2011 Omaha Storm Chasers preview

David Lough returns to Omaha this season

The Omaha Storm Chasers – perhaps the Royals' most talented minor league affiliate – open a new chapter in club history tonight in Albuquerque. A new name, a new ballpark, and several of the Royals' top prospects should make this the most exciting season for Omaha baseball fans in recent memory. Inside, RC breaks down the Storm Chasers' opening day roster.

Omaha Storm Chasers

Catchers
Cody Clark
Lucas May
Manny Pina

Comment: The Royals outrighted May to Triple-A after he cleared waivers, and he figures to split time with Pina behind the dish. The 26-year-old catcher hit .283/.349/.483 with 16 home runs between three separate stops in the minors last season, so he should add some offense to a club that already figures to have plenty. Pina, an excellent defensive catcher, hit just .218 with a pair of home runs in 17 games for Omaha last season after being promoted from Double-A NW Arkansas. It will be interesting to see what happens with Clark now that May is on the roster. Originally slated to be the Storm Chasers' backup catcher, the 29-year-old minor league veteran figures to be the odd man out. Omaha has no need for a third catcher, particularly when the club will already struggle to find at bats for other role players who actually have a chance to contribute at the big league level. Clark hit .255/.321/.386 with four home runs in 220 at bats last season for Omaha.

Infielders
Irving Falu
Johnny Giavotella
Eric Hosmer
Mike Moustakas
Clint Robinson
Lance Zawadzki

Comment: Absolutely loaded. An embarrassment of riches. Hosmer and Moustakas are the top two prospects in the organization, and two of the best offensive prospects in minor league baseball. Moustakas returns to Triple-A after spending last year's second half in Omaha, where he hit .293/.314/.564 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 52 games. If the 22-year-old slugger gets off to a hot start this season, he could be in Kansas City before June. Not far behind could be Hosmer, who makes his Triple-A debut after hitting .338/.406/.571 with 20 home runs between High-A and Double-A last season. The 21-year-old will play first base every day, while 2010 Texas League Triple Crown winner Clint Robinson will serve as the club's primary designated hitter. Second base will be manned by Giavotella, the Royals' second round selection in the 2008 draft. The 23-year-old had an offensive breakout last season at NW Arkansas, where he hit .322/.395/.460 with 92 runs scored. Falu and Zawadzki should split time at shortstop. The Royals claimed Zawadzki off waivers last November, and he was one of Kansas City's final cuts prior to breaking camp. Falu returns for his third Triple-A season. Last year, the 27-year-old hit .272/.327/.330 in 503 at bats.

Outfielders
Gregor Blanco
Lorenzo Cain
David Lough
Paulo Orlando

Comment: Most of the Storm Chasers' star power resides in the infield, but the outfield unit is also quite talented. Cain was one of the key pieces of the Greinke trade, and he's a dynamic defender in center with excellent tools, along with a bat that hit .306/.348/.415 in 43 games with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He should be back in the majors for good at some point this season. For the second straight year, Lough will handle one of the corners for Omaha. The 25-year-old Mercyhurst product rebounded from a dreadful start in 2010 to finish the year with a very respectable line of .280/.346/.437 with 11 home runs and 12 triples in 460 at bats. Orlando makes his Triple-A debut after hitting .305/.366/.480 for NW Arkansas last season. Those were by far the best numbers of the 25-year-old's professional career, but he's still a bit rough around the edges. Nevertheless, Orlando is a tremendous athlete who should be an exciting player to watch again this season. Blanco was beat out by Jarrod Dyson for the Royals' final roster spot in spring training, and it will be interesting to see how the Royals utilize him in Omaha. The 27-year-old speedster hit .283 with 11 stolen bases in 85 big league games in 2010.

Pitchers
Jesse Chavez
Louis Coleman
Danny Duffy
Blaine Hardy
Greg Holland
Vin Mazzaro
Luis Mendoza
Mike Montgomery
Kevin Pucetas
Steven Shell
Jeff Suppan
Everett Teaford
Blake Wood

Comment: The Storm Chasers' rotation is headlined by Montgomery and Duffy. Montgomery, a 21-year-old southpaw, began his 2010 season in A-ball and now finds himself on the cusp of the big leagues as the organization's top pitching prospect. Armed with a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and two plus secondary pitches, Montgomery posted a 2.61 ERA in the minors last season while holding opponents to a paltry .228 batting average. Duffy, another hard-throwing left-hander, returned last summer from a brief hiatus from baseball to post a 2.95 ERA in seven starts for NW Arkansas. Despite the fact that Duffy has just 39.2 innings at the Double-A level, the Royals feel the 22-year-old lefty is advanced enough to move on to Triple-A, and he – like Montgomery – could be in Kansas City within months. Teaford, who led the organization with 14 wins last season after adding velocity to his fastball, should be the Storm Chasers' third left-handed starter. Mazzaro's stay in Triple-A will be brief – he'll join the Royals in mid-April when they need a fifth starter – so the rest of the rotation figures to include some combination of Pucetas, Mendoza, and Suppan, whom the Royals signed this week to a minor league deal. Coleman will serve as the club's closer. The Royals want to get the sidewinding right-hander some high leverage innings, and he could be among the first call-ups from the Storm Chasers' bullpen, which also includes a pair of relievers – Wood and Holland – who spent significant time in Kansas City last season. Hardy – a strike-throwing southpaw who recorded a 2.71 ERA in 2010 – could be among the first summoned to the big leagues if the Royals determine they need another lefty in the bullpen.

Final Analysis
Promotions to the big leagues could decimate the roster during the second half of the season, but there's little doubt the Omaha Storm Chasers will be the Pacific Coast League's most talented team for at least the first couple of months. And that's a great thing, because the Royals' Triple-A affiliate this year is moving into a brand new facility with a brand new name. The timing of this wave of talent seems perfect for an affiliate that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999, and hasn't captured a league title in over 20 years. Indeed, all aspects of this team – as presently constructed – are strong. The club will hit, it will play excellent defense (particularly in the outfield), and it boasts a talented young pitching staff. All the elements are present for a truly special season in Omaha.

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