KANSAS CITY, Mo. - With the loss of top pitching prospect Danny Duffy to elbow surgery, the temptation, of course, is for the Royals to rush another prospect into the major-league mix.
After all, the Royals' youth movement is alive and well in terms of position players, and that young talent gives Royals fans hope of a bright future.
But without Duffy, there is no youth movement in the Royals rotation, no promising young prospect to cling hopes to.
Hard as it is, though, this is where Royals general manager Dayton Moore stands by his convictions. He will not give in to temptation for image sake, FFand he will not bring up a young pitcher before he is ready.
We're not going to push a position player or a pitcher to the major leagues until we're convinced they're ready to compete, Moore told me. Like I've said many times, I'd rather be a month or two late with a prospect than a month or two early.
Next in line, when they're ready, would be left-hander Mike Montgomery or right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who recently was promoted to Triple-A Omaha.
Though the Royals have immediate holes in their rotation, neither Montgomery nor Odorizzi will be filling those holes anytime soon.
They are too valuable, Moore said, to risk it because of short-term needs. You have to think long-term.
Moore, though, isn't about to condemn either Montgomery or Odorizzi to Triple-A all season.
We hope to filter in one, maybe two, of our young pitchers to the major leagues sometime this season, he said. That was the plan coming into the season. That was the script before we started. If that happens, that would be great.
But let me say this: They have to do their part for us to do ours.
Odorizzi certainly has been doing his. He was 4-2 this season at Northwest Arkansas with a 3.32 ERA, and he had struck out 47 hitters in 38 innings. He delivered a quality start in his first outing at Omaha.
Odorizzi, perhaps the key component to the Zack Greinke trade with Milwaukee in 2010, likely carries the most promise. He has reminded most scouts of Greinke himself and is a pitcher with three plus pitches a fastball in the mid-90s, an over-the-top curve and a tantalizing change-up.
Jake is a guy we're going to watch closely, Moore said. He's advanced through our system on merit. He's shown he can succeed at each level and when the time has been right, he's been elevated to the next level. He's at Triple-A now and we'll keep watching.
Montgomery, who struggled last season at Omaha, has improved marginally this year. In eight starts he is 2-0 with a 4.37 ERA. But he has an unsightly 1.57 WHIP.
Montgomery is doing all right, Moore said. He's pitching deeper into games this season, much deeper than he did last season. He's better at this point this year than than he was last year at this time.
He's a guy with major-league stuff. We know that. We just have to keep watching.
Another candidate somewhat under the radar is left-hander Will Smith, acquired in the 2010 trade with the Angels for Alberto Callaspo.
Smith doesn't wow scouts with any one pitch, but he's a mature pitcher who simply seems to know how to get hitters out. He is 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA at Omaha.
Will Smith is throwing the ball very well, Moore said. We'll just keep evaluating the options.
Though Moore wants to be cautious with the Royals pitching prospects, he also is aware that some prospects learn more and advance more at the major-league level than in the minors.
There's some truth to that because you improve more at the major-league level than you do anywhere else, he said. That's the level that ultimately matters, and that's where you see players reach their full potential. They have to take the next step.
But you want to make sure that when the guy comes up here it's going to take more effort and it's more intense up here that he's ready to meet the challenge. You don't want guys breaking down up here because they're not ready and they're trying to do more than they are capable of.
Some players and it is rare actually perform better at the major-league level than in the minors because the support system is better.
Initially they sometimes can, Moore said. I can't think of guys off the top of my head. Eric Hosmer probably played better at the major league level last year, based on the competition, than he did in the minors. Salvador Perez certainly fits that category, too.
But it's not the reason you would promote someone to the majors. You don't roll the dice. You hope that happens but you don't take chances.