Starting pitching is the name of the game. As the season winds down into another losing campaign, the Royals have one clear problem to address in the offseason—starting pitching. Fielding a rotation with a record of 36-50 and an ERA of 5.22 (as of August 16th), the Royals’ rotation has effectively decimated their chances of competing in a weak AL Central. Uncompetitive and unable, many pitchers that have started for the 2012 Royals should not be on the roster next season if the team plans on winning the division. 2013 will be a defining season for the Dayton Moore Royals, and if they fail to produce, expect Moore to applying for jobs in other cities.
The Royals have a surprisingly long list of candidates to fill the 2013 rotation. Incumbents Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Will Smith, Jeremy Guthrie, and Luis Mendoza are guaranteed chances to make the Opening Day roster, while AAA stud Jake Odorizzi is primed to make his claim on a rotation spot after a dominating year in 2012. Players such as Nate Adcock, Everett Teaford, and Aaron Crow are sure to also get the chance to showcase their starting ability in Spring Training. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, the Royals’ two best pitchers in 2012, should make their return to the Royals sometime in June, likely demanding two rotation spots. As the 2013 season becomes visible on the horizon, the rotation battles are sure to become intense.
- Bruce Chen—Before coming to the Royals organization in 2010, Chen was journeyman lefthander who had yet to find a home in the majors. Meeting moderate success in his first year with the Royals, the team brought him back on a one-year deal to see if he could replicate his success. Chen did, and in the offseason the Royals signed Chen to a two-year extension. Since signing the two-year extension, Chen has become the “ace” of the Royals staff (being the tallest midget doesn’t mean much) and has a record of 8-10 to go along with an ERA of 5.56. Although Chen had pitched well in his first two years in Kansas City, advanced metrics showed that he might have been getting a little lucky. Also, Major League hitters adapted to Chen’s new pitching style he adopted in KC, and soon his 86 mph fastballs were finding fans beyond the outfield walls. Despite his status as the 2012 “ace,” Chen should not be guaranteed a roster spot next season—the time to win is now, and Bruce has not shown the ability to retain a roster spot on a quality Major League team.
- Luke Hochevar—this is a narrative Royals fans know well. Drafted number one overall, Hochevar was saddled with expectations he probably did not
deserve considering his overall body of work. Although dominating the college game at Tennessee and pitching well in Independent ball before the Royals drafted him, minor league success did not follow. Never dominating any level of minor league ball, Hochevar was called up and given a rotation spot simply because the Royals had no viable alternatives at the time. I truly believe that Hochevar could have been a dominant pitcher on the Major League level. Possessing a large frame and a clean delivery to go along with a plus fastball and plus curveball, Hochevar never got a chance to develop cerebrally as a pitcher in the minors. The Royals hurried him through the system because of their dearth of pitching at the Major League level, and, in turn, stunted his development. Hochevar has been the same old Hochevar this year, showing spurts of domination drowned by long stretches of batting practice fastballs. Hochevar will get a good shot to make the rotation next season due to his longevity in the rotation—but in the last year of his contract, he is (like Chen) susceptible to being cut.
- Will Smith—acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 3B Alberto Callaspo, Will Smith has been a pleasant surprise for the 2012 Royals. Although his first stint in the bigs was greeted by an absolute shelling by the New York Yankees, Smith has returned from AAA with a vengeance. Showing refined command and an explosive curve, Smith has become one of the Royals’ best pitchers since the All Star Break. Will Smith is definitely a future rotation member, and can develop into an above average number three. Being a big left-hander, look for Smith to be in the 2013 rotation.
- Jeremy Guthrie—Guthrie is a player the Royals have liked for quite some time. When the Baltimore Orioles traded Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies last
year, the Royals were said to be attempting to acquire Guthrie, but were outbid by the Rockies. A fly ball pitcher, Guthrie was murdered in the thin air of Colorado, pitching to the tune of an ERA well above 6 at Coors Field. On the road, however, Guthrie had an ERA of 3.77. With Kansas City having the largest outfield in Major League baseball, it would logically follow that he would maximize his potential here. Although his scoreless innings pitched streak is somewhat of a surprise, Guthrie would make a nice number four on a quality team. That, combined with the fact that the Royals have sought him for a long time, should guarantee and very good chance for Guthrie to make the 2013 rotation.
- Luis Mendoza—After destroying AAA last year (2.18 ERA in 144.1 IP… DESTROYING AAA), Mendoza was given a shot to make the Major League rotation but initially lost out to Felipe Paulino. Following Paulino’s injury, Mendoza was given a permanent rotation spot and has pitched beyond organization expectations. Although his first few starts were rough, Mendoza has pitched extremely well since and has been the Royals’ most consistent starter this year (this may speak more about the starters’ ineptitude, but still, he has earned his keep and more this season). Mendoza fits into the Royals’ 2013 plans and should get a rotation spot next season.
- Jake Odorizzi—One of the key components coming in the Zack Greinke trade, Odorizzi has pitched exceedingly well this season at both AA and AAA. Although many fans in KC are pining for Odorizzi’s call up, he hasn’t dominated AAA in a way that would indicate Major League success. Management needs to see more strikeouts and longer outings in order to call him up, but expect to see September starts from our best pitching prospect. Odorizzi will get a chance to make the rotation next season, and we should be cautiously optimistic about his chances. He has future front line starter written all over him, he just needs to fully develop.
- Nate Adcock—Adcock is an interesting case. In AAA this season he has an ERA of 4.86. Not good. On the Major League Level this season he has an ERA of 2.67. What should we make of that? No one really knows, but the organization is treating it like a gigantic red flag and has made Adcock set the team record for call-ups and demotions in one season. 2013 outlook: long reliever.
- Everett Teaford—Everett Teaford is a younger Bruce Chen. What does that mean? That means he is not a Major League caliber starter. Following the Jose Mijares departure, I can see Teaford becoming the Royals’ lefty specialist. However, he should get a look at the 2013 rotation following his good season at AAA this year and moderate big league success as a starter 2012. Likely outcome, however, will be the bullpen.
- Aaron Crow—I wrote a column earlier in the season demanding Aaron Crow get a rotation spot (http://crowncrazed.com/2012/the-time-has-come-for-the-royals-to-start-aaron-crow), but I have had some second thoughts. Drafted number 12 overall, Aaron Crow’s draft slot alone demands a chance to make the rotation, but should he get a shot? Crow was never successful as a starter in professional ball, and he has been a dominating reliever. However, a little digging indicates that he has shown a great inability to get batters out beyond 1 inning pitched. Look for Crow to stretch out his arm in the offseason in the hope for making the rotation, but don’t expect him to earn a spot.
- Danny Duffy—after nearly quitting baseball due to an emotional disconnect from the game, Duffy has come back more enthusiastic and quickly become
the fans’ favorite pitcher (for evidence, look at his twitter feed, @dduffkc23. The guy is just awesome.). After a promising start to the season, Duffy tore is UCL and required Tommy John surgery, pushing his availability to the Major League roster back to mid-June 2013. However, if there is one pitcher on the Royals roster I would expect to make a quicker comeback than expected, its Duffy. Duffy is a relentless worker that loves his team (see his timeless tweet, “#BuryMeARoyal”) and would do anything to be back on the mound today. Duffy is a front of the line starter, and as soon as he is healed, will be placed at the front of the rotation. Get excited Royals fans; this kid is going to be a stud for years to come.
- Felipe Paulino—another man’s trash is another man’s treasure—literally. After claiming him off waivers from the Colorado Rockies, the Royals harnessed Paulino’s potential and he quickly started dominating opposing lineups in a Royals uniform. Unfortunately, his season was also cut short due to a UCL tear and Tommy John surgery and should be expected back in late June next season. Paulino should demand a rotation spot, but the organization’s handling of him has been suspect at best. He, along with Duffy, was the Royals’ best pitcher early this season, yet Paulino has always had to work harder for a rotation spot despite his performance. Should he get a spot? Yes. Will he?
Although many fans expect the organization to go out and sign a free agent pitcher (namely, an ace) to lead the rotation, do not expect the organization to do so. Boasting tons of young talent that will be Major League ready in 2013, the Royals likely won’t need to spend hundreds of millons on a free agent pitcher to lead the rotation next season. While the Royals do not possess a defined ace heading into next season, there is no reason to sign a top-flight starter when it would not make financial sense to do so. Many fans have fallen in love with the idea of the return of Zack Greinke, yet he has not pitched strikingly well since his Cy Young season and will likely command $120 million (at least) on the open market. For a team that will eventually have to resign young studs like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Billy Butler, Felipe Paulino, Greg Holland, Tim Collins, and others, spending $20 million a year on a player like Greinke would not make financial sense for the small market Royals. The Royals have enough young talent to field an above average Major League rotation at a financially viable cost. Retaining as much young talent as possible should be the key for this organization. If the Royals can keep a combination of Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, Butler, Paulino, Holland, Collins, and others for a little over $20 million a year, that would create far more wins than the signing of one bona-fide ace. And with John Lamb returning from Tommy John surgery and Kyle Zimmerman expected to rise quickly through the minors, young aces are on the way.
Projected Opening Day Rotation
- Bruce Chen
- Will Smith
- Jake Odorizzi
- Luis Mendoza
- Jeremy Guthrie
Royals’ fans can expect to see a rotation looking like the above to start the season. What is important to remember here is that this will not be the best rotation they will be able to field throughout the season. The Royals will have Duffy and Paulino returning from injury to solidify the top of the rotation and it will be interesting to see who will be able to keep their roster spot once they return.
Projected Midseason Rotation
- Danny Duffy
- Felipe Paulino
- Luis Mendoza
- Jeremy Guthrie
- Will Smith/Jake Odorizzi
Pretty good-looking rotation, huh? With average cost of each player coming in at under $1 million, the Royals have the opportunity to field a low cost, highly effective rotation and be able to resign many of their young players to long-term contracts. Furthermore, Kansas City can only expect Duffy, Smith, and Odorizzi to continue to develop and reach their potential. If the Opening Day rotation can keep the Royals afloat next season, expect the Royals to make a second half push in an exceedingly weak AL Central. But, the best thing may be the depth the Royals will have at starter next season—if injury does occur, current staff members such as Bruce Chen, Will Smith, and Luke Hochevar will be able to make spot starts or even fill in at the bottom of the rotation, providing the Royals with insurance they will surely need to win. Although 2012 was supposed to be #OurTime, expect 2013 to be a year of more success than Kansas City has seen in a while.