In last week’s Fish on the Farm (click here if you missed it), I did a sort of Royals-centric hot sheet and identified the “hottest” starter, reliever and position player at each level from Omaha on down to Burlington. Unfortunately the time I had to invest just to pull the data together left little time for writing up profiles and giving more than just the stats beyond the Storm Chasers.
I enjoyed putting it together and it is a format I’d like to continue to use but sadly I don’t have an infinite amount of free time at my disposal. This week I’m changing gears and will focus on just one Royals affiliate and as you can tell by the title, I picked the Idaho Falls Chukars as the subject.You may be wondering why I picked the Chukars. After all you won’t find any high profile prospects on their current roster. As I write this, not a single one of the Royals pre-season top-30 are playing in Idaho Falls and only 2 players on the current roster were even included in the Royals minor league depth chart in Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook. When it comes to the rookie leagues, that’s not atypical and it doesn’t preclude these players from developing into top-30 guys down the road.
Idaho Falls was also a natural choice as my first profile as it is one of the “entry points” for players getting their professional careers underway. Currently 8 players on the roster hail from the 2011 draft and another 6 were signed as non-drafted free agents (NDFA) this summer. It also has what I consider to be the best name and logo of all the Royals affiliates which earned it bonus points. Finally I enjoy writing about the Pioneer League as evidenced by this article I wrote on Seedlings to Stars earlier this month.
Now that we’ve got some of the pleasantries out of the way, lets get to some of the players that make up the roster of the 10-15 Chukars.
22-year old Henry Moreno and 24-year old Darian Sandford are the 2 players I referenced above that were actually listed on the Royals organizational depth chart heading into this season. Moreno was listed 4th at 1B behind Hosmer (1), Clint Robinson (28) and Jake Kuebler. Sanford was listed 5th in CF behind Brett Eibner (10), Jarrod Dyson (20), Derrick Robinson (26) and Tim Ferguson. While both their names were printed on the page – given the status of Kuebler and Ferguson – neither is all that close to cracking the Top-30 but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about them.
Sandford: (19 G/81 AB) 0.272/.306/.321, 2 XBH (both 3B), 8 SB, 21-to-4 SO-to-BB
If you are fan of the local product drafting philosophy that Kansas City has been emphasizing – and I certainly am – then you should be a fan of Darian Sandford. Not only was he born in St Louis, he also attended Park University in Parkville, Missouri. Given that he was the Royals 47th round selection in the 2010 draft, it’s reasonable to assume that either the Royals wouldn’t have had him on thier board at all, or they wouldn’t have selected him if it weren’t for his ties to the area.
Last year with the AZL Royals he hit 0.279/0.364/.361 with 30 SB in 38 G. He struck out 36 times while drawing 16 walks. Sandford’s season shouldn’t be entirely dismissed but, as always, context plays a huge role in evaluating minor league talent. In his case that 2010 stat line came as a 23-year old with college experience playing against guys 3, 4 and 5 years younger (on average) than he was. On that alone, you’d expect his performances to be a little better than it was, but I’m giving you an incomplete picture. We also have to factor in that last season was his first taste of professional baseball which is filled with a litany of adjustments and changes on and off the field. While he did play in college, playing for Park didn’t match him up against the highest level of collegiate competition on a consistent basis. For Darian Sandford, 2010 was a case of sink or swim in the minors – just as it is for any first professional season is for any player – and he did the latter.
Now however it’s 2011, he’s in the Pioneer League and sporting a 0.306 OBP as a speed first guy isn’t going to get him promoted or moved up the organizational depth chart anytime soon. As things stand, his game has two major areas of concern. First is the 57 SO in 57 minor league games to go with just 20 walks in that span. The other is his complete lack of pop. In his professional career he has more 3B (5) than 2B (4) and he’s still looking for his 1st HR. While he did have a much better SO-to-BB rate his last year in college (18-21) extra base pop was missing even then (6 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR in 164 AB as a senior).
I don’t imagine power will ever be a part of his game, but speed certainly is. So far, he’s swiped 38 bases in 47 attempts as a member of the Royals organization and prior to being drafted, set a Park University record with 56 steals (66 attempts) in 45 games in 2010. That paints Sandford as another in a long line of speed/defense first CF prospects that Kansas City has drafted during Dayton Moore’s tenure. The problem is that most of these guys have failed to pan out and it is a player profile with a razor thin margin of error for even the best run organizations.
If Sandford can develop some plate discipline and start making better contact on the balls he does connect with, he might be able to climb the ladder, but at 24-years old he needs to start developing and climbing rather quickly.
Moreno: (20 G/80 AB) 0.275/.318/.413, 7 XBH (5 2B, 2 HR), 4 BB, 26 SO
Darian Sandford has a couple things going for him. He was a local product and a player with a plus tool in his speed. Moreno doesn’t have either feather in his cap since he was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008 and he is a converted catcher (i.e. not fleet of foot), but he does have some impressive seasons already under his belt. After signing with the Royals he hit 0.314/.411/.503 with 26-28 SO to BB ratio and wound up in the Dominican Summer League Top-10 in 2B, OBP and SLG. He pulled that off as a 19p-year old splitting time between C and 1B. Regardless of the level, that’s an achievement worthy of attention. In 2009 the Royals moved him stateside, assigned him to the AZL Royals and in the process gave him more time behind the plate. The result was a disappointing 0.222/.289/.284 season with 21 SO and just 5 BB in 30 games played. Whether it was the strain and rigors of catching, adjusting to life away from the Dominican or a healthy dose of both things simply didn’t go that well for him on the field.
In 2010 he moved out from behind the plate and started playing 1B full time. The move, and the fact he was repeating the level, did wonders for his performance. In 45 G with the AZL Royals this time around, he hit 0.327/.396/.599 with 31 XBH and finished in the AZL top-10 in TEN offensive categories.
On the surface his 2011 stats look similar to Darian Sandford’s and that’s more than a little disappointing. I don’t mean that as a knock on Sanford, but Moreno has flashed some skills in 2 of his previous 3 seasons and his slash line matches that of a punch-and-judy speedburner instead of a developing slugger. However, looking a little deeper we can see some encouraging signs. In his last 10 games, he’s hit 0.324/.405/.514 with 2 HR and 8 RBI. Moreno has SO 9 times during that stretch but all four of his walks have come in his last 8 games. The move from the Dominican Republic to the Arizona League had to be quite the culture shock, but the move from Arizona to Idaho Falls probably wasn’t that far behind in terms of severity and on that alone his slow start is understandable.
Obviously he’d be more intriguing as a prospect if was still a catcher, but given the strength of his performance in 2008, 2010 and his improvement during the 2011 season, he remains a player to keep tabs on.
Last week LHP Brennon Martin, RHP Edwin Carl, OF Runey Davis were the starter, reliever and position player that represented the Chukars in my column so I thought it appropriate to check back in on them a week later.
The week was not good to Martin who made 2 starts (July 9th and 15th). Between the two he gave up 18 H, 13 R, 10 ER and 5 HR in just 8.0 innings. He struck out 7 while walking 2.
I would say I cursed Brennon by including him on my list, but Carl experienced no ill effects from his FotF mention. Since last Friday the young righty has thrown 4.0 more innings of shutout baseball. He gave up 2 hits, walked 1 and struck out 6 in that span. On the season, he now has a ridiculous 19-to-2 SO-to-BB ratio in 10.0 scoreless innings this season.
Like Martin, Davis struggled last week. He went 3-15 with 2 BB and 5 SO, but he did hit a double and a solo home run.
In the next edition of Fish on the Farm I will continue my coverage of the Idaho Falls Chukars. I planned on getting to more players this week, but this article took on a life of its own and I just ran with it.