Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 8/29/12

Wil Myers hits the ball very far, very often. As one of the most complete minor league hitters in baseball, it is almost astonishing that he is yet to crack the line-up of the Royals. He is one of the most exciting, major-league ready talents still yet to accrue service time, a major boon for the system. However, the system’s top arms have either struggled or been hurt, and a farm system that was once the envy of the league now has some question marks. The consensus pre-season top-5 system of the Kansas City Royals is today’s focus on Down On The Farm.

My apologies for no DOTF or Sabermetric Mining piece last week. I was driving from Kitchener, ON to Vancouver, BC and then settling in to a new place.

Pre-Season Rank: #5 (ESPN), #5 (Baseball Prospectus), #2 (Baseball America)

The Top 5
1. Wil Myers
Overall Ranks: #13 (ESPN), #19 (BP), #28 (BA)
As mentioned, Myers hits the ball very far, very often. The converted catcher has played the outfield this year to try and preserve his body in the long run, and reports show him as a good corner outfielder with a strong arm, though he likely won’t continue to play center field for long. Still, it is the bat that has people buzzing, and with good reason – Myers has clubbed 35 homers across two levels in 128 games this year. He first astonished onlookers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas with 13 taters and a ridiculous .388 isolated power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average) in 35 games, earning a promotion to Triple-A Omaha at just 21. 93 games and 22 homers later, with an ISO of .247 and a wRC+ of 133. Myers should have earned a September call up with this performance, and at the very latest will probably start the season for the Royals next year, an enticing idea for Royals fans and fantasy owners alike.

2. Bubba Starling
Overall Ranks: #15 (ESPN), #27 (BP), #24 (BA)
The converted quarterback is all athleticism and tools at this point, but even just getting him to sign after the 2011 draft was a huge boon for the system. He is still just 20, but the fact that a late signing and an early injury pushed his career start date back to late June of this year, at Rookie Ball, is of some concern. Basically, Starling lost a full year of development right away. Luckily, it does not appear to have set him back too much, as he has posted a 144 wRC+ for Burlington. The 30.3% strikeout rate is a concern but not uncommon for young, inexperienced players, and his 12.3% walk rate indicates there is potential for plate discipline. Starling is a few years away from making a major league impact, but this type of ultra-high-upside player always reflects well on a team and system.

3. Cheslor Cuthbert
Overall Ranks: #43 (ESPN), #83 (BP), #84 (BA)
Along with having one of the oddest first names out there, the 19-year old third base prospect also has an enviable resume for his age and an advanced approach for his point on the development curve. With that said, the promotion this year to High-A Wilmington has been a challenge, seeing Cuthbert’s wRC+ fall to an ugly mark of 72. With just an .081 ISO and a sub-.300 OBP, the Royals are likely concerned at the performance dip compared to a successful 2011 at Low-A. Still, Cuthbert doesn’t strike out too much (15.7% K-rate, 19% last year), walks enough (7.0% walk rate, 10.5% last year), and may have just been advanced too quickly for the hit tool to catch up with the approach. Cuthbert will likely repeat at Wilmington for a part of next year, putting him off the major league radar for another two seasons at least.

4. Mike Montgomery
Overall Ranks: #52 (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #23 (BA)
Montgomery is an imposing 6’5” lefty who has been on the prospect map for several seasons now. Drafted back in 2008, Montgomery has had a slow climb through the Royals system, but is failing to find success at the Triple-A level for the second year in a row, this time as a 23-year old. Last season, Montgomery struggled to a 5.32 ERA and 4.30 FIP over 150 innings, and this year it has been more of the same with a 5.69 ERA and a 4.95 FIP over 91 frames. It got so bad that Montgomery was actually demoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in hopes of regaining some semblance of his command. Unfortunately, he is yet to find success there as well. There is obviously still time for a 23-year old lefty with two plus-pitches (fastball and changeup) to find the missing piece, likely a third reliable pitch, but the Royals have to be getting concerned that a former top prospect will need a third attempt at Triple-A next year.

5. Jake Odorizzi
Overall Ranks: #71 (ESPN), #47 (BP), #68 (BA)
Omaha has had one success on the mound, at least, with 22-year old righty Odorizzi posting a 3.08 ERA over 102 innings after earning the mid-season promotion from Double-A. While the surface ERA is fine, Odorizzi has not carried his impressive strikeout rate at Double-A (11.13 K/9) to Triple-A (7.21), causing his FIP to inflate to 4.21. Still, the team should be happy with his development, especially the fact that he uses four pitches reliably. One of those offerings needs to evolve into an out pitch to predict success at the major league level, but he could probably fill in at the back of a rotation right now. Look for him to crack the majors at some point in 2013, though he is unlikely to be fantasy relevant right away.

Additions and Subtractions
The Royals made just a single deal during the season, cashing in on their Jonathan Broxton gamble by acquiring a pair of players from Cincinnati in Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Sulbaran has struggled at Double-A since coming over and will likely have to repeat the level as a 23-year old next season, while Joseph is a LOOGY in training at Triple-A. The Royals grabbed righty Kyle Zimmer fifth overall in the draft this summer, and he’s an exciting prospect to watch next year, as he has already been moved to Low-A and had success through six starts.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Omaha – Along with Montgomery and Odorizzi, Omaha is also home to 25-year old Ryan Verdugo, a lefty who has had success with a 3.37 ERA but was the recipient of six earned runs over 1.2 innings in his July major league debut. 24-year old Nate Adcock has struggled to a 4.86 ERA but held his own in a brief audition as a swing-man earlier in the year. Finally, 23-year old lefty Will Smith had a good half-season starting before earning a promotion, though he has struggled mightily for Kansas City. Beyond Myers, Johnny Giavotella is having success, though he has flopped in the majors twice now.

Double-A Northwest Arkansas – Yordano Ventura earned a promotion in mid-July but has struggled, though it was not unexpected for the 21-year old who relies primarily on his heater. For some reason, 24-year old lefty Chris Dwyer got promoted to Omaha despite a 5.25 ERA at this level, though sadly that made him one of the better candidates. Michael Mariot was converted to starting partway through the year and has had success with a 3.40 ERA over 113 innings, though he’s only struck out 81. Justin Marks, a 24-year old lefty, has posted a 3.80 ERA through 17 starts, making him the de facto ace of the staff. At the plate, Myers’ promotion left the cupboard pretty bare, so it is no real surprise that the Naturals are a shameful 19-43 in the second half. Shortstop Christian Colon posted a .364 OBP over 73 games, enough to get him promoted to Omaha, but he offers very little at the plate beyond the OBP.

High-A Wilmington – Wilmington has been the part-time home of several strong pitchers this year, including one with perhaps the best name in baseball. Jason Adam is 6-12 but has a 3.61 ERA and has shown great command with a 3.5:1 K:BB ratio. Sugar Ray Marimon posted a 2.12 ERA over 68 innings before earning the bump to Double-A, where he has posted a 3.97 ERA over 10 starts. Matt Ridings is too old for this level at 24, but has a tidy 2.26 ERA and less than two walks per nine. 23-year old Andy Ferguson has climbed the ladder quickly, with Wilmington being his third stop, and he has struck out 53 over 56 innings with a 3.34 ERA so far. Finally, Elisaul Pimentel got dropped from Double-A at mid-season, but has been strong since with nearly a strikeout per inning and an ERA of 3.00. A few hitters have performed well for the Blue Rocks, but most are too old for the level to get excited.

Low-A Kane County – A young trio of arms have led the way, with Edwin Carl (23-years old, 1.92 ERA, promoted to Wilmington), Angel Baez (21, 3.17 ERA, 83 K in 76 IP), and Kyle Smith (19, 3.00 ERA, 72 K in 57 IP) all impressing. None of the hitters have been amazing, with nary an 11-homer bat or a .300 average on the team, but just about everyone has been solid, helping the team to a .500 mark.

The Royals system has strong depth, especially on the mound, and it is scattered nicely across all levels. While there have not been many stand-out performers aside from Myers, he alone is reason to look favourably on the system. John Lamb, when recovered, adds another high-end arm to the mix, along with top pick Zimmer. The Royals can expect to be a top-10 system again next year, though with the shine coming off a few pitching prospects and a few players graduating to the majors, a top-5 system is not a certainty.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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