The Royals released their list of spring training non-roster invitees last week, and as usual the list is filled equally with promising young prospects and replacement level bargains. Many won’t make an impact on the 2012 Royals, but nonetheless it is an opportunity to impress the front office brass. A strong showing as a non-roster invitee can put a top prospect on the fast track.
Non-roster invitees are intriguing because they are all upside. Even established major leaguers who find themselves signed as non-roster invitees are promised nothing but an opportunity. There is nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
Fellow non-roster invitees Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Johnny Giavotella, and Luis Mendoza eventually played games for the Royals last year. Several other prospects, including Mike Montgomery, impressed as well.
So, you must be thinking, which non-roster invitees have the best chance to make an impact in 2012? How thoughtful of you to ask. I’ve put together my list, ranking each invitee from most to least likely to have an MLB impact this year. I’ll also give percentage odds for each player, in order to show which guys have earned the greatest share of my confidence in their ability to help this year’s Kansas City Royals.
What could be more scintillating than that?
Mike Montgomery – 85%
I’ve already given my thoughts on Montgomery here, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. Not only do I think the Royals need Montgomery to produce for the big league club this year, but I also think he almost surely will impress. I expect Montgomery to follow Danny Duffy’s 2011 trajectory and earn a major-league call-up sometime in May. Montgomery simply doesn’t need another full season in Omaha, and he possesses superior raw stuff to Duffy. It’s also important to remember that Duffy’s leapfrog of Montgomery last season was a notable shock. Montgomery remains the better prospect with the better stuff, and I think he’ll have a campaign that’s slightly better than Duffy’s 2011. And this is coming from a guy who thought Duffy positively impressed last season. Montgomery is all set to be a gem.
Kevin Kouzmanoff – 60%
This is where the meaning of the word ‘impact’ becomes skewed a bit. I have no delusions of grandeur regarding Kouzmanoff. Although once a promising prospect, Kouz is essentially a replacement level player at this point (career .300 OBP). At the same time I think he has a fighter’s chance to make the 25 man roster (as a backup to Mike Moustakas at third base), and he very well may be the only person on this list who is able to make that claim.
In order to have an impact, a player actually has to suit up for the team. Whether through an inspired spring performance, injury, or inconsistency, I’m 60% confident that Kouzmanoff will play in 40 or more games for the Royals this season. If that becomes the case, then I am 95% confident that I will inevitably unleash a drunken, expletive-laden tirade against Kouzmanoff this summer when he is mired in a 0-21 spell and sporting a .285 OBP.
Wil Myers – 39%
Ok, hear me out here. Alex Gordon, Jeff Francouer, and Lorenzo Cain will be the starting outfield for the opening day Royals, barring injury. The next best available options appear to be Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson, and David Lough. Each of those guys has their merits, but none of them are Wil Myers.
Here’s a question for you: why can’t Myers be this year’s version of Eric Hosmer? Myers is 21 years old, or to put it a different way, the same age Hosmer was at the beginning of last season. Myers also played last season at Northwest Arkansas, the same level Hosmer reached in 2010 before being placed on the fast track.
Like Hosmer in 2010, Myers dominated in the subsequent Arizona Fall League. Sure, his numbers don’t stack up with Hosmer’s Double-A figures. But Myers had some extenuating circumstances. He suffered a nasty knee injury after a fluky spill at the beginning of the season, and struggled to regain his form afterwards. But like Hosmer, the physical tools are still there: the quick bat, the plate discipline, and the rocket arm have not gone anywhere. Plus, Myers has already played twice as many games at Double-A as Hosmer did. The Royals moved Myers from catcher so that he could progress quickly through the system, and with a strong spring, I think they’ll give him the same chance Hosmer did to shoot through the system like a meteor. Furthermore, after last season, Myers has something to prove. I expect to see him with the Royals by the end of the season, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee.
Max Ramirez – 29%
Here’s a guy who I have had trouble deciding on. He should probably be placed further down this list, since he is ostensibly behind Salvador Perez, Brayan Pena, and Manny Pina on the depth chart. But he is a career .867 OPS hitter in the minor leagues. And since he’s played 646 games in the minors over eight seasons, I’d venture to say that his offensive numbers aren’t a mirage built on small sample size. That .867 OPS is 100 points better than Pena’s minor league total, and 200 points over what Pina has produced thus far.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I would not be overly shocked if the Royals cut bait with Pena and Ramirez emerges as Perez’ backup this season. Keep in mind that Perez is young and fresh, and may not need more than 30 games off behind the dish this season. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally have some pop and patience at the catcher position? Even if Ramirez is utilized primarily as a pinch hitter, I see some value there. Oh, and while writing this piece, I learned that Ramirez’ given first name is Maximiliano. So there’s also that to inspire confidence.
Irving Falu – 26%
I know what the most cynical and sarcastic of fans will say here: “whenever you can get a 28 year old career minor leaguer with a .696 career OPS into the lineup you’ve got to seize the opportunity.” I know that’s what you’re thinking because it was exactly what I first thought upon seeing Falu’s name among the non-roster invitees. But then I realized that the primary backup infielders will probably be some combination of Kouzmanoff, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Chris Getz, and I suddenly began reconsidering Falu’s candidacy in earnest. And there are some things to like about Falu.
For instance, did you know that he’s recorded more walks than strikeouts during his minor league career? Or that he has logged games at all three outfield spots, second base, shortstop, and third base? Or that 2011 was his best statistical season? I’m not saying he’s a lock to contribute or anything, but I think assuming he’s still with the organization, that he’ll be the first middle infielder recalled if there is an injury. If that’s not a ringing endorsement then I don’t know what is.
Chris Dwyer – 25%
Hey, I’m not saying I’m banking on it, but I would not be shocked to see Dwyer make a couple of starts for the Royals in 2012. After pitching four games for Northwest Arkansas in 2010, Dwyer remained in Double-A for the entirety of 2011. Although he struggled during the first half, Dwyer turned it on in the second half and actually out-produced highly touted prospect Jake Odorizzi while both were toiling for Northwest Arkansas. Dwyer also has more strikeouts than walks in his career, so the stuff is there. If the front office believes that the second half Dwyer is the real version, then he could be a fast riser this season.
Zach Miner – 20%
Sure he doesn’t strike out anybody, and he is still working his way back from a major injury in 2010. I get that. But looking at Miner with squinted eyes, I also see that Miner has a 25-20 career record in the major leagues to accompany his 4.24 cumulative ERA. Once you see the other pitchers on this list, and their career major league experience, you’ll see why Miner is so high up this list.
Will Smith – 16%
Smith would probably be above Dwyer on this list if my intuition hadn’t led me to believe Dwyer will have a breakout season. Smith, though, did plenty well for himself at Northwest Arkansas in 2011. Smith put up a 13-9 record and a 3.85 ERA in a full season of Double-A, and was probably the best pitcher on NWA’s staff. Also going for Smith is the fact that he’s already pitched (albeit poorly) in Triple-A while in the Angels system. There’s no reason that Smith should go back to Northwest Arkansas next year, which means that he will be among the pitchers in Omaha with the best chance to get a late season or injury-induced call-up. I’d say that’s makes him about a 16% chance to make an impact on the big league club.
Jake Odorizzi – 7%
Odorizzi is clearly a year away, and that is not a bad thing. He got roughed up a little bit in his introduction to Double-A last year after torching High-A Wilmington. Odorizzi won’t turn 22 until March, so another season spent between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha could still be constructive for one of the organization’s top young prospects. There is still an outside chance that
Tony Abreu – 6%
I’m just not seeing it with Abreu. Give me Falu every day of the week. Abreu can’t hit and doesn’t walk. He owns a career .279 OBP. He should be purely minor league filler. Major league service time alone places him above the other names on this list.
Greg Golson – 5%
The best thing Golson has going for him is his versatility. He’s played all three outfield positions in the minors and possesses a enough speed to make him dangerous on the base paths. Unfortunately, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Golson has been struck out a whopping 941 times in his minor league career, against just 207 walks. Myers, Jarrod Dyson, and David Lough are simply better players than Golson and will get any call-up before him.
None of these guys has a chance to crack the big league roster in 2012. Frankly, their inclusion among the non-roster invitees seems a bit dubious. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it: when I saw Francisley Bueno’s name mentioned among the camp invites, I had no idea who he was. None at all. What is he doing at major league camp?
But I guess that’s the nature of non-roster invitees. There are no expectations. If Dayton Moore wants to bring in a guy whose name translates to “good”, then by all means he should be empowered to do so. And if Bueno somehow turns into Ricky Vaughn, then I will happily eat crow.