Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2014 Royals Top Prospects, Part 1.

So with the Royals presumably done with their off-season machinations, and spring training just two weeks away, my plan is to analyze each player individually between now and Opening Day, and then finish by previewing the team as a whole. We’ll start with my list of the organization’s top 10 prospects.

#10: Christian Binford

Pos-T: SP-R
H-W: 6’6”, 217 lbs
DOB: 12/20/1992 (21 years old)
Signed: 30th Round, 2011, Pennsylvania HS

2013: 135 IP, 129 H, 25 BB, 130 K, 7 HR, 2.67 ERA in Low-A
2012: 40 IP, 40 H, 4 BB, 31 K, 1 HR, 2.02 ERA in High-Rookie

I seriously contemplated just making this the organization’s Top 9 prospects, because damned if I could tell you who is #10 in this system. The various prospect experts are pretty much in agreement about nine guys – the nine players to follow all rank in the top 10s from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, Fangraphs, and John Sickels at SB Nation, except Sickels has Jason Adam at #11. But after that it’s a free-for-all. I consider Orlando Calixte here, but I’m worried about his defense and can’t get a Yuniesky Betancourt comp out of my head.

I also thought about Elier Hernandez, who got a higher signing bonus ($3 million) than any player the Royals have ever signed out of Latin America, and hit .301/.350/.439 in rookie ball at age 18. Flip a coin; I went with Binford, who was a late-round find in the 2011 draft.

Well, he was a late-round pick, but he wasn’t really a find. The 2011 draft was the last draft before the signing bonus cap was instituted via the last CBA, so it was the last chance teams had to just throw money at draft picks until they caved and signed on the dotted line. The Royals gave Bubba Starling $7.5 million, but they also gave third-rounder Brian Brickhouse $1.5 million, fourth-rounder Kyle Smith $695,000, fifth-rounder Patrick Leonard $600,000, and then liberally sprinkled in big bonuses to guys who dropped for signability reasons. Jack Lopez, taken in the 16th round, got $750,000 to sign; 29th-rounder Jake Junis got $675,000, and Binford, taken in the 30th round, got $575,000.

Counting second-rounder Cameron Gallagher, who got $750,000, the Royals gave $575,000 or more to eight different players. It remains one of the most expensive drafts in MLB history, and thanks to the new draft rules it will probably stay that way for a while.

It was one of the most expensive drafts ever, but it was far from the best. We’ll get to Bubba later. Gallagher remains a prospect, but it’s unlikely he’ll be more than a backup catcher in the majors. Brickhouse has good stuff but is coming off Tommy John surgery. You know how I feel about Smith, who was traded for Justin Maxwell, but realistically being a #3 starter is his ceiling. Leonard was the throw-in in the James Shields trade and is a long-shot to amount to anything. Lopez has a nifty glove but hit .230/.297/.301 last year; he was just 20 and in Wilmington, and I could see him topping out as a utility infielder. Junis had an ERA over 7 in rookie ball last year.

That’s not to say the Royals wasted their money, because they really only have to hit on one guy in the later rounds to recoup their entire investment and then some. Aside from Bubba and Brickhouse, the Royals basically spent third- and fourth-round money on the other six guys, and how often do third- and fourth-rounders pan out usually? Smith got them a nice bench player in Maxwell, and if Binford becomes even a #4 starter, the money was well spent.

He could be more than that. Binford is an enormous, storky dude; look at his height and weight listings; and note that he may have grown since the draft, as Baseball America now lists him at 6’7”. He doesn’t throw that hard – mostly 90-92 – but the height gives him a nice downward angle and a lot of sink on his fastball, and he has impeccable command. He had Tommy John surgery in high school but hasn’t had any health issues since. The issue is that none of his secondary pitches are above-average yet, and while commanding your fastball is the #1 key to success for every pitcher, he’s going to have to come up with something that wiggles as he moves up the chain.

I’m a sucker for guys with strikeout-to-walk ratios of better than 5 to 1, but he still has a lot of work to do. He’ll start the year in Wilmington, where the ballpark will make him look like a stud even if he’s not, so temper your enthusiasm if he has a 1.50 ERA at the end of May.

#9: Jason Adam

Pos-T: SP-R
H-W: 6’4”, 219 lbs
DOB: 8/4/1991 (22 years old)
Signed: 5th Round, 2010, Kansas (Blue Valley NW) HS


2013: 144 IP, 153 H, 53 BB, 126 K, 12 HR, 5.19 ERA in Double-A
2012: 158 IP, 148 H, 36 BB, 123 K, 18 HR, 3.53 ERA in High-A
2011: 104 IP, 94 H, 25 BB, 76 K, 9 HR, 4.23 ERA in Low-A

Adam didn’t look like a stud at Wilmington, and I was down on him at the start of last season, figuring the move to the hitter-friendly environs of Northwest Arkansas would knock him down. He nearly suffered a first-round TKO; in his first four starts of last season, he allowed 27 runs in 15 innings. Yeah, 27 runs in 15 innings.

But from that point on, he was actually pretty good: 132 innings, 122 hits, 45 walks, 110 strikeouts, 9 homers, and a 3.81 ERA, against better competition and in a tougher park than in 2012. He made some changes to his delivery, and started leaning less on a curveball and more on a slider. Adam is a big-bodied kid with a reputation for durability, and he’s thrown over 300 innings the last two years, something few minor-league – or even major-league – pitchers can say.

What will make or break Adam, I think, is his fastball. You might recall that in instructional league in 2010, shortly after he was signed, Adam was the talk of camp, showing a fastball in the mid-90s; Keith Law, who’s not prone to hyperbole, saw him and said he might have gone in the first round had he showed that kind of stuff before the draft. But in his first pro season his velocity was down all year; I saw him at Kane County in August – admittedly, he might have been tired – and he was throwing 86-88 in the sixth inning. His fastball was a little more consistent in 2012, but rarely broke 91-92. Per Baseball America, though, his fastball gained a tick last season.

The dreams of Adam being a front-of-the-rotation starter are probably gone for good, but I think he’s got a good chance of being a #4 starter, with aspirations of being the 200-inning league-average guy that the Royals haven’t been able to develop, forcing them to give millions to first Jeremy Guthrie and then Jason Vargas. Adam is ready for Triple-A and he’s got a stellar health record, so there’s not much of an excuse for the Royals to blow it with him. If they do succeed, and Adam is ready to be in the back of the Royals’ rotation to start 2015, it will again raise the question of why they really needed to commit to Vargas for three more years after this one.


Michael S. said...

I love your writing Rany, but when you don't like a move you're like a dog with a brand new rawhide bone, you just can't leave it alone. We get it, just like The Trade, you don't like The Vargas Deal.

That being said, you can't rely on unproven prospects when building a rotation. Using Bruce Chen to question the Vargas deal I agree with. But not using Jason Adam. Not yet anyway.

Unknown said...

I have to say that you might be right that we MAY not need Vargas for 3 more years, but hasn't the problem with the Royals been we have relied on potential instead of known commodities? I will enjoy the luxury of having too many big league starters when that problem arises, its something we NEED to have as you cant have enough.

Unknown said...

Michael S kind of beat me to it there, was typing as he was posting I guess

Deep Dixie Blue said...

I saw Binford last summer in Lexington and have to disagree with your assessment of him not having a secondary pitch. The night I saw him he featured a plus changeup (and I'm tempted to call it plus-plus) and also the guile to know when to throw it. He was untouchable that night, despite only hitting 88-91 with his fastball. Now, I did not see much of a breaking ball, but the change was phenomenal. The only time opposing batters made solid contact was when they guessed right on fastball. He made them look silly with his change. It had identical arm speed to his fastball -- very deceptive, and iirc, came in around 76-78 mph, giving him excellent separation of 10-15 mph.

Bottom line for me - great control, excellent pitchability & composure, and a very projectable body. I would not be surprised if he's in AA by mid summer and shooting up the prospect lists.

Deep Dixie Blue said...

I went back to my notes from June when I saw Binford, here's what I wrote:

"Fresh off his appearance in the Sally League All Star game, Binford started Saturday night and was very impressive. He's a tall, thin guy but with very smooth mechanics. His fastball mostly worked 88-90 but he dialed it up to 91-92 on occasion and also would pull back on it and throw 86-87. I thought that was interesting. He seemed to have a plan out there.

His out pitch is definitely his straight change and its a plus offering, for sure. He had really nice velocity separation, throwing it 76-78 with great arm speed and consistently in the strike zone. I also liked that he came out of the gate mixing his pitches in the first inning instead of trying to blow everybody away.

About the 3rd inning he started mixing in a breaking ball but it was mostly for show. With that great changeup and a fastball that he could really locate he doesn't really need a 3rd pitch in this league. It looked to me like he's mastered this level and is ready for a new challenge. His ERA is down to 2.30 now and he's striking out 8.8/9 while only walking 1.9/9. Last year he only walked 4 guys all season in 8 starts.

There's a lot to like with this guy. 6'6", just 20 years old, he could easily add a couple mph to his fastball as he fills out and that would make his changeup even more deadly. And like I said, he already seems to have very good pitchability and command. I'm a big fan of the changeup, I think its the best pitch in baseball, and this guy's got a real good one."

Kansas City said...

Great to see Rany back in the game.

I realize Binford is a righty and different, but after reading Deep Dixie Blue, I think of Leibrandt in the mid-80's when he was so effective throwing just fastballs in the 85-88 range and a great change up. I don't watch pitchers that closely, but there don't seem to be many Leibrants.

Kansas City said...

Charlie Leibrandt - 25th best Royal of All Time (as much as I liked him, that is a little troubling). I was sitting in the first row by the left field ball boy in 1985 when Pendleton hit the two out double to beat the Royals in Game 2. It was the softest line drive you could imagine and it landed right in front of us fair by about 5 to 10 feet. It was slow motion agony.


Kansas City said...

It was also on Leibrandt's 136th pitch on three days rest. Quisenberry was in the bullpen but Howser had lost faith in him.