MiLB.com will be visiting each Spring Training site in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues this month to report on the most significant stories involving each club's Minor League system as players get ready for the 2008 season. We'll find out who's impressing the organization, who's hot, who's not and sit down for an exclusive Q&A with a top prospect.
Team name: Kansas City Royals
Location: Surprise, Ariz.
Date: March 12, 2008
Now that the Royals have Mike Moustakas, at which position do they anticipate him winding up?
There wasn't much to argue about with Kansas City expending the second pick in last year's Draft on Moustakas, a home run-hitting infielder that set several California high school records. Like Alex Gordon before him, the Royals saw, rightfully so, a chance to get a big bat that could serve as a pillar in the lineup for years to come.
And though he didn't hit a homer through 41 at-bats last year in the Pioneer League, Moustakas should hit plenty of them this season at Class A Burlington in the Midwest League. But will he stay at shortstop? That seems to be the $64 question, one that the folks in Kansas City are quick to answer at the moment.
"I keep getting asked if he's going to stay at short, and we don't have any intention in 2008 of moving him off shortstop," Director of Player Development J.J. Picollo said. "We just haven't had a fair amount of time to evaluate him. What did he have, 10 or 11 games in the infield last year? He had instructional league, too, but that's not nearly the level of intensity that you see during the regular season.
"He was drafted because of his offense, so we'd like to see him just go out in his first full season and play. We want him to be as comfortable as he can be offensively and if we switch positions, that might take away from that. Come August when we have our end-of-year meetings, we'll discuss where he best fits. But a lot of people believe it's best to keep your best guys up the middle as long as you can."
Picollo pointed to Mitch Maier, the club's top pick in 2003, as someone whom Moustakas may ultimately emulate. Maier has changed positions several times since being drafted and has show no adverse reaction when it comes to his offensive production. When and if the time comes that Moustakas does move, Picollo doesn't anticipate any problems.
"He's comfortable and that's another factor as to why we don't need to make a move right away," Picollo said.
"He's a baseball player and I don't think it would phase him. If you go back and track him, when he was on the National Team down in Joplin, he went behind the plate. He's played third base and the outfield, too, so it wouldn't be anything new for Mike."
Picollo said that no one from the organization has even mentioned a position switch to Moustakas. The question they would like to see answered this season is one regarding his range at shortstop, and that should be easy enough to determine as the season progresses.
"He just wants to go out and play the game the right way," said Picollo. "I'm not concerned because I know the way he is. Whatever the best move is for him and the organization, he'll do it. He's a lot like Mitch Maier. He was drafted as a catcher, played third, went to right, then center and we found out he was a pretty good center fielder. He may be our best center fielder defensively and last year [former manager] Buddy Bell gives him a first baseman's glove and he was above average there. Stuff happens."
That Moustakas stands six feet tall and is in the 200-pound range is also a reason the question is asked so often. He's got a strong lower half and doesn't look like the prototypical shortstop.
"He's open to anything, though, and that makes it a lot easier on my end when we have to talk to a player," Picollo said.
Other News of the Day
Right-hander Carlos Rosa has made a steady climb through Kansas City's system. As he participates in Major League camp this spring, the Dominican native has added a new twist to his repertoire, hopeful that it will make a difference. He's concentrated more on refining his slider, a pitch that he largely ignored prior to heading off to winter ball following last season.
"I want it to be more consistent so I can use it as my second pitch [behind the fastball]," Rosa said. "I haven't used it a lot, and before I didn't have a very good slider. I'm working on my delivery and my mechanics, too, but getting consistency with the slider is what I want."
Outfielder Chris Lubanski has gotten off to a solid start this spring. Despite being sent to Minor League camp earlier this week, Piccolo said he's been impressed with the way Lubanski dealt with being taken off the 40-man roster. The outfielder also dealt with being exposed during the Rule 5 draft.
"He's got a different air about him this spring," Piccolo said. "He's got a chip on his shoulder, but it's a chip in a positive way."
As if to punctuate that thought, Lubanski promptly singled off Brian Bannister in an intra-squad game that Piccolo was watching on one of the backfields in Surprise.
Neal Musser's long and winding road to the Majors began nearly a decade ago when the Mets made him their top pick in the second round of the 1999 Draft. He toiled as a starter for years in the New York system and remained primarily in that role through the fall of 2006 when the Royals, who signed him as a free agent, decided to convert him to the pen. He took to the role, pitching to a 0.49 ERA in 55 1/3 innings last year at Triple-A Omaha, and is battling this spring for a spot in the KC pen.
"I'm throwing the ball really well this spring," Musser said. "The great part about being in the bullpen is that it allows me to be a lot more aggressive. The velocity in my fastball is up, and knowing I can attack a hitter has helped tremendously."
Piccolo pointed to Musser's arm angle as one of the keys to his success in the relief role. He also believes the short bursts in games have been beneficial.
"If you throw him in short stints, he throws 92-94 mph and sometimes a little higher," Piccolo said. "And now he's focused and he's flourishing."
Five Questions with Justin Huber
MiLB.com: Is this a make or break year for you?
JH: A make or break year? I think every year is a make or break year. You really can't afford to take it easy any year because then you find yourself not where you want to be. I'm still trying to improve and get better.
I think the bigger issue is staying healthy. Physically I come in every year feeling great. It's what I feel like midway through that becomes the problem. This winter I prepared differently. I feel like I'm in here stronger than in the past. I re-evaluated my strengths and weaknesses and had a different go at it this winter. I paid more attention to my knee because that's an area that I wanted to make stronger.
MiLB.com: If you could have dinner with one person from history, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be, and why?
JH: Roger Federer. I just think he's the world's most dominant athlete. I admire the way he plays. He's a true professional and superstar. I went to the Australian Open this year but I didn't get to see him.
MiLB.com: Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
JH: Making it to the big leagues (in 2005 with the Royals). It's something you never forget. I'm not happy with just hanging around, though. I don't want to hang my hat on that accomplishment.
MiLB.com: What would you be doing right now if you weren't playing baseball?
JH: Who knows? I think about it once in a while. I would probably be living in Australia because I came to America to play baseball.
MiLB.com: Being from Australia, who were your baseball heroes growing up?
JH: Dave Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd. They are the ones everyone aspired to be in Australia. I got to play with Graeme [in Spring Training 2003 with the Mets] and he was a tremendous guy. He still pitches to the Australian national team sometimes. And when we were in Taiwan for the World Cup, he flew from his home in Tampa just to hang out and support us. It was great.
Outfielder David Lough certainly raised some eyebrows last summer after the Royals grabbed him in the 11th round out of Mercyhurst College. The former football player went to Class A Burlington of the Appalachian League and hit .337 with six stolen bases, despite being limited to 86 at-bats due to a strained quad muscle. He's been no less impressive thus far this spring.
"He's come out here and he looks like he's been here for five years," Piccolo said. "Like he definitely belongs. We think he's probably advanced enough to hit in the Carolina League. But it will be his first full season and he's not advanced in terms of games played. So he'll probably start in Burlington, but we look to have him move a level before the season is over."
Lough was limited in his playing time in college and his football commitments certainly didn't help. Watching him bound around camp Wednesday morning with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm left a very good impression. While many of the other prospects were walking from field to field, Lough was jogging or running everywhere he had to go, showing the same hustle off the field that he does on it.
There's a buzz around the Royals and their farm system, one that hasn't been there in quite some time. We've been touting Kansas City as a team on the rise for a while now, and the prediction that good things are going to happen finally appears as if it will come true.
No one is saying the Royals will jump up and challenge the Tigers, Indians or White Sox for Central Division supremacy this season -- the folks in Kansas City aren't even saying that ... though they are hopeful. But, after spending time in Surprise and looking further into what I believe to be a deep farm system, I have no doubts that watching the teams in Kansas City, Omaha, Northwest Arkansas and everywhere else down the line should be very entertaining this season.