Prospects offer KC cases to ponder
Potential risers strengthen hopes of Royal recovery
KANSAS CITY -- When the Royals ponder possible trades or free-agent signings at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, one factor in the decisions will be their own organization's prospects.
What's on the horizon for the next year or two or three? Do they need to sign this veteran left-hander? Do they need to trade for this big power hitter? Should they accept this 19-year-old pitcher in a deal?
It's a delicate process. The Royals, who have been concentrating on beefing up the farm system under general manager Dayton Moore, believe their hand has been strengthened because they have many legitimate Major League prospects.
"I think we do," said Scott Sharp, the Royals' director of Minor League operations. "Compared to where we stood three years ago, it is literally night and day. It is just so different in where our system stacks in overall depth, arms. ... We're just light-years ahead, we really are."
Right now, the Royals probably don't have any players ready to leap from the Minors to the Majors next summer. After all, just about all of their top prospects have already arrived or at least been tested. Examples are pitcher Luke Hochevar, first baseman Billy Butler, third baseman Alex Gordon and outfielder Mitch Maier, among others.
On the current 40-man roster also are the likes of pitcher Blake Wood, first baseman Kila Ka'aihue, infielder Jeff Bianchi and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Jordan Parraz, who are either waiting for a first or second chance.
One commodity the Royals are trying to add is speed for spacious Kauffman Stadium. Dyson is a burner who had 46 steals for two clubs in 2009. In fact, the organization topped the entire Minor Leagues with 1,045 steals last season, led by Derrick Robinson's 69 for Class A Wilmington.
"That's the type of baseball that we're preaching -- aggressive baserunning. We've got speed players in there and it's become very much a part of the way we teach our young players to play the game," Sharp said.
"We're also taking the guy who's marginal speed-wise and teaching him how to steal bases, and those are the guys that are getting to 10 to 15. Then you've got the Derrick Robinsons who are stealing 70 on top of it."
The Royals are also in the market for starting pitching, notably left-handed. They're also looking for catching and relief pitching and, hey, some productive hitters would be nice, too.
When they're sifting through their options, their decisions will hinge partly on prospects they already have in their Minor League system such as:
Aaron Crow, RHP: The University of Missouri product missed most of two seasons after being drafted by the Nationals and then the Royals. He didn't sign with Kansas City until last September, so his pro exposure was pretty much limited to the recent Arizona Fall League. He did all right there, kicking off the rust with four starts and 15 1/3 innings.
"Aaron's a different cat," Sharp said. "He's pretty polished and impressive and, without question, gives us immediate presence in the upper levels this year with right-handed pitching, which is something we don't have a lot of in-house at the higher levels."
Crow's small sample in Arizona included 12 strikeouts against just two walks with a high ERA, 5.87, but he made some good points.
"He competes, he goes at it," Sharp said. "He's very business-like, there's no wasted time or energy on the mound."
Danny Duffy, LHP: He's about to turn 21, but the southpaw was good enough to appear in this year's Futures Game in St. Louis during the All-Star break.
Duffy made 24 starts with a 9-3 record and a 2.98 ERA for Class A Wilmington to lead the organization. Duffy should ease into the Double-A picture next season, throwing a traditional mix of fastball, curveball and changeup.
"That's our pitching philosophy for the most part, establish those three pitches," Sharp said. "Once they get to Double-A, if there's a glaring need to do something different, we start to adjust. Danny stays in that mold. He's a fastball guy that pitches 88 to 93 [mph] and gets more when he needs it. He's got good command, a good curveball he can locate and a good changeup."
Mike Montgomery, LHP: He is just 20 years old and has come along fast, although he's perhaps a touch behind Duffy.
"They're similar but they're not, if that makes any sense. Mike is a little bit larger in stature and frame [6-5, 190] and a little bit looser in his arm," Sharp said. "He doesn't have the consistency in his breaking ball that Danny has, but he's got a little extra gear in his fastball -- it gets on you with that little hop at the end."
Montgomery pitched for two Class A clubs, Burlington and Wilmington, with a combined record of 6-4 and a 2.21 ERA in 21 starts. That included a 4-1 mark at Class A Advanced Wilmington.
Mike Moustakas, 3B: He is a strong left-handed batter, the second overall first-round pick of the 2007 Draft and this year's Wilmington Player of the Year. Moustakas hit a modest .250, but he also hit 16 homers despite a large home ballpark and had 86 RBIs. He hit five more homers in 20 Arizona Fall League games.
"He was the main guy that they attacked in the lineup every night," Sharp said. "They pitched around him all year, he played in the huge ballpark with very high infield grass and he had a very productive season, very impressive for one of the youngest hitters  in the Carolina League.
"I don't put any limitations on him. He can start out in Double-A this year and go off and absolutely force our hand. ... You don't want rush anyone, but he's a very accomplished hitter."
David Lough, OF: He is a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions and came on fast last year. After hitting .320 in 65 games for Wilmington, the 23-year-old graduated to Northwest Arkansas and hit .331 in 61 games.
"He's just really caught on," Sharp said. "He has a very loose left-handed swing with power to all fields. He looks like a big leaguer at the plate. He knows how to command the strike zone; he's got some speed' he's got some power; he can play the outfield. He's got a chance to be a dynamic-type player."
Lough combined for 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in his two stops.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.