Sports Outside the Beltway Lists Top 2007 Prospects

Sports Illustrated finished publishing its list of the top 75 prospects for the 2007 season today.

Alex Gordon from the Royals farm system grabs the top spot, one ahead of Delmon Young, who was the consensus top pick last year before he went all Al Capone on a minor league umpire.

Here’s the Top Ten:

10. Adam Miller, 22, SP, Cleveland Indians
9. Billy Butler, 21, LF, Kansas City Royals
8. Cameron Maybin, 20, CF, Detroit Tigers
7. Justin Upton, 19, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
6. Chris Young, 23, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Brandon Wood, 22, SS, Los Angeles Angels
4. Philip Hughes, 21, SP, New York Yankees
3. Homer Bailey, 21, SP, Cincinnati Reds
2. Delmon Young, 21, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
1. Alex Gordon, 23, 3b, Kansas City Royals

Both the Royals and the Diamondbacks land two prospects in the top ten. Tampa Bay and the Colorado Rockies each has six farmhands listed in the top 75, so the fan bases of both teams can look forward to more top prospects underachieving at the major-league level soon.


Who’s on Third? The 2007 Kansas City Royals Lineup

Now that Dayton Moore has satisfied fan lust for more minor-league depth at shortstop by signing Alex Gonzalez, the Kansas City Royals offensive unit is pretty much set.

One could reasonably expect the following players to take the field on April 2nd, 2007:

DeJesus  CF
Grudz    2B
Teahen   3B
Sweeney  DH
Shealy   1B
Brown    LF
Sanders  RF
Berroa   SS
Buck     C

By taking the average on-base and slugging percentages from two of the better freely-available projection systems on the net (ZIPS and CHONE) and plugging them into David Pinto’s very cool lineup analysis tool, we find that this lineup should produce about 4.70 runs a game.

More info on these calculations can be found through Pinto’s site.

Last year, the Royals scored 4.67 runs a game, so the above projection seems reasonable given the modest offensive activity this offseason.

This isn’t to say that Buddy Bell doesn’t have options.

Simply sitting Angel Berroa and plugging Esteban German in at shortstop would boost the production to 4.91 runs a game.

Also, as has been discussed before, there are reinforcements coming from the minors.

If Alex Gordon makes his case this spring and Mark Teahen moves to the outfield, pushing Reggie Sanders to the bench, then the lineup puts up 5.03 runs a game.

In an ideal world, the Royals will put their best foot forward with the following fellows:

Player   Pos  Age
Gordon   3B   23
Sweeney  DH   33
Teahen   LF   25
Gload    RF   31
Shealy   1B   27
DeJesus  CF   27
German   SS   29
Buck     C    26
Grudz    2B   37

This lineup should score 5.11 runs a game.

So, what’s the big difference between 5.11 and 4.70 runs a game?

Pitcher projections are much less accurate, so let’s take a leap of faith and assume that Moore’s many pitching moves this off season have given the Royals staff a chance at mediocrity.

Rather than giving up a league-leading 5.99 runs a game like last year, let’s say the staff regresses to the mean and only allows five runs a game. (The American League average in 2006 was 4.87, so this shouldn’t be too much to ask.)

Now, using the pythagorean method to predict a final record, here is how the team would net out over the course of the season:

R/G   RS   RA   W   L
4.70  762  810  76  86
4.91  796  810  80  82
5.03  814  810  81  81
5.11  827  810  83  79

Unfortunately, even a team that is capable of winning 83 games needs a lot of luck, some shrewd moves during the season and the National League West as it’s home to have a chance at the playoffs.

However, even sniffing .500 would be a major improvement for the Kansas City Royals in 2007. This team is capable of putting a legitimate major league batting order together, featuring only a few players past their prime, and that hasn’t been the case for quite a few years.


Royals Make Off-Season’s Most Insignificant Trade

The Royals have traded Jeff Keppinger, an infielder that most people have never heard of, to the Cincinnati Reds for a pitcher nobody has ever heard of.

With Mark Grudzielanek locked in as the starting second basemen and Esteban German seemingly able to field grounders without using his face, Keppinger had become a superfluous asset for the team.

Russell Haltiwanger is the prize for GM Dayton Moore. Yet another pitcher added to the stockpile, Rusty will probably be hanging out in Wilmington to start the season, maybe Wichita if he really impresses.

Aside from having a last name with the word “wanger” in it, here’s a quick run down on what else Haltiwanger brings to the organization.

Here are his rate stats since college:

Year Team     Level Age  IP    ERA   H9    HR9   BB9    K9    WHIP
2004 Newberry NCAA  20   62.1  6.06  9.71  0.14  4.20   8.41  1.55
2005 Newberry NCAA  21   52    3.29  8.83  0.00  4.33  10.21  1.46
2006 Dayton   A     22   82.1  4.15  7.87  1.09  4.92   8.53  1.42
2006 Sarasota A+    22    4    2.25  2.25  2.25  9.00   4.50  1.25

For the uninitiated, the “9” stats are hits, home runs, walks and strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

The two best things about Haltiwanger are his age and his ability to strike out almost a batter an inning. He was able to keep his ERA respectable when moving from college to the pros last year and according to this profile from May, his goal is to some day pitch for the Cincinnati Reds.

I guess he’ll have to give up on that dream now.

One final tidbit. Check out this interesting split from his time pitching for Single-A Dayton in ought-six:

        IP    OPS   WHIP  W/9   K/9   HR/9
None on 39.7  .729  1.71  7.03  8.39  1.36
Men on  42.7  .650  1.08  2.53  8.44  0.84

With men on base, he walked fewer batters, gave up fewer home runs and clamped down on the overall offensive output of his competition.

It looks like Rusty might be a little clutch.


The Royals Unoffensive Off Season

Since the crickets are chirping on Royals coverage while the Chiefs make their “miracle” run into the NFL playoffs, let’s take a moment to examine what General Manager Dayton Moore has done with the offense this off season.

Given that the team finished near the bottom of the league in runs scored last year, you’d think Moore would be stockpiling bats in the same manner he’s been picking up arms.

However, the only additions so far have been 1B/DH Ross Gload and Catcher Jason LaRue.

Of course, Moore did spruce up the lineup a bit during the season, and a look at the OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) month-by-month does show some modest improvement.

    Apr 681
    May 732
    Jun 743
    Jul 760
    Aug 764
    Sep 762

Unfortunately, their best month was barely average.

David Cohen over at The Good Phight has posted a list of the stats for each lineup position on every team and here is how the Royals stacked up in 2006:

    Rank   Pos   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
    47      5   .293  .365  .498  .862
    122     3   .280  .355  .425  .779
    126     1   .289  .351  .423  .775
    128     6   .273  .338  .437  .775
    145     2   .290  .342  .416  .758
    152     4   .253  .319  .436  .755
    218     7   .262  .312  .375  .687
    240     9   .258  .309  .346  .655
    251     8   .236  .289  .327  .616

The overall OPS in 2006 was .765. That means that over half of the Royals lineup was worse than league average, and in the case of the #8 spot, barely better than the pitchers hit in the National League.

Ross Gload and Jason LaRue? Really?

Okay, let’s not panic just yet.

Here is a look at some 2007 projections using Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections:

    Name    P    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
    Shealy  1b  .288  .349  .479  .828
    Teahen  3b  .277  .349  .461  .810
    Sweeney dh  .275  .338  .470  .808
    DeJesus cf  .287  .355  .431  .786
    Brown   lf  .281  .343  .438  .781
    Sanders rf  .252  .312  .438  .750
    Buck    c   .251  .307  .432  .739
    Grudz   2b  .288  .327  .382  .709
    Berroa  ss  .252  .288  .365  .653
    Gload   dh  .302  .350  .467  .817
    German  2b  .290  .359  .386  .745
    LaRue   c   .234  .331  .411  .742
    Gthrght cf  .269  .335  .330  .665
    Gordon  3b  .275  .361  .473  .834
    Huber   1b  .272  .337  .456  .793
    Butler  lf  .292  .339  .447  .786

First of all, simply keeping Sweeney healthy and having Mark Teahen not turn into a pumpkin will help the Royals offense tremendously next season.

Hopefully, having Gil Meche make as much money as he does will stave off the pressure that seems to land on Sweeney’s bad back every season.

The jury is still out on Joey Gathwright, but Ryan Shealy looked like a good addition in the second half last year, and Szymborski’s system seems to like Gload’s potential.

However, the biggest reason for Moore’s focus on the pitching staff is that there is real promise coming from the minor leagues.

Alex Gordon, Justin Huber and Billy Butler all project to hit better in the big leagues than almost the entire 2006 lineup.

With all of that potential piling up at triple-A and Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders both on the wrong side of the age curve, I imagine there will be a few more deals before the season is over.


Royals Continue to Pick Up Pitchers

The Royals added veteran set-up man David Riske to their bullpen today.

From the Kansas City Star:

Riske, 30, has made a name for himself as one of the better setup men in baseball. He is 18-14 with a 3.59 ERA in 328 appearances in a seven-year career with Cleveland, Boston, and the White Sox.

Riske appeared in a total of 140 games in 2003 and 2004, and since has seen his strikeout totals diminish. He struck out 76 batters in a combined 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons.

This makes six pitchers General Manager Dayton Moore has signed this off season who will likely make the opening day roster, completely overhauling what was the worst pitching staff in 2006, a season in which the Royals allowed seventy-two more runs than the second-worst team in the majors.

The Royals also signed Zach Day to a minor-league contract. Day fell of a cliff the last two seasons after showing promise early in his career, though part of that may have been due to a shoulder problem.

Day is 28 and missed the last half of 2006 after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. He went 2-5 with a 6.75 ERA in eight starts for Washington and Colorado and made $600,000. He is 21-27 with a 4.66 ERA in his career. His 2.25-to-1 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is baseball’s seventh highest since 2002.

Groundball pitchers tend to do well when they have good defenders playing behind them. Mark Grudzielanek may have won the Gold Glove last year, but Angel Berroa did not, so we’ll have to wait and see if this proves to be a steal for the Royals.

Of course, if Day’s shoulder is healed, then it certainly can’t hurt to have another pitcher with actual major-league experience on the team.


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