Royal Busts: Part 1

The youth movement of the Royals is in full swing and the talent is plentiful not only in the minors, but the majors as well. Solid drafting under the Dayton Moore era has been the obvious cause for this to occur.

Starting today, for the next few posts I’d like to examine top draft choices and prospects in the Royals’ past that did not pan out. Or, to put it bluntly, were busts.

Today, I’ll start with Chris George, who was drafted by the Royals with the 31st pick of the first round of the 1998 supplemental draft (as partial compensation for losing Jay Bell). Technically, he was Royals’ third pick that year, as they took Jeff Austin, a pitcher out of Stanford, with their first overall selection at No. 4 and Matt Burch, a pitcher out of Virginia Commonwealth, No. 30.

George, a left-hander who was drafted in the Herk Robinson GM era (1990-2000), was selected out of Klein High School in Klein, Tex., and spent a mere four seasons with the Royals. He was rated as the Royals’ top prospect in 2001 by Baseball America at the age of 21 and showed the type of promise that seemingly every top prospect in the organization from 1996-2002 showed, save Carlos Beltran, right before they crapped out at the big-league level.

He tore through the minor leagues and reached the majors as a mid-season call up at the age of 21 in 2001. In his first full season in the minor leagues with Class A Wilmington, George posted a 3.60 ERA in 145 innings, while giving up less than a hit per inning and struck out 142 batters while walking only 53 as a 19 year old.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, for an encore the following season, George jumped from AA Wichita to AAA Omaha as a 20 year old and posted a combined 3.68 ERA in 26 starts spanning 142 innings. He allowed 139 hits, though his strike outs were down at 107, and his walks jumped to 71. Downgrading from the nearly 3:1 ratio he had in single-A.

Most of the flux of bad numbers that season came from his eight-game stint in Omaha, where he posted a 4.84 ERA in 44.2 innings, giving up eight home runs and 47 hits, while his strike outs to walk ratio was only 27/20.

Not terrible, but not good.

So the Royals wisely started him out at triple-A the following season, and he responed with a 3.53 ERA in 117.1 innings, while striking out 84 batters and walking 51. The kicker here is George’s record was 11-3 with those numbers. It’s well known that in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the knowledge and use of advance statistics were not prevalent among major league front offices—especially not the Royals’.

I mention this tidbit why?

When looking at the peripherals on George, it was clear that his success and numbers were regressing once he hit Omaha. His strikeouts were down, his walks were up  and WHIP was less than stellar. But, as a 21 year old in AAA with perceived great “stuff”, he had an 11-3 record.

Clearly, he was doing something right, right?

He was called up to the big league club in July and predictably began his four-year sabbatical away from the strike zone.

His first half season wasn’t terrible, considering age among other factors, as he pitched in 13 games and posted a 5.59 ERA in 74 innings and struck out 32 while walking 18. Save a fluky win/loss record in 2003 and THAT half season would be the most successful of George’s short-lived career with not only the Royals, but EVER. Because after 2004, he never pitched another season in the majors.

George spent most of 2002 in triple-A and although he went 9-6 in 2003 with the Royals, he walked 44 batters in 93.2 innings and struck out only 39, while posting an abysmal 1.751 WHIP. His final year he would top that mark with a 2.008 WHIP.

—As the charismatic Steve Spurrier would say, “Nope, not good!” 

George’s career line in four brief seasons with the Royals looks like this: 14-20, 6.48 ERA, 237.1 IP, 300 hits, 39 HR, 99 Ks, 95 BB and a 1.664 WHIP. 

Everyone believed in Chris George, not just the Royals. He was rated the clubs top prospect in 2001 by Baseball America and tore through the minors in Eric Hosmer fashion.

But the hand writing was on the wall. He just wasn’t missing many bats once he got to triple-A. That’s not completely uncommon among top pitching prospects, because the jump from double-A to triple-A is large. However, nowadays, those prospects tend to stay in the minors until they prove capable of maintaing the previous success at a higher level.

The Royals might have let his win/loss record in 2001 (11-3) cloud their vision into what kind of pitcher he really was. At the time, the team was desperate for pitching, so who could blame them?

If the Chris George of 2001 exists in 2011, does he get called up? Knowing what we and many front offices now take into consideration, it’s unlikely. Does that extra year or two in the minor leagues serve as a much needed time for retooling and refining his approach in order to become a successful pitcher? Possibly.

Throughout this breakdown of fallen Royals’ prospects I have a feeling that a “Moneyball” type theme might occur. Prospects, who were rushed to the majors and labeled the “next big thing”, based off of flawed statistical measures.

Chris George is exhibit A.

 

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