From Myers to Starling, Royals set

Top outfield prospects pilot Kansas City's system in 2012

By Andrew Pentis / Special to | November 12, 2012 5:37 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

This fact is of consequence, not coincidence: Eight of the Royals' dozen All-Stars spent a significant amount of the season with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers.

Here's why: While the Pacific Coast League club wasn't able to defend its title in 2012, it did win 83 games before exiting in the first round of the playoffs, thanks -- in no small part -- to the big-time players listed below.

Two other Royals affiliates secured division crowns: Class A Advanced Wilmington was bounced from the Carolina League playoffs after three games, while Rookie-level Burlington, with its own Star-ling power and system-best .621 winning percentage, lost in the Appalachian League Championship Series.

Royals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Max Ramirez, Omaha (110 games): Ramirez, who signed with the Royals as a free agent last December, turned out to be a good get. The 27-year-old backstop batted .300 and mashed 17 home runs while collecting 77 RBIs in 110 games. He split time between catcher and DH for the Storm Chasers but was a better hitter (.346 average in 36 games) while filling the latter role.

"Max put up some great numbers. He's always been an offensive-oriented guy," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "Defensively, quite honestly, he's adequate. If he was an above-average catcher, he would be a Major League player now."

First base -- Clint Robinson, Omaha (131 games), Kansas City (four games): Robinson, a six-year veteran in the organization, didn't quite match last season's totals (.326 average, 23 homers and 100 RBIs), but his 2012 numbers (.292, 13, 67) stood out among his organizational peers. His 37 doubles and 79 walks were system highs. The burly right-handed slugger also excelled each month but July, when he hit .219 in 26 games. Nevertheless, he was always an integral member of a potent lineup.

"He stabilizes things," Picollo said. "Opposing teams know him. He helped [Eric] Hosmer last year. This year, his presence helped Wil Myers -- Wil hit ahead of him. All the other hitters benefited."

Second base -- Justin Trapp, Kane County (117 games): Trapp, a 2009 34th-round Draft pick, is closer to earning prospect status after establishing career highs across the board: .272 average, 41 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs, 75 runs scored and 24 steals for the Cougars. His defense was less impressive (22 errors), but the Royals realize he was more of a football player (he was committed to play at Coastal Carolina) than baseball when they signed him out of South Carolina.

"It was a breakout year for him," Picollo said. "He played better defensively than he has in the past. He is an under-the-radar guy for us."

The runner-up here, the more experienced Johnny Giavotella, posted a .323/.404/.472 line in 89 games at Omaha. "We believe in his bat," Picollo said. "He will compete for the everyday job at second base next year [with] Chris Getz."

Third base -- Patrick Leonard, Burlington (62 games): A 2011 fifth-round pick, Leonard was unfazed by his first professional experience. He made up for his rather average .251 average with a home run every 17 at-bats or a league-leading 14 on the (short-) season.

"He is going to be a very good player, a lot of power," Picollo said. "He really shocked us with his defense because he's a big guy -- if you haven't seen him, he's 6-foot-4, 225 pounds -- but he moved well around the bag and has excellent range and arm."

Shortstop -- Tony Abreu, Omaha (103 games), Kansas City (22 games): Another veteran signed out of the ether in December and added to the Storm Chasers, Abreu mostly battled third and fifth in the lineup, thanks to his high contact rate. He hit .322, collected 50 extra-base hits (including 36 doubles) and 73 RBIs before his big league callup.

Christian Colon, who overcame freakish injuries (he broke his toe stepping on a bat early in the season and fouled a ball off his face late), easily could have gotten the nod here -- and not just because of his .301/.376/.413 line.

"Abreu's numbers are more impressive, but this personifies what Colon means to his team: At Double-A, they had [about] a .520 winning percentage with him; when he was hurt, the team won at a .300 clip," Picollo said. "With his presence, the team changed quite a bit."


Wil Myers, Northwest Arkansas (35 games), Omaha (99 games): There are a whole host of factors that helped Myers re-emerge as one of the game's best offensive prospects. Among them, staying healthy, playing in the hitter-friendlier Texas and Pacific Coast leagues and making mechanical adjustments to his swing. Myers has said he made his body more upright to increase his power -- he hit 37 homers in 2012, 29 more than he did in '11 -- and he didn't sacrifice his average (.314) to do it. Oh, and he learned third base while playing mostly in center and right field.

From his vantage point, Picollo said Myers did a better job of taking his pre-game swing -- the one he used during batting practice, tee and flip drills -- into games than in his down year of 2011.

"There's nothing he really didn't do," Picollo said. "His first time at the highest level and he was a force in the league."

Bubba Starling, Burlington (53 games): The third overall pick in 2010, Starling worked out in Arizona and waited until midway through the 2012 season for his first "official" pro experience. It went well. The 20-year-old hit 10 homers and posted an impressive .856 OPS while, as can be expected for a inexperienced ballplayer with a swing in need of fine-tuning, struck out once every three at-bats.

"He had real good run-production," said Picollo, noting that Starling likely will never be a low-strikeout guy. "It won't get talked about whole lot, but he was also outstanding in center field, far more advanced than we thought he'd be -- we thought he'd be a work-in-progress. His instincts are really good. I was [with the team] for a week and two times he threw out the tying or go-ahead runner at home plate. When he sniffs a chance to make a big play, he'll make it."

Alexis Rivera, Arizona League Royals (48 games): Though the start of Starling's career was delayed, Rivera's was expedited. Signing early out of his native Puerto Rico, the corner outfielder led all Royals Minor Leaguers in batting (minimum 200 plate appearances). He hit .341 while showing unusual patience for an 18-year-old, as evidenced by his 23-to-28 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

"He had the most impressive season out of our Draft picks this year," Picollo said of the 10th-round choice last June. "He's much more advanced than I think we thought he'd be. He hit for more average than we thought he would. I hate making comparisons, but we were thinking he'd be a Jim Thome-type guy. We thought he'd be a middle-of-the-order type."

Utility men -- Irving Falu, Omaha (88 games), Kansas City (23 games) and Anthony Seratelli, Omaha (115 games): This tie between versatile ballplayers could not be broken. Falu led all Royals farmhands with at least 400 plate appearances in batting (.329) while stealing 21 bases; Seratelli scored the second-highest homer total (17) in the organization while racking up 15 thefts.

"Irving was the catalyst and he did a great job," Picollo said, "But Seratelli, he plays even more positions."

In fact, Seratelli played at least a dozen games at the four infield positions while lining up nine times in the outfield. Falu rarely stayed put, too, as he defended at second, short, third base and right field. They were undoubtedly key cogs.

"The reason why that team was so consistent," Picollo said of the Storm Chasers, "it was really those two guys."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jake Odorizzi, Northwest Arkansas (seven games), Omaha (19 games), Kansas City (two games): The Royals' top pitching prospect won a system-high 15 games while fashioning a 3.03 ERA between two levels. He held Double-A foes to a .191 batting average before finding the Pacific Coast League to be more of a challenge, surrendering 12 homers in 19 games there.

Odorizzi, who also struck out 135 batters over 145 1/3 innings, finished the year in Kansas City and will compete for a chance to begin 2013 there, according to Picollo.

"As good as his fastball is, he is a fly-ball guy and -- as he found out in that league -- when you're up [in the zone] too much, guys will get you," he said. "Minimizing how much he misses up will be the key."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ryan Verdugo, Omaha (27 games), Kansas City (one game): The 25-year-old went 12-4 for the Storm Chasers in his first run through the Triple-A ranks. He was at his best in August, when he won five of six starts and posted a 3.09 ERA in 35 innings.

While Odorizzi features a slider and curveball, Verdugo attained his success mostly with a fastball-changeup combo.

"To be successful at the Major League level, he needs to be more consistent with his slider," Picollo said. "We struggled with what to do with him. We could have put him in the [Royals'] 'pen, but for his own development -- because he still is a pretty young guy -- we thought innings would be more important than a role."

Relief pitcher -- Brandon Sisk, Omaha (50 games): Another lefty, Sisk won three of five decisions while recording a 2.54 ERA and fanning 73 batters over 67 1/3 frames. Working with his 88-92 mph heater and changeup, he allowed just one run in his final 10 regular-season appearances, spanning 17 1/3 innings.

"He has a lot of deception -- not overpowering but not soft," Picollo said. "We joke around that he's got the 'invisi-ball.' Guys just don't take good swings against him."

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to and writes the Prospective Blog. Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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