One season after the beginning of a wave of young players finally reached the major league level, the Kansas City Royals sit with a minor league cupboard that is far from bare. However the talent in the system is now fully tilted back towards the lower end of the system.
That doesn't mean the Kansas City Royals won't again see rookies grace the roster during 2012. Perhaps the most talented player in the minor league system is AAA pitcher Mike Montgomery. Montgomery, along with Danny Duffyand John Lamb were a trio of pitching prospects long talked about as Royals fans waited their arrival.
Ironically the 2011 seasons for all three went in different directions. Duffy ascended to the major league squad and figures to have nailed down a rotation spot for 2012, while Lamb's season ended early after suffering and injury that made him a recipient of Tommy John surgery.
Coming into 2011, Montgomery was the main cog of the trio. Though he struggled during the past year, he still may have the highest ceiling of the group. After reaching AA Northwest Arkansas at the age of 20, Montgomery struggled to the tune of a 5-11 record in Omaha with a 5.32 ERA.
Thankfully Montgomery still has plenty of time on his side, though he does need to take the next step in 2012. Best case scenario for Royals fans is Montgomery follows the path laid by Duffy in 2011. During the first half of the season Montgomery shows progression of getting hitters out at AAA and comes up to Kansas City sometime around the All-Star break.
Duffy has solid numbers in Omaha last year, but they weren't exactly blowing anyone away. In eight starts, the lefty was 3-1 with a 3.43 ERA. Going back to Montomgery, last year he allowed a career high 9.4 hits per nine innings, and you'd like to see that number under seven before he comes up to Kansas City for good. He will also need to trim his walk total from 4.1 per nine to under three.
Two others pitchers I believe have good chances of seeing time with the big league club as rookies at some point in 2012 are Brandon Sisk and Ryan Verdugo. Those two would both come out of the bullpen. The turnover you most often see during a major league season is in the bullpen, as you will never see a team with too many bullpen arms.
Sisk is a 6'1" 210 lb left-hander. At 26 he's in a similar position Everett Teaford found himself in last season. In 41 outings last year between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, Sisk was 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA. Two very promising numbers were Sisk allowed just 4.5 hits per nine innings at Omaha last year, while he also has a career mark of allowing just one home run every 18 innings.
Verdugo, another left-hander, is 24 and was acquired in the Melky Cabrera trade this offseason. Compared with his career numbers, last year was a down season for Verdugo. At AA Richmond he was 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 starts. However that was also Verdugo's first season as a starting pitcher. He likely will be converted back to a bullpen arm with the Royals.
As a bullpen pitcher, Verdugo had numbers very similar to what Sisk has done. The difference between the two is Verdugo is more of a strikeout pitcher. In his career he has averaged 11.1 punchouts per every nine innings. With many of the Royals young starting pitching prospects being left-handed, Verdugo's better numbers as a reliever easily allows the shift back to the bullpen.
These are the three I am keeping my eye on as likely to move to Kansas City at some point in 2012. While there will be September call-ups and the potential of a surprise, these are the three who will have first chances with Kansas City should their chips fall correctly.