Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This Crow Doesn't Taste So Bad.

As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@jazayerli) know, my initial reaction to the Aaron Crow was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. This wasn’t a reflection on Crow so much as it was a reflection on Grant Green, who thanks to the Pirates’ late decision to go cheap yet again and select Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez – probably the 20th-best player in the draft – at #4, the tumblers fell into place for Green to be available at #12.

The Royals selected Crow instead, and as MLB Network cut to commercial they gave us a look-in at the A’s war room, and it seemed like every person in that room had a big sh*t-eating grin on his face. Knowing exactly why those jerks looked so smug – and sure enough, the A’s took Green with the #13 pick – only made me more upset.

But then I started getting feedback from people in the industry who know a lot more about this stuff than I do, and started to warm up to the pick. Keith Law, ESPN’s draft guru, wrote me, “I don’t see how you can complain about that one!” Law uses exclamation points even more rarely than he praises the Royals, so that was something. Law had Crow as the 5th-best player in the draft, and Green at just #13. Law isn’t afraid to voice scouting opinions that differ from the consensus – last year, he was maybe the only prospect maven in the world who thought that Pedro Alvarez was overrated, and that sentiment looks pretty smart at the moment. But Law isn’t the only draft expert who ranked Crow more highly than Green; Baseball America’s last draft ranking had Crow 7th and Green 13th. And While Kevin Goldstein had Green ranked higher, it was hardly a slam-dunk - #5 vs. #7.

Green’s strengths are obvious: he’s a polished college hitter who will be in the majors soon, and he gives you a good bat at a premium defensive position – a position the Royals have a particularly strong need to fill. But he’s not perfect. He hit just four home runs this season, and nine last year – while he hit for power in the wood-bat Cape Cod League, it’s not clear how much power he’ll have in the majors. A guy who hits .280 with 20 homers is a star at shortstop; a guy who hits .280 with 12 homers is just a good player.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, there is a legitimate difference of opinions from scouts on how well he can play shortstop. Some feel he’ll be an average defensive player with no issues; some think he’ll be below average but playable; some think he’ll have to move off the position entirely. This is not a trivial concern for the Royals. If Green can handle shortstop, he fills a huge need. If he can’t, then he’s a third baseman or a second baseman, two positions where the Royals already have more than enough options as it is. If the Royals fall into the camp of people who think that he can’t play shortstop, then it would be hard for them to justify taking Green.

Still, I think that all things equal, the Royals should take the player at a position of need. But clearly the Royals did not feel that all things were equal between Green and Crow, and took the pitcher even though they had bigger needs elsewhere.

I can respect that. It’s easier to respect that decision when you consider that aside from Green, Crow was the best player on the board when the Royals picked. Looking at the three draft lists (BA, Law, Goldstein), the only players ranked higher than Crow who were still available were Tanner Scheppers (on two lists), Alex White (on one), and Kyle Gibson (on one). Gibson’s stress fracture manifested itself after he showed up 4th on BA’s list, and Scheppers is coming off a shoulder injury and Will Carroll is scared to death of him. BA had White 6th and Crow 7th, but Goldstein had White 14th and Law had him 10th. If you were to put together a Wisdom of Crowds-style draft list, then Crow was absolutely the right pick.

Beyond the pure talent considerations, there’s a lot to like with this pick. Crow has been off the radar this year because, having failed to sign with the Nationals last year as the #9 pick, he didn’t pitch for anyone this year until starting his season with the Fort Worth Cats a month ago. A year ago, he was the best right-handed pitcher in college, with a 43-inning scoreless streak for Mizzou (yes, yes, not Missou, I get it, thanks everyone.) He didn’t sign with the Nationals, but this is one of those rare cases where you can blame the team as much as the player – the final negotiations had Crow wanting $4 million, the Nationals offering $3.5 million, but the lack of dialogue between the two sides until the last moment sank the negotiations. Aaron Crow has maintained the Hendricks brothers as his adviser. The Nationals, you might have noticed, have declined to maintain the services of Jim Bowden. I wouldn’t hold Crow’s decision to sit out a year against him that much. (Maybe he was worried that Bowden was going to skim some of his bonus.)

The comparisons between Crow and Luke Hochevar are too easy to make; both pitchers didn’t sign as college juniors, went the indy ball route and signed with Fort Worth, and then got drafted by the Royals. That comparison seems to bother some people, but frankly, I don’t see what the problem is. The disappointment with Hochevar doesn’t stem from his performance, but from the fact that he was the #1 overall pick. If the Royals had drafted Hochevar 12th, no one would be complaining about his career path to this point. The Royals just had the misfortune of drafting #1 overall in a year when there was no clear #1 overall pick. The year before, they would have taken Justin Upton; the year after, they would have taken David Price. Instead, they had to pick from the best of many options, and given the turmoil in the front office at the time – Dayton Moore had just been hired but could not give his input in the draft – it’s not surprising that they chose a compromise pick in Hochevar.

The thing is, on pure stuff Crow might actually have a slight edge on Hochevar. Hochevar had better sink on his pitches, but Crow’s velocity is a tick better. Both rely on sliders as out pitches; it will be interesting to see whether the Royals force Crow to emphasize his curveball during his development as they did with Cool Hand.

Also, the fact that Crow went to college in Missouri and high school in Kansas gets back to the idea of knowing your backyard better than anyone else. Presumably the Royals have a better feel for Crow - his family, his work ethic, his health record - than most teams do. If they don't, they're doing something wrong.

Also keep in mind that if you’re still a believer in Project 2010 – and given the way the Royals are playing, I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t – then Crow has the ability to be ready for a rotation spot as soon as this time next year. He’ll be the best pitching prospect in the organization the minute he signs. He’s not young – he’ll be 23 in the fall, which makes him older than, say, Dan Cortes – but then again, he’s a better pitcher than Cortes is right now.

I know it appears that the Royals have five quality starters already in their rotation, but even if they all maintain their effectiveness, the odds that all five starters will be off the DL a year from now is probably 50/50 at best. You can never have too much pitching.

What I like best about this pick is that the Royals drafted a signable player without skimping on quality at all. Crow was only available because so many teams ahead of the Royals drafted inferior talents to save money - the Pirates at #4, the Orioles at #5, the Braves at #7, and the Nationals at #10. The Rockies are getting all kinds of credit for drafting Tyler Matzek at #11, and the Cardinals for drafting Shelby Miller at #19. Both are great prospects, but both also have fairly ridiculous bonus demands. In Crow, the Royals got a pitcher who compares favorably to where guys like Matzek and Jacob Turner and Miller might be in three or four years, without worrying about some ridiculous $7 million demand. Crow would have taken $4 million last year, and probably will settle for somewhere in the $3-3.5 million this year. That’s not slot money, but it also doesn’t break the budget.

This is important, because what elevated the first day of the draft from good to very good was the decision to take North Carolina high school catcher Wil Myers in the 3rd round. Myers was on my pre-draft list of guys the Royals were thinking of taking with their first pick – and while that would have been a reach, getting him in the third round is a steal. He’s a very athletic player who could play the outfield if he can’t handle things behind the plate. His bonus demands contributed to him falling to the third round, but given that the Royals kicked the tires on him in the first round, I’m sure they have a very good idea of what it will take to sign him, and they wouldn’t have taken him if they didn’t think they could afford him. Much like Tim Melville’s pick last year, Myers signals that the Royals are done playing chumps in the draft – they’ll take the best talent available and let other teams’ fear of spending money in the draft work to their advantage for a change.

And remember, last year the Royals spent $6 million on Eric Hosmer alone. If Crow gets $3.5 million and Myers gets, say, $1.5 million, they’ve still spent less on both of them than they did on Hosmer. Not to mention the money spent on their supplemental first-rounder and second-rounder last year; there should still be plenty of money left over for the international signing season.

The Royals started the second day of the draft by taking Chris Dwyer, a left-handed pitcher out of Clemson who turned 21 in April, making him the first draft-eligible freshman from a four-year college in draft history. That’s an interesting draft note, but what matters is that Baseball America ranked Dwyer as the #55 player available in this draft. With their first three picks, drafting #12, #91, and #122, the Royals nabbed BA’s #7, #31, and #55 best players. That’s strong work.

As Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper wrote this morning, “if Kansas City can sign both Myers and Dwyer they will have landed a pair of supplemental first/second-round talents despite lacking a second-round pick.”

The draft won’t finish up until tomorrow; as I write this they’re in the 12th round, and the Royals draft has become remarkable for its reliance on pitching, and not the high school arms you’d expect to see. Of the Royals’ first 11 picks, two were catchers, one was a high school first baseman – and the other eight were all college pitchers. That’s just bizarre, but in a draft which everyone says is very weak in hitters, you have to admire the Royals’ decision to draft the guys they like best and figure out where to put them all later.

Ultimately, I’d give this draft a B at this point, which is an awfully strong grade given the lack of a second-round pick. Maybe the Royals didn’t select the guy I wanted them to pick. But they selected the guy that they wanted to pick, not the guy they settled for in order to save money, and ultimately that’s all you can ask for.

19 comments:

Dave said...

Forget the inevitable DL stint next year, what's most important is we have quality pitching depth that we can trade to fill other holes on the diamond. I wouldn't mind moving Davies/Hochevar/Bannister for a position player right now.

George said...

Crow was a better player than the Royals had any right to expect fall to them at 12. I think he is a pretty solid bet for a mid rotation guy and mayber better than that.

Shelby said...

Dave:

I'm not sure what you mean by "inevitable DL stint next year", but I'm 100% in favor of trading either one of Davies/Hochevar/Bannister for anyone position player with a decent bat.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, even though the Royals mostly drafted college pitchers there's still a good chance they could out hit some of the current Royals.

robneyer said...

Rany, this is the second time in a week that you've referred to the strength of the Royals' rotation. But I mean, really? Must I really review Kyle Davies' career, and season? Luke Hochevar's performance in the majors thus far? Brian Bannister's strikeout rate? Maybe one or two of those guys really will be decent in the long run. But all of them? Really?

Anonymous said...

Is that David Glass and Allard Baird drafting all those college seniors??? Hope it works out better than in the past.

Rany said...

Rob,

Not to go all R&R on you here, but the rotation is better than league-average, which I would define as a strength.

Brian Bannister's ERA+ this year is 94; his ERA+ for his career is 93. Slightly below average, but perfectly fine for a #4 or #5 starter.

Kyle Davies has a 5.12 ERA this year, but his peripherals are pretty strong - he's just been incredibly erratic. From the beginning of last year until now, over 33 starts, he has a 4.48 ERA (ERA+ of 97). If a #3 starter is, by definition, a league-average pitcher, than Davies is just slightly below-average for that slot. He's also just 25.

I'm not going to judge Hochevar on the basis of four starts this year, particularly when the eight starts he made in Triple-A before that were so good. If you compare him to the other 29 teams' fifth starter, I'm confident he would rank in the top half.

And then there's Greinke and Meche, both of whom compare favorably to the "typical" #1 and #2 starter.

Add it up, and the Royals' ERA from their starters alone this year is 4.25 - 5th in the AL, and well above the league average of 4.60. That doesn't include Meche's shutout tonight, and it does include way too many starts from Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez.

Chris said...

Way to tell him, Rany!!

Rob Neyer criticizing the Royals? No way I thought that'd happen.

Jason said...

Blech. You can have your "peripherals" with Davies. I'll look at his actual results. He's a lousy pitcher and he always has been.

Casper said...

Wow - a little tit for tat between R&R. Nice.

I think the draft has gone very, very well. Getting Myers in the 3rd round shows due diligence and persistence (now let's hope we can sign him - which I think we will). I'm actually more impressed with getting Myers in the 3rd than I am at getting Crow in the first, to be honest. Last year it was Melville, this year it's Myers. Sweet action.

Moore is continuing his pursuit of the currency of baseball (as he's famously put it) and that's refreshing to see; he hasn't pulled a Baird and declared "youth movement" five times only to give up on each of them half-way through. He's sticking to his plan, regardless of the popular opinion of the semi-casual fans in town. Just by law of averages a few of these arms we just drafted have to at least turn into Tyler Lumsden-grade prospects, and we've already seen that those types of prospects can be moved easily from team to team. Ideally - and most likely - we'll flip a couple when applicable to do so to find our SS (and/or the other pieces we're missing), while keeping the better parts to ourselves.

Finally, I apologize for going off-topic for a moment, but I've been surprised at how much recent criticism I've been hearing/reading about Moore recently, and I have to say to all the casual fans (which is pretty much most of Kansas City, it seems)to try to remember that there's more to running a FRANCHISE than spending a lot of money on the major league roster. Unfortunately we only focus on the face of the franchise (for obvious reasons), but try to remember that a franchise is layered and has a complicated organzational infrastructure. You have to build it from the ground-up. And that's what Moore is doing.

Sorry for my typical long-winded, meandering matriculation of undisciplined, opinionated thought.

kcghost said...

Everyone recognizes that GMDM was given an incredibly difficult task when he took this job. He has to be given high marks for improving the overall professionalism of the organization as well as getting the Glass's to buy into the proper role of an owner. In his three drafts he has shown that the team will draft top talent without fear of the cost.

What is driving so many of us crazy is the number of mistakes he has made in putting together his major league roster. These mistakes were obvious in advance and easily avoided.

Chance said...

Is it my birthday? Did I really just read an abbreviated R&R right here in the comments to the altest blog post! Excellent!

Whenever I look at a MLB draft, I have to remind myself that much can happen between draft day and the highwater mark of a draftee's career. Man was I excited when the Royals took Gordon a few years ago. Now, I have no hope of him ever living up to the hype I piled on him. I submit taht he remains our most tradeable asset at this point, because there are still thin excuses for his lack of performance, while most of our other "pieces" are simply cow pies at this point. Teahen and Dejesus are what they are, while a MLB team might beleive that they can "fix" Gordon.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't Dayton Moore always said that pitching is the currency of baseball. If half these pitchers work out then he has really padded our bank account. Let's hope he can cash some of that in for bats and middle infielders.

robneyer said...

Kyle Davies has "strong peripherals"? When I think of "peripherals" I think of walks and strikeouts and home runs. Davies' K/BB ratio this season is 1.50, which a) is not at all strong, and 2) is real close to his career mark. His HR rate is okay, but hardly "strong". I'm not trying to argue; I honestly don't know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Rob Neyer is the most negative human being in the civilized world. At least Rany has some positive things to say and is really a Royals fan.

Factory_cut said...

http://discohayes.mlblogs.com/
archives/2009/06/fan_mail_friday_june_5th
_natio.html

That is one of the best things I have ever read. Coming from our NEWEST O-ROYAL Disco Hayes. Spread the word and bump up his blog.

Heath said...

I'd love to get excited about this...but this turd of a ball club ruins it for me. This is Dayton's team and it sucks. Where are Dayton's previous draft picks? Not that you'd expect them to all be in the bigs, but wouldn't it be nice if at least one of them was excelling at the AA level? We're a very bad team with a very thin minor league system. Good Lord I hope I'm proven to be wrong but it looks to me like Dayton just isn't very good.

Rocketman said...

I just don't get the "draft for a position of need" argument. In the NFL, where most draftees are either starting or gone by their 2nd year and trades are rare, I get it. Teams are constructed almost entirely through the draft. Your best (and almost only) chance for filling a hole is through the draft.

But in baseball that's not true. The draft is important for collecting valuable pieces, but most teams rely heavily on trades to get to their final configuration and since every team needs at least 5 starters, pitchers in the trading world, like GMDM says, are cold hard cash.

Ben said...

Rany,

Do you think the Royals passing on Green is an indication of the organization's expectation for Moustakas to potentially vie for SS or is that out of the question?