Philip Humber and Some 2004 Draft Thoughts

On Tuesday the Royals agreed to terms with Philip Humber on a minor league contract for the 2010 season.  After spending the last two seasons in the Twins organization the 26-year old RHP will attempt to earn a spot on the KC pitching staff this spring, but figures to wind up in Omaha by the time opening day rolls around.  

Humber had an outstanding career at Rice University which included winning the championship game of the 2003 College World Series.  On the strength of his college career, the New York Mets made him their 1st round selection in the 2004 draft.  He was the 3rd player taken in the draft sandwiched between Justin Verlander, who went to Detroit, and his teammate at Rice, Jeff Niemann who went to Tampa Bay.

The 2004 draft, of course, is the draft that the Royals, landed 1B-Billy Butler with the 14th overall pick.  The team also selected LHP-J.P. Howell 31st overall and RHP-Billy Buckner 55th overall that year.  For all the criticism that Baird received for his drafts, the top of the 2004 class turned out pretty well.  3 of their 4 top picks have all had at least a measure of success in the major leagues.  The one who didn’t make it was LHP-Matthew Campbell who the Royals took 29th overall.  Campbell missed the 2006 season due to injury and never made it beyond High-A.  His minor league career ended after the 2007 season.

The rest of the 2004 draft class is a train wreck.  Not a single player selected after Billy Buckner has appeared in a major league game.  If you run down the list it doesn’t seem like that is going to change.  It is possible that a player the Royals selected out of HS; didn’t sign, went to college, selected by another organization in the 2007 or 2008 draft, and has a chance to reach the majors in the coming years.  That possibility exists, and I didn’t take the time to check out the career paths of all the players on the list.  None of that alters the fact that after Billy Buckner, who Dayton Moore turned into Alberto Callaspo, the Royals got nothing.  Because of that, it is fair to criticize Baird for the failures of the 2004 draft after the top selections, but as we know, Allard was never exactly given the resources he needed to fully invest in the draft.  After the top picks, he had little more than Monopoly money to use to sign players, and the talent he was able to bring in more readily reflected that than his ability to evaluate talent.

When it comes to poor drafting and lack of organizational success during the 2000s, the Pittsburgh Pirates stand side by side with the Kansas City Royals.  In the 2004 draft, the Pirates selected C-Neil Walker, 11th overall, out of Pine Richland HS in Pennsylvania.  Walker hasn’t broken through just yet, but he’s on the major league doorstep.  If the interview he did with Rum Bunter is any indication, Walker is in the right frame of mind and is capable of contributing to the Pirates in 2010.

Enough of the 2004 draft.  Let’s focus on Philip Humber.  As mentioned above, he was the 3rd overall selection in 2004, but his college career and lofty draft status are but a distant memory these days.  In July 2005 he had Tommy John Surgery.  In the fall of 2006 he had a scare due to a sore shoulder and was removed from AFL action as a precaution.  Since then, his lackluster minor league performance has eroded his prospect status.  In Baseball America’s 2006 Prospect Handbook, Humber was rated the #2 prospect in the Mets system.  Only Lastings Milledge kept Philip from the top spot.  Beyond Milledge and Humber, the Mets had a solid top 20 that season.  Other notable names included OF-Carlos Gomez (#3), OF-Fernando Martinez (#4), SS/2B-Anderson Hernandez (#5), RHP-Brian Bannister (#6), RHP-Deolis Guerra (#8), C-Jesus Flores (#12), 2B-Jeff Keppinger (#13).

After peaking at #2 in the Mets organization, we can track his prospect tumble through a number of sources.

2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook: (Mets #4 Prospect)

Though his stuff is good enough to pitch in the big leagues, Humber will probably be better served with a full season in Triple-A to improve his endurance.  He profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook: (Mets #7 Prospect)

He’s still refining his command two years after his elbow reconstruction.  Humber is likely ready for on-the-job training in the majors but he’ll have to earn the spot in spring training.  He now projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook: (Twins #26 Prospect)

While he hasn’t had No. 3 overall pick stuff since Tommy John surgery in 2005, Humber still runs his 88-91 mph fastball up to 93-94 in shorter stints, and when he’s right, he drives the ball downhill.  His curveball remains a plus pitch thrown with power in the upper 80s.

2009 Baseball Prospectus:

As with many pitchers who rely on a curve, Humber’s homer rate is always going to be high, a reason why he’s not meant for bullpen work, as he demonstrated in September.

Based on the above, my initial reaction was to dismiss Philip Humber’s chances to do anything with even the Omaha Royals in 2010.  He doesn’t exactly profile as a reliable bullpen option, but his value in a major league or even a Triple-A rotation has diminished.  I didn’t want to be to hasty, but it looked to be the first minor league contract given out by Dayton Moore this offseason that didn’t offer any real upside.  Low-risk, high-reward?  Great.  Low-risk, mediocre-reward?  I’ll take it.  Low-risk, low-reward?  How does that kind of move improve the fortunes of this organization?  It doesn’t, so I figured I was missing something in my assessment.

Since Humber pitched in the Twins organization the last two seasons, I decided to reach out to Twins blogger, and friend of Kings of Kauffman, Seth Stohs, to get his thoughts.  Despite a late return from a work-related Christmas party, Seth took the time to provide his insight and opinion.

When the Twins traded Johan Santana to the Mets, they received four players.  If those players would have been ranked at the time, Philip Humber would clearly have been the trade’s number four.  So, expectations were not high for his potential and yet, there was a lot of hope in that he could return from his Tommy John surgery and be able to fill a back of the rotation starter.  Well, he turned out to be a back of the rotation starter who turned himself into a back of the bullpen option.  In 2008, at AAA he went 10-8 with a 4.56 ERA.  In five outings with the Twins, he had a 4.63 ERA.  2009 was even worse.  He made the Opening Day roster, because he was out of options, but when Juan Morillo became available, Humber was taken off the 40 man roster.  He cleared waivers and was sent back to Rochester.  He went 7-9 with a 5.34 ERA.  He got one more chance with the Twins, and it was not good.  He was taken off the 40 man roster again, and again cleared waivers and went back to Rochester.

Humber is about to turn 27, so he is far from over-the-hill.  His fastball is nothing special and, at least in my mind, he doesn’t control it well.  He doesn’t walk a lot, but he often is wild within the strikezone which is more dangerous.  I do think that Humber has a very good, sharp breaking ball at times.  If he can throw it for strikes, he can be good.

At this point, Humber’s ceiling is fifth starter on a bad team.  More likely, he’s a back of the bullpen, pitch in blowouts type of pitcher.  Or, he’s a guy you can get some innings out of while pitching in AAA.

Clark Fosler had this to say about Philip Humber over on Royals Authority:

Like me, those of you looking for the ‘big splash’ of the off-season, were kind of ho-hummed by the Humber signing, but this is a guy worth watching in spring training and, frankly, who would you rather have as a backup in AAA: Bruce Chen and Brandon Duckworth or Philip Humber and Bryan Bullington?

It is a fair question for Clark to ask, but it is also very easy to answer.  I’d rather have Bruce Chen and Brandon Duckworth as backups in AAA.  Unlike Humber, both Chen and Duck have had stretches of success pitching in the majors.  We know that some of the team’s Triple-A starters are going to be needed during the 2010 season.  Though they are all talented and capable of being successful major league pitchers, Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister, and Robinson Tejeda are question marks, of varying degrees, for the 2010 rotation.  We also know that injuries happen, and Trey Hillman’s usage of the staff in 2009 only exacerbates that reality.  As for Bryan Bullington, he doesn’t fit into the question for me.  I believe he will be on the major league roster on opening day as a member of the Royals bullpen and will pitch successfully in that role during the season.

There are more intriguing options out on the market that offer more potential, or more present day ability, to a team willing to take a chance on them.   With respect to Humber there are other options available on the market today that offer more potential and present day ability.  Just from the crowd of non-tendered pitchers last week, there are at least 6 guys* that, in my opinion, would be more valuable to the Royals organization.  All of those guys could be had by offering a minor league deal, coupled with a spring training invite, like the Royals gave Philip Humber. 

This is the first minor league contract that Dayton has given out this offseason that I would classify as a mistake.  Sure, there isn’t a lot of financial investment here, but Humber will be taking up a AAA roster spot that could be used on someone else.

*I might publish something along these lines in the upcoming days.

(Wally Fish is Kings of Kauffman’s lead blogger.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC MLB Philip Humber Royals

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