Prospect-Laden Royals Will Be Long-Term Winners in Zack Greinke Trade
As they say, the rich just get richer. In this case, the talent-rich Kansas City Royals once again added premium talent to their already world-class farm system. They did surrender their staff ace Zack Greinke, but in return the Brewers sent them Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
Just to be clear, the Brewers didn't get fleeced, but if you're a Royals fan this deal can be seen as nothing other than a positive. Each youngster coming their way has the upside of at least a quality big league player and there's not much more you can ask for than that.
First and foremost, give some credit to Kansas City for handling this process very well, at least from the outside looking in. They paced the process well and took on a number of offers from different teams. They had a price in mind, and unlike so many deals for top of the rotation pitchers in the past, they got a proper price for Greinke. And just in terms of having a long-term plan for their organization, they could not be better situated than they are right now. In fact, their already-No. 1 farm system in baseball today is now perhaps as talented as any we've seen in recent years.
From the Brewers' point of view, this is not a bad move. They paid what you might call sticker price for an ace and you can't fault them for going for it in 2011. With Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum headlining their rotation they will at the very least be a force to be reckoned with in the National League. And, unlike when they landed CC Sabathia, their window to win with Greinke atop their staff is a much bigger one. With that in mind, you can justify the package they sent to Kansas City.
But even though the Brewers will be the big winners from this deal in 2011, it's the Royals that have to be considered the bigger winner overall for what they continue to build. I saw quite a bit of what their farm system already had to offer in 2010 and what I came away with was that their depth of premium players is nothing short of staggering. In Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, and John Lamb they have three legitimate front of the rotation type left-handers. In Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, they have middle of the order, All-Star type left-handed bats. I could go on and on. The depth from the GCL through Triple-A is just remarkable, and it just got better.
Coming into 2010, the best-known prospect in this deal was Alcides Escobar (pictured above). Almost unanimously considered among baseball's best 25 prospects, Escobar was best known for his supreme athleticism and bright future at shortstop. As most scouts projected, there were some offensive growing pains from Escobar in 2010, but he's still just 24 years old and has the bat speed and speed on the bases to be a better than average offensive contributor at the highest level. With some doubts about whether Christian Colon can stick at shortstop from many evaluators (and I include myself in that group), Escobar could give Kansas City some flexibility long-term.
In terms of the prospect in this deal that seems to create the most buzz among fans, that title goes to flame-throwing righty Jeremy Jeffress. Jeffress' off-the-field problems have been well-chronicled, but he has the type of arm you want on your roster any day of the week. And he figures to make an immediate impact in the big league bullpen for Kansas City in 2011. Making an immediate impression in his big league stint at the end of 2010 for Milwaukee and in the Arizona Fall League, the former first-round pick and his 95-99 mph fastball could play a big role for Kansas City setting up Joakim Soria.
Jeffress also flashes an above-average curveball at 75-79 mph, which profiles as a swing-and-miss offering at the major league level. The command of that pitch will be key, as he'll need to prove he can get it over the plate consistently enough to induce swings from patient big league hitters. Repeating his delivery -- which has some moving parts -- and his arm slot on a consistent basis will be a big key as well. There's no doubting he has the two knockout pitches to one day close in the big leagues, but his command, particularly in the zone, will need to make some progress.
But, at just 23 years old, and at the place the Royals are in building their organization, I'm sure they are more than willing to have patience and let Jeffress learn on the job. Their ultimate vision may be him eventually stepping into Soria's closing role.
As far as need is concerned, center fielder Lorenzo Cain may fit into the Royals' roster neater than anyone in this deal. In terms of immediate impact, center field is not a position the Royals had a great answer for before this deal. They recently inked Melky Cabrera, but given how he looked in Atlanta in 2010 it's difficult to believe he can be relied on. Now, they may have a better answer in the slick-fielding Cain. A tireless worker with tremendous speed and athleticism, Cain has the ability to be Kansas City's Opening Day center fielder and likely wouldn't relinquish the job if he won it.
It remains to be seen how much power he can hit for, but everywhere he's played the right-handed-hitting Cain has proven he can put bat on ball and consistently hit for average. With or without the power, Cain is a player who can hit .280 at the big league level, steal 25 bags, and play premium defense in center field. If he can live up to those impressive tools, he could a long term answer in the Royals' outfield.
And, last but not least there's Jake Odorizzi. Usually in this type of deal, there is more than one low-level talent involved. In this deal, he's the only one. The 6-foot-2 righty had a strong Midwest League campaign in 2010, but more importantly showed off above-average big league stuff. With a good moving fastball that sits in the low-90s and reaches upwards of 94-95 mph, he's able to work aggressively in the zone and attack hitters. The secondary pitches are a bit erratic at this point, but he shows the makings of a very good slider in particular.
He lives around the zone and goes at hitters, which I love to see from a young pitcher with a plus arm, and at just 20 years old that bodes well for his mentality and approach as he moves up the ladder. And as his changeup and two strong breaking offerings develop, it will only supplement an already very solid foundation for pitching. He's not overly reliant on particularly strong secondary offerings, something that can be a problem for some young arms when they arrive in the big leagues and see big league hitters turn that pitch around.
In other words, and I can't stress this enough, the Royals have moved to a special level in terms of farm-system depth. They improved their low-level pitching depth with Odorizzi, and also tremendously improved their potential 2011 big league club with Cain, Jeffress, and Escobar.
Hats off to the Brewers for landing Greinke, but the story here is the Royals and their overflowing farm system. Count me as one person very interested in Kansas City baseball in 2011 and beyond.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.
Steve Phillips breaks down both sides of the blockbuster Zack Greinke trade: