Minor Leagues Gives Fans Glimpse at Future Stars
There is electricity in minor league towns all over North America at this time of year as prospects develop and teams make their final push toward the postseason. The Royals organization is filled with tons of exciting young players and four of the Royals seven minor league affiliates are racing toward the finish line with a great shot at postseason play. Prospects like Luke Hochevar, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler have scouts salivating and fans dreaming of what could be at Kauffman Stadium in the near future.
Perhaps the most exciting news down on the farm is first overall pick Luke Hochevar is scheduled to make his Royals organizational debut tonight as Class-A Burlington hosts South Bend. Hochevar will throw 30-35 pitches tonight as he builds his arm strength (UPDATE: FINAL LINE – 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 SO). After almost a handful of starts at Burlington, the 6-foot-5 right-hander will head to Arizona to compete in the Arizona Fall League against the best of the best in terms of minor league prospects. He will be in Major League camp come February.
Double-A Wichita, featuring a lineup with four former first-round draft picks including third baseman Alex Gordon (2005) and Billy Butler (2004) have been tearing up the Texas League lately, widening their North Division lead to five games as of Aug. 16. Gordon has hit 24 home runs and stolen 21 bases while Butler, despite being one of the youngest players at the Double-A level, leads the league with a .331 average and is second with 96 RBI. Butler, the MVP of the Features Game during All-Star Week, will leave shortly for Cuba where he is competing for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Good luck, Billy!
The Wichita pitching staff is lead by Zack Greinke, Tyler Lumsden and Billy Buckner. Greinke, still just 22 years old, has been unhittable lately, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.00 ERA in his last four starts. Lumsden, a big 23-year-old lefty who came over from the White Sox in the Mike MacDougal trade, has a 2.77 ERA in his first three starts. Buckner, a 22-year-old curveball specialist and the Royals 2004 second round pick, was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week last week after earning two wins and allowing just one run.
Class-A High Desert sits in fourth place in the Southern Division of the California League, but is just three games back of first place with 19 to go.
Rookie League Arizona is tied with the Angels and Giants for first place with just 12 games remaining on the schedule. The fleet-footed squad has recorded 108 stolen bases, 42 more than any other team in the league! Six different players have at least 10 steals led by 2006 fourth-round selection Derrick Robinson, who turned down a football scholarship from Florida to play for the Royals.
Finally, the Royals Dominican Summer League team in Salcedo is at it again, clinching the Cibao Division for the third straight season. The team has a 42-19 record with nine games remaining in the regular season.
More prospects Royals fans will want to keep an eye on:
* Jeff Keppinger – infielder at Omaha who is hitting over .350 since he was acquired from the Mets organization in mid-July
* Ryan Braun – hard-throwing right-handed reliever who tore through Wichita and is now making life difficult for hitters in the Pacific Coast League
* Most of the pitchers at Burlington –Luke Hochevar joins an already talented group of young, power arms for the Bees including RHP Erik Cordier, 20, and RHP Carlos Rosa, 21.
* Brent Fisher – 19-year-old lefty has 72 strikeouts in just 53.1 innings for Arizona.