There's some serious upward mobility going on in the Kansas City Royals' farm system.
The Royals certainly aren't alone in terms of promoting from within, but there's no question that things appear to be heading in the right direction for some of the better prospects in the organization.
That, after all, is what it's all about. Finding, signing and developing players who will move up the ladder and make it to the big leagues. Moving one rung a year is certainly fine, but if a player, or players, can earn that exciting in-season promotion, they can get ahead of the curve. And that's why there's some buzz coming from what's going on with the future of the Kansas City Royals.
It starts with third base prospect Mike Moustakas. The 21-year-old got bumped from Double-A to Triple-A shortly following the Futures Game and is now knocking on the door. After hitting .347/.413/.687 in the Texas League, he's hit .220 over his first 50 Triple-A at-bats but is already showing signs of making adjustments. The fact that the trade of Alberto Callaspo has left a possible opening at third has not gone unnoticed.
If Moustakas were alone in moving up, that'd be a good enough story, but it's far from it in the talent-rich Royals system. Thanks to some excellent drafting by the scouting staff in years past, there's plenty more to track. First baseman Eric Hosmer was taken in the first round the year after Moustakas, and he's followed one step behind. After hitting .354/.429/.545 in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, the 20-year-old fellow Futures Gamer has hit .333/.391/.762 in his first 11 Double-A games. The power people wondered about is really starting to come, too, as he's hit five homers over 42 at-bats in the Texas League.
Right behind that dynamic duo is 2009 draftee Wil Myers, a catcher who began the year in the Midwest League. After hitting .289/.408/.500 in 68 games there, he's been raking in the Carolina League, to the tune of .342/.446/.447 in 22 games. And he's just 19.
And it's not just bats moving up the chain in Kansas City. John Lamb, perhaps the steal of the 2008 Draft as a fifth-round pick, has moved from the Midwest League to the Carolina League. His 1.46 ERA leads all of Minor League Baseball. Fellow lefty Mike Montgomery made a successful jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A ball before going down with an injury that he's currently rehabbing.
Of course, the Royals haven't cornered the market in moving players up the ladder. Braves pitching prospect Julio Teheran just earned his second promotion of the season. Just 19, he got bumped up from the South Atlantic League after seven starts and a 1.14 ERA. He had a 2.98 ERA in 10 starts with Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League before moving, along with Randall Delgado, up to Double-A.
Sometimes an in-season promotion puts a player in line for making his big league debut. Case in point: the Rangers' Tanner Scheppers. The 2009 draftee began the year with Double-A Frisco, but was quickly moved up to Triple-A, where he did some starting before moving back into a relief role. Could his success out of the pen with Oklahoma City give the Rangers confidence he can help out the big league bullpen for the playoff run? It's entirely possible.
"His situation is really unique," Rangers farm director Scott Servais said. "We talked about it in Spring Training because he had some exposure in Major League camp. We saw his stuff and thought [he could help]. We put together a plan that would line him up to have something left in the tank in August and September. We're staying with the original plan we came up with in March, hoping we'd be in the position we're in.
"He's gone through a little bit of a lull period. We put him in the rotation to increase his workload and innings as planned, then back to the bullpen, because we thought that's where he could impact our big-league club, depending on how things play out in the deadline and August."
There's been talk in Philadelphia of trading one of the big league outfielders away to help bring in someone for the stretch run. That's largely because of a belief that perhaps top prospect Domonic Brown is ready. After hitting .318/.391/.602 with Double-A Reading, he's more than handled the jump to Triple-A, scorching International League pitchers with a .343/.380/.545 line in 26 games.
Making the decision to promote a player isn't as easy as it sounds. It's not just looking at a guy's numbers and thinking he's earned the right to move up. The Chicago Cubs have never been a club to shy away from pushing players up the ladder. This is the organization, after all, that moved Starlin Castro aggressively, and that's more than paid off. To make moves like that, though, the front office needs to know what makes these players tick.
"You assume they're going to struggle at the next level," Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. "You have to know they can handle that, and that it won't set them back. You want to make sure you check in with the coaches and rovers and cover the 'what if' questions. You're dealing with people's careers, you're dealing with human beings. You want them to be in a position where they have success and they are challenged."
The Cubs have moved several players this year, but two of the key prospects to earn promotions were third baseman Josh Vitters and outfielder Brett Jackson. The Cubs clearly have a sense Vitters can handle adversity, having promoted him in-season in the past to levels at which he initially struggled. The 2007 first-rounder was hitting .291 in Daytona when there was a need up above.
While Vitters has hit just .223/.292/.383 in 63 Double-A games, the Cubs were pleased with his approach at the plate, and he seemed to be making adjustments. They also liked that he was playing every day and hitting third on a team headed to the playoffs, strong believers that a winning environment helps in development. Unfortunately, Vitters broke his the middle finger on his left hand on Sunday.
Jackson, on the other hand, basically hit his way up to Double-A Tennessee and has continued to hit well for the playoff-bound Smokies.
"If he eats up the league like he did, he deserves to move up a level," Fleita said.
It helped that Jackson came in as an advanced college hitter who began his first full season in Class A Advanced Daytona. Age and maturity, Fleita said, figure into who gets moved and who doesn't, at times. In the Cubs system, that's a reason why talented shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is still playing for Peoria in the Midwest League. The 19-year-old South Korean has had a very solid full-season debut, and the Cubs didn't want to move him up and risk having him finish 2010 with failure.
"Sometimes you let them finish where they started," Fleita said. "In general, they often remember how they finish. It's a game of confidence, and I like to make sure players go home with the feeling of what it was like to have success. With younger kids, you have to be cognizant of those types of things."
A look at some of the game's top prospects that have been promoted during the 2010 season.
IP, ERA, BAA, K
IP, ERA, BAA, K
117.1, 2.76, .210, 120
5.0 IP, 3.60, .167, 5
77.0, 3.39, .229, 109
33.1 IP, 3.24, .248, 37
25.0, 3.24, .185, 38
83.0 IP, 3.14, .201, 77
34.0, 1.32, .138, 39
63.0 IP, 2.00, .235, 52
40.0, 1.58, .188, 43
70.2 IP, 1.40, .206, 85
24.2, 1.09, .165, 33
29.0 IP, 2.79, .229, 25
43.0, 2.72, .212, 53
73.2 IP, 2.44, .217, 61
11.0, 0.82, .079, 19
46.2 IP, 4.24, .276, 48
39.1, 1.14, .168, 45
63.1 IP, 2.98, .233, 76
44.0, 2.86, .204, 41
73.0 IP, 1.48, .204, 49
* Also pitched one game at Triple-A
** Has been promoted to Double-A but hasn't pitched yet
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.