April 6, 2011
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
An Embarrassment of Riches: The Kansas City Royals, Part II
These are sad times for me. I’m back from my 35-day odyssey to Arizona: Back from watching baseball for seven hours per day (~245 total hours of baseball?), back from eating in chain restaurants, back from wearing shirts that I bought in Target because I didn’t mind if they spoiled from exposure, back from a reality that was part fantasy and part nightmare. I’ll produce a day-in-the-life article at some point in the not-so-distant future about the utter banality of my day-to-day existence during spring training, but first I’d like to express what makes today a sad day. (Before that, I’d just like to point out that I used seven hyphens in the previous sentence.) I’m sad because this will probably be my last article that focuses on the Kansas City Royals system, at least for a few months. I feel like a crack addict whose dealer just got busted. Sure, I can make it through the tough times by turning to other systems (Rangers, Yankees, Braves, etc.), but the Royals are the premium designer drug of choice, and I already have the shakes just thinking about the withdrawal. Have you noticed that I make an unhealthy amount of drug references in my articles? Moving on.
As promised, here is Part Two of the “Embarrassment of Riches” saga that I started last week. I wanted to make this a 10-part series that went 40 players deep, but the people who run Baseball Prospectus are smarter than I am, and they rightfully denied my request to turn the site into a Royals prospect blog. I still think “Royals Prospectus starring Jason Parks” would be a great site, but what do I know? Without further delay, here is a casual 300-word breakdown of prospect Brett Eibner, and snapshots of three additional low-level prospects to keep an eye on in the upcoming year. I’ll update their progress after the season, but until then, you will have to get your Royals fix from another source. These are sad days.
OF Brett Eibner
Why He’s Next in Line: Tools. While Eibner is already considered a top-10 prospect in the Royals system by some sources, he is still on the periphery of the prospect landscape. Having signed in late 2010, Eibner has yet to play in a professional game, but I was fortunate enough to see him in numerous back-field games this spring, and I can tell you that he won’t be on the outside looking in for much longer. The kid has tools. Noticeable tools.
At the plate, Eibner looks the part of a hitter, with a live bat capable of sending ropes to all fields. The power potential is at least plus, but the hit tool could stand in the way of the power development. Eibner has good hands, strong wrists, and fluid hip rotation, but his path to the ball isn’t clean or short; his hitting mechanics were a little noisy and his hands often dropped before going back during the load. He did show contact ability on quality fastballs, meaning he could square up on velocity, but he struggled to recover against bad guesses [read: when caught sitting fastball]. Because the swing appeared to be a little long, mostly due to the hand position and subsequent path to the ball, Eibner will struggle to protect the inside of the plate against quality stuff. Hitting fastballs from low-level pitchers who are trying to establish fastballs will give Eibner the opportunity to sit dead red and capitalize on balls left out over the plate. However, as he advances and begins to face pitchers who can command the inner half of the dish, he will need to shorten his swing and get into the hitting zone quicker (smoother). I think the hit tool will come around, but I doubt it develops beyond solid-average. He is athletic/coordinated enough to make the necessary mechanical adjustments to prevent overt exploitation, but the swing itself isn’t conducive (at least at present) for high-average ability, which could squelch some of the plus power potential. That said, if the hit tool comes around and the power is allowed translate to game action, Eibner could be a middle-of-the-order masher.
In the field, Eibner is pretty smooth for a guy with size, showing range and clean routes to the ball. He isn’t a burner, but shows good quickness and straight-line speed, making him a realistic option in center field for now. As his body continues to fill out (he has a frame to add more mass), his range will suffer, but his plus-plus arm can easily play in a corner. As a former pitcher with plus stuff, it will be tempting to throw Eibner back on the mound if the bat fails to develop, but he should be given time to fail and recover before those whispers start. The 22-year-old outfielder has the tools to develop into an above-average major leaguer, and is advanced enough to fill up the stat sheet in full-season ball in 2011. Because of the tools, the promise, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas’ likely ascension to the majors, Eibner is a safe bet to emerge as a concrete top-10 prospect in what should remain the best system in baseball.
RHP Yordano Ventura
Why He’s Next in Line: The diminutive righty can pump serious heat into the zone, showing the ability to sit in the mid-90s and touch even higher in short bursts. The fastball is very easy and has a little late explosion. Ventura has some feel for command of his heater, making it a 70-grade pitch at the present with potential to grade out higher. He throws what looks like a slider to me based on the arm slot and tilt to the pitch, but I’ve seen it called a curveball; whatever you want to call it, it has potential and plays nicely off the fastball. I’ve only seen him drop a few changeups, but his release point and arm speed were inconsistent and the pitches had more float than anything else.
Given his age, crazy-fast arm, and easy action, developing quality secondaries to play off his monster fastball isn’t hard to dream on. His size isn’t ideal, but when an arm works well an arm works well, and if Ventura can continue to refine his fastball command while continuing the development of his off-speed offerings, his ability to start won’t be limited by his small stature. He clearly has a special arm and could develop into a special prospect. It’s going to take some time, but the upside is ridiculous, and the name “Yordano” just screams success.
RHP Robinson Yambati
Why’s He’s Next in Line: Yambati is a 6-foot-4, 185-pound righty with a live arm and enough projection to land in Kevin Goldstein’s Top 11. He was excellent in the complex league in 2010, missing bats and showing improved control. Armed with a plus fastball that can sit in the low 90s (with life) and touch higher, Yambati (another name that screams success) also features a loose, sweeping slider and an “if-this-were-a-better-changeup-I’d-be-a-top-10-prospect-already” changeup. The development is inching along—he’s somewhat raw, despite 172 professional innings—but 2011 is the year the training wheels should come off. Yambati needs to tighten his secondary arsenal and continue to find footing with his command, but the combination of size and stuff make him a breakout candidate.
SS Humberto Arteaga
Why He’s Next in Line: If you listen to the BP podcast, you know that Kevin and I both share a fondness for Venezuelan shortstops. When you hear us say, “He’s a Venezuelan shortstop,” it generally means that the defensive tools are outstanding at present and project to be above average (or well above-average) at the major-league level. Generally speaking, the bat lags behind the glove, as the leather and arm usually help shape the identity of the prospect in question.
Arteaga fits the mold of the classic Venezuelan shortstop, with excellent actions and arm strength, and the bat that scouts line up to question the future of. I tend to overvalue this specific type of prospect because I love middle-of-the-diamond defense and I love to dream on the “what ifs” of the offensive upside, regardless of how limited it might seem at the present. Such as: What if the slick glove and arm partner up with a hit tool that allows for a high average and some gap-to-gap power? That makes Arteaga more than just a potential wizard at short; it makes him an All-Star at the major-league level.
As a prospect that won’t see full-season ball for several years, it’s easy to live in the abstract and dream of the defensive promise Arteaga will bring to the table. But the reality is that he is only 17, has yet to play a professional game, is physically immature (good height, lacks mass), and owner of more uncertainties than any other prospect in the system. That said, who cares if Arteaga is merely an abstract dream at the present? As far as I’m concerned, Royals fans have earned the right to remove themselves from reality in order to focus on brighter days ahead. Thanks to Hosmer, Moustakas, Myers, Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, Adam, Dwyer, Eibner, Colon, Ventura, Calixte, Cuthbert, Yambati, and Arteaga—just to name a few—the Royals and their fans will be enjoying the spoils of their past heartache for years to come.