WTNYApril 26, 2005
Royally Rebuilding
By Bryan Smith

News Item: On Saturday, April 23, 2005, the Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in 10 innings.

OK, so what? I'm sure this was one of those box scores you skipped over in the Sunday newspaper, hardly shocked baseball's best team beat baseball's worst. In fact, the most surprising part of the game, you thought, was that it lasted ten innings.

That's too bad. Because what you missed, for the first nine innings at least, was the early showings of Allard Baird's long-term rebuilding process. The four stars of the game were all 25 and under, giving depressed Royal fans a little promise. Bummed Calvin Pickering, John Buck and Mark Teahen haven't exactly met expectations? Well, what are you doing watching the offense anyway? The game was impressive for what was on the mound, not at the plate.

It all started, unsurprisingly, with the right arm of Zack Greinke. While the preseason statistics all yielded to some serious regression for Greinke this year, Zack is proving to simply be the exception to the rule. All control, all changing speeds. Line drive percentages and FIPs might not be his friend, but gravity is. And for the Royals, who have been pinning their future hopes on Greinke's right shoulder since the day he was drafted.

Following Greinke came in the Royals most trusted reliever, who had been on some streak:

12.1	7	0	3	14

When I gave these numbers to our friend, the Transaction Guy, he was left guessing Mark Prior's numbers before last night. Prior is close, of course, with with more hits and less strikeouts. The Cubs is a good theme, though this name will cause a bit more depression than Prior. This is the guy that forced me to question the Cubs, and who I said "should be the top choice in the [Rule 5] draft." Or better yet...

[Kansas City] might as well keep trying to pluck the next Johan Santana from the Rule 5 draft, possibly selecting Andy Sisco from my Cubbies this December.
They listened. Andy Sisco was chosen in the Rule 5 draft, and given a chance to make the Major League team. What happened then would all be speculation: he lost serious weight, dropped a pitch, responded to Guy Hansen. But for some reason, Andy Sisco has taken off. And those numbers are his last seven appearances, since Opening Day when the reliever behind him allowed Andy's baserunners to score.

So, Sisco entered the game in the top of the eighth inning, when White Sox broadcaster Darrin Jackson said of the southpaw, "I've never seen him or heard of him until now." It might just be me, but should any Chicago announcer be saying this on air about one of the Chicago team's largest mistakes of the winter? I digress, but it does speak to Sisco's obscurity, despite his huge frame and power stuff.

In his one inning on the mound, Sisco struck out the side, giving up just one single. His fastball was 91-94 mph, and thrown in twelve of his seventeen pitches. The other five were all sweeping sliders, 83-86 mph, diving away against left-handed batters. Sisco's lone hit came from Juan Uribe, who took a Sisco fastball the other way. White Sox hitters were consistently late on the fastball, hitting four foul balls in the inning.

It seems as though Sisco has found a home in the bullpen, and previous thoughts that he should eventually be placed back in the rotation should be thrown out. Sisco could soon be a part of a good power bullpen that Allard Baird is putting together for next to nothing.

Another name who could be a part of the mix is Ambiorix Burgos, who made his Major League debut in this game. Recognize the name? You might, he was mentioned in my breakout prospects article this past June:

Speaking of control problems, few in the minors need control to succeed like Ambiorix Burgos of the Royals. Last year in the Midwest League, Burgos struck out 172 batters in just 134 innings, while allowing just 109 hits. His problem? 75 walks. Burgos struck out more than ten batters four times, but also walked at least five on seven different occasions. Kansas City isn't the best organization to teach control (Colt Griffin), but they should make a point of it, because Burgos is one special talent.

In the offseason the Royals decided to do with Burgos what they had with Griffin: move his power stuff to the bullpen. The conversion quickly was a success in Wichita, where Burgos quickly dominated and drastically lowered his walk rate. With Jeremy Affeldt hurt and Mike MacDougal struggling, the Royals decided it was time to call up the 21-year-old. Not only that, but Tony Pena decided Burgos' debut would be in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game against the Majors' hottest team.

Ambiorix made Pena look like a genius. No fastball slower than 95, with a couple touching 98 mph. His other pitch is a splitter that acts similar to a change, thrown 85-87, and used when he struck out the first batter he faced. Burgos is definitely fastball friendly, throwing the pitch in ten of his thirteen pitches from the inning.

With this, Burgos could be in line for a few saves in Kansas City. 21-year-olds in the Majors face a tough learning curve, so you might pass on him on your fantasy team, but this is someone to watch. I can tell you that nothing made my Saturday better than watching one of my favorite prospects validate my faith.

Speaking of the White Sox, over the weekend Ozzie Guillen continued to be the 2005 Midas of coaching. Every decision he makes is a success, leading the Sox to an amazing 9-1 record in one-run games. One of those came when Pablo Ozuna came off the bench, the same Ozuna that barely made the White Sox, and had a game-winning hit.

This is also the same Ozuna that was the fifth-ranked shortstop by Baseball America in 2000. Discovering this, I became interested in what has happened to shortstop prospects recently, as their position tends to get them overrated. So I looked at every shortstop that made the BA top 100 from 1999-2003, and characterized them in two ways: successes and busts.

Of course, there are a few players who fall somewhere in the middle, and a few who are still too early to judge. But what I found, however, was a pretty even split: 13 successes and 14 busts. One of those busts being, of course, Pablo Ozuna. Here is a look at the other 26...

Successes	         Busts
Jose Reyes	Brandon Phillips
Khalil Greene	Jose Castillo
Angel Berroa	Wilson Betemit
Miguel Cabrera	Kelly Johnson
Alfonso Soriano	Antonio Perez
Jimmy Rollins	Ramon Vazquez
D'Angelo Jimenez	Felipe Lopez
Juan Uribe	Luis Montanez
Rafael Furcal	David Espinosa
Cesar Izturis	Ramon Santiago
Alex Gonzalez	Gookie Dawkins
Mike Cuddyer	Brent Butler
Cristian Guzman	Kelly Dransfeldt

Amazing, isn't it? Four of the success stories have now moved, most notably Alfonso Soriano and Miguel Cabrera. This is not the kind of rate that we would like to see, with just nine players of the 26 we projected so highly becoming stars at short. Expecting production up the middle -- and not being sold just by the position -- is something we should all double-check the next time around.

The day after this Burgos game, the one that Ozuna won, was another youth-filled day. The first seven innings were thrown by Denny Bautista, a favorite of mine since the day I watched him pitch at the 2003 Futures Game. In seven innings the right-hander allowed two hits, four walks and two runs. Last July, I made Bautista my 74th best midseason prospect, with this comment attached to his name:

I was taken aback by Bautista at the 2003 Futures Game, where I saw him as the most intimidating pitcher out there. He was last year's version of Jose Capellan, and I won't forget that anytime soon. Trading Bautista for Jason Grimsley is grounds for firing, because I think Bautista will turn out to be a good one, whether in the bullpen or the rotation. He's been fantastic since joining the Royals, what with a 1.61 ERA in four starts, allowing just 18 hits in 28 innings.

Bautista is now proving that the move to the bullpen that has been rumored since his first organization might not have to happen. This is a kid that upset Mike Wood for a rotation spot in Spring Training, and has not turned around. Denny and Zack can now combine to give the Royals a solid 1-2 punch for the future, one that will soon add players like J.P. Howell, Matt Campbell, and whoever Baird adds next.

What comes next will decide whether Baird's rebuilding process ends in success or failure. Alex Gordon or Mike Pelfrey? Trade Mike Sweeney and who else? Play Billy Butler at what decision?

The wins this season do not matter. In fact, that 3-2 loss in ten innings could be one of the more impressive games of the season. Well, that is until they found that veteran to pitch the tenth.


How is Christian Guzman a success? Just because Jim Bowden is stupid enough to pay him like he is doesn't make him one.

Well, I'm definitely lenient on the successes. Guzman has had six full seasons in the Majors, and collected 150 hits in a season three times. He has hit .300 once, and had over 80 runs scored four times. He's not going to always help a team like people like Jim Bowden think, but Baseball America did a good job with his ranking in 1999 (10th best SS prospect). From a pure prospect standpoint, lasting in the Majors is success.

I'm glad to see someone pointing out something positive about these Royals. Yes, they're going to lose a ton of games. But I have to believe in Allard Baird and what he is doing with this team. A rotation with Greinke, Bautista and Hernandez along with a bullpen built around Wood, Sisco and Burgos is hopefully the beginning.

I'm strangely optimistic about this group.

It didn't help that Pablo Ozuna gained a few years one offseason. He was born in 1974, instead of 1978. Which was discovered after he was traded to the Marlins for Edgar Renteria. That certainly changes the perception of a young SS and I don't blame BA or BP for what turned out to be a massive over-rating of him.

Burgos had a tough time against the Twins on Tuesday -- looks like control is still a problem. Sisco looked solid, though -- he got the only two batters he faced.