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Minor Matters: Lorenzo Cain Awaits his Chance

June 3, 2011 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Joaquín Árias is trying to work his way back to the majors with the Kansas City Royals.
Joaquin Arias is trying to rediscover his batting stroke at Triple-A.

Heading into the season, we really thought Lorenzo Cain would not only win a spot on the Royals, but that he could be a serious sleeper and emerge with their lead-off job. Given what he had showed us last year, we ranked him a top 80 outfielder.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way for Cain. He had a decent spring, but Jarrod Dyson put up an off-the-charts exhibition season, stealing the gig away. The other big issue was that Cain had options left, whereas Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco didn’t, so it was back to Triple-A for Cain to wait… and wait.

Even when Dyson was sent down a couple of weeks ago, the Royals used the opportunity to bring up Greg Holland to beef up the bullpen.

So two months into the season, Cain remains at Triple-A and he continues to put up strong numbers. He’s gone a bit chilly lately, with hitless efforts in two of his last three games, but after getting off to a slow start, Cain blazed in May, batting .321 with 21 runs, 16 extra-base hits and a 900 OPS. He’s only swiped five bases so far, but is showing more extra-base power than he did last season. Cain, 25, was the Brewers’ 17th round pick in 2004 and is considered a top-notch athlete that brings a superb glove and great speed to the table.

KC’s surprisingly potent offense (which is actually not any better than last year, just seems to be because of the overall reduction in hitting in baseball) has meant that the team has not needed to comb the minors as much as usual for bats (notwithstanding Eric Hosmer, of course). Cain will get his chance again, but Alex Gordon’s emergence from his two-year funk has made it a lot more crowded in KC, so perhaps Cain’s best opportunity will come elsewhere.

For what it’s worth, the organization believes that once he gains more consistency at the plate, he’ll be a regular in the bigs.

Alan Johnson, who made a spot-start for the Rockies in April for his forgettable MLB debut, seems to be getting progressively worse at Triple-A over the past couple of seasons. Signed by the Rox as an undrafted free agent in 2005, Johnson first made it to Triple-A in 2009, going 10-6, but with an unsightly 5.66 ERA. Last year, he again earned 10 wins, but he was ridiculously hittable, leading to a 5.91 ERA.

The 27-year-old righty began this season in fine form, giving up just two hits and two unearned runs over five innings in his debut. Johnson then came up to the Rox for his start, yielding six hits and five runs (four earned) over four innings, with three strikeouts and three walks. He was outrighted and cleared waivers, heading back to Triple-A, where he had two nice outings in a row. Then the wheels came off for Johnson. Over his next two starts, he was ripped for 19 hits, 16 runs and two homers in just 7 1/3 IP. Yikes.

Johnson’s been better (somewhat) in each of his next three starts, but he’s still far too easy to hit to be considered for another look in the majors – especially since he’s been removed from the roster.

If his one start with the Rockies was an indication, here’s the issue: Johnson’s fastball averaged 87.6 mph while his changeup averaged 83 mph. Such a minute difference between these two offerings is not going to fool many hitters, let anyone big league sticks.

Johnson may never spend another day in the major leagues, unless, of course, he’s converted into a reliever and finds more success in that role.

Heading into last season, we thought Joaquin Arias had a chance to be one of the top utility players in the majors. While he saw a fair amount of action for the Rangers last year, much of it was a defensive replacement, and he didn’t impress with the bat in his limited opportunities. At the deadline, Arias was dealt to the Mets for Jeff Francoeur and his bat proved even more feeble down the stretch in New York.

The Royals grabbed him off waivers in November, but designated him for assignment and outrighted him to Triple-A the following month.

Things got even worse for the 26-year-old when a hamstring injury during Spring Training shot any chance he had of making the Royals and forced him to the sidelines until mid-May.

And now this one-time top shortstop prospect continues to flounder with the lumber at Triple-A. Mired in a 1-for-13 slump, Arias hasn’t played since Sunday, and there are no reports that he’s hurting. While he has managed 10 runs in 16 games, Arias is batting just .230, which is not about to force the Royals to rethink the situation with equally struggling Alcides Escobar in KC.

Until Arias’ bat returns – three years ago, he hit .296 at Triple-A – we are unlikely to see him in KC unless a wave of infield injuries beset the Royals.

The last time we checked in on Eliezer Alfonzo, he was part of an ugly three-headed beast the Padres were using at catcher in 2009. Formerly suspended for PED use, Alfonzo chose to become a free agent in the 2009 offseason rather than be outrighted off San Diego’s 40-man roster.

That December, the Mariners inked him to a minor league deal, and he got called up from Triple-A in May last season, and while he sucked a little less than normal (.220 with a homer and four RBI in 41 at-bats), he was outrighted off the roster and back to Triple-A after a month. Alfonzo continued to struggle offensively in the minors (781 OPS) and he was cut free after the season.

The Rockies signed him to a minor league deal and he wound up missing the first month and change of the season. However, Alfonzo has hit extremely well since his activation, while working mostly in a platoon. In 14 games, he’s already pounded five dingers and driven in a whopping 19 runs at Triple-A Colorado Springs, certainly putting himself back in the conversation should the Rockies need help at catcher. Now 32, Alfonzo’s days as a prospect are long gone, but sometimes catchers find their batting stroke later in life, so perhaps when he works his way back to the majors, he may surprise us.

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