High-A Promotional Material

Riddle: How long does it take to get from Wilmington, Delaware to Springdale, Arkansas?
  • You can drive for 21 hours across I-70 for 1,228 miles.
  • You can take a five-hour flight from Philadelphia to Bentonville by way of Memphis for $493.
  • You can pitch for the Royals and get promoted to AA in less time than it should take.

The Promotion Process

Perhaps more than most organizations, Royals' fans follow the talent in the minor leagues nearly as much as the major leagues. Clearly the development of starting pitchers has been the biggest failure, has been for a long time.

The subject of pitcher injuries and what causes them is way above my pay grade, so to be fair to the organization, we'll accept that they may be a biological event beyond anything an organization has influence over. But analyzing the process used to develop pitchers is fair game.

Depending on which level a pitcher starts at, he'll go thru the promotion process at least four times to reach the major leagues. Promotions follow a similar pattern - player dominates a league, gets promoted, experiences a period of adjustments, then starts to dominate the new league. Repeat.

But have the Royals' High-A pitchers really been promotional material - or have they been prematurely promoted?

Consider the following details...

Well-Hyped Starters

In the lowest levels, Royals' fans get excited when a pitcher dominates - the hype machine labels each one a potential ace. Why just a few years ago, the Royals had four sure-fire left-handed aces in Montgomery, Duffy, Dwyer and Lamb - finally the Royals had something special. Fast-forward to 2012 - two have a TJ scar and two have regressed tattooed on their pitching arms.

Judging from stats, the biggest jump for pitchers appear to be from High-A to AA. The following data table shows the ERAs at both levels and the change in ERA for several notable Royals' pitchers. Some pitchers were able to recover with a second year in the league; some have not, won't, don't appear to, etc.


Objects on Mound are Further Than They Appear

General Managers have various sources of information they use to determine when a pitcher is ready to be promoted to the next level. From the outside, we can only make assessments based on stats, results and the eye-test.

Minor league teams are constantly changing personnel, which makes analysis particularly inexact. However, organizational philosophy can be determined by looking at team averages over a long period of time compared to other organizations.

In looking thru twelve years of team stats for the High-A and AA teams, you'll notice that the High-A pitchers noticeably out-perform the league, ranking in the top half of teams every year (minus the detour to High Desert, California League). Before the GMDM years, this success could have been attributed to having an older group of pitchers, but the success has largely continued as the average age has dropped over the last four years under GMDM.

Royals High-A was in the 10-team California League for two years (2005/6).

Green: better than league average, Blue: older than league average

Data from


Since pitchers generally get promoted from High-A to AA, you might expect that success would continue as each pitcher adjusts to the new league. As good as the High-A teams have been, the AA teams have been as bad since 2005 -steadily declining since 2002.


When the talent doesn't perform similarly at the next level over 12 years, then there is a systemic problem that needs to be diagnosed and corrected. To put this another way, other teams are promoting pitchers that, as group, perform better on the AA level than the Royals. Notice that beginning in 2002, the AA stats progressively got worse - the numbers tell you that there is a problem, we are left to consider the reason.

2012 Year to Date








Florida State League








Carolina League








California League








Failure Analysis (Cliff Notes Version)

Four possible root causes come to mind:

#1. Caroline League Pitcher Evaluations - the league is known as a pitcher's league. The fact that pitchers perform well in this league and ballparks might be leading to inflated evaluations of pitcher development - resulting in premature promotion. Perhaps if the High-A team was in another league, conditions would result in more accurate evaluation and actual player development on this level.

#2. League Talent Level - there are only two organizations in both leagues (KCR and TEX), suggesting that the Carolina High-A teams might be less talented, for whatever reason, than the other teams that feed into the Texas League (ie. the High-A California and Florida State Leagues).

#3. Pitching Coach - Larry Carter, AA pitching coach 2002-current, Steve Luebber, High-A pitching coach, 2007-current. To have such a defined roadblock in pitcher development, you need to consider the effect of coaching. The data suggests that since Carter joined the staff in 2002, that pitchers might not be learning the necessary adjustments to succeed at this level.

#4. Draft Evaluation - scouts have the tough job of projecting the talent level of 18 year-old prospects. All players have a talent ceiling, whether Low-A, Major Leagues or somewhere in between. If players routinely stall at a particular level like AA, it could be a problem that can be traced back to scouting and addressed there for changes in future drafts.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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