Royals’ baseball is less than 24 hours away. Their minor league teams have to wait a few more days before they get to start playing, though, so that just gives you more time to read up on the Lexington Legends, Wilmington Blue Rocks, and Northwest Arkansas Naturals. For the final installment of this series, I’ll be covering the Omaha Storm Chasers. As is generally the case for Triple-A teams, this year’s roster will be a mix of older veterans who can’t quite cut it anymore and younger players just waiting for an opportunity. Guys like Danny Duffy and Johnny Giavotella are absolutely worth watching, but they’ve also been around a while, so you probably know about them already. I wanted to talk about some lesser-known players who could make an impact.
The Storm Chasers are coming off their third straight playoff appearance (despite finishing with a 70-74 record), which includes two Pacific Coast League championships and a Triple-A National Championship. With long-time manager Mike Jirschele being promoted to big league coach, this year’s squad will be managed by Brian Poldberg. They play their home games in Werner Park, which is actually in Papillion, Nebraska.
Must-See Players in 2014:
Michael Mariot (RHP): Mariot spent most of last year as the Chasers’ closer, and his success (9.8 K/9 in 60.2 IP) earned him a 40-man roster spot this winter. His emergence gives the Royals even more bullpen depth to help cover the loss of Luke Hochevar. I’d expect to see Mariot make a few appearances in Kansas City this summer.
Chris Dwyer (LHP): While Dwyer doesn’t have quite as much potential as he once had, he could be useful out of a big league bullpen. His curveball is still a very good pitch, and if he can command his fastball while in the Omaha rotation, he could end up even making a spot start or two for the Royals.
Brett Eibner (OF): Despite struggling at the plate for much of his professional career, Eibner came on strong at the end of last season, hitting .256/.342/.494 in 360 plate appearances after June 1. He still doesn’t make a ton of contact, but he has shown plus power potential and excellent strike zone judgment, along with solid outfield defense. His right-handed power should play very well in the homer-friendly Werner Park.
Christian Colon (2B/SS): When the Royals signed Omar Infante this offseason, it sent a pretty clear message of what they thought of Colon. Even though his future is probably as a utility player, Colon did seem to get better as 2013 wore on. From June 21 to the end of the season, he had an .830 OPS.
Worth Keeping an Eye On:
Aaron Brooks (RHP): Brooks doesn’t get much hype as a prospect, but he has terrific control (1.3 BB/9 in 393.1 IP) and he generates a ton of ground balls (52.2% ground ball rate in 2013).
Spencer Patton (RHP): As yet another bullpen arm that can miss bats (32% K rate last year), Patton has a fastball in the mid 90s and a wipeout slider that helped him hold right-handed batters to a .525 OPS in 2013.
Brian Fletcher (OF/DH): Much like Eibner, Fletcher has quite a bit of power and struggles with strikeouts. Unlike Eibner, Fletcher doesn’t draw many walks and doesn’t play great defense. Still, the Chasers’ home park should help Fletcher launch quite a few dingers this summer.
Buddy Baumann (LHP): I’ve made it known many times that I’m a big fan of Baumann, so his inclusion here should come as no surprise. He struck out over 12 batters per 9 innings last year, while holding left-handed batters to a .540 OPS. He could definitely have value as a LOOGY in the future.