Kansas City Royals
Position: RHP Height: 6-2 Weight: 190 Born: 10/21/83 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The story goes like this: before the 2002 draft, Royals GM Allard Baird told his scouting staff that he wanted to draft a college pitcher in the first round. The Royals had picked high school pitchers the previous two drafts, but had little to show for it, and Baird felt a change of direction was necessary.
The scouting staff came back with the name "Zack Greinke," a high school pitcher from Florida. "He's not a college pitcher," responded Baird. To which the scouting folks replied, "He might as well be. He's closer to the majors than any of the college pitchers available." So far, it looks like the scouts were right. A little over a year after being drafted, Greinke may be the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game.
Greinke is an excellent overall athlete, who was mostly a position player before his senior year in high school. He moved to the mound full-time a few months before the '02 draft, and showed stunningly quick development. Greinke's fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph, though it's more usually in the 90-93 mph range. He hits spots with it, and isn't afraid to throw inside. His curveball and changeup are already above-average pitches.
He has the mound presence of a veteran, with excellent command and control, both of his pitches and of his emotions. His athleticism helps him with things like fielding his position and keeping runners in check. It also helps keep his mechanics and delivery consistent, which is the main reason his command is so good. That should help him stay healthy. Greinke has adopted a professional approach very quickly, studying hitters and keeping notes. He is quite intelligent, but so far has avoided over-thinking on the mound, a bad habit that hurts some intellectual pitchers.
Greinke pitched just 12 innings after signing last year. Looking to get him more experience, the Royals took the unprecedented step of sending him to the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he held his own against much more experienced competition. This year in the Carolina League, Greinke has been simply outstanding, posting an excellent K/BB ratio, an ERA around 1.00, and being nearly unhittable at times. Normally it's best not to get too excited about A-ball numbers, but these are impeccable.
Greinke missed two starts last month due to back spasms, but it was nothing serious. He's had no problems with his arm so far as a pro. A very efficient pitcher, he has a better chance to stay healthy than most high school products, since he didn't pitch much before his senior year, wasn't abused as an amateur, doesn't have tons of mileage on his arm, and doesn't waste many pitches. There are no guarantees, of course, but his injury risk is at least somewhat less than most high school products.
What to expect
He has little left to prove in A-ball, and word has it that Greinke will be promoted to Double-A Wichita later this week. If he maintains good performance there, it is theoretically possible Greinke could see some action down the stretch for the Royals if they stay in the pennant race. That's a long shot, and even if it happens, you can bet the Royals will be careful with him. He's the best pitching prospect they've seen since Bret Saberhagen, and the KC braintrust doesn't want to burn Greinke out. We will have a better read on Greinke's ETA after he gets some Double-A innings in. But even if he doesn't debut until some time next year, his rise has been remarkable.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.