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Good Developments on the KC farm

Kansas City Royals top pitching prospect Mike Montgomery was promoted to Double-A yesterday, so in all likelihood, the record books will read his Carolina League career thusly: 90 batters faced, 33 strikeouts versus 4 walks, 14 hits, 1.71 GO/AO ratio, five runs allowed. His second start, a 13 strikeout, 2 hit, 1 run performance over seven innings was called by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper (on Twitter), “[the] best minor league pitching performance I’ve ever seen in person.”

Montgomery, who will turn 21 on July 1, is headed to a more advanced, more offensive-friendly atmosphere, and away from the cozy confines of Wilmington. But if anyone is geared to succeed at such a young age in Double-A, it’s a 6-5 southpaw (death against left-handed hitters) capable of touching 95 mph with quickly-advancing secondary stuff. On the whole, we’re talking about a guy that has thrust himself into the argument of the Minors Top Southpaw, joining a group that already features a pair of future aces in Aroldis Chapman and Martin Perez.

This early season success story isn’t the only good news on the Kansas City farm front, as we have seen a bounce back year from a number of Royals prospects. Surely none more than former first-round pick Eric Hosmer, who reached base four times last night to increase his batting line to a rather ridiculous .446/.532/.631. Hosmer has drawn 12 walks in 78 plate appearances, and has a strikeout rate just north of 12%. With healthy eyes and a healthy hand, Hosmer is regaining the status that made him the 2008 draft’s consensus top prep slugger. You have to think at some point the Royals will look to get him out of Wilmington and to Northwest Arkansas, an environment more conducive to showing off the prodigious power that has been praised more in batting practices than games thus far in his career.

This might have been the rationale behind Mike Moustakas moving up to Double-A this season, as he was a candidate to repeat High-A after his poor 2009 season. I can testify to Moustakas’ ability to put on a batting practice show the same as Hosmer, so the Royals brass had to be encouraged when he began his season (late, due to a minor injury) with a two home run performance last Thursday. The California product added another blast on Saturday, and has struck out just once in his first 22 plate appearances at Double-A. While plate discipline will always be one area that Alex Gordon holds the advantage, Moustakas is quickly closing the gap in all the other areas of the game.

When the Royals minor league season began with the surprise retirement of Danny Duffy, it looked like the Royals 2010 season was bound to be as comical at the minor league level as it was in the Major Leagues. But things are looking a little brighter with the early season performances of Montgomery, Hosmer and Moustakas. Here are the other highs and lows we’ve seen through the first 18 games of the minor league season:

Aaron Crow is getting groundballs (3.33 GO/AO), but not strikeouts (5.0 K/9) through four Double-A starts. Most concerning are the five home runs allowed, although this also means we are seeing an unsustainably high BABIP (.348) and HR/FB%. The strikeouts are all that concerns me so far.

— You have to love the re-emergence of Johnny Giavotella, who is hitting .377/.473/.459 through 17 games in Double-A. The little second baseman has been especially hot in his last eight games, where he’s 17-or-32 with six walks. Not like the Royals could use it.

— Not a long of good things are showing up in Tim Melville‘s lines in Wilmington, as he’s allowed something like 34 of the 70 batters he has faced to reach base. I’ve yet to hear a good explanation for the struggles, which might be as simple as he’s unable to find the strike zone. Too early to worry, but you can’t count him as an early season success story.

— How about Derrick Robinson and his .308/.400/.462 batting line? Most impressive are the 10 walks in 17 games, including two yesterday, which led to a perfect 4-for-4 day on the basepaths. This almost reminds me of when the light finally came on for Denard Span in 2008, and he realized just how dangerous a patient, fleet-footed, slap hitter could be.

— The dominance that Wil Myers showed in short-season ball last year might not have been a good thing for him, because I’m not sure the Royals would have sent him to the Midwest League at 19 years old otherwise. The .225/.282/.408 batting line isn’t where you’d like it, but look between the lines and there’s some good things: two home runs in last 3 games, a 1.013 OPS in a tiny sample vs. LHP, and he’s thrown out 7-of-17 baserunners. Like most MWL teenagers, he’s in over his head, but he has the talent to have long-term success in Burlington.

— Out goes Danny Duffy, in comes John Lamb as the second southpaw in the Royals farm system. Lamb’s full season debut, also at 19 in Burlington, has begun exquisitely, with a 1.00 ERA, 23 strikeouts and 23 baserunners in 18 innings. I am depressed to have missed seeing Lamb live two weeks ago, but early praise has been around the advancement of his change-up, giving a real second weapon against right-handed hitters. He’s one to look out for.

Ultimately, the reason we gave Kansas City the nod over Houston for the #29 spot in our organizational rankings was because the Royals had more upside in their minor league system. Depth is always nice in the minors, but most important is the development of stars. I see a few with the potential listed above, and that might just lead to an improvement upon #29 next year.