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April 4, 2011

Future Shock

Monday Morning Twenty Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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To be clear, I had every intention of getting to spring training this year, but for a variety of reasons and other commitments, it just didn't happen. My first game of the year was lined up to be Kane County's home opener on April 11, but then the Royals announced this weekend's team-specific Futures Game to be held on Saturday. With the best minor-league system in recent memory, the chance to see this much talent on the same field was like a once-a-year opportunity, with one scout in attendance arguing that a compilation of the Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha rosters would compete against any MLB-wide Futures Game roster assembled for the All-Star weekend.

One seven-hour drive and 12 innings later, it turned out to be a wonderful way to kick off the season. The intention going in was to assemble a traditional Ten Pack out of my notes, but my numbering system used during the game hit double digits by the sixth inning and kept growing. This is the internet, and there is no such thing as column inches, so why edit? Here are my notes, in order from which they were taken.

  1. Mike Montgomery was the best player on the field, and likely the best bet as to who will be the first of the Royals' many power left-handers to reach the big leagues. Montgomery sat at 93-94 mph as Triple-A Omaha's starter on the afternoon, but he was clearly ramped up for the event; he touched 98 while striking out Derrick Robinson, the first batter of the game, and threw a 96 mph fastball by Wil Myers to complete a perfect first. A third-inning walk was his only blemish; the 21-year-old finished the day with four hitless innings while striking out four, working in a slow curveball from 71-77 mph that earned applause from the partisan crowd even when he couldn't keep it in the strike zone. He's big, athletic, has two plus or better pitches, a solid changeup, and is left-handed. An injury-free campaign last year would have ranked Montgomery higher than fifth on my Top 11, and early indications are that such caution was not necessary. 
     
  2. They're not booing, they're saying 'Moooooose.' The local press has been prospect-focused, and considering the state of the big-league team, with good reason. Fans stayed for much of the second game of the day and actually knew the guys playing. They had fun with the first syllable of their hot-corner prospect's name every time he came to the plate, fielded a ball, and even in the seventh inning when he made an error. 
     
  3. John Lamb was a bit of a disappointment, but it's early and not a cause for concern. His velocity was down a bit at 89-91 mph, and his curve and change lacked the crispness from last year, but he still gutted through 2 2/3 innings without his best stuff and gave up just one run. He has reportedly had some muscle soreness in his back, so in many ways it's still spring training for him, and for now, he still ranks with any pitcher in the system.
     
  4. Johnny Giavotella isn't my kind of player, but I still dig him. He's one of those college players low on tools and exceptionally low on size (he's 5-foot-8), but he plays the game the right way, and more importantly, he knows how to avoid making outs. He was 1-for-3 on the day with a double and two walks, didn't have a bad plate appearance, and showed surprising wheels on an outstanding defensive play in the third inning and while stealing third base in the fourth inning. He consistently barrels up balls. The battle between him and 2010 first-round pick Christian Colon, who had a bad day at 0-for-5, might be closer than we initially thought.
     
  5. Again, Kansas City fans are totally pumped about their system. It was shocking to see how many stuck around after the big-league game to see the kids, and even more impressive to see them give Lamb a standing ovation when he reached his pitch count in the middle of the third inning. It wasn't because he was especially impressive, it was because they are that excited about their future and the role Lamb will play in it.
     
  6. David Lough is almost a forgotten man at this point. A combination of a 2010 season that failed to reach the previous year's breakout totals and the emergence of so many other players left Lough well on the outside of this year's rankings. However, he still has a big-league future, at least as a nice fourth outfielder that can play all three positions with a modicum of speed and power. His fourth-inning home run to greet Chris Dwyer was the early offensive highlight of a pitching-heavy game.
     
  7. Like Lamb, Dwyer struggled but survived on good stuff, including a low-90s fastball and average-to-plus breaking ball. He finished the day allowing two runs on two hits over four innings while walking three and striking out only one, but it was one of the prospect starts where you walk away thinking to yourself, "He wasn't very good, but I get it." He's arguably the fourth of the four big lefties in the organization, but he would rank first in more than half of the other 29.
     
  8. Danny Duffy struck out five over three one-hit innings, but he pitched better than the numbers might suggest. With a 91-95 mph fastball and mid-70s curve (what's with the Royals and these looping breaking balls?) that matched Montgomery, Duffy's only issue was three walks, many of them because of an inexperienced home-plate umpiring crew that seemed more confused that confident when calling breaking balls. Duffy was clearly frustrated with the calls, and at times seems to let his anger get the better of him, leading to overthrowing while hopefully learning that 94-95 mph doesn't matter when it's not in the strike zone. As evidenced by last year's brief retirement, Duffy has always been a unique prospect, and I can't say it wasn't a bit troubling to watch him so clearly upset in a meaningless exhibition game. Still, the talent is top-notch.
     
  9. Eric Hosmer can do more than just hit. He certainly did not hit on Saturday, ending the game 0-for-6 without a hard-hit ball, but he also made two of the more impressive defensive plays of the afternoon, twice robbing outfielder Nick Van Stratten of a base hit and possibly more with cat-like reflexes. It complicates the question of what exactly happens if Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue hit in the big leagues and Hosmer is slugging .600 in June.
     
  10. Hey, kid from a Little League team sitting to the right of me: Stop wearing the Bryce Harper eye black. They're not even letting Bryce Harper wear the Bryce Harper eye black anymore.
     
  11. Anthony Seratlli had a strange day. At the plate he was a non-descript 0-for-4 with a walk, but it's where he played that was so unique. He started the game at first base, then moved the shortstop mid-game. He even made a couple of decent plays there and turned the double-play well. I can't imagine the list of players to play four-plus innings at first base and shortstop in the same game is a long one, and if it wasn't Saturday night and Colin Wyers wasn't rebuilding our databases, I'd look it up.
     
  12. Louis Coleman isn't in the big leagues, and that's a notable thing. Coleman had an impressive spring and pitched well in the ninth inning Saturday, sitting in the low-90s with his fastball, delivering an effective breaking ball, and generating all kinds of funk with his back-to-the-plate delivery and low-low three-quarters arm action. Speaking to television pre- and post-game host Joel Goldberg during the game, it was noted that in most years a player like Coleman would have been in the big leagues based on his spring, and the fact that he's on the Omaha roster says not only something about the master plan in place, but also the fact that there's finally talent to compete for jobs.
     
  13. Things got weird in the bottom of the ninth. There are all sorts of scorekeeping programs out there for the PC, phone, and iPad, but they're also filled with all sorts of error-checking technology to make sure information is entered and compiled correctly. As a paper-based scorekeeper and note-taker, I couldn't help but wonder how these programs were working when Omaha came to the plate up by two in the bottom of the ninth, minutes after it was announced that Montgomery was credited with the win and Coleman with the save. The Royals announced at noon that the Futures Game would be 12 innings regardless of score, and that's just not enough time to fix a complex program.
     
  14. Wil Myers is going to be just fine in right field. Myers had a tough day with the bat, striking out in two of his first three at-bats before rifling a double in the ninth off Coleman. Yet other than a fly ball off the bat of Hosmer that took seven seconds (a scout timed it) to come down, he looked not only comfortable in his new position, but downright good, snagging balls down the line and showcasing a solid arm. The hope here is that the bat can really explode now that the pressure of figuring out how to catch is off his shoulders, and based on Saturday, he won't have much in the way of distractions with the glove in 2011.
     
  15. Just a random thought: Have you ever noticed that when you go to a minor-league game, it's impossible for a non-prospect pitcher to have the most impressive showing, but it's certainly possible for a hitter? The hardest-hit ball of the day was Jamie Romak's majestic home run in the 11th inning off righty Blake Wood, but he's nothing more than an organizational player, while there's no way any arm could have been more impressive than Duffy's or Montgomery's. I'm not sure what to make of that, other than the fact it's one swing of the bat as opposed to multiple innings.
     
  16. My plan for Saturday was to watch the big-league game from the press box and stay out of everybody's way, and then move behind home plate once the Futures Game began. Things got a little better as I slid behind home plate and immediately found a scout that I know and like. An even bigger surprise was his decision to scout the game. Like me, he stayed for all 12 innings and took in 21 innings of baseball, but he was taking notes the whole time and dutifully holding up his Stalker II to get velocity readings on right-hander Patrick Keating with just a couple hundred people left in the stands and more than seven hours after Kyle Davies' first pitch. "What do you want me to do?" the scout asked. "This is what I do for a living, and anyone who does what you or I do has absolutely no reason whatsoever to ever complain." I couldn't have said it better myself.
     
  17. If the Royals wanted to showcase Hosmer, they certainly didn't do him any favors. In his first five at-bats, he faced Lamb and Dwyer twice, and a third southpaw, Will Smith, (who surprised many by touching 93 mph) once. When he finally faced a right-hander, Keating, he hit into an easy 4-3 ground out. Also, Hosmer needs a nickname. The fans loved shouting "Moooooose" at every opportunity, but other than the occasional "Hoz" (too easy), nothing really sticks.
     
  18. If the winning "home" team batting in the ninth didn't blow up every automated scoring system around, the bottom of the 12th certainly did. After realizing that they failed to get their third catcher an at-bat, the Natural sent up Ryan Eigsti, to bat sixth and replace Ben Theroit, who had made the final out in the 11th. To ensure he'd play, the Natural simply led off the inning again with the six-hole and went from there. It made for some confusing scorebook-keeping, but in the world of scorekeeping, once again the luddite wins. 
     
  19. On a related note, I have no idea if a box score for this game was published anywhere, and if it was, I have no idea how weird it looks. The PA announced a winner, loser, and save credit after nine, but they kept playing. Does Will Smith have one recorded inning or four for the three frames he pitched after the game was "official"? Does Romak's home run in the 11th count? Obviously none of this counts in an exhibition, but maybe I'll try to construct a box score just to see how odd it looks.
     
  20. Kansas City rocks. I expected to visit a solid Midwest city, but the people are insanely friendly, and it was both touching and humbling to meet my readers and listeners. In addition, the town is just cute as the dickens, with adorable little houses and plenty of green space. I was told by many on Friday night to visit Oklahoma Joe's, a barbecue joint that happens to be located in a service station. Despite a line that was 70 deep an hour before closing, I was steadfast in my patience, and it more than paid off as just one of many highlights from a glorious beginning to the 2011 season. 

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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