Two Royals' Minor Leaguers, Wilmington (A+) catcher Joe Billick and Burlington (A) infielder Juan Rivera, have been suspended 50 games apiece for testing positive for performance-enhancing supplements. Billick has demonstrated solid plate discipline since being drafted in the 19th round of the 2007 amateur entry draft out of the University of Georgia, but hasn't hit, otherwise. At this point, he is a non-prospect and organizational player, as he has posted a career .195/.332/.260 line thus far in 154 plate appearances. He turns 24 in May.
Juan Rivera was obtained late last summer in the Angel Berroa trade. He possesses plus-speed and a good glove up the middle, but can't hit much, otherwise. He has been listed as a darkhorse prospect and a Minor Leaguer to watch by a number of sources, but his career .247/.309/.280 line, thus far, is more than a bit underwhelming.
It's disappointing that any player - let alone Minor League players - are using such supplements. They know they'll get caught. As Royals Corner, or Dave Sanford, stated on his Scout.com website, I would probably buy any excuse they made surrounding the use of these PED's. Any prospect status they ever had, though, has decreased marketedly. They join outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who has already been suspended for illegal drug usage (as has infielder Jason Taylor, though in his case, not for steroids, and his usage violated team policy rather than league policy).
Anyway, down on the farm....
The AAA Omaha Royals are currently 5-4 and in third place in the Pacific Coast League American Division North. They are 1 1/2 games out of first place.
The AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals are 4-4, and tied for first place in the Texas League Northern Division.
The High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks are 5-4, and tied for second place in the Carolina League Northern Division.
The Low-A Burlington Bees are 2-6, and tied for last place in the Midwest League Western Division.
For our Hot & Not Segment, we'll focus on one affiliate at a time. We'll start with Omaha Royals.
- Omaha outfielder Chris Lubanski, drafted in the first round of the 2003 amateur entry draft, has been white-hot as of late. He is hitting .406/.486/.688 through the first week of Pacific Coast League action. Throughout the past couple years, his prospect status decreased significantly because of his diminishing range, speed, contact ability, and inability to play center field. However, he arrived at Spring Training camp in 2009 in slimmer shape. It would be nice to see Lubanski, who has not been protected on the 40-man roster the past two seasons, finally regain his prospect status. He has always been slow to adjust to each level, so we'll see.
- Starting pitcher Luke Hochevar, who had one option season remaining, has made two starts, thus far, and has allowed three earned runs in 11 innings pitched. The organization opted to send him to AAA Omaha and instead use offseason acquisition Sidney Ponson, who signed a Minor League contract in March, and even Horacio Ramirez in the rotation over the former #1 overall draft pick. A faulty decision indeed, says yours truly. If they recall Hochevar before he has accumulated enough time to buy an extra season before Free Agency, then the decision will have been a complete waste, in my opinion. Regardless, I'm no scout, but hopefully Hoch has built his stamina and has worked on his sinkerball and his stamina, which needed work, according to the organization.
- Outfielder Mitch Maier, who was recalled to Kansas City a couple days ago, was hitting .370/.419/.667 through his first six games in Omaha. He was 10-for-27 overall with two home runs. Maier is a left-handed hitter who is a plus-plus defender in the outfield, a plus-runner, and a decent contact hitter. Although, much like Hal Morris offensively, he provides little other than a probable .270 or so batting average, I like him as a potential injury or off-day fill-in and permanent fourth outfielder. Hopefully, he will receive the vast bulk of the playing time in Kansas City in right field until Jose Guillen (gulp) returns from the 15-Day Disabled List.
- Infielder Luis Hernandez is essentially the clone of MLB SS Tony Pena, Jr., in that he provides stellar infield defense but can't hit his way out of a paper bag. Nonetheless, the 2008-9 Spring Training invitee and Minor League signee is hitting .407/.429/.519 through his first 27 at-bats. He has three extra base hits, overall, on the season.
- First baseman Ryan Shealy should have been placed on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the season. He could potentially spell Mike Jacobs and Billy Butler at first base, provide some pop off the bench, provide as a formidable late-inning defensive replacement at first, and could platoon with Jacobs, hitting against primarily left-handed pitching, against whom Jacobs struggles immensely. Nonetheless, Shealy was passed through waivers and was sent to Omaha, and he has hit only .257/.297/.314 and is 9-for-35 in his first eight games.
- First baseman Kila Ka'aihue, whom I ranked as our #3 prospect prior to the season, is only hitting .152/.333/.364 through his first 33 games. Nonetheless, he is still leading the O-Royals in walks (10) and has hit for some pop, hitting two home runs and one double, thus far. I'll chalk Ka'aihue's performance up to small sample size. The walks and isolated power are still there. Maybe Ka'ahiue can gun for Balboni's home run record next season, if Jacobs doesn't break it this year (hopefully, God willing, he will).