Late last night, I posed a question to our followers on Twitter: If you could start a franchise with any one current Royals minor leaguer, who would it be?
The responses have been varied. Wil Myers is the usual choice, but Bubba Starling is right behind him. Some have suggested Mike Montgomery or John Lamb, while Cheslor Cuthbert has gotten mentions as well. Christian Colon and Clint Robinson have gotten mentions too.
That’s what I was hoping for, actually. The question isn’t intended as a poll to see who most thought was the most talented or best Royals prospect, but more about who was the most vital for starting a franchise. There are so many ways to build a team, so there are many choices for the player to build around.
Myers, as arguably the Royals top prospect, is a sensible pick with a combination of athleticism, approach and hitting talent to make him a potential star. He’s maybe a year and a half from the major leagues, but he doesn’t turn 21 until next month. With the advancement of Eric Hosmer and company to the majors in 2011, Myers is the best known top prospect out there, and his strong production in the Arizona Fall League has restored the confidence that wavered during a rough season in Double A racked with injuries and mere mortal statistics.
As a high-upside player (and home grown, too), Bubba Starling fits the mold as a potential “monster of epic proportions“. He has five-tool potential and looks like the type of marketable player a franchise could build around.
Some added that Starling is at least going to get a shot in center field as a reason to name him above Myers.
That’s the interesting part of the exercise to me. If the Royals had a true stud shortstop prospect like Manny Machado, would he be the obvious pick? Teams often want to build up the middle, focusing on center fielders, catchers or shortstops. Does that make Bubba more valuable overall, even if we assume that he and Myers would be equal in talent.
I say that it does. In 2010, Myers, overall, was considered a better prospect, even if he’s going to be the same player. Why? He was still used as a catcher back then. Prior to moving to the outfield, a player of Myers’s level with his offensive upside held more value as a future catcher who could hit with power, work the count, and play passable defense than as any other right fielder out there. The issue is scarcity*.
*I could also qualify this by suggesting that Myers in the outfield will play more, see more plate appearances, and likely reduce his risk of injury, making his contributions at the plate more plentiful as an outfielder. Would you rather 450 at bats from Myers as a catcher or 625 as a right fielder? I’ll take the latter. Of course, having Salvador Perez helps make that an easier call.
Last year the Royals opened the season with Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena at catcher, and while they did fine for what was expected, neither gave the Royals any kind of edge. Many other teams get similar production from their catchers. It’s a position that focuses more on the defense and game-calling aspects, and if they can hit at all, great. That’s how the likes of Gregg Zaun, Sal Fasano and Pat Borders can bounce around the majors for so long. Despite mild production, they play the position well. If you can find a catcher who can hit, though? That’s a big deal.
If there are three starting outfielders in the major leagues, then even the 90th best outfielder is technically a starting outfielder. A .280/.370/.450 line as a right fielder is still pretty good, but relative to other corner outfielders, it’s part of a large crowd. It’s not terribly difficult to find a replacement outfielder to play in right. As a catcher, that statline stands out with only 29 other catchers out there, and many of them being modest at best at the plate.
When talking about center field, though, it’s often that we find teams putting players better suited to the corner spots in center field. Melky Cabrera is a good example of this. He can play it, but should he? Starling has the athleticism to play center field and if some scouts are correct, could be a high-average, high-power player as well. That’s production that may not be available to other teams from their center field positions.
Fortunately, the Royals don’t have to make that decision, and have the luxury of having both players in the system. Even better, the player that I’d suggest is the key centerpiece of the upcoming Royals resurgence, Eric Hosmer, is already in the majors and thus eliminated from this discussion. The Royals have all three – and then some.
If I had the pick, though, it’d be difficult to choose, but the more I think about the factors, Starling’s ability to play center makes him more valuable to me. If he can’t cut it there, he’d be available to move to a corner spot. But starting out, Starling in center allows other spots to be filled from a wider pool of players who can’t play in center. Overall, it’s a net gain.
Things would be different if the Royals had someone like Julio Teheran or Matt Moore or Machado or Bryce Harper or other big time prospects who are in the top five of many overall rankings or play premium positions or occupy the holy grail of prospectdom – potential ace pitchers. Montgomery and Lamb can both be very good pitchers in the majors, but neither are considered future Ace material*.
I’ll put the question out to our readers here – if you had one pick from the Royals minor leagues to start a franchise, who would you take?