-round pick in 2008, missed most of 2011 and this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the same surgery that has shelved starters Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino.
Lamb is almost completely back now, and the Royals have all eyes on him as he nears the time when he will take the mound again. Presently, Lamb, still only 22, is pitching live batting practice for the Royals' Arizona Rookie League team, and he likely will make some bullpen appearances in about 10 days.
From there, Lamb is slated to join the Idaho Falls rookie-league team and start a few games before its season ends. Then Lamb will return to Arizona for the fall Instructional League.
"Very excited about his progress," said Royals assistant general manager of player development J.J. Picollo. "He's come along very well and back to throwing where he had been. If all goes well, we expect him to be back at Double-A next year and definitely on the fast track hopefully to the big leagues."
Lamb was perhaps the Royals' top pitching prospect before the injury. In 2010, he was 2-3 with a 1.58 ERA at Burlington, Iowa, then the Royals' Class A affiliate. He was quickly promoted to high-A Wilmington, where he was 6-3 with a 1.45 ERA.
Last year, he was 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA in eight starts at Double-A Northwest Arkansas before he was shut down because of elbow tightness.
JOHNNY G AT THIRD BASE?
Prospect Johnny Giavotella has been having a tough time convincing the Royals he's ready for another crack at second base with the Royals. So, the plan now is to have Johnny G play a little third base and some left field. He started at third base for Class AAA Omaha on Tuesday.
"It's always an advantage to be able to play multiple positions," Giavotella told the Omaha World-Herald. "They like my bat, and anything I can do to possibly help out the team in the big leagues, they want me to be ready for it.
"But second base is where I feel comfortable, and it's the position that I'll succeed at in the major leagues."
Picollo agreed but believes Giavotella will get back to the majors more quickly if he can play multiple positions.
"The promotions that have happened, whether it's Irving Falu or Tony Abreu, have been guys who have a lot of versatility," Picollo said.
BUBBA HEATING UP
The Royals' rookie league team in Burlington (N.C.) is stocked with several top picks from the 2011 draft as well as this year's draft, and the team is blistering the league with a 29-14 overall record.
Outfielder Bubba Starling, the top pick in 2011, has settled into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. After a slow start, Starling is hitting .295 with seven homers and 25 RBIs. He also has six steals.
"He seems more relaxed now and is really coming on," Picollo said. "His hitting, his defense, his all-around play is just what we want right now."
That Burlington team actually has three other hitters who have more homers than Starling.
Outfielder Fred Ford, from St. Peters, Mo., is tied for the team lead with 11 homers in the short season with 6-foot-4, 230-pound third baseman Patrick Leonard. Second baseman Kenneth Diekroeger, who is 6-feet-2, 200 pounds, has eight homers.
"Physically, it's one of the biggest teams we've seen in awhile," Picollo said. "And these guys aren't just big, they're athletic. They can run, too."
KYLE ZIMMER UPDATE
This year's top pick, right-hander Kyle Zimmer, has had three starts at Class A Kane County (Ill.) and has fared well in two of them - each time giving up just one run in four innings. Those starts were sandwiched around a shaky one in which he gave up six runs in two innings.
"He's actually been very impressive," Picollo said. "He's reaching 95-97 (mph) on the gun and hitting his spots."
Another right-hander from the 2011 draft, Kyle Smith, also has raised some eyebrows. Smith has struck out 54 hitters in 40 innings, and he pitched a beauty last time out, giving up three hits and no runs through seven innings while striking out 12.
"He's got an excellent curve ball and that's what attracted us to him," Picollo said. "That's his out pitch. Now, we're working with him to use his fastball a little more and, of course, like all high-school picks, work on a change-up."