This is a big year for Royals prospects overall, but especially for pitching prospects, because the progress of those prospects will determine if the Royals need to sign another starter for 2014, extend James Shields beyond 2014 and whether they will need to be players in the 2013 or 2014 FA pitcher market.
It's especially important because it is unlikely that any pitching prospects will break camp with the big club, because none of the top prospects are all that close to ML ready.
Back in August I did a primer for the minor league rotations this season. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. Time to take another crack at the potential rotations.
A host of lefties up I-29 will likely start the year in the rotation. None of these guys figures as a top prospect. Dwyer was once a highly thought of guy, but he hasn't really performed. Smith is the first guy to get the call if the big club needs a starter. Marks' strong AFL may have bumped him into the second spot. Michael Mariot is also a factor here.
Northwest Arkansas (AA)
This is a big year for this group especially. Arguelles is a bust, at least for now. Marimon is org filler. Sulbaran is an enigma. Lamb is coming off injury. Adam has a low ceiling. If anybody in this group takes a step forward, that could significantly shift the fortunes of the Royals pitching development. Then there's Ventura. With a big Spring, he could start in Omaha and shuffle Adcock or Dwyer to the pen. Otherwise he's here and one of these guys (likely Arguelles) heads to the pen.
Wilmington (high A)
Kyle Zimmer (R), Kyle Smith (R), Aaron Brooks (R), Leondy Perez (R), Brooks Pounders (R), Andy Ferguson (R), Scott Alexander (R)
Big group here, mostly because there is a huge glut of talent at the A level on the mound. Greg Billo (Tommy John) should also be ready at some point in August, although maybe he goes to short season. Some of these guys will head to the pen, some will piggy back since there is a pitch limit at this level in the organization. Ferguson and Alexander are getting too old for low A, so they need to be here. Zimmer and Smith are potential fast movers. Pounders and Perez are holdovers from last season's Wilmington rotation. I could maybe see Aaron Brooks going back to low A, but I think he ends up at high A with this group, because...
Lexington (low A)
Sam Selman (L), Jake Junis (R), Angel Baez (R), Colin Rodgers (L), Miguel Almonte (R), Bryan Brickhouse (R)
That's six starters, and there's a possibility of more, with several college arms from short season last year in the mix. However, the HS kids (Junis and Brickhouse) need to throw at a full season destination. Selman needs the challenge. Rodgers needs to be stretched out (though the Royals may hold him in Surprise until May). Baez needs to be advancing up the chain. And then there's Almonte. He's rocketed up the prospect charts. I didn't even include him when I did this in August because I figured he'd get another year at rookie ball before moving to full season. However, as a top 10 prospect, he needs to start moving through the levels. This upcoming season will be his third. If he spends it in short season there's a possibility he isn't even to AA before he needs to be added to the 40 man to protect him from Rule 5. I'd say right now he, Selman, Brickhouse and Junis will all definitely be at this level. Selman may even get pushed to Wilmington to start the year.
Overall, the Royals have a lot of interesting arms below AA. They don't have a lot of polish at the upper levels. There's not a lot of help if the Royals encounter the injury bug like they did last year. But if they can have some guys step into that void (Marks, Verdugo, Smith) and provide the bridge to guys like Duffy and Paulino getting healthy, and to eventually give way to guys like Ventura, Lamb, Zimmer, Smith, Selman, Almonte and Rodgers, the Royals could have some pitching on their hands. Of course, we thought that a few years ago with the lefty quartet, but I feel like this group is deeper, in part because there just seem to be more guys with the potential to land in a ML rotation. And that doesn't count guys that have kind of been moved off the prospect map like Tim Mehlville, or guys that are maybe a couple clicks on the radar gun from being really exciting (Adam, Marimon, Billo). Chances all of these guys develop. Pretty much 0. Chances all of them fail - pretty low. But if the Royals can find one top level starter and a couple other mid rotation guys, they have a homegrown rotation just as the offense starts getting expensive.