This was my toughest decision among all of the KC Royals end of season awards. It was so hard that I could not chose the Minor League Pitcher of the Year and am leaving the decision up to YOU.
Pitching carried High-A Wilmington into the postseason in 2012 and I had a chance to see all three of the following candidates pitch at least once.
Yordano Ventura is the rail-thin fireballer, who was not only a Carolina League All-Star but also a Futures Game starter. He started the game at Kauffman Stadium for the World. In Wilmington, opponents hit just .229 against him and he struck out 98 in 76.1 innings. He struggled with walks and high pitch counts upon his promotion to Double-A, as he lasted more than 5.2 innings once in six starts there.
Sugar Ray Marimon joined Ventura as a Carolina League All-Star and surprised many with his performance in 2012. He was part of a piggyback combination for much of his time in Wilmington, but still struck out 60 in 68 innings. He also carried a 2.12 ERA to Double-A, where he also struggled. He walked 29 in 66.2 innings and opponents hit .264 against him. Marimon did shine in his one start for Columbia in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier (one run in five innings of work to earn the victory).
Jason Adam spent the entire season in Wilmington and dominated at the beginning and at the end (though he struggled to record victories due to a lack of run support). He was a workhorse, as his 158 innings attest. In his final start (a postseason win), Adam pitched one batter into the 8th inning. In the end, he allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out four.
There are two surprises to this list. Let’s start with lefty Justin Marks, who finished a successful 2012 season with a solid run in the Arizona Fall League. He was the lone Royal to be named to the AFL All-Prospect Team. His performance this past season also earned him a spot on the Royals 40-man roster.
Marks made 17 starts in Double-A and carried a 3.08 ERA. Despite missing some time due to injury, he was promoted to Triple-A to make one start prior to the postseason (which was disastrous). In the AFL, he was 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA in seven starts. He struck out 22 in 24.1 innings and walked just five. Left-handed hitters hit just .160 against him.
Michael Mariot was the other surprise, as he wasn’t even in NW Arkansas’ rotation early in the season. The year before, he was a piggyback partner in Wilmington and was often overlooked. In 31 appearances (14 starts), he had a 3.40 ERA in 113.2 innings. He struck out 81. Those numbers earned him a promotion to Omaha, where he allowed two runs in eight innings in two regular season relief outings.
Mariot is currently pitching for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. In four games (one start), he has allowed three runs in seven innings while striking out seven.
These two were bright spots in a pretty lackluster season, especially on the pitching side, for the Naturals.
The big name on this list is right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who made two starts in the big leagues at the end of the season. He dominated in seven starts in Double-A (a .191 batting average and 47 strikeouts in 38 innings), but his ERA was a bit high (3.32).
In 19 appearances (18 starts) in Omaha, he was 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA. All of his numbers were high: walks (40), batting average against (.254), and homeruns allowed (12) in 107.1 innings.
The knock on Odorizzi is he is too fine with his pitches and focused too much on strikeouts, which leads to high pitch counts and shorter outings.
The newest member to the Royals organization may have made the biggest splash in 2012. Sam Selman, a lefty drafted in the second round out of Vanderbilt, was named the Pioneer League’s Pitcher of the Year. I was honestly surprised the Royals kept him at the rookie level for the entire season.
With Idaho Falls, Selman was 5-4 with a 2.09 ERA in 13 games (12 starts). Opponents hit just .204 against him and hit just one homerun. He struck out 89 in 60.1 innings. Over his final ten starts, he had one clunker (though he pitched five innings) and two starts where he walked five. In between them, he struck out 11 in back-to-back starts.
Selman earned PL Pitcher of the Week honors after picking up back-to-back victories in his last two July starts. He allowed one run on five hits and three walks over 12 innings while striking out 19.
I’m not sure if Selman‘s high strikeout totals will continue at higher levels, but he is an intriguing prospect that I cannot wait to see pitch.
I have seen six of the seven candidates pitch over the last two seasons and can see why there is a reason to be excited if the Royals give these guys a chance.
Who would you crown as the Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year?