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 SI.com 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.
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:
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 Pintoâ€™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 Pintoâ€™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 isnâ€™t to say that Buddy Bell doesnâ€™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, whatâ€™s the big difference between 5.11 and 4.70 runs a game?
Pitcher projections are much less accurate, so letâ€™s take a leap of faith and assume that Mooreâ€™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, letâ€™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 shouldnâ€™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 itâ€™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 hasnâ€™t been the case for quite a few years.
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 â€œwangerâ€ in it, hereâ€™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 â€œ9â€ 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.
Since the crickets are chirping on Royals coverage while the Chiefs make their â€œmiracleâ€ run into the NFL playoffs, letâ€™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, youâ€™d think Moore would be stockpiling bats in the same manner heâ€™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.
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, letâ€™s not panic just yet.
Here is a look at some 2007 projections using Dan Szymborskiâ€™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 Sweeneyâ€™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 Szymborskiâ€™s system seems to like Gloadâ€™s potential.
However, the biggest reason for Mooreâ€™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.
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 baseballâ€™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.