Before the start of the 2011 season, the Royals won praise from nearly every publication, website, blog and commentator for the talent within their minor league system. With impact prospects in the infield, outfield and on the mound, it was just a matter of waiting for the games to start to see the talent at work.
For the most part, that’s been the case. Eric Hosmer is riding a six game hitting streak after an early call-up to the majors. Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Louis Coleman are strong arms out of the Royals bullpen after impressing in spring training and, in Coleman’s case, in Omaha.
For the most part, the guys who are supposed to be in the spotlight are performing up to that expectation. Early injuries down the line have hampered the continuing development of other major prospects. In that light, the Royals biggest asset isn’t just having talent. It’s having LOTS of talent.
In the case of poor performance or injury, the Royals aren’t devastated if someone starts slow or doesn’t pan out.
Kila Ka’aihue struggled at the major league level in his first real shot at a full-time gig. The Royals had a decision to make – keep him around and see if he can work out of it, or promote Hosmer and see how he performs at the highest level? They opted for the latter, and while I think Kila would have worked out to be a decent slugging option, Hosmer’s performance can’t be denied, and he’s brought an energy to the team and its fans.
You may have heard the latest on John Lamb. He was removed from his last start in Northwest Arkansas after just two thirds of an inning. He’d had issues with his lat muscle before, but early word is that his current issues are with his elbow. He’d been working around 88-91 mph on his fastball where he was working around 93-95 last year. That drop in velocity is rarely a good sign and it’s still day to day.
He’s on the 7-day DL in Double A, and while it’s not good news for him, and we want to see Lamb come back from adversity (he’s done it before – a big reason the Royals were able to draft him in the fifth round in 2008 were due to an elbow fracture suffered from a car accident), the Royals and Lamb have the luxury of taking time to make sure he’s right before putting him back out there. One injury doesn’t halt the whole system’s momentum.
Hopefully the news is good and Lamb is only on the shelf for a little while. He’s one of the Big Six among Royals prospects, so it’d be a blow, but not insurmountable. The Royals have depth to weather the storm.
Jake Odorizzi is having a fantastic start in Wilmington and a move up to Northwest Arkansas should be coming soon. Noel Arguelles is proving that not only is he real, but he’s also spectacular. Do either make up for the potential loss of Lamb (if his injury is that serious)? Probably not, but injuries happen and the Royals have other options coming up who could be on similar timelines to Lamb who could fill the void.
Lamb isn’t the only big name injury in the minors. Wil Myers suffered a knee bruise earlier in the year and after returning for a few games, has been placed on the DL with an infection in that knee. His is a less significant injury, as he should be back within the next two weeks, but in the past, losing time from a top hitting prospect would have been a rough shot to the Royals. With the loss of Brett Eibner for most of 2011, that’s three top-10 prospects who’ll miss a chunk of time.
Other systems couldn’t handle that kind of blow.
The Royals keep on moving along. Their depth allows other players to step up and fill the gaps. If a team like the Astros or Brewers had this run of luck with two or three of their top prospects, they’d almost be starting from scratch.
It’s undeniable to say that the Royals have been lucky. It’s rare for so many players in the minors – top picks as well as later round selections – all look to be highly regarded and have performance match the expectations. After 2010, the Royals had both big names and production. Going into the rest of the season, other players are coming along, showing their value while they wait out injuries.
Even if injuries happen to the big league team – and injuries are inevitable – they can reload the roster with others. If Melky Cabrera gets hurt, Lorenzo Cain can step in. If Hosmer gets hurt, Clint Robinson or even Ka’aihue could come up to fill the spot. Johnny Giavotella or Irving Falu could fill in if Mike Aviles or Chris Getz hurt, and even Joaquin Arias has had a decent year and might be an option if Alcides Escobar got hurt.
So there are options if bad luck happens.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Myers will be back. Eibner’s thumb injury was originally set to keep him out 8-12 weeks (though he’s still being evalutated for a timetable). Maybe the Royals will get lucky and rest is all it takes to get Lamb’s elbow back in line.
Not every prospect pans out. The difference between good and great systems is the ability to fill in when that doesn’t happen. The days of Kyle Snyder being the only hope are done.