Pitching Depth and the Crowded Omaha Rotation


Having too much starting pitching depth is impossible. No matter how good a general manager thinks his five-man rotation looks, it is almost a guarantee that he will need to call upon another pitcher, if not several others. It is pretty rare for a team to go all 162 games using only 5 starters, so it’s necessary to have at least an extra 3 or 4 capable arms ready to step up if need be.

Mandatory Credit: Minda Haas

Dayton Moore did a very good job this past offseason of improving the Royals’ starting pitching depth with the acquisitions of James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana, along with the resigning of Jeremy Guthrie. For evidence, look no further than the battle for the 5th rotation spot, which up until last week was primarily between Kansas City’s opening day starters of the past two seasons.

However, when more pitchers are added to the top of the depth chart, the guys at the bottom of the list get pushed down. This can create some interesting roster decisions for the Royals and their minor league affiliates, chief among them, the Omaha Storm Chasers.

The Royals announced yesterday that they were optioning Everett Teaford, Nathan Adcock, and Will Smith to AAA Omaha. All three have started games in Kansas City, and all three could be a part of the Storm Chasers’ rotation this season. Other pitchers vying for a rotation spot in Omaha include Ryan Verdugo, Justin Marks, and Chris Dwyer. In case you lost count, that’s six players for a five-man rotation.

Despite Smith’s strong spring thus far (1.68 ERA, 10 K, 1 BB in 11 IP) he did have an option remaining, which allowed the Royals to send him to Omaha to start the season, where he will be at the front of the line if (when) a starter goes down in Kansas City, either due to injury or ineffectiveness. Teaford and Adcock have had the most major league experience, although most of their time has been spent out of the bullpen in a long reliever role.  Verdugo made one start in the big leagues last season, but the majority of his year was spent in the Omaha rotation. Marks had a great Arizona Fall League in 2012 (2.59 ERA, 22 K, 5 BB in 24.1 IP) and the Royals are hoping the 25 year old lefty has figured something out so he can eventually contribute to the major league club. After a solid 2010 season, Dwyer was ranked as the 83rd overall prospect according to Baseball America, but since then, he’s put up consecutive disappointing seasons, due in part to back and thyroid issues.

If I had to guess, I think the Storm Chasers’ rotation will look something like: Smith, Marks, Adcock, Dwyer, Verdugo; which would relegate Teaford to the bullpen. Dwyer could eventually transition to a LOOGY role in the bullpen if his starting struggles continue, but I think the organization would like to give him another month or two before making the move. His curveball is still a very good pitch, and his stuff may play up enough out of the pen that he could contribute to the Royals, possibly as soon as this September.

So there you have it. While there are plenty of arms available to start at AAA, there isn’t a bevy of high-end talent, so making room isn’t a difficult problem to solve.

If only it were that simple.

At some point this season, several other arms should be pushing their way up the farm system, beginning with Yordano Ventura. As has been mentioned, Ventura is having a fantastic spring, and he was even mentioned as a candidate for the final major league rotation spot prior to being optioned to minor league camp yesterday. He will more than likely start out the year at AA Northwest Arkansas, since he’s only made 6 starts above A+ ball. But from everything I’ve read this offseason, the organization believes Ventura can be a boost to the big league club this year, preferably as a starter, so don’t be surprised to see him promoted to Omaha after the first month of the season.

Another prospect who appears to be on a fast track is Kyle Zimmer, the team’s first round draft pick in 2012. Zimmer, Baseball America’s 24th overall prospect, only made 6 starts at Low A Kane County last season, but there are some indications he too could start the season at AA, with a possible goal of making a major league debut in September.

Prior to the 2011 season, John Lamb was considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with how the story has played out. After undergoing Tommy John surgery that put him out for most of 2011 and part of 2012, an ankle injury delayed Lamb’s comeback even longer, so he only pitched 13 innings at the end of last season. The organization is hoping he can return to his pre-injury self, although his velocity still seems to be lacking this spring. That will be something they keep an eye on as the season progresses, but if he does return to form, Lamb seems like another pitcher who could see time in the Omaha rotation this season.

Then there’s Noel Arguelles. Who could forget about Arguelles? If you did, you’re not alone.

After receiving a 5 year, $7M contract in 2010, the Cuban defector has been rather defective relative to the hype that surrounded him. A shoulder injury derailed his 2010 season, and eventually required surgery. An underwhelming 2011 season was followed by a disastrous 2012 campaign in which Arguelles walked more batters than he struck out. Much like with Lamb, the Royals will be watching for Arguelles’ velocity. Thus far, his average fastball is 91.7 MPH, and it’s been basically right at 92 MPH in his March appearances. Last season, his fastball averaged 90.7 MPH, so hopefully an increase in velocity will help his results in 2013 enough to send him to Omaha at some point.

There are others, like Jason Adam, who also have an opportunity to make their way to the Storm Chasers’ roster this season, but you get the picture: The rotation at AAA could be getting a major influx of talented arms in the next few months.

It’s going to be very crowded, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the organization handles it. Obviously guys like Adcock, Verdugo, and Dwyer could be shifted to the bullpen, but then you have to remember how deep the pen already is with players like Louis Coleman, Donnie Joseph, Michael Mariot, and Blaine Hardy; among others waiting for their shot in the talented Kansas City bullpen. Somehow, the Royals’ front office is going to have to figure out a way to make all the pieces fit, which can be a difficult task. Whether players are demoted, traded, or released, room will need to be made for the impact prospects coming through the system. It’s a good problem to have, and something the Royals – and their fans – are not really used to.

If this is what having real starting pitching depth is like, then here’s to hoping for many more tough roster decisions in the future.