Prospects Aplenty at the Futures Game

John Lamb (19) and Tim Smith (24) during pre-game warmups.

As most of you are probably aware, Saturday marked a special event when, following the Royals victory over the Angels, the field became populated with prospects from Double A Northwest Arkansas and Triple A Omaha.

For the crowd who stuck around, the game itself wasn’t quite the epic battle some may have hoped for, but that’s not to overlook the significance of that afternoon.  Somewhere between five and seven thousand fans (that’s a, pardon the pun, ballpark guess) got to see Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery and others take the field at Kauffman Stadium.

The stands were abuzz before the game with those lingering being invited to come down into the field levels to find seats.  Fans pointed out Myers and Christian Colon.  Mario Lisson came over to say hello to some fans.

As for the game itself:

It was a little awkward as a fan.  When the Royals are playing, it’s obvious who to root for.  When it’s the minor leaguers making their way to the Royals, it’s a little gray.  A victory for one team is a loss for the other, and I wanted to see success from everyone.

The Storm Chasers won, of course, as you’d expect a talented Triple A team to do against a Double A team.  The Naturals held their own, though.

After Mike Montgomery left the game, that is.

Pitching dominated the hitting, which isn’t surprising.  Pitching’s usually ahead of hitting this time of year anyway, and these teams have only face each other in intrasquad games.  There’s not much scouting in those situations.  Also, despite being in Double A, John Lamb should be in Triple A later this year, Chris Dwyer‘s not far off, and Will Smith made nine starts for the Angels Triple A affiliate in Salt Lake.

The Storm Chasers won 4-1.  Montgomery got the win, Lamb took the loss and Louis Coleman came in to get the save in the ninth.  Jamie Romak hit a homer in the 11th (since both teams used extra innings to get pitchers their scheduled workloads) and David Lough homered off Chris Dwyer, but that was the extent of the fireworks.

The game itself wasn’t as interesting as just seeing these prospects on the field and in action.  For many, like myself, this was the first glimpse we’ve had of the group of highly touted players.

Is this heaven? No, it's Kauffman Stadium

Hosmer was disappointing, but I chalk it up to trying to do too much in a big moment.  Just as it’s the first time for many fans seeing them play, for the prospects, it was their first time in Kauffman Stadium in uniform in front of a large group of spectators.  These kids have played baseball their whole lives, but in that environment, it’s understandable to be a little jumpy.  Our #1 ranked prospect didn’t display the selectivity he has in the minors and hacked at the first pitch a couple of times.  In total, he went 0-6, reaching once on an error.  His swing looked fine, so it was more the setting and competition and his over-anxiousness getting in the way

What he didn’t do at the plate, he made up for in the field.  In the sixth, he made a diving backhanded grab of a Nick Van Stratten line drive and showed great instincts at first base.  For all the hype about his hitting ability, his defensive skills get overlooked.

Moustakas got a single in the first but otherwise was retired the rest of the game.  He also committed an error and missed a ball down the line.  His arm was strong and he made all the other plays.  To me, it seemed like he could play a passable third base but he’s a long way from being a standout there at any point.

The big star of the day, though, was Montgomery.  He threw four innings, walking one (Anthony Seratelli in the third).  Otherwise he was dominant, striking out four and allowing just two balls out of the infield.  To borrow a phrase from Nuke Laloosh of Bull Durham, he announced his presence with authority.  Derrick Robinson led off the game and after three fastballs was headed back to the bench.  Two batters later, Montgomery blew a 96 mph fastball by Wil Myers to end the inning.  Later in the game, he was mixing the fastball with a 73 mph curve.

It just wasn’t fair.

Frankly, he looked like an ace and if he has put his forearm and elbow issues from 2010 behind him, he’ll be in Kansas City this summer.  He’ll force the Royals to call him up.

Danny Duffy relieved Montgomery and wasn’t as sharp, but was still very effective.  He walked three but struck out five in three innings.  He touched 95 mph with the fastball early, but was fading into 90-91 towards the end of his outing.  His curveball was strong, though, freezing Christian Colon to end the sixth inning.

Speaking of the 2010 first round pick (and first guest on the Royalman Report, brought to you by Kings of Kauffman), he looked alright to me starting at shortstop.  He wasn’t tested range-wise, but he had good instincts, quick reactions and got the ball out quickly.  He was given an error on a play that pulled Seratelli off the bag, but it was just barely.  He’ll be a fine middle infielder with the glove and can hang at short, though I can see why scouts suggest he’d be a better second baseman.

Looking ahead, a right side of the infield of Eric Hosmer at first and Colon at second would be very strong.  With Alcides Escobar making every play at shortstop (provided he can at least hit enough to stick in the #9 spot), the terrible defense of Royals teams of old may be very close to changing.  If Moose can be average at third most years, the Royals will be in great shape.

John Lamb started for the Naturals and wasn’t that sharp.  He wasn’t giving up much, but he threw a lot of pitches and came out after 2.2 innings.  He was working around 88-89 during his start and was missing low from my vantage point.  I guess, if you’re going to miss, you want it to be low.  Just ask Bruce Chen – leave it up and Maicer Izturis starts taking you deep.

Wil Myers doubled off Louis Coleman and swung the bat well, but otherwise, he didn’t get anything to fall.  In the field, he was a mixed bag.  Early, he overran a fly ball and barely backtracked to make the play.  Later, though, he made a nice running catch down the baseline.  I don’t recall a situation that tested his arm, which I’d have liked to see.

One other player that surprised me was Johnny Giavotella.  We know he can hit, and he doubled in the game, but he made some solid plays in the field, including an acrobatic snag, jump and throw on a grounder up the middle that put him on the shortstop side of the bag.  He worked two walks, so if his defense is improving, he could become a full-time guy next season.  Once Colon gets up, the Royals will have a decision, but they have time to sort through it. Or at least to try to.

I think the Futures Game was a great idea for 2011.  With the incredible depth and talent in the system, I appreciated the chance to see these guys in action without making the trek to Omaha or Springdale.  For a lot of fans, this was their only chance to see these players until they make it to the Show.  A few players who may have been in the game – Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress – have made it to the big leagues already, so next year, it may not be the same draw it was this season.  Though, with players like Jake Odorizzi, Brett Eibner, Crawford Simmons, Noel Arguelles, Buddy Baumann, and maybe Cheslor Cuthbert potentially on track for Double A next year, they could be the second wave taking on a Triple A team that would feature Colon, Salvador Perez, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb (probably), and Wil Myers.

That’s still a fun matchup, and hopefully the Royals give it another shot next year.

In the meantime, the minor league season starts soon for these players, so there’s going to be plenty to keep track of this summer.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Christian Colon Eric Hosmer John Lamb Johnny Giavotella Kansas City Royals KC Mike Montgomery Mike Moustakas MLB Royals Wil Myers

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