Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants
The Royals have done very well with their recent high picks, snagging prospects 2, 7, 8, 11 and 16 in the top three rounds of last summer’s draft, prospects 1 and 6 in the first round in 2013, and prospects 4, 23 and 27 with their first three picks in 2012. To have 10 of 12 picks in the top three rounds over a three-year period appear on the list is and have 7 of those be 45 FV of higher prospects is an accomplishment. Even though all those prospects won’t return significant big league value, retaining some trade value is important and draft picks often flop quickly, so GM Dayton Moore has to appreciate having trade chips accruing this quickly.
Raul Mondesi was a real find for the international group, as he wasn’t the consensus prospect his bonus suggest when he signed. Miguel Almonte and Jorge Bonifaco are great international finds for lower bonuses and there’s depth to the international prospects in the system. While some of this amateur procurement is due to a larger amateur budget in some years, there have been more stringent league-wide controls in recent years and the Royals have continued to produce at an above average rate.
This is a big year for many bats in the system, with Orlando Calixte, Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Christian Colon, Raul Mondesi and Bubba Starling all having big ceiling and need to improve at turning their tools into production to keep their prospect status/trade value. The performance of these hitters in 2015 will likely decide if the system will be seen as better or worse at this time next year; they’re in the middle third of teams at this point.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including the series on the ever-complicated hit tool.
Most of what you need to know for this list is in the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due to injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the notable MLB players 27 and under that aren’t eligible for the Royals prospect list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. Up next (and last!) is the Giants.
27 & Under Big League Assets
1. Salvador Perez, C, Age 24, FV: 60
2. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Age 25, FV: 60
3. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Age 23, FV: 60 (Video)
4. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Age 26, FV: 55
5. Danny Duffy, LHP, Age 26, FV: 50+
6. Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Age 25, FV: 45+
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
The Royals are the defending American League champions with a young core of homegrown talents, most of whom aren’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s the kind of foundation that every team dreams of, but they aren’t quite the slam-dunk contenders that you might expect from a team in that position. The Royals return to October(s) will depend heavily on some significant step forwards from guys who haven’t quite put it all together yet, but could still yet. With a supporting cast that is almost certainly going to be weaker than the 2014 version, 2015 may be a more true test of how well the team has done developing their prospects over the last few years.
50+ FV Prospects
1. Sean Manaea, LHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/23.2, 6’5/235, R/L
Drafted: 34th overall (sandwich round) in 2013 out of Indiana State by KC for $3.55 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 50/60, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Manaea was a largely unknown power lefty with little else to offer as a sophomore at Indiana State, then he blew up that summer on the Cape, sitting 91-95 and hitting 97 mph with life and deception. He was a projected top-five pick before a terrible spring, caused by bad weather, inconsistent mechanics and bothersome arm soreness to go with a more serious hip injury.
The Royals took the late-rising Hunter Dozier with their top pick, signing him to an under slot deal to save money so they could take Manaea, hoping he’d last to their pick at 34 due to his injuries and price tag, which he did. Kansas City signed Manaea for $3.55 million (over a million more than Dozier) and he sat out the rest of the 2013 season with hip surgery, making his pro debut in 2014 at High at age 22.
Manaea was almost all the way back to his old self in 2014, carving up the league and especially standing out down the stretch in his last 10 starts. He sat 91-94 mph with an above average to plus slider and a changeup, which used to be his third pitch, more consistently flashing above average. He flashes average to slightly above command at his best, but is still learning the nuances of pitching.
Summation: I’d like to see another full healthy season before I move all-in on Manaea, but all the elements are here for a huge 2015 and a potential big league look in September if things line up just right.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB
2. Brandon Finnegan, LHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/22.0, 5’11/185, L/L
Drafted: 17th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of TCU by KC for $2.2 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 55/60, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50+
Scouting Report: Finnegan was one of the tougher evaluations in this past June’s draft class. The TCU ace appeared to be an anomaly: He had a high effort delivery with a small frame (5-foot-11/185), but he also had advanced command and no injury history. Finnegan was up to 98 mph last summer and regularly up to 96 mph this spring, drawing Scott Kazmir and Billy Wagner comparisons from scouts.
Then, he missed some time down the stretch with a stiff shoulder that threw the whole evaluation into question. Finnegan looked fine in abbreviated looks before the draft and went 17th overall to the Royals, whereas he had top ten and top five pick rumors around him before the shoulder tightness. He proved to be fine after signing, making a big league audition in the pennant race and in the playoffs, running it into the high-90’s in short stints.
It’s still not clear if he’s a mid-rotation starter or closer long-term, but we saw in September that his stuff will play wherever you put it. He learned a different slider grip from Carlos Rodon two summers ago while both were on a loaded Team USA pitching staff and his slider flashes plus when his velocity is plus (91-95) or better.
Summation: He’s been optioned to Double-A and will be developed as a starter, but it’ll be hard to hold him back since we already know his stuff plays in the big leagues, with health the only real questions, with command a much smaller one. Finnegan has more now-stuff than Manaea and most think his off-speed stuff is a little crisper at it’s best, as well.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter or Closer, Low (2 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA/MLB, 2016: AAA/MLB
3. Raul Mondesi, SS
Current Level/Age: High-A/19.7, 6’1/185, B/R
Signed: IFA at age 16 on July 27, 2011 out of Dominican by KC for $2 million bonus
Hit: 20/45, Raw Power: 45/45+, Game Power: 20/45, Run: 60/60, Field: 55/60, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: As you may guess, Raul (who went by his middle name Adalberto when he signed) is the son of former Dodgers RF Raul Mondesi, who is now the mayor of his hometown in the Dominican Republic. The Royals took some flack for giving him $2 million in the 2011 July 2nd period, but he improved greatly after signing and has made that investment look shrewd. There aren’t questions about Mondesi’s speed, defense, arm strength or raw power, but the aggressive way the Royals have promoted him have raised questions about his bat.
He played all of last season in High-A at age 18/19, the same age as an American high school senior, so you can imagine why he struggled with the bat. It’s hard to see impact, even from a good swing with bat speed, when the hitter is overmatched, so it’s difficult to get really excited about Mondesi until he isn’t being thrown in the deep end of the pool developmentally, but it’s hard to ignore his ability. He might hit 15 homers at his peak and play an above average shortstop, so the upside is massive, but you’d like to see a little performance before buying in completely.
Summation: Mondesi will head to Double-A and hope to put up bigger numbers, but it’s hard to not see him playing in the big leagues in 2016 or 2017 even if he doesn’t.
Upside: .280/.340/.440, 15 homers
FV/Risk: 55, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB
Video Credit to MLBProspectPortal
4. Kyle Zimmer, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/23.6, 6’3/225, R/R
Drafted: 5th overall (1st round) in 2012 out of San Francisco by KC for $3 million bonus
Fastball: 60/65, Slider: 50/50+, Curveball: 55/65, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50+
Scouting Report: Zimmer’s pure ability belongs much higher on this list, with frontline stuff, a clean delivery and outstanding athleticism that helps creates solid average command. Zimmer has also been to Double-A already and could turn into a frontline starter due to this and his completely ridiculous peak stuff, but he can’t stay healthy, throwing 14.1 innings last year due to arm trouble, then leaving the Arizona Fall League after three outings to get shoulder surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff in October.
Zimmer was a solid follow for the 2012 draft that exploded in the spring, flashing the stuff that he’s shown in his best times in pro ball. He’ll sit 92-96 and hit 98 mph with life and command, getting as high as 100 mph at his best. Zimmer’s curveball is a knockout, easy plus pitch that draws 70 from some scouts, while his slider and changeup are more ordinary, simply above average pitches.
Scouts assume Zimmer won’t be able to handle a starter’s workload and he should just be used in relief to find a way to use his weapons. The Royals haven’t even discussed that possibility internally, as they are focused on turning Zimmer into the #1 starter that everyone know he can be. We don’t even know if the stuff will come back after surgery, so there’s lots of questions, risk and upside here. (5/5/15 UPDATE: Zimmer had a setback in his rehab).
Summation: Zimmer is back on the mound and throwing, slowly building himself up to get back into game situations in May. As for handicapping Zimmer’s future, literally everything is in play at this point.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter or Closer, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB
5. Miguel Almonte, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/22.0, 6’2/180, R/R
Signed: IFA at age 17 on November 20, 2010 out of Dominican by KC for $20,000 bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 45/55, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 40/45+
Scouting Report: Almonte will flash huge ability at times, sitting 93-96 mph with a plus changeup at times, but he often doesn’t have that peak combination at the same time that he has his peak curveball and peak command. He also throws from a lower slot, which means lefties can see the ball better against him than other righties and it also can flatten out his pitches at times. If Almonte can find more consistency in his delivery, that should go a long way towards correcting these issues and unlocking his mid-rotation upside.
Royals officials are still optimistic they can coax the best version of Almonte out consistently, saying that he’s more advanced than Yordano Ventura at the same stage and uses three pitches already, while Ventura is still adjusting to using all three now.
Summation: He’ll head to Double-A this season and hope to find more consistency, with a shot to be a big league option at the end of the year as a starter or reliever if everything goes perfectly.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter or Closer, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB
6. Hunter Dozier, 3B
Current Level/Age: AA/23.6, 6’4/220, R/R
Drafted: 8th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Stephen F. Austin by KC for $2.2 million bonus
Hit: 20/50, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50, Run: 45/45, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: Dozier was a late-rising big shortstop in the 2013 draft class from Stephen F. Austin. The Royals took him with an under-slot at 8th overall, assuming he wouldn’t get to their next pick, but that they could use those savings to take LHP Sean Manaea, who slid due to injury and pricetag concerns, with the first pick in the sandwich round, giving Manaea a higher bonus than Dozier as the talent dictated.
Dozier had tons of helium pre-draft and had a big debut, but struggled with contact issues in the second half of 2014 in Double-A. He’s a good athlete with solid average, easy everyday tools, so if the bat comes around in 2015, he’ll force the Royals’ hand to find a spot for him soon. Dozier has a patient approach that could help him post a high OBP if the contact skills allow him to have an average or better bat. He also has the tools to be at least average at third base, though could play at all four corners if necessary to find a place for him to play in the big leagues.
Summation: That said, he’s a bigger guy that hasn’t faced a ton of high level pitching given his late rise in a lower-end college conference, so it’ll likely be be 2017 before he gets an extended big league look.
Upside: .275/.350/.470, 20-25 homers
FV/Risk: 50, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA, 2017: MLB
45 FV Prospects
7. Scott Blewett, RHP Video: Blewett was a known and solid projection prospect on the summer showcase circuit that took a big step forward in October at the WWBA tournament in Jupiter. There, he delivered on the rumors of improved arm speed, sitting 90-93 mph with an above average curveball. At 6’6/210, there’s even more in the tank and the chance for two plus pitches that already flash that at times gives him mid-rotation upside. Blewett slid to 56th overall, where the Royals gave him $1.8 million, due to some shoulder soreness during the spring and some inconsistency with his command.
As a projectable, fresh prep arm from up north that already shows present ability and coordination, Blewett’s upside is hard to put a ceiling on. His changeup already flashes average and the Royals were impressed when he moved to Arizona in January to prepare for the season with intense workouts. He got stronger as the year went on, sitting 91-94 mph late in the summer and could be on the verge of taking another step forward in 2015.
8. Foster Griffin, LHP Video: Griffin was another heavily-scouted prep arm, but from a Orlando-area high school that had lots of talent in Griffin’s last two seasons. He was 88-91 mph with a fringy breaking ball and an above average changeup on the showcase circuit, but his projectable 6’3 frame made scouts think more was coming. Griffin threw harder almost the entire spring, sitting 90-94 and hitting 95 mph in almost every start.
The added arm speed caused his curveball to regularly flash 55 and his changeup more consistently played as a 55 with the added contrast. Griffin gets his arm loaded early in his delivery, boding well for health and helping him projecting for at least average command. His velocity faded a bit in pro ball to 88-91 mph, but that’s normal for prep arms in their longest season and his frame suggests his 55 across-the-board stuff may include a 60 or two down the line.
9. Jorge Bonifacio, RF Video: Bonifacio signed for $135,000 in December, 2009 out of the Dominican and was securely on the prospect map after 2011, his first full year playing in America. Last year, he was a year young for Double-A and didn’t perform well for the first time in his career. He’ll look to bounce back this year, but his carrying tool was his bat, as he’s a corner outfield fit with average raw power that he sometimes has some trouble getting to in games. Bonifacio’s swing is a little loud, but when he’s performing, scouts see a natural hitter with a direct bat path, while he looks out of sorts when he struggles. He’s a 40-45 runner with a plus arm and some instincts on the bases and in the field. Bonifacio will be 22 and head back to Double-A, so it’s way too early to give up on him, but he needs to hit.
10. Christian Binford, RHP Video: The 6’6/220 Binford signed for $575,000 out of a Pennsylvania high school in 2011 and emerged in 2013 at Low-A, the broke through last year, running from High-A to Triple-A. He sits 89-91 and hits 93 mph with good plane and solid command, backing that up with an solid average slider and changeup that’s average at times but still very inconsistent. Binford’s release is awkward, but he has plane and it works for him, projecting for at least average command with solid average stuff. He’s a potential back-end starter that will open the year in Triple-A.
11. Chase Vallot, C Video: Vallot was the third high prep pick of the Royals last summer, going 40th overall in the sandwich round out of a Louisiana high school. He’s very young for his prep class and won’t turn 19 until late August. Vallot looks a little heavy and tired by the end of showcase season two summer ago, but got in much better shape for his draft spring. He’s still a big kid at 6’0/215, but is a 45 runner, has the hands to stick behind the plate, along with an above average to plus arm, but he’s still working on quickness and the finer points of the craft. Vallot has above average raw power and some feel to hit, but he’s a power over hit type offensive threat. The Royals love Vallot’s makeup and given his age, they’ll give him time to see if he can stick behind the plate, but his bat may play at almost any position if he has to move.
12. Christian Colon, 2B Video: Colon is remembered more for his draft position (4th overall in 2010) and who the Royals passed on (Matt Harvey, Chris Sale and Christian Yelich) than his actual ability. Colon hasn’t quite panned out as expected but still has tools that could turn him into a late-blooming low-end regular. He’s a solid average runner/defender/thrower that fits best at second but can fill in at shortstop if needed. He has below average power but should hit around 8-10 homers annually with advanced feel for the bat head and low strikeout rates, like Alberto Callaspo, Omar Infante or Darwin Barney type second baseman. He’ll be the big league utility infielder this year and hope to grab some extended time to prove himself
13. Glenn Sparkman, RHP Video: Sparkman still has a low profile on the scouting radar after signing for $100,000 in the 20th round out of a Texas JC in 2013. He spent his first full year (age 22) in High-A and performed well enough to jump from the bullpen to the rotation in-season and from an other of note to a legitimate prospect. He sits 90-92 mph that gets on hitters quick and plays up due to his deception. Sparkman is only 6’2/210 but is confident and aggressive with a four pitch mix. His curveball is solid average, his changeup is average and his slider is fringy. Some scouts think Sparkman should throw his off-speed more to develop those pitches further, but he has lots of success with his fastball. He’ll head to Double-A this year and may not spend the whole season there.
40 FV Prospects
14. Bubba Starling, CF Video: Starling has become the example of the crazy athletic and toolsy prep hitter that underperforms in pro ball. That’s a bit unfair as everyone knew he was raw when the Royals took him 5th overall in 2011 and gave him $7.5 million, so he isn’t necessarily an example of how all prep players are risky. That said, he’s had many more problems in pro ball than expected, due in part to tinkering with a swing that’s had at least a dozen different identifiable versions. He doesn’t look comfortable oftentimes in the box, with low level pitchers disrupting his timing and getting him off-balance where he’s susceptible to chase out of the zone.
On the other hand, the tools are insane, he’s still only 22 and his numbers haven’t been that bad for a guy appropriately-aged for each level he’s faced. Starling passed up a scholarship to be a running QB for Nebraska and the tools back that up: he’s 6’4/210, an easy plus runner with a plus arm that profiles in center field along with above average raw power and bat speed.Starling takes the local pressure hard about being the hyped local amateur football and amateur/pro baseball prospect, which likely isn’t helping him get comfortable on the field.
The upside is something like Adam Jones and Royals execs swear that GM Dayton Moore said in 2012 that 2015 would be Starling’s breakout season. The defense and ease of his actions has never been up for debate and if he can just find a swing that suits him and get comfortable at the plate, the raw talent may just take over. Royals sources have seen offensive progress in the last 6-8 months, saying this is the most relaxed they’ve seen him, he’s laying off bad pitches and has his hands loading in the right place.
15. Orlando Calixte, SS Video: Calixte had a couple name/identity changes as a top July 2nd prospect, eventually signing for $1 million as an 18-year-old in 2010. He can play an average shortstop and has a plus arm, but has played all over the infield and outfield in the minors, as a utility fit is his most likely home. Calixte is an average runner with average raw power that he can regularly tap into in games. He has no trouble hitting a fastball out of the park but has real trouble with off-speed stuff, limiting his contact ability and ultimate upside. There’s a way to make this sort of approach work in an everyday role–Julio Lugo did a version of it–but Calixte likely fits as a super sub, with Triple-A his likely 2015 assignment.
16. Eric Skoglund, LHP Video: Skoglund was a rail-thin 6’7 projection lefty out that turned down a significant six figure offer from the Pirates out of powerhouse Sarasota High School. He was just okay his first two years at UCF, but put it together in his draft year, sitting 88-92 mph with above average life and command, prompting the Royals to take him in the 3rd round last summer.
Scouts questioned Skoglund’s ability to put on bulk, since he was still 6’7/200 as a junior at UCF, but the Royals said he’s already added 15 lbs. since signing. Skoglund’s slider is at least solid average and his changeup is at least above average at their best and that comes with plane, projection and uncanny feel given the length of his frame. He frequently dialed his fastball down a few notches to last longer into starts, but with added weight he won’t need to do that as often. Skoglund will pitch in A-Ball at age 22 in 2015 and may move quickly.
17. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B Video: Cuthbert signed for $1.35 million in 2009 out of the rural Corn Islands off the coast of Nicaragua. He’s taken a year to adjust to each level and will head to Triple-A next year at age 22 with a shot for a late-season big league look. Cuthbert has huge tools: at least above average bat speed, plus raw power, plus arm strength and a quick first step on defense. He’s a below average runner that’s limited to a corner but can probably stick at third base.
The issue is that Cuthbert tries to do too much and often has line drive approach and bath path that undermines plus raw power, playing it closer to average in games. His 6’1/215 frame is a bit of a worry for scouts, but he has tons of tools and just needs to make a couple adjustments to be a corner utility platoon in 2016, with a chance for a notch more or a notch less than that.
18. Brian Flynn, LHP Video: Flynn was the main piece acquired this winter from Miami for Aaron Crow, who now needs Tommy John surgery. Flynn’s stuff was crisp in 2013, sitting 89-93 and hitting 95 mph along with a solid average slider and an average changeup, performing well at the upper levels and earning four starts in the big leagues. The 6’7/250 lefty has a 2014 to forget, as his stuff backed up and he was out of gas in a big league look late in the year. His delivery was partly to blame, but may have been a symptom of the real problem, so the hope is the stuff returns and Flynn can be a setup guy or backend starter, while last year he looked more like a long reliever/spot starter.
19. Lane Adams, CF Video: Adams got $225,000 out of an Oklahoma high school in 2009 and has slowly progressed, making his big league debut last year. He has big tools, as a 65 or 70 runner with just enough feel to play center field, along with an average arm and above average to plus power that could profile anywhere on the diamond. Adams has to gear things down in the power department to make contact and is still more of a .250 type hitter that will strike out a fair bit, with 10-15 homers and lots of doubles. Most importantly, Adams’ tools are big enough that he has a chance to pass Kings of Leon as the most notable product of Talihina, Oklahoma.
20. Marten Gasparini, SS Video: Gasparini has one of the more unusual backgrounds on this list, signing out of Italy for a European-record bonus of $1.3 million on July 2nd, 2013. He knows more English and has more baseball experience than you’d guess and he’s still 17 and growing, getting an inch or two taller and adding mass to his listed 6’0/165 frame since signing. Gasparini still shows the defensive tools to stick at shortstop, though center field and second base are still options; his a plus speed helps him fit almost anywhere on the field. Gasparini is a switch-hitter that shows some feel to hit in limited pro looks with some Royals officials saying he’s more advanced than Raul Mondesi at the same stage.
21. Julio Pinto, RHP Video: Pinto checks a lot of the boxes for a young projectable pitcher, standing 6’3/185 and already flashing two above average pitches as a teenager. The Venezuelan righty has a broad frame with projection, so it isn’t hard to see a 91-93 mph fastball that hits 94 mph and a sharp downer curve that flashes 55 now both becoming plus. His changeup is still a work in progress, but he still just 19 and could have a big 2015 in Low-A.
22. Brandon Downes, CF Video: Downes was one of my guys in last year’s draft and I wasn’t the only one surprised that the UVA product lasted until the 7th round last summer and only got $150,000. The 6’2/180 center fielder flashes above average power potential, above average to plus speed and an average arm. He battled a wrist injury last spring and performed better after signing that he did in college. If Downes can lay off the off-speed pitch out of the zone, he’s shown feel to hit and could turn into a late-blooming steal.
23. Sam Selman, LHP Video: Selman’s stick has gone up and down the last few years, as he didn’t get offered enough out of a Texas high school to turn down Vanderbilt, flashed first round ability early at Vandy, had command/delivery issues that pushed him down the draft board, then recovered late to go in the 2nd round in 2012. He’s been similarly up-and-down in pro ball, but Kansas City has decided he fits best in the pen, where his fastball sits 90-94 and has been as high as 98 mph. His slider is above average, his curveball is solid average and his changeup is fringy, allowing him to pitch as late as the 8th inning and go multiple innings if he can improve his command one more notch in Triple-A this year.
24. Bryan Brickhouse, RHP Video: Brickhouse has a great name, went to a powerhouse high school in the Houston area (Paul Goldschmidt, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Drabek among the alums) and signed late for $1.5 million in the 3rd round in 2011, the last draft before bonus pools were instituted. He missed much of 2013 and 2014 with Tommy John surgery, but is back on the mound and has already hit 97 mph with his lively fastball, harder than he threw before surgery. Brickhouse’s curveball flashes 55 and his changeup is fringy at times, but he’s only 6’0 and has some effort to his delivery, so relief looks like the destination. He’ll head to an A-Ball level as a starter in his age 22/23 season this year, but his power sinker could help him move fast in a relief role.
25. Aroni Nina, RHP Video: The 6’4/180 Dominican righty spent four years in the DSL trying to get his command together. It’s still not a strength, but it’s good enough to let his stuff play: a plus 91-95 heater that’s hit 98 mph, a curve that flashes plus at times and a usable changeup. There’s enough stuff here to go from Double-A to the big leagues in 2015 if he can somewhat consistently hit his spots.
26. Elier Hernandez, RF Video: The Dominican got $3 million in the 2011 class that also netted the Royals Raul Mondesi. Hernandez was seen a a right fielder with solid average raw power projection and an advanced bat, but hasn’t hit as much as hoped early in his career. He’s too aggressive at the plate, chasing pitches out of the zone that undermines his offensive potential. Hernandez is an average runner that has an above average arm. He’ll return to Low-A this year for his age-20 season, so he’s still got lots of time to make offensive adjustments.
27. Colin Rodgers, LHP: The 5’10/180 lefty was a 3rd round pick in 2012 out of a Louisiana high school that came back late in the 2014 season from Tommy John surgery. He was shut down in instructs but should be fine to start this season on the mound. At his best, Rodgers has advanced feel, flashes a plus curveball, sits 88-92 and hits 93 mph and his changeup is at least average.
28. Meibrys Viloria, C Video: Signed out of Colombia on July 2nd, 2013, Viloria didn’t have huge tools and didn’t get much money, but he’s made progress since signing and his secondary skills were better than expected. He has a solid average arm and enough ability to stick behind the plate to go with a good approach at the plate and raw power that should be average. He’s aged like a high school senior and may spend time at Low-A this year.
Ramon Torres, 2B/SS
As a 21-year-old last season, Torres recorded an above-average batting line (.304/.346/.428, 116 wRC+) in 310 plate appearances at Class-A Lexington and then a below-average one (.248/.298/.322, 76 wRC+) over 167 plate appearances at High-A Wilmington following a midseason promotion. What the slash stats obscure, however, is that he produced almost precisely identical lines after accounting for regression. Most notably, Torres’s strikeout rate dropped by three points from the lower to the higher level, from 12.9% in the Sally League to 9.6% in the Carolina. Along with age relative to level, strikeout rate is among the most important indicators of future success for players in the low minors. Moreover, Torres has exhibited the ability to play a perfectly adequate shortstop: as McDaniel notes below, it was because of organizational depth and not lack of skill that he made starts at second and third base in 2014.
Others of Note
There’s three pitchers to watch at the upper levels of the system: LHP John Lamb (former top prospect lost more than a few ticks on his heater after 2011 elbow surgery and is now a fringy stuff starter in Triple-A hoping to carve out a big league role), RHP Michael Mariot (he got a big league look last year and sits 90-95 and hits 97 mph in relief, mixing in three off-speed pitches that are all fringy to average from back in his starter days) and LHP Jonathan Dziedzic (the 6’0/165 pitchability lefty was a 13th round senior sign out of Lamar in 2013 that’s got good results and possible #5 starter stuff, sitting 87-89, hitting 91 mph with a curve and changeup that are both a touch above average.).
There’s six pitchers to watch at the lower levels of the system: RHP Jake Junis (6’2/225 righty got $675,000 late in the 2011 draft out of an Illinois high school to give up basketball and third base to be a full-time pitcher; he’s settling in now, flashing an above average fastball/curveball combo with feel for a changeup and command, prompting one Royals official to say his upside is higher than Christian Binford), LHP Cody Reed (Video 2013 2nd rounder popped up late in the spring at a Mississippi JC, hitting 95 mph with a slider that was a 55 at times and a changeup that was average along with a projectable 6’5/220 frame, but command has been a big issue in pro ball), RHP Corey Ray (2014 5th rounder out of Texas A&M is 6’4/175, sits 90-93 and hits 94 mph with an average to slightly above three-pitch mix), RHP Alec Mills (6’4/185 righty was 22nd rounder out of Tennessee-Martin in 2012, has some projection and flashes solid average stuff at times, giving him a chance to start), RHP Pedro Fernandez (Video 20-year-old Dominican has an easy plus fastball, but limited projection and fringy off-speed, though there’s enough here that he could still turn into a starter long0term) and RHP Niklas Stephenson (6’2/195 righty was signed out of a SoCal high school as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and now sits 93-95 mph with life and an average curve, but likely ends up in relief).
There’s six hitters to watch at the upper levels of the system: CF Terrance Gore (a familiar name to many for his scale-breaking speed, Gore is probably limited to what we saw in the playoffs, as a havoc-wreaking baserunner that can be a defensive replacement), CF Reymond Fuentes (Boston’s 2009 1st rounder was acquired this winter in a minor deal; he’s had some injury issues and the bat has been lighter than expects, but he has some big league value as an easy plus runner that plays a solid center field), C Frank Schwindel (favorite of some on the organization, Schwindel is a grinder that was an 18th rounder in 2012 out of St. John’s that’s improved as a receiver and is learning to get to his solid average raw power in games), C Santiago Nessy (husky 6’2/230 Venezuelan signed with the Jays for $750,000 in 2009, then was traded to KC this winter; he has above average raw power, a plus arm and the tools to be a good receiver, but has had contact and injury issues), SS Ramon Torres (Cistulli’s guy was shifted to second base due to the shortstop depth in the system, but he can play at both spots and the 5’10/155 switch-hitting Dominican is a solid average runner with some feel for the bat head) and C Zane Evans (2013 4th rounder was two-way player at Georgia Tech but is now a full-time catcher still learning the position and how to make more contact; Evans has a plus arm and solid average raw power along with a mid-90’s fastball on the mound as a backup plan).
There’s seven hitters to watch at the lower levels of the system: 1B Ryan O’Hearn (Video 6’3/200 lefty hitter was 8th rounder last summer out of Sam Houston State, has an average arm and is just alright at first base, but has a good swing, some idea what he’s doing at the plate and that might be enough to get to his above average raw power in games), SS Ricky Aracena (5’8/155 Dominican signed for $850,000 this July 2nd and has advanced feel for the game, surprising pop for his size, plus speed and a chance to stick at short, due in part to a plus arm), 3B Wander Franco (his younger brother is in the Astros system, is also named Wander Franco and is also a prospect, which is incredibly confusing; the Royals’ Franco is a lanky switch-hitter with some feel for the bat head but an unclear positional fit), SS Jose Martinez (switch-hitting 5’10/150 Venezuelan teenager fits somewhere in the middle infield long-term, has average speed and good feel for the game, so some offensive adjustments could land him on the list), 1B Samir Duenez (Venezuelan teenager is first base only but has advanced feel to hit and a chance for average raw power), LF Dominique Taylor (2013 15th rounder out of UC-Irvine got $100,000 was young for his draft class and had a big first full season, with some tools to back it up: solid average runner with an average arm and fringy raw power could turn into a nice 4th outfielder) and LF Cristhian Vasquez (Video 5’11/180 Venezuelan got $750,000 in 2013 and missed much of 2014 with a left shoulder injury; his value is mostly in his advanced lefty bat and all fields power).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.