Monday, March 22, 2010

Prospect Rundown, Part 5.

(So this is what I’ve become. What started as a simple post about Tim Melville is already approaching 3000 words. It’s not really about Melville at all at this point, but then, that’s usually what happens when I start an article with one topic in mind and end up rambling about another. So rather than provide fodder for those of you who like to mock the lengths of my posts (that would be, um, all of you), I’m splitting this into two parts. Which of course means that I’m the guy who needed to split an article about Tim Freaking Melville into two parts. Whatever. On with the show.)

The Royals have ten prospects that clearly stand out from the rest, and I’ve discussed seven of them – the two first-round hitters (Moustakas and Hosmer), the five lefties (Montgomery, Arguelles, Duffy, Lamb, and Dwyer), and their first two picks last year (Crow and Myers). That leaves only Tim Melville, but I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that he’s an afterthought. On the contrary, Melville is one of the organization’s most meaningful prospects, both in terms of his own talent and in terms of two positive organizational trends that he represents.

If, sometime in the not-too-distant future, The Process™ starts to work and the Royals become a perennial contender on the basis of a perennially productive farm system, we may identify the exact point at which the franchise started to turn itself around as the moment the Royals drafted Melville. Even in the moment, as I refreshed MLB.com’s draft page on my iPhone while walking towards my daughter’s school play, I was stopped cold when Melville’s name popped out. His selection was, to that point, completely out of character for the organization, and the first real sign that – at least in terms of the farm system – Dayton Moore might live up to his promise.

See, the Royals drafted Melville in the 4th round. They drafted him in the 4th round even though, if players were drafted based purely on their ability and not on financial considerations, Melville wouldn’t have gotten out of the 1st. He was a high school right-hander out of a Missouri high school who could throw in the mid-90s with a terrific curveball, and prior to his senior year there was talk that he might be a Top-5 pick. His velocity dipped a little as a senior – there’s been a lot of talk that his high school coach altered his throwing motion to his detriment – but he still projected as at least a late-1st-round talent.

But he wanted mid-1st-round money to sign, and for some reason his money demands – which weren’t that egregious – caused him to fall in the draft. The further he fell, the more teams fretted that he wouldn’t sign, and pretty soon he was in that downward spiral where teams don’t want to waste a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a player that might not sign, even if he has 1st round talent. At that point, a prospect might well fall into the double-digit rounds, where some team will finally gamble on an “unsignable” player, perhaps using him as an insurance policy in case their own top picks don’t sign.

The Royals correctly gauged his signability, stopped his fall in the 4th round, and gave him $1.5 million to sign, which is only slightly more than slot money if he had been drafted where his talent had projected him. Melville wasn’t a loser – he got the money he wanted – but the Royals were definitely winners. They got arguably the best high school right-hander in the draft in the fourth round. In his first pro season last year, Melville was a little wild and raw (43 walks and 10 homers in 97 innings) but also showed true power stuff (96 Ks and a 3.79 ERA.) His fastball is usually in the 92-93 range but sometimes higher, and has great sinking action. His curveball is a potentially dominant pitch that drops straight down but is tough to control. In this fine article, J.J. Picollo compares him to Andy Benes, which is obviously optimistic but not completely insane.

You have to understand: before Melville, this stuff NEVER happened to the Royals. It was other teams, big-market teams, that benefited when top prospects slid in the draft for signability reasons.

But after Melville, well, it’s almost become commonplace. Last year, of course, the Royals drafted Aaron Crow, who was only available in the first place because he had rejected the Nationals’ contract offer after they had selected him with the #9 overall pick the year before. Crow got over $3 million guaranteed and a major-league contract to sign. The Royals didn’t have a second-round pick, but they drafted Wil Myers in the 3rd round and gave him mid-1st-round money; they then drafted Chris Dwyer in the 4th round and gave him late-1st-round money. Meanwhile, the money that might have been used on a 2nd-round pick was spent and then some on international free agents: Korean catcher Shin-Hin Jo ($600,000); Nicaraguan third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert ($1.35 million); and Noel Arguelles, the first Cuban defector the Royals have ever signed, to a 5-year, $6.9 million deal.

The Royals spent over $11 million in the 2008 draft, an all-time draft record at the time. Counting Arguelles, they spent more on amateur players in 2009 than they did in 2008. They’ve reached a point where Kevin Goldstein, in the process of ranking every organization in terms of their minor league talent, wrote of the Royals (who placed 10th), Some might even classify them as trailblazers when it comes to small-market teams spending big money in the later rounds, as it's still the best bargain in baseball.”

Analysts like myself have been saying this for years, as it’s one of the most obvious lessons in the game: the most cost-effective way to find talent is through the draft, and “overpaying” to draft elite talent is an investment that almost always pays off. One of the most aggravating things about being a Royals fan for the last 15 years – really, since Ewing Kauffman died – was that the Royals refused to acknowledge this very simple concept. The Royals decided to spend $2.7 million on Jeff Austin instead of $7 million on J.D. Drew. Starting in 2003 they drafted a bunch of college seniors starting in the 5th round and offered them $1,000 take-it-or-leave-it offers to save money.

As recently as three years ago, they spent $4 million on Mike Moustakas instead of $6 million on Matt Wieters or $7 million on Rick Porcello. In fairness, the decision to draft Moustakas instead of those guys is too complicated to break it down as simply a matter of money – there was a legitimate concern (albeit one I consider far-fetched) that Scott Boras simply wouldn’t let either Wieters or Porcello sign with the Royals.

Regardless, if the Royals did draft Moustakas in part to save money, it’s the last time they pinched pennies in the draft. The following year, they spent $6 million to sign Eric Hosmer; regardless of whether he was the right pick, he was certainly the most expensive pick the Royals could have made in that spot. They then spent well over slot money to sign Melville in the 4th round. Last summer, they gave Aaron Crow a major-league contract to sign, and he looked so good in spring camp that he might be the first starter the Royals call up this season if a need arises. They gave millions to Myers and Dwyer, and Myers already looks like he’ll justify the money.

Of the Royals’ top 10 prospects, seven of them would never have become part of the organization if the Royals hadn’t been willing to overspend to sign them. Moustakas and Hosmer both signed for over MLB’s mandated slot money (with the caveat that “slot money” for the top 5 picks is ridiculously low, and teams almost always exceed the recommended slot unless they’re being ridiculously cheap, as the Pirates were when they selected Daniel Moskos one pick ahead of Wieters.) Crow also signed for above-slot.

Melville, Myers, and Dwyer all got first-round money even though the Royals were able to snag them rounds later. Arguelles was the Cuban bonus baby. That leaves only Michael Montgomery, Daniel Duffy, and John Lamb as “traditional” draft picks that signed for slot.

Under a different, pre-Dayton Moore administration, the Royals’ Top 10 prospects might look more like a Top 3. For about the same amount of money as the Royals have paid Jose Guillen so far, the Royals have improved their farm system dramatically in two years.

The last two drafts have a chance to be two of the best drafts in team history. The 2008 draft, in particular, could be historic if Hosmer comes around – at this point, he’s the only disappointment in the first five rounds. Montgomery was a supplemental-1st-rounder; the Royals got scrappy second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who I think has become quite underrated, in the 2nd round. In the 3rd round they took Tyler Sample, a raw but hard-throwing right-hander out of high school in Colorado. Sample made huge strides in his control last season, and is an excellent bet to move into next year’s Top 10 rankings.

Melville was drafted in the 4th round, and John Lamb was drafted in the 5th. If the Royals’ 7th round pick, Jason Esposito, had signed, this draft would look even better. Esposito evidently agreed to a $1.5 million bonus before he was picked, foregoing a scholarship to Vanderbilt, but he had second thoughts afterwards and decided to go to college. He’s considered a possible first-round selection in 2011.

Last year’s draft doesn’t have the depth of talent, given that the Royals were missing their 2nd round pick and didn’t have a supplemental pick, but with Myers that draft has arguably more star potential.

But it all started with Melville, more or less. The Royals did give $1 million to sign Derrick Robinson out of the 4th round in the 2006 draft. Robinson was considered the fastest man in that draft but a project with the bat, words that unfortunately remain as true today as they were four years ago. And in 2001, the one time Allard Baird convinced David Glass to open up his vault for some 18-year-old kids, the Royals spent $1.75 million on their 2nd round pick, Roscoe Cr…Roscoe Cros…I’m sorry, my fingers won’t let me time his name. (The Royals would end up recouping some of that bonus money. The story of what happened is long and still not entirely clear, but after signing, Crosby never appeared in a game. I don’t mean a major-league game – I mean a pro game. One of the most-hyped Royals draft picks of the decade never so much as suited up for a minor-league game before he was released.)

Before Crosby, unless I’m missing someone, the last time the Royals went way over budget to sign a draft pick was…Bo Jackson, who got a major-league deal for over $1 million (the largest bonus ever given to an amateur player to that point) as a 4th round pick in 1986.

Between Melville, Myers, and Dwyer, the Royals have signed more high-priced draft picks in the last two drafts than they did in the 20 previous drafts. That’s a trend I can get behind.

More to come…

22 comments:

Steve said...

Thanks for these "Prospect Rundown"s! I have referred readers of other sites I frequent to these blog posts. I am excited and want them to get on board as well!

Many of GMDM's Major League moves have been questionable as has his Managerial hire. However, his rebuilding of the farm system... by hiring (high-)quality front office staff... spending over-slot... letting the kids advance to the level of thier ability... convincing Mr. Glass to spend... adding another farm team... and spending on the International Market... all must be applauded. It must in fact be "the Process"!

I hope we have ANOTHER excellent draft to make it three years running. Further, I hope we add even MORE pitching as it is the "currency of baseball"!

Go GMDM!!! Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteveW

Anonymous said...

This made me really optimistic about the future of the Royals on a day when I was feeling particularly pessimistic. Thanks for the overview of all these improvements to the farm system. It's always good to hear the things they're doing well.

Also, I didn't know that about Esposito. I'm getting my PhD at Vandy right now and have watched him play all season. He's definitely got skills, though it'll take a lot more development for him to even get to AAA level. That just adds another element to watch.

Mitch said...

Never heard of Roscoe Cosby. Will have to look him up.

Don't let anyone get you down, Rany. I love the long posts. Gives me something to do in the morning before I have to get to work. Keep on trucking. Hope to read more from you this year.

Hope springs.

Jeff Parker said...

Which of course means that I’m the guy who needed to split an article about Tim Freaking Melville into two parts

Which makes you more awesome in my opinion. Melville is my favorite Royals prospect and it really does seem like he's the forgotten man lately, which I suppose is a great thing because it means KC has some serious talent on the way.

Royalpug said...

I kinda hate to be a bit of a downer, especially since I think the farm system is certainly the biggest bright spot for this organization.
But I'd like to point something out.

None of "Dayton's" prospects have reached the MLB level.

The Atlanta Braves did not develop a single good pitcher during his entire stint as their director of minor league development.

I love the farm system. I'll love it more once it actually starts putting out players

l.a. royal said...

why the star can't seem to manage to give a decent break-down of the minors and a gainfully employed dermitoligist can (not a word all winter & barely 1000 words during ST for a small market team is unforgivable), i'll never figure out...

that being said, post it all my brotha! don't be shy, you can't scare us, we're kc royals fans. i do like that you are focusing your talents on the kids below the line and not killing yourself on ML rosters seemingly built to finish low and stock the minors. keep up the good work!!

Matt said...

the longer the posts the better, your analysis is invaluable. it's heartening that someone who loves baseball as much as you is a long suffering Royals fan as well. I haven't commented in a few dozen posts but I'm always reading. keep writing Rany

Anonymous said...

I'm always excited when I see a new post. Thanks.

ChaimMKeller said...

Funny you should mantion Bo Jackson in your last paragraph, because I was thinking he is an exception to an earlier statement of yours - that the Royals "NEVER" drafted a great talent who fell to later rounds due to signability concerns. Bo, of course, was considered unsignable by other teams due to the likelihood of his going to the NFL, so he fell to the 4th round, and the Royals got him.

Anonymous said...

"The Atlanta Braves did not develop a single good pitcher during his entire stint as their director of minor league development."

Pitchers the Braves drafted that worked out while DM was there...

1996-Jason Marquis-Supplemental 1st
2000-Adam Wainwright-1st round
2000-Zach Minor-4th round
2005-Joey Devine-1st round
2005-Tommy Hanson-22nd round

If you include the 2006 draft, which he was involved in preparing for until the Royals hired him..

Kris Medlin-10th round (made his major league debut last year)

Probably not the best track record, but it's a long stretch to say they didn't develop ANY decent pitchers during his tenure. Especially seeing as he drafted their current stud Tommy Hanson.

Skorpad said...

The Roscoe Crosby story could be Hollywood movie with an sad ending (to this point)...it was a sad turn of multiple events in his life with still lots of questions on what exactly happened.

Ron in NM said...

Keep them coming Rany. the other thing drafting better talent and signing them is it changes the dynamics and culture of the organization. The other players now have to push harder to become one of the 'studs' on a team. the hope is that keeps pushing higher in the organization to the big club. Steel sharpens steel.

Eric said...

I think I would be pretty happy if the Royals minor league system yielded a Tommy Hanson and Adam Wainwright over a 6 year period, especially considering over the last 6 years we only have Zack Greinke (which is great...and I will not count Hochevar before he actually shows he can be a consistent MLB pitcher, which I highly doubt to this point).

Anonymous said...

Very happy to read these Rany. I live in Springfield, home of the Double A Cardinals... NW Arkansas plays here 12-16 times this year. I'll watch with interest how these players develop. Thanks again.

Royalpug said...

The problem anonymous and Eric with the pitchers you mentioned is that NONE of them acheived much success with Atlanta. In fact ALL of them had almost instant success they moment they LEFT.
The only pitcher listed who has had any success for Atlanta was Hanson, who mind you was only drafted by Dayton Moore, not developed in the slightest.

Heres a breakdown to prove my point.

Jason Marquis: 300 MLB IP with ATL- ~5.00 ERA; leaves ATL, next two years with STL 400 IP sub 4.00 ERA.

Wainwright: career 3.8 ERA in the minors, mostly with ATL. career 3.17 ERA in the majors, all with STL.

Joey Devine:Manages to post a ~6.00 ERA over three years with ATL in 25 games. Traded to Oakland and puts up an incredible .59 ERA in 40 games.

Zach Miner: started strong, got WORSE as he progressed through the system. traded to Detroit and lowers his ERA by 2 full points.

The most telling thing is that these are the best pitchers to come through ATL's system in years and yet not a single one helped ATL in anyway.

Anonymous said...

Rany-

Love the info. Keep it coming, and don't apologize for putting out too many words. It's all very good reading.

Law of average says that a few of these guys should bust through this year. I am hoping it happens.

Maybe you could fill us in on more of what Arbuckle's role is and how much he factors into the success of what is happening. Only an idea.

If Arbuckle is a big reason for this success then Moore needs to be applauded for bringing him on.

I hope the major league team can win some this year, but I just read Hillman's quotes in the Star and I have to just shake my head. I like Hillman as a person, but he is out there sometimes. Oh well. As an earlier post said, "Hope springs."

Anonymous said...

Rany I too have bumped fellow closet Royals fans to your articles.... Please feel free to write using as many words at your pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Royalpug-

Didn't help the Braves at all??

Wainwright and Marquis brought them JD Drew and Eli Marrero (Drew had his best year in his one season in ATL, and Marrero had a pretty good season too) I do grant you that's not near enough return to give up those two pitchers, but they did bring something.

Devine brought them Mark Kotsay, who had a decent half season before they traded him for a prospect. Again, not enough return, but we are talking about a relief pitcher here.

And in true irony, Zach Miner was traded for Kyle Farnsworth. BUT, this was still when Farnsworth had some value, and he posted a 1.98 ERA in one season with ATL.

Point is, those players still helped ATL even with their departures by the players they brought back in return.

And honestly, how much credit/blame can you give the GM for the development of any players? He's not the one coaching them. And in Atlanta, he wasn't even the one in charge of hiring those coaches who did!

You are really grasping at straws here in trying to slam Dayton. I mean seriously, doesn't the guy give you enough fodder that you don't have to stoop to making things up?? He's given you Jose Guillen, Jason Kendall, etc. But that's not enough, and now you have to go to things like this?? Geez man, get a life.

Chris said...

Rany,

I guess you may have to cross Duffy off of your list of top prospects. Apparently he is taking a leave from baseball as per 810. Hope its nothing serious for him, obviously, just disappointed that the Royals may be losing a good young player. Hopefully he can come back.

Sigh.

tookee said...

Who was expecting the Duffy thing? The lack of info about it makes it seem less like a divinical conversion and more like a physical/mental issue. It's so rare to see a promising young pitcher like Duffy walk away. At this rate, the Royals will need every one of their good young arms. Keep the posts coming, Rany. I'm thrilled that you've got something to say.

Yoop said...

How does "The Process" plan for the loss of Danny Duffy so unexpectedly?

Anonymous said...

WTF, Duffy?! Jesus, can't we get away from the black cloud hanging over our heads? Do the Royals every get to catch a break?

It has to be something unexpected. If the Royals had an inkling, they would have tried to trade him before he went all Zack Greinke on us.