Kansas City Royals
Position: RHP Height: 6-2 Weight: 190 Born: 10/21/83 Bats: Right Throws: Right
A season of promise has morphed into a season of despair for the Kansas City Royals. Virtually everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and none of the things expected to go right have done so. If there is any good news to be found for the Royals, it is the fact that the long-term rebuilding project remains intact. The free agents brought in to make the team competitive this year (Juan Gonzalez, Matt Stairs, Benito Santiago) didn't cost a ton of money or result in the loss of prospects from an improving farm system. The crown jewel of the system is right-hander Zack Greinke, who made his major league debut in mid-May and has been very impressive in his first four starts, going seven strong innings in each of the last three. Drafted in the first round out of a Florida high school in 2002, Greinke has made rapid progress, and is probably the best overall pitching prospect in the game.
The Royals' front office rated Greinke as the most advanced pitcher available in the '02 draft class, including the college ranks. He's lived up to this billing as a pro. A former high school shortstop, Greinke didn't pitch much until his senior year, but took to mound work like a fish to water. An outstanding overall athlete, Greinke can get his fastball to 94 mph, but prefers to pitch at 88-90 mph with pinpoint location. He will vary the grip and velocity on his fastball to give hitters a different look. He also has a slider, a hard curveball, a slow curveball, and a straight change. All of his pitches rate as above average, and while he isn't tremendously overpowering and doesn't dominate with pure velocity, he shows Maddux-like command and control of his stuff. Greinke will experiment with quick pitches, alter his position on the rubber, and vary his mechanics. His regular delivery is smooth and effortless. He is highly intelligent and has a great feel for his craft, studying the hitters like a veteran and attacking their weaknesses. He needs to use his straight change more often, and will sometimes throw his breaking pitches too high in the strike zone, but these problems are minor and will improve with experience. He fields his position well.
There is nothing to complain about in Greinke's statistics. His K/BB ratios have been outstanding, due to a very low walk rate. His K/IP hasn't been awesome, but he's been very young for his levels. The Royals feel that he has nothing left to learn at the Triple-A level, and that major league competition is needed for Greinke to put the remaining touches on his game. The numbers do not dispute this assessment.
Aside from some minor arm soreness in 2002, Greinke has had no major health concerns. His athleticism, mechanics, and pitch efficiency should help keep him healthy, and the fact that he didn't pitch much until his senior year means he has a low-mileage arm compared to most Florida high school products. The Royals have been extremely conservative with Greinke's workload, to the point that some people believe he may actually be under-worked.
What to expect
Zack Greinke has successfully faced every challenge so far in pro ball. He is now facing his biggest challenge: On the job training with a struggling major league team. The Royals have resisted the temptation to publicly anoint Greinke as the savior of a lost season. But the fact remains that he is the future ace of this team, and if the Royals are to contend in the next few years, Greinke will be the rotation anchor. He is a lot of fun to watch, and if he can remain healthy and make some final adjustments, he'll give Royals fans something to cheer about.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.